You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.”
— Psalm 63:1
I so loved how Heidi led us last Friday night in worship and prayer. Her confession of being dry and worn out, I think, resonated with many. I’ve been there so often. There are no easy “fixes” to such things. In fact, sometimes there’s nothing really to fix. God is simply working in silence, intentionally using the desert season to mold us more into His image, to mature us. This means that it is good - this loneliness, this longing, this discontent. He is wooing us to search for Him. He is strengthening our faith. Maybe that’s where you are. He’ll get you through it. Be encouraged.
At times, though, we’re dry because we’ve stopped the pursuit. In the psalm quoted above, David claims to “earnestly seek” the Lord. Listen to the intensity of his words: “thirst,” “whole being longs.” Sometimes we’re dry and worn out because we are no longer earnestly seeking. So, my exhortation and urging for you today is to shake yourself off and jump back in. You are tired, not because of too much seeking, but because you’ve allowed too many other things to become priorities in life above Him.
You can know God! He wants to be with you. He wants to speak to you and to listen to you and to be fully at the center of your life. But you gotta put in some effort, friends. Yes, it’s hard in new stages of life. Jobs, spouses, kids, responsibilities all conspire to pull you away. But He is more important! He is what you need most in every season. He is still there and still opening His arms to you. He knows your circumstances, and He still makes His invitations and His demands and expects you to respond. Because it is good for you to do so. It is right.
I want to urge you to pray as a significant priority. Make time just for you and Jesus. And I want to urge you to read His Word. Priority. Significant. All of us.
We’re having 48 hours of prayer coming up August 4-6. I highly encourage you to sign up for an hour or two or more. Seriously.
I also want to urge you to invest in your spiritual family. The boiler room is far from perfect. Oh so far. But, at least for now, God has you here. (Or if you’re reading this and He has you somewhere else, jump in there). You need us in ways you don’t realize. And we need you in ways you don’t realize.
“You don’t get it Tim, remember this: I”M TIRED!” I know. I do. Something's gotta give. Something’s gotta go. But maybe your “earnest seeking” of God isn’t that thing. And honestly, this is an intensely personal pursuit. But it’s also an intensely corporate pursuit.
I’m not wanting to put a heavy burden on you. That is not the way of Jesus. I want you to find His perfect burden, which is light and easy. His burden frees you from having to do all the stuff in order to be saved, to be forgiven, to be loved. He loves you! Now. Today. He loves you if you never pray or never Bible or never spud or whatever. It’s true. His burden also calls you to lay down your entire freakin life. Every single part of it. Every moment. Every penny. Every idea. Every. Thing. And then there it is — the freedom. The lightness. The joy.
I love you and want good things for you. I’m praying for you.
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.”
— Psalm 42:1-5
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” -- 1 Peter 2:9-10
You and I are God's special possession! He has chosen us and made us holy. He has made us holy! And He has done this so that we may declare his praises. He has brought us out of darkness. He has made us -- who were nobodies -- to be the very people of God. So let us declare His praises! Let our lives declare His praises through love and purity and mercy. Let our voices declare His praises through adoration and worship and prayer and proclamation. He is so worth it! Jesus must be praised by us! This is more central to who we are than anything else. We are chosen and made holy and shown mercy for this very reason. That Jesus may be glorified through us.
And I want to add that He is being glorified through us. As we love one another, as we remind each other of the Good News, as we pray and worship and celebrate the Lord's Supper together. Jesus is being glorified. As we gather together, not for our own benefit, but for His and His people's. As we sacrifice something to serve another. As we forgive and overlook offense. As we make choices that honor Him. As we repent when we've gone the wrong way. As we battle temptation.
I am so grateful for you, and how I see Jesus being praised through the life we share. Thank you. Please, keep it up. If you're discouraged, know that you are part of something bigger -- the very praises of God. If you're happy -- know that it is only Jesus. If you're confused or struggling or confident or overwhelmed or doubting or full of faith or just pushing through, Jesus is being praised. So let's persevere in this. Let's keep going. Together.
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” -- (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As we reflect back on 2016, let's remember the oft-repeated biblical injunction to give thanks. For many of you, I know 2016 was rough. To be honest, it was a sweet year for my family and me. But however things went down, we need to be grateful. God blessed you in profound ways over the past twelve months. Not only did He keep you alive, hold onto you as a beloved son or daughter, and forgive every offense, He also provided good things for your enjoyment and comfort. You reveled in the taste of good food. There are people who care about you. You laughed. You were safe. You experienced warmth and friendship and love. He is a good Father, and He cares for you. On the other hand, if 2016 was great, remember to thank Him. All the blessings that made it so are gifts to you from Him. Receive them as such. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17).
If giving thanks is an essential discipline for us, another habit we surely most cultivate is trusting prayer. A new year is upon us. 2017 will have its share of challenges and blessings, and our Father wants us to meet each with faith and hope. We can trust Him. I am challenged to pray bold prayers for the coming season. To "expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God," as William Carey admonished almost three centuries ago. I am praying big prayers over the Merchant, and for Micah & Sarah and Paul & Debbie as they lead us forward in our ministry to the margins. I'm praying significant fruit to come out of our trip to Uganda. I'm praying for Reynosa. I'm asking the Father for each of us to be closer to Jesus and more courageous and true witnesses for Him. I'm praying for our marriages and our parenting and our friendships and our work. For those who are struggling, I am praying for a lift -- and I believe He will provide it. I'm asking Him to help us as a church family to continue to love one another well and to be really good at inviting and welcoming others -- especially those in need, those who are alone, those who are "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). I'm praying for our city, that the Holy Spirit would draw many into the Father's family, and that His Kingdom would come.
Can I challenge you with something? Can you take a few moments and ask the Lord to put a big prayer in your heart as we begin 2017? What comes to your mind when you consider that? I want to ask you to make that your prayer. If it seems impossible, that's ok. If you find it really hard to believe such a prayer is even worth uttering, all the better. If it feels foolish, you may be on the right track. Ask the Father, and believe. Believe His goodness and His power. Trust in His deep and affectionate love for you, and believe that He delights to give you the desires of your heart. One prayer. One audacious request. One Jesus-glorifying, Kingdom-manifesting, life-giving petition. Don't give up on it. Be patiently persistent in your asking.
“May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” -- Psalm 20:4
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” -- Matthew 7:11
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” -- Matthew 21:22
“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” -- John 14:14
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” -- John 15:16
“Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” -- John 16:23-24
I hope you all had a wonderful weekend filled with gratitude, family, and friends. Ours was truly special, and I am very thankful indeed. We spent five days with our family of nine, all together under one roof -- our five kids plus Christina and Nadia. As parents, there's really not much more we could have asked for. Everyone spent hours together, genuinely enjoying one another's company. Laughing. Reminiscing. Working. Serving others. Praying. Worshipping. Giving thanks. And eating. Throughout the holiday, Jill and I frequently remarked to each other how blessed we are, and how kind the Father has been to us. In addition to these special times together, we were also given the wonderful gift of including others in our family circle each day.
Thursday's Thanksgiving Family Fun Day was a beautiful success. People gathered from the boiler room and other churches, ORU, the streets, and even some from out of town. Once again, believers and unbelievers, rich and poor, homeless and suburbanites, all came together in a profound family atmosphere, immersed in the grace and the love of Jesus. We ate turkey and pies and drank plenty of coffee. We joked around, played games, had meaningful conversations, and shared what we're thankful for. It would be vain to try to give shout outs to all who deserve mention, but you know who you are. Thanks for all the hard work, the vision, the prayers, the donations, the time, etc. You all are amazing.
Yesterday was the beginning of Advent, and it was really wonderful to gather together for prayer. The theme of the week is hope, and I am praying the gift of hope for each of you this week. Hope is an essential Christian perspective, and the coming of Jesus means we are never truly without it. Remember, we will be getting together each Sunday evening throughout Advent at 6:15 pm.
As many of you are aware, Floyd McClung, who has been a significant influence in my life and in some ways in the boiler room, has been sick in the hospital in South Africa now for something like nine months. He is conscious, but cannot communicate. May days he appears to be suffering significantly. His wife, Sally, writes a brief daily update on how he is doing, helping to direct prayer for him and also chronicling her own journey of faith. As you can imagine, it's been an unimaginably difficult time for her. However, in the midst of her struggle, her writing has encouraged me many times. Today was one of those, and I'm copying her letter here....
Dear Praying Friends and Ministry Partners,
Floyd has been very upset and agitated off and on. I'm not sure why. It's hard to see him like this. He was moved to another room because of the renovations, so maybe that is unsettling him. Please continue to pray for peace and calm in his spirit.
His cough has been better the last couple days. I'm praying that is a permanent improvement.
Someone sent me the following post by Anne Graham Lotz:
"Do you sometimes cry out, as I have, "God, don't You see my tears? Don't you see my broken heart" God, never mind me, but how can You bear to see the agony of my loved one? God, I know that You care. I just don't understand why You don't intervene in this situation right now. Why don't You do something?
Then to my heart, I seem to hear His still, small voice whispering, "Anne, trust Me. I know what's best." And I'm left to wonder why I think I know better than God what's best for me or my loved one."
Her father, Billy Graham, is 98 years old and going through a "long goodbye." I assume she is referring to him.
I could so identify with her heart, her cry, her wondering. I don't understand the waiting with Floyd's situation either. Waiting is hard. I have to keep coming back to the same thing. God knows what's best.
In his book "Waiting" author Ben Patterson says there are 2 virtues required for successful waiting - humility and hope. Humility teaches us that we exist for God's sake, not for our own - but for His purposes. Hope assures us that there is something worth waiting for.
I'm praying that I'll have the humility to bow to God's purposes on this journey - and the hope to keep looking to Him for what He has planned.
"With humility comes wisdom." Proverbs 11:2
"Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life."
"But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." Romans 8:25
"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength." Isaiah 40:31
"The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love." Psalm 147:11
When my heart hurts over Floyd's situation, over what he goes through - I have to keep focused on trusting God. I do trust Him.
On September 11, we will have our first Sunday morning gathering, to continue each week thereafter. I'm aware that this could have the potential to foundationally change who we are. I don't want that to happen, and I don't believe it is inevitable. We still hold to the values of 'simple church.' We desire each person to be fully activated participants in the work of God that is the Boiler Room. We want family to be the basic structure and ethos of our church. We value the continued practice of radical hospitality, and would love to grow in that even more. We are opposed to a performance-driven event that puts a few people on a pedestal and the rest in the stands. I do not intend to pour overmuch of my time and energy into making Sunday a good experience for everyone. It's not about the experience. It's about the family coming together around the Person of Jesus, being equipped to do the work He has prepared for us to do, and celebrating His goodness to each of us. Spuds are still our central expression of church, and our most essential gathering.
So, Sundays for me are about equipping and about sharing vision and about family and about celebration and about growing in Jesus. I'm excited to get to see many of you on a more regular basis. I'm excited to worship with you more frequently, and to look to God's Word together.
Sundays are also about mission. I really long for us to use this as a means for reaching the lost and inviting them into the Father's family. I'm totally geeked about the idea of homeless friends joining us, and about them experiencing something of God's love through us. Some will already be full-on followers of Jesus, and others will be still seeking. I'm expectant that some of these will respond to this love and truly enter the family. I look forward to us choosing to make personal sacrifices in order to support individuals who are taking steps towards major life transformation. I'm excited about the opportunity to share the gospel with hungry hearts who may not have yet stepped into faith -- be they poor or rich, old or young. This will not only happen through the 'official' preaching of the Word, but just as profoundly through each of us as we welcome and engage with guests who come. (So, by the way, let's please make an intentional and concerted effort to welcome and engage all guests who come). Sundays are another opportunity to invite and to welcome and to accept and to share the love and the truth of Jesus.
The elders and teaching team have been working to plan out what Sundays looks like. If you have thoughts about this, please feel free to contact one of us. In general, we intend to worship together and have a time of biblical teaching. We want to also include words of encouragement and stories, praying for one another, and built-in time for fellowship. From time to time we may have smaller group discussions and prayer, creative expressions of worship, liturgy, etc. We are looking forward to growing in how we provide for our kids during these times as well. We value whole-family participation, and will always welcome, and look for creative ways to accommodate, your kids in our gatherings. We also would like to provide an option of loving child care, recognizing that we as parents sometimes need help. We fully intend to stumble forward, probably making lots of mistakes, but always seeking to improve and grow together by the grace of Jesus.
I hope to see you September 11.
March 24, 2016
Last night TNL was pretty special. As we do each year, we planned to share the gospel of the resurrection with everyone, and to invite them to prayer and a celebration of the Lord's Supper. Micah was going to do the preaching, and a few of us were ready for the Communion and prayer part.
The evening was beautiful. Perfect, warm weather. Around 70 degrees maybe, with a gentle breeze and beautiful sunset. Danielle kicked us off by leading a Bible study on the calling of Noah to build the ark. It was a great study, with good attendance and participation. We talked about the goodness of God in providing for all of the details and giving specific instructions to Noah. We also contemplated the faithful and persistent obedience of this man of faith, as he labored on the ark for 120 years. It was a treat having some friends from the Kansas City Vision Course present with us -- Dayne, Emily, and Kaitlyn. It was also great having Meka there for the second week in a row.
The food was late in coming. So, after the Bible Study when we normally eat, we had to wait another half hour or so while the burgers and hot dogs cooked on the grill. There was a big crowd -- a hundred people or more. Often in the past, when we've had a lot of people and a long wait, there has been tension, arguing, fighting, etc. However, everything was peaceful this time, and people seemed to be enjoying each other as they patiently waited. I was amazed and grateful. I had sent out some requests for prayer earlier in the day, and I believe the Father responded to the petitions of His people.
When the food was finally ready, it was around 7:00. Micah was not there, because a job he was working on went long. I gathered everyone together in a circle (ish), and asked for their attention for a few minutes. A few people were still talking as I began, but within a few moments all were silent. I briefly and directly proclaimed the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus, emphasizing God's great love for each of us. As I looked around the circle, I was so amazed to see people giving me their rapt attention. I don't think I've every experienced anything like this since the beginning of Thursday night dinners. Nobody was talking. Nobody interrupted. Everyone seemed to be looking at me and focused on what I was saying. I saw nods of affirmation and -- surprisingly -- what appeared to be genuine interest. Certainly I felt an atmosphere of respect.
I believe God was present in that circle. It was brief -- probably the whole thing lasting less than five minutes. But I was touched as I looked at the faces all around. As I concluded, I invited folks to come to the alcove for prayer, or to celebrate the Lord's Supper with us. I don't know how many came, but some did.
Andy was there, and I hadn't seen him for months. As people were initially gathering, I saw him, and we embraced in a prolonged hug. Afterwards, he walked into the alcove and sat down. I sat with him, listened, assured him of our love and happiness to see him, and prayed for him. A gift.
Eventually, I grabbed a couple of hot dogs and some chips and sat down with Monty and Mike -- two grizzled old dudes who have known each other for 25 years. I like them. Peter and Nathan, Philip and Hannah, and Jill were all there. It was so great to look around at different tables, and see them in conversation with folks. What a blessing!
I don't know if the message of the gospel truly penetrated anyone's heart last night. I don't know if anyone believed and repented, and entered into new life. But I do trust that something significant happened, at least in some. And I pray that the Lord cause the seed of the gospel to bear good fruit in the lives of many.
It was a surprisingly emotional evening for me, and when I reached home I was exhausted. I am so grateful. Thank you, Father, for allowing me to participate in your work.
To the glory of Jesus.
"Children are a gift from the LORD!" (Psalm 127:3). This is so much more than a quaint saying. It is a truth and a mindset that our culture can rob from us if we aren't careful. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about what it means to dedicate our babies.
First, it means that we, as parents and as a church family, are offering, or consecrating, our children to God. This is a holy and significant thing. We are following in the footsteps of Hannah, who offered her son Samuel to the Lord (1 Samuel 1). We are telling the Father that our children are His, not ours. It is He who holds their future. It is He who directs their path. It is He who is ultimately responsible for them, and who will watch over them. This is an act of surrender and of faith.
Secondly, we are making commitments to the Lord. These also are holy and significant. Although our children are His, He has given them to us for a season. We are committing to raise them in godliness. Like the ancient Israelites, we accept the responsibility to teach our offspring the ways of God, and to guide them to know Him (Deuteronomy 6). As parents, we publicly affirm that this is our intent, and we commit to ordering our lives around the godly upbringing of our children. As a community, we equally commit to come around our families, to support them in this endeavor, and to aid them in leading their children in the ways of Jesus.
Finally, this event is a celebration. We have received these priceless and wonderful gifts from the Lord, and it is right for us to celebrate His goodness. Yes, these gifts require something great of us. We must sacrifice and work and lay down our desires and ambitions. They push us to our limits and beyond, and they demand of us more than we think we can give. And this too is right, and all part of the Father's good plan. We receive the struggle along with the beauty and the joy. We must not, even for a moment, allow ourselves to see these little ones as anything other than God's blessings for us. This is a cause for great rejoicing, and we honor the Lord by celebrating well.
“And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (Genesis 15:6).
God had just spoken an astonishing promise to Abram; one that must have shocked him to the core. The wealthy old man had posed a pointed question to the Almighty, telling him that all the blessings in the world would amount to nothing as long as he had no son. God responded,
“Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Genesis 15:4-5).
The Lord spoke, and Abram believed. And this is defined as righteousness. Righteousness, in its essence, is not goodness or purity or honesty. It's not being kind or generous or brave. It's not being accepting or hard-working or spiritual. It's trusting. Believing. Having faith. A person is not righteous apart from this, however smart or successful or good or pure or whatever. God considers you righteous when you believe Him.
So friends, let's believe Him! He is the only entity in your life who is absolutely, one hundred percent believable. It's true that He says the most remarkably, audaciously unbelievable things. But the fact still remains that he is utterly trustworthy. On the other hand, it's true that the world is very convincing and can sound so wise and intelligent and sophisticated. And they say the most reasonable things. But you can't trust them. Not like you can trust Jesus. God said Jesus would die for your sins and come bodily out of the grave. The world says, "impossible gibberish!" Yet it happened, and our lives -- yours and mine -- have been made new as a result.
“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.” (1 John 4:16).
This is what He wants you to trust in more than anything. That He loves you. That He is your Father. That you matter to Him. Trust that He is working in your life. Trust that He sees you. He hears every prayer. He is touched by your tears and delighted by your joyful, steady obedience.
Whatever you are facing today, I want to look you in the eyes and assure you with every part of my being of this one thing: You can trust in God's love for you. It is real. If you're having a hard time with that, I'd love to talk to you more. So would anyone else in this boiler room family. We all go through times when we need help from each other.
Let's encourage one another in His love today.
I love you and am praying for you.
The family of God is a real and beautiful thing. Many of us tend to think of it in very abstract terms. It is the worldwide people of God. Yep, it is. It consists of all believers of all times and all places. True enough. It is eternal and universal. Totes. It is organic.
But we must wrestle with this: The Church is expressed through the local and concrete. It is specific people in a particular place. It has organization and structure. It gathers together for distinct purposes and it has a discernible mission. It has leadership. It has definable boundaries -- you can be inside of it or or outside of it, and you can know which you are.
We talk a lot today about being relational and about having community. We have mentors and coaches, and we have friends. We have prayer movements and we have mission movements. We have Bible studies and worship sets. But do we have church? Do we have what the first believers modeled for us? We have many of the activities of church: evangelism and prayer and worship and teaching. We try to fulfill the functions of church -- discipleship and extending the Kingdom. But we do so in a way that doesn't resemble the first churches. And we're missing out.
