Is God In The Church…?

Church. What does that word make you think of? What images pop into your mind? The word, “church” is derived from old English and German words which mean “the Lord’s house.” Essentially, the word refers to a structure, a building. In the New Testament, however, that is NOT the word that is used in the original language. The Greek word that we see translated as “church” in the Bible is the word, ekklesia (which looks like this in ancient Greek: “ἐκκλησία”). Ekklesia never referred to a structure but to a people. It refers to the family of faith, not the buildings we construct and call “churches.”

Why is this important?

Throughout religious history, mankind has been in the habit of building temples. There have been multiple temples dedicated to seemingly countless gods. The idea is that the temple is constructed in order that these gods would have a home… an abