Category Archives: Fellowship

Another Great Post Worth Reading

No matter what group of people I’m connecting with, EVERYONE has a ridiculous (or scandalous) story that comes to mind when this is brought up. A story where we or someone we love was hurt or done wrongly inside of church. When the story is told, it’s just as fresh and raw as when it […]

via When Christians don’t act like Jesus — just a jesus follower

Ministry Vs. Invitations

Every church, it seems, has some sort of an “outreach” program.  From what I have observed, there are two main ideas of what “outreach” is.

joinusThe lesser version is where the target of outreach is a getting people into a church. Whatever the specific program, the idea is to add numbers to their gathering.  Most think this is good ministry and what they are doing is spreading the Gospel.  While most involved are genuine, they are missing the fact that what they are doing is attracting people to their church.

When Jesus said, “Go, therefore…”, there was no indication of any instruction that included inviting people to be among their number.  There was a commission to preach the Gospel.

Jesus demonstrated what it is to minister to people.  Of course, minister = serve. He taught, healed and He had the disciples distribute food (that He multiplied) to thousands. Very few of these people became part of the crowd that followed Him.  Yet, He never selected, segregated, cast away, shunned or denied anyone healing or a meal.

For some reason, we feel that if someone does not want anything to do with us or the message we are shoving down their throats, we may feel justified in having nothing to do with them anymore.

‘Tis ignominious thinking, there.

Stop inviting them to church!

Before you go to your corner and ponder whether you have sinned by reading my post, let me clear this up.  What I mean, here, is that we should not make outreach into a recruiting expedition.

We were never called to bring people to church.  We were never called to threaten people with Hell if they don’t yield to the message we are planting in their faces.  I fail to see how this is spreading “good news”.

What is “outreach”, anyway?  To be clear, you won’t find that word in the Bible.  We just added that one to our lingo, some time ago.  Basically, outreach is reaching beyond – so, it is not a mistaken word to add.  We should “reach beyond”.  This is what love would do.

It also means to – now, don’t be offset by the massive difficulty of this definition – to reach out.

But, as much as we use the word, outreach, we have allowed it to morph into something lesser.  It becomes less about ministering to people and more about marketing the local church.  We seem to want to reach out as long as we can pull them in.

Love does not pull.  Love draws.  Drawing is not manipulating or convincing…it happens more organically.  We cannot force it or manufacture it.  It is not our love that draws.  It is not us who draw.  Jesus draws.  It is His love, through us.handreach

We do have some effort on our part. If we are going to reach out, our efforts should be the same ones Jesus put forth.  Take care of people.

Feed, clothe and house the poor.

Welcome and love the disenfranchised.

Protect the weak from predators.

Serve the “less-than’s”.  Don’t let pride get in the way.

Make donations to or serve local food pantries or soup kitchens.

Raise money to help someone who has fallen behind, financially (unless you are loaded, then unlock that purse).

Have a shoulder available.  Sometimes people just need to vent to a non-judgmental ear.

If able, open home to someone who needs a home (teen having a tough time at home, pregnant teen, someone needing financial relief).  This has to be a well considered commitment – it can be a disturbance and upset to the household (we did this for a young woman and there were adjustments, but it was worth it.  Might tell that story, eventually).

Don’t forget, home first.

We also read to love others, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).  While outreach is how we show our love to others, we must never forget loving one another. How we interact and take care of each other keeps us all going so we can feel free to reach out to the rest of the world.  Plus, people see how we treat each other and that speaks volumes. So, if a brother needs a “leg up”, another brother, who is able, should give him that boost.

Let’s be reminded…Jesus gave a new commandment…love one another.

Wear their shoes.

When Jesus saw the crowds, even when He was exhausted, He had “compassion on them” (Matt. 9, Mark 6).  To have compassion is to suffer with.  Let’s also consider, sympathy and empathy.  Jesus put Himself in their place…He felt their anguish, pain, anxiety and stress. He knew their loneliness, their shortfalls and their illnesses.  Rather than being all about our own agenda, we should listen to Him and allow Him to show us what He sees.

I, like many others, have been on the  receiving end of compassion as well as ignorance. There were times when I and my family needed some help and someone was there, without any of us asking.  Other times, I stood in “prayer circles”, explaining my trials during unemployment and was basically ignored, other than being prayed for.

The latter issue is huge.  There is too much “God bless you, be warmed and filled.”, which shows no love or compassion.  Too often, people of financial means essentially ignore the plight of a person in their lives who needs a boost.  No…just because someone has money should they dole it out to every struggling soul.  But, if someone has the means…well, John stated it well in 1 John 3…

16 By this we know [and have come to understand the depth and essence of His precious] love: that He [willingly] laid down His life for us [because He loved us]. And we ought to lay down our lives for the believers. 17 But whoever has the [a]world’s goods (adequate resources), and sees his brother in need, but has no compassion for him, how does the love of God live in him? 18 Little children (believers, dear ones), let us not love [merely in theory] with word or with tongue [giving lip service to compassion], but in action and in truth [in practice and in sincerity, because practical acts of love are more than words]. (Amplified)

Less inviting.  More ministering.

Less preaching.  More serving.

Less apathy.  More compassion.

Less judgment.  More love.

I am no better at this.  I speak to myself, as well.  This year, I am praying to see what my hands can do.  I am tired of the same old – same old.  I feel it is time to rise up and be Jesus to people (especially in the current. political and “evangelical” climate).  For me, I am seeking just how that will go.  For now, I do what I can as opportunity is presented.

Let’s all seek ways to be Jesus to people.

 

 

 

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Once Upon a Church

churchdoorSome brief church stories.

I have attended a few churches in the past 40 years, from a small Presbyterian congregation in Irvington, NJ, to an Assemblies church in Newport News, VA, to a few here in southern NJ.  It has been the few I have attended in the last 25 plus years that opened my eyes to some very important issues that are serious issues in the Church, at large.

First, let me mention that little church in Irvington.  That was the place the Lord used to get my attention in His direction.  The pastor, Wade, was loving and patient and didn’t judge those to whom he ministered.  I have nothing but great memories of those days and the people I got to know.  Wade, particularly.  For that matter, we are still in touch through social media and he has a blog, here. (The Lazarus Project, The Horizontal Church – Take a peek, if you wish.)

Since Then.

The church that really opened my eyes to some issues was a small congregation from the Cherry Hill, NJ area.  We were part of that one for twenty years.  We were deacons, my wife was on the music team, I ran the sound board, our kids did various stuff. About fifteen of those years were spent under a pastor who became more proprietor than pastor…more of a manipulator than minister.  In the last 5 years we were there, his demanding ways became more rigid and his doctrinal views were questionable, at best.  There are a few brow-raising details…but, to make a long story short, we left that church.

What happened after that was we have been basically shunned.  We left nearly nine years ago, and no one from that church ever has called or emailed to see how we are.  We knew most of those people for twenty years. Our children basically grew up in that church.  One family I knew from north NJ and we go back to the late seventies.  How much have I heard from them?  Nothing.

Now, I know what you are saying.  I could call those folks too.  Well, I did.  One family welcomed my calls and we talk from time to time.  Others, it was rather cold, awkward…as if I had some sort of communicable disease or something.  Even the couple I knew from forty years ago has had nothing to do with us.

Shunned.

Then…

We attended a rather large church for a couple of years.  It was a bit of a drive, but worth the trip.  Met some great people, there.  Unfortunately, we were having transportation issues and decided it more prudent to go to a church closer to home.  We kind of just left. Funny thing was, virtually no one noticed we were gone.  Well, one guy emailed me after about a month and I was able to explain things.  But, I was part of a greeting team and the team leader called me a few months after we had left to ask me to head up the team on Sunday.  I informed him we hadn’t been there in X-amount of time – he had no idea.  That team served once a month and no one on the team noticed my absence.

Forgotten.

Finally…

The church we went to next we only attended for about a year.  I attended a couple of study groups and we got to know a few folks there.  We stopped going.  Not one person wanted to know what happened or where we were.

Unnoticed.

Now, don’t think I am trying to get anyone to feel sorry for me or my family.  No need to. This was not meant as a complaint forum.  Just some brief stories to show that we need to consider something Jesus said.

Love one another.

It seems that we have lost the idea of what it is to love one another.  There is also confusion between loving our neighbors versus loving one another.  To put it simply, our neighbor is pretty much everyone.  One another is those with whom we fellowship as believers.

As I have stated several times, love is putting oneself aside for another.  It is putting another ahead…to consider another more highly than ourselves.  When we shun, overlook or forget someone, unless we have a memory issue, we are basically putting self interest above others.

We say we fellowship.  Do we?  Is fellowship just sitting next to each other while listening to the pastor drone on about stuff?  Is it about those covered dish gatherings?  I think it is more…it is about relating with one another.

Just a thought…one thing we need to be careful of is calling or talking people to “convince” them to stay among the congregation.  That is just a marketing ploy.  What we need to do is love, no matter who they are, where they are or why they may be leaving or thinking of leaving.  We should love one another in spite of viewpoints, quirks, ideals, hobbies, habits…just love one another, period.  Can’t do it?  Pray and ask the Lord to work love through us.

After 20 years…

One would think that, after twenty years, that bonds would have been made.  After raising all of your children with that place and having taken part in all sorts of different aspects and activities, one would think that the bonds would be stronger than the fact that you might leave their midst.  But, when we forget how to love, we place importance on things that are less important than what Jesus told us is.

One another.

To be fair, there is the passage about not to fellowship with those who embrace sin or false teachers.  I will probably approach that one, at another time.

 

 

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Us vs. Them?

battleBattle lines have been drawn.

Christians on this side.  Those “sinners” on the other.

We fight against someone because they are gay, or Muslim, or support abortion.  We take what we believe to be right – our convictions – and demand that others toe those lines.  We insist that the commands given to us are for all to follow.  Then, when they object or disagree, they become the opposition.  They are now, as the Pharisees shouted, “Unclean!”

Is this what we have become?  Pharisees?  Not all of us, for sure.  But, a whole lot of us. Too many of us.  Loudly.  The 2016 Presidential race has made many of these modern-day Pharisees a bit more obvious.

Even within the Church, we are divided.  I follow this doctrine, they follow that one.  I surely can’t agree with what they are taught, so I certainly can’t associate with them.  This denomination has better doctrines than that one.  This church has “more dynamic” speakers, that church has better educated speakers.  The one down the street allows gay people, while the one downtown would never have “those kind” there.

We like the battle.  We seem to thrive on the battles we have created.  The truth is, instead of thriving, we are weakening the Church and repelling those outside the Church.

Oh, yes.  It is we who have created the lines.  No, not the scriptures.  Not the lack of prayer in schools.  Not the Gay Rights activists.  Not the Pro-Choice folks.  It has been the Church.

Jesus never drew battle lines.  For that matter, He crossed over the lines the Pharisees and their merry men had firmly created and upheld.

He touched the lepers.

He befriended a Samaritan woman (half-breed dog) and a tax collector (traitor).

He defended a whore.

He stood up to the Pharisees.

I suppose we know better than He.  Many among our ranks have been communicating, clearly, more of what they are against.  So much so, that it isn’t is clear what they are for. We have taken the idea of Ephesians 6:10-18 (the armor of God) as an opportunity to polish the metaphorical armor or fight one another…and our neighbors.

I know I have some redundancies in my posts.  But, I am trying to communicate how seriously we need to get back to the idea of love.  Loving our neighbor.  Loving one another.  God’s love, that He has for us and put in us.

At what point does love draw a battle line?

Where does love say someone is “less than”?

Does love verbally bash anyone?

Does love select who gets served or prayed for and who does not?

What part of love speaks against people, for any reason?

Wait a minute there, you.  What about ‘speaking truth in love’?

Speaking the truth in love.  Love.  Love means, in essence, personal agenda is set aside. When we insist on being right, forcing our point or our agenda, we are not acting in love. Therefore, when we judge, malign, accuse and insist our way is a must, we do not speak in love, at all.

What God revealed about love to Paul…

  • Patient
  • Kind
  • Does not envy (not mere jealousy)
  • Does not boast
  • Is not arrogant
  • Is not rude
  • Does not insist on its own way
  • Not irritable (thin skinned, touchy)
  • Not resentful (holding a “record of wrongs”)

This only covers verses 4 and 5 of 1st Cor. 13, but these are the aspects of love that we need to examine, embrace and put into practice.  As it stands, many of us walk in something that does not look like love, at all.  What we are left with is a bunch of us being impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, insisting on our way (Christian nation, anyone?), irritable and/or holding offenses over people.

If we act/live in love, battle lines would no longer exist.

This is not that feel good, mushy kind of crap. This is practical, to the core.

It is not about agreeing with everyone.  It is about respect and being undaunted by the beliefs, lifestyles, speech and actions of others.

It’s about imitating Jesus.

He would build a house for a gay couple.  He would comfort a woman who considers an abortion.  He would invite the unmarried couple, who live together, over for a meal. He would hang out with Muslims to watch football.

It is also about maturity.

Notice, near the end of 1 Corinthians 13, after all that talk about love… “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”  It would seem that putting others before oneself is a mature thing to do.

Children are all about, “I want!”, “Me!”, “Mine!”  As they grow and learn, they begin to see there is a whole world, out there.  If they are raised well, they begin to see the needs of others, they are taught to share and be considerate.

 

 

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Honestly Dishonest

Honesty gets a backseat in the Church.  Actually, I think many are afraid to be honest. I believe that too many of us use deceit or omission in order to protect ourselves.  Grace and restoration are being overshadowed by judgment and manipulation.

We need a safe place to be honest.  A place where you can confess your feelings, your shortcomings, your sins, your struggles, your mistakes – a place where you can be you, warts and all.  We should be able to have an intimate friend – a true confidant – but within our congregations, grace and confidentiality should be the norm. While we should avoid “airing dirty laundry”, there are times we need an ear, a shoulder, someone to pray for and with us.

There are issues people face.

Psychological issues.

Mourning/Grieving

Pornography.

Marriage issues.

Sexual problems.

Mom’s who are weary of motherhood.

People’s issues (or sins) from their past.

Doubt or questions about our doubts.

We have to be “good little Christians”.  To admit doubts, failure or weakness, we may find ourselves being; ignored, belittled, judged, or manipulated. We may even find ourselves under scrutiny or having to endure (unwanted) “private counselling”.  We could even find ourselves the subject of gossip and presumption.

Accusations, such as;

Obviously you don’t spend enough time reading your Bible.

You need more faith.

You need to serve more.

You are obviously on the fence with your morals.

You must have some un-confessed sin.

There must be sin in your family (i.e., generational curse)

You must be spending too much time with..sinners, secular things,  worldly entertainment, etc.

Have we stepped away from the basics?

What is fellowship all about, anyway?  What about the commandment, “Love one another”? Why is it we feel we need to police and legislate and force one another into some sort of behavior pattern?

Notice something, here…Luke 22…31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”33 Peter[b] said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus[c] said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

Here is what I notice – what Jesus did not say.  He had the authority to tell Peter, “Don’t you dare deny Me.  No matter how bad you want to, don’t you dare, or I will be so ashamed of you.”  But, He never said such a thing.  He let Peter be the human he was.  But, he also knew how He was working on Peter and how much Peter would be changed.

We lower the boom.

It is us.  Not the Lord.  We do it.  We use terms that communicate how God is ashamed, how He is disappointed or how someone has disappointed Him.  We say how God is not pleased, how someone who loves Him “should not do such things”.  We even rub in certain blame, such as, “You did this to yourself.”.

Personal Story.

I once had my own business.  I made some pretty good mistakes in trying to build that business and, after a couple of years, I shut it down.  This left me with some sizable debt. At one point, I went to our senior pastor.  I had a list of all the debts and showed it to him. I simply wanted some pointers, suggestions, guidance…someone who would walk with me as I trudged through the mire of monthly payments and seemingly never ending balances.

I passed him the list as I explained how things were difficult.  He took a light glance at the list, handed it back to me and said, “You have made some bad decisions”.

Oh, now tell me something I didn’t know.  Thank you, Pastor Obvious.

I wasn’t looking for a handout and I wasn’t looking to be blamed.  I could blame myself, plenty.  I was looking for someone to walk with me, maybe come up with ideas or suggestions, to pray for and with me.

I put that list away and eventually got rid of it.  I talked with him on and off about how we were getting along, but didn’t ask for his help, again.

Grace.

God is love gives grace.  For some reason, we don’t care to extend that same grace. We would rather judge.  Grace does not deny whatever is wrong, but it makes no issue or big deal out of it.  Grace does not bring law down.  Grace remains undaunted by the shortcomings, failures, issues or the sins of another.  Grace is about restoration, rather than condemnation.

 

 

 

 

 

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