Community. Friends. Prayer movements. Worship sets. Bible studies. They are all good, and I don't want to take them away. But there is more! You need more, and you can have more. In fact, if you are going to change the world, you must have more. Not more as in, one more thing I should be doing. But more as in different. Enhanced. In fact, being part of an actual church family will help to reduce some of that scattered busyness that we confuse for spirituality and mission. It provides focus. It's an all-in-one.
You can have -- you must have -- more than a community of friends. You need a family of brothers and sisters. You can have more than teachers and mentors. You require fathers and mothers. You need more than segregated movements and activities. You are offered an integrated life that includes it all.
“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” -- 1 Corinthians 4:15 NIV
Many of you are living scattered lives. You are consumers of spiritual experience. You do prayer with this set of folks, mission with another, teaching via podcasts from your favorite guru, and maybe hang out socially with another group. Or, if it is all combined in one, full-package group of wonderful people, you insist that it must be only organic, not organizational. It must be free-flowing, not structured. Come and go (of course, as led by the Spirit), but no commitment. Do what you think best, but no submission. You "welcome" all, but in reality only accept those like you to be part of the inner circle.
If this is your life, you are not being discipled. Jesus didn't inaugurate a prayer movement and a missions movement and a discipleship movement. He launched a church movement that encompasses them all. Paul's method of discipleship was simple. Local churches. Churches that were families of believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, entrusted with the Word of God, and mandated to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.
I have a radical proposal for you. Why can't your real, distinct, local spiritual family be your house of prayer and your mission organization and your community?
You have chosen Kingdom passions, and God has given you world-changing dreams. You are ready to sacrifice all, and to spend yourself for the mission of Jesus. I sincerely honor you for this, and your vision inspires me. But I have to plead with you, don't try this alone. Don't think your loose and unstructured group of friends will get you there. You have to have the church. The real, visible, local, church. Not a building and not a corporation, but a spiritual family.
I need to add a disclaimer here. When I say church, I am not referring to a place you go on Sunday mornings to sing a few songs, watch the gifted ones minister, write a check, hug a couple of people, and then go out to lunch. Maybe you do gather on Sunday mornings, worship, receive teaching, give, and have some fellowship. But that is only a couple of hours in a full week of life and ministry together. You know these people, and are known by them. You serve together, and your gifts are needed. You are loved. You belong. You hang out together and dream together and pray together and serve together and proclaim the gospel together. You encourage one another and correct one another and support one another and take care of one another.
This is the church. Of course -- and here's where it gets tough -- the church is also other things. It is a family that fully includes the arrogant gossip, the annoying drama queen, and those bratty kids. The argumentative theology student, the lazy millennial, the over-enthusiastic vegan evangelist, and the pyramid scheme schemer. It's made up of the carnal hipster clique who spend their time watching sketchy movies and drinking beer. The social justice zealot who just wants to stick it to the man. The sickeningly happy dating couple who rarely seem to come up for a breath. It includes the social media whiner and the enraged political activist. The depressed and the anxious. The guy who is negative about everything, and the one who cannot admit to anything but happiness and positivity. People who know nothing about the Bible and scoff at your 'quiet time.' People who know everything about the Bible and love to stuff it down your throat. And it includes you. So deal with it. Seriously. This is family.
We need the local church, if for no other reason, to force us into the messy reality of... reality. You can't just live your life with the awesome people, the people who agree with you, the theologically correct, the fully compatible, the spiritually mature, the this-is-the-best-family-ever-s. You need the ordinary run-of-the-mill rascals like us. Because these are the ones Jesus uses to change the freaking world.
Think about the following questions:
* With whom did you take your last missions trip?
* With whom did you participate in your last local outreach?
* Who do you hang out with when you have leisure time?
* Who do you turn to when you need something?
* What biblical teacher has the most influence on you?
* Who counsels you when you are hurting / confused / in need of direction?
* With whom do you mostly pray?
If the answer to most of these questions has nothing to do with your local church, let me suggest some re-alignment work. Your foundation may be off. You are surrounded by people, but you are in fact a loner. You decide which ministries you participate in. You decide what teachings you want to hear. You decide who to hang out with and where to get help. You are in control. You're living like you have no family. Like an orphan.
