Finding God and Church Online

Some of you have been aware of the role I have at Northland Church. In a nutshell it is to help Northland be a catalyst for the starting of more than a million new house churches, what we call Simple Churches, around the world by 2020. Today the Orlando Sentinel did an article on a major piece of the plan. I hope you enjoy it and will do two things. First, pray that we follow God’s lead and make this happen on His terms. Second, consider joining the effort of Global Media Outreach.,0,5297032.story


Provocative Bible Verses: When it’s Good to be Mad

There is a perception that to be a follower of Jesus means that you are never angry, always have a smile on your face, never get mad, and always say things like, “Bless your heart” when you really want to say something far different. It seems to stem from an idea about Jesus that looks at him as some very quiet, meek, introspective wise-man. It also seems to come from an idea that if God is love it means that he is more of a sweet grandfather who never corrects us or challenges us.

Many people think that to get angry is a sin. The fact is, the Bible has a very different view of anger. There are times when it is not only appropriate to be angry but in fact there are situations that if we were not angry it would be tantamount to sin. Our example comes from the oft misunderstood event in the life of Jesus when he cleared the money changers out of the Temple in Jerusalem.

14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” John 2:14-16 (ESV)

The Temple in Jerusalem was intended to be a place in which all people could come and pray and worship God. What the religious leaders had done was turn it into a place to rip off people. In order to make your offering you had to use the Temple coins and no other. So you had to exchange the common currency for theirs. If you have ever had to do a foreign currency exchange you have dealt with the fees involved. In this case the fees that got charged were outrageous and tantamount to robbing people. If you brought your sheep for the sacrifice it had to be inspected and approved. People learned quickly that their own sheep would be rejected thus forcing you to by a pre-approved sheep from the Temple stock at highway robbery prices. Jesus was furious that people had taken something God intended as a blessing and turned it into their own little money-making rip off of the common man. He was mad because such sinful practices actually turned people away from God when they most wanted to get closer to Him.

There are other times when the Bible is clear that anger is justified. God’s repeated calls for justice for the oppressed, the care of widows and orphans, the feeding of the hungry, and hospitality for the foreigner should tell us something of God’s character. When these things are not done, God is not happy. When there is injustice and oppression we should be angry. How can you not get angry when you learn that there are more people in slavery today that at any time in the worlds history? How can you not get angry when you find out that millions of children are victims of the global sex-slave industry?  How can you not get angry when you are confronted with blatant racism or barbaric cruelty? Yes there are times when anger is what is called for; righteous anger, just anger, biblically based Christ-like anger.

But there must be a word of caution. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 4:26 & 27 “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (ESV) We are told by Paul that there are times to be angry. But we need to make sure that in our anger we do not sin. You may be justly angry over oppression and cruelty. But the answer is not to become cruel and oppressive in response. There is also a clear warning to not marinate in your anger. Don’t continue to focus on your anger letting it infect every cell of your being. Not letting the sun go down on your anger is a way of saying “Do not be consumed by it”. Make sure you deal with it in a healthy and constructive way. Find a way to constructively work against the injustice. Otherwise it will build and build and come out in sinful ways. That, Paul says, is what gives room to the the devil. It gives him opportunity to take a righteous anger and twist it into unrighteous action.

Jesus was flat out mad in the Temple. But he did not sin. Even in turning over the tables of the money changers and driving them out with a whip, he did not sin. If your picture of Jesus is one who is always quiet, with head bowed, never causing a stir, then your picture of Jesus is woefully incomplete. When it came to being persecuted and beaten, he certainly took the punishment, unjust as it was. But when it came to injustice and cruelty being inflicted on others, he acted decisively and boldly.

There is a lesson in there for us. We Christians are so quick to call foul when we are personally inconvenienced or even slightly persecuted. Yet we are silent when others are facing death and torture. It must be the other way around. We need to be much more willing to accept the persecution that comes our way for following Jesus and completely unwilling to accept what is done to the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the prisoner, the sick, and the poor.

I Have Seen the Unicorn

Sitting talking to my friend Brian about Simple Church/House Church theory and why a mega-church like Northland is getting involved in helping start Simple Churches. Suddenly Brian says to me, “A good Simple Church is like the unicorn. I have heard that there is such a thing and it sounds cool, but I have never seen one. Have you?” “Yes Brian” I replied, “I have seen the Unicorn and it is a beautiful site”. His face lit up in anticipation of hearing about this mythical church creature.

My most recent sighting of the Unicorn came a few months ago in Orange County California. Don’t let the fact that this was in LA throw you off. There are actually some really great things happening in the Christian community there. On this particular Sunday morning I was in the home of my friends Ken and Ali Eastburn. It was time for the church to gather at their house. What I experienced was first century Christianity in a 21st century living room.

At the Eastburns, like most simple churches, the gathered church means there is a meal that includes communion. Since it was Sunday morning that meant breakfast. I got to cook which was fine with me since I love to cook. Pretty soon people began arriving until we had more 14 adults, including a woman visiting from China, and 7 or 8 kids. At one point Ali was greeting folks at the door when she saw her neighbor across the street working in her yard. Ali has been trying to build a relationship with this woman for months and took the opportunity to go speak with her.

Breakfast was ready so Ken prayed to give thanks to God and people began to dig in, finding places to sit around the family room and at the breakfast bar. As the meal was winding down Ken picked up a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. He reminded us of what Jesus did for us on the cross. God was thanked. The Bread was broken. The cup was given. We had a meal and communion just like the church of the New Testament. Someone pulled out a guitar and along with the kids we sang and prayed and honored the Lord.

After we finished singing and praying, the kids went and did a little Bible study with some handouts that they colored then went outside and played. Ken led the adults in a study of God’s Word. Maybe I should say that Ken got us started. He raised a question about something he had read recently and before I knew it we were off. People were digging into their Bibles, flipping pages back and forth, talking about things God was teaching them, verses they read that week that made an impact, asking questions about things they did not understand. There was no “answer man”. I fought the temptation for be that guy because no one want to be “that guy”. It was thrilling to see people seek God’s truth and share what God was doing. It seemed very much like what Paul had in mind when he wrote Colossians chapter 3 verses 14-16.

14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

The whole time this was going on, Ali was still across the street talking to the neighbor and Ming, the woman visiting from China had joined her. As it turned out this neighbor was going through a major crisis in life and Ali was encouraging her and letting her know how much Jesus loved her. They prayed with her right there in the front yard. We knew what was going on and prayed for them and the ministry taking place outside. eventually Ali and Ming returned and shared with us what God was doing across the street.

We spent some more time in prayer and getting to know Ming and what the Lord was doing in among the brothers and sisters in China. After a total of about two hours from the start of the gathering, people began to take their leave and head home. I found myself inspired by the simplicity of this whole thing and the way that God made Himself known. It was also incredible to see everyone involved and engaged. It was much like the experience I had early in my Christian life when I was part of a fellowship of about 60 to 80 people who met as a group on Sunday nights but in several House Churches during the week. It was much like what I picture the first century church was like when they met from house to house.

Yes Brian. The unicorn is real and it is a beautiful creature in God’s garden.

Following Jesus, Part-Time Hobby or Life’s Passion?

Romans 12:1 and Colossians 3:17 force us to answer some very uncomfortable questions about ourselves and our lives. They are questions that we would rather leave not only unanswered but leave unasked as well. It means that every detail of life, every seemingly inconsequential action or thought must be brought under the microscope of some probing questions.

“Therefor I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship.” Romans 12:1

“In whatever you do, in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

What might some of those hard questions be? For starters, since we are to worship God with our whole body, we might start by asking, “am I worshiping God by the way I am taking care of my body?” I know at this point some of you may be very tempted to click onto another website, but the point needs to be made. When was the last time you heard a sermon dealing with gluttony, the sin of overindulgence on food? I would guess never. Why, because far too many people in western cultures consume food for their comfort and it is many ways their God. That includes a serious amount of preachers who by fact of their own girth, could never get away with preaching such a sermon. Think about how this dishonors God. He created you. You are His work of art. If you had a Picasso or a Rembrandt in your home, how would you care for it? Certainly it would not be left under a pile of junk in the garage. It would be protected and honored and cared for. We would honor that painting ultimately out of respect for the artist who makes it so valuable. How much more should we honor the Master who created the works of art that we call “our” bodies? But this is just one example of how everything needs to be submitted to God and every thought, word, and deed needs to be an act of worship in the name of Jesus.

How about another hard question? Am I worshiping God by the way I serve my employer? When we fail to give our best to our employer we dishonor God who has placed that employer in authority over us. What kind of statement does it make when those who do not know Jesus have the impression of us as people who are always looking for the easy way out, or are gossiping about others, or moaning and complaining about our boss. Those are pretty obvious shortcomings. But failing to honor God in all we do is not limited to the obvious wrongs. When you are on the clock for your employer but are using that time for your own devotion or Bible reading time, you might think that you are being a good witness for God’s glory. The truth is, you are being a thief towards your employer and telling God that you only have time to read your Bible when someone is paying you to do something else.

Ask yourself, does your demeanor in the marketplace reflect positively on Jesus? When it does, it is an act of worship. When it does not, it is an act of idolatry. We substitute our desire for gossip, or our feelings of unfairness, or the right to have a bad attitude for a life that worships God in all we do. We can do this in the workplace, the neighborhood, the school and even the sanctuary. We place that thing, that attitude, that sin, on the altar of our lives and push God aside. And when we do, the person in the next cubicle, or apartment, or desk, who does not know Jesus, is given one more reason to discount him.

Following Jesus is not about something we do on occasion. That’s a hobby. We collect stamps, or build model airplanes, or make quilts, because it is something that we enjoy. It gives us pleasure, even a certain sense of purpose or fulfillment. We can pick it up when we want to and put it down when we get bored with it or it becomes too costly or we are not sure what to do next. Many people approach following Jesus this way. But the Bible is most demanding that we live our lives for Him each and every moment. Everything we do is to be done in Him and for Him.

What is at stake in this is the very honor of God. How we live is a statement of what we think of the creator of life. If in fact we call Him Lord, then He is Lord over all, at all times, in all situations. To live every moment for Jesus is not an obedience that pains us. Instead it is an act of adoration for the Lord that we live for Him out of love for Him. That love for Him should be something that is fueled by a passion for Jesus like no other. We are told that those who are forgiven much should love much. How much have you been forgiven by Jesus? Your passionate love for Him and desire to honor Him with every breath, word, and action should be driven by the depth of forgiveness that you have experienced in Christ.