Now, maybe you're in college or a discipleship program, and you have been engaging in the above activities through various campus ministries and outreaches. That is really good, and it is what God is using for you in this season. But it is temporary. One day you're going to move out of the dorms, and the training wheels will come off. And you will need the church. Let your experiences now ruin you for the ordinary. And understand that the church is the long-term solution. You need it!
"But I'm doing great!" My life is fruitful! I'm loving Jesus and making Him known!" I know! Way to go! But what if I told you that you could bring even more glory to the Father? And that what you're doing apart from the local church may be unsustainable? There will be cracks. Instability. I am talking about so much more than a "spiritual covering." More than finding a church to attend regularly because you have to. More than getting a local church pastor to say that they like what you're doing, and will try and support and help you. I am talking about an all-of-life walk with the same people for a long time.
In order for this family to truly be what you need to change the world, consider the following four characteristics. These are not meant to be the definition of a church, but these must be included if this is going to work in the long term.
First, there must be commitment. This is not a situation where you can just show up when you want, give according to your mood, and serve however you feel led. There are expectations that become priorities in your life. You are counted on. Your engagement is required. At specific times and for specific events. You will re-orient your life around this family and it's God-given mission. You are committed to this group of people, and you will not abandon them when relationships become difficult, when you don't get to use your gifts as you desire, or when you've found a better group. This ceases to be about you and your needs, and you realize you are in something for the long haul that is bigger than you. Of course, you may eventually leave -- but you will be sent out intentionally for the sake of the Kingdom, not simply wander off to a new thing.
Secondly, there must be leadership. The New Testament church is led by elders. This is family language. It speaks to the maturity and experience of those who lead. This is no random, unstructured group of friends. Families have moms and dads. There is order. There are different roles that must be filled. There are those who have been given responsibility for the family -- though in another sense all are responsible together. Yes, there is equality of value and equality of belonging. Absolutely. This is essential! But not everyone has the same role or exercises the same authority. This is also key. Study the New Testament, and you can't miss this.
Many of you have mentors and teachers that are wonderful and whom you greatly respect. They care for you and support you and encourage you. But they only know, for the most part, what you tell them. I'm sure you're honest and open, but it's still just your perspective. They do have the insight of the Holy Spirit, which is truly powerful. But still, mentors and teachers are different from fathers and mothers. God has made you for family. Fathers and mothers are those who see your messy bedroom and know what time you got home last night. They know if you are lazy or diligent, reliable or flaky. And they still love you and believe in you.
Thirdly, there must be submission. You are called to entrust yourself to this family. They must be able to hold you accountable, and even to discipline you when needed. They can correct and rebuke, and you are committed to humbly submitting. Of course, this is a mutual submission. You are part of the group that the others are submitting to as well. Even leaders -- especially leaders -- submit to the group as a whole, and can be called to account.
I serve in leadership with a group of elders in a local church. Although I am the senior leader in the group, I am submitted to the others. I promise them, for example, that I will not leave the church to pursue a different ministry or vocation or location, unless the elders agree with me that this is what God is calling me to do. Does that feel risky? Absolutely. I'm trusting my life to them! But in reality they are my safety net. They will not allow me to jump ship based on anything less than God's call. I need that.
Finally, I urge you to ensure there is a common purpose. You are committed, there is leadership, and you are submitted because there is something bigger than you at stake. All of you are unified in the conviction that this family exists, not to just care for and love one another, but to make the gospel known and to invite in and welcome the Father's lost ones. You are determined to find your mission together, and to pursue it with all your heart. You submit individual dreams and aspirations, only to see them enlarged as you throw them in the mix with everyone else's. You are "striving together as one for the faith of the gospel." (Phil 1:27).
So, attach yourself to a local church. Remember that your church is more a matter of a calling than a choice. It is more about service than preference. Let your roots go down deep in the good soil of spiritual family. Don't settle for a church to attend. Find a family to join. Take the risk. Please.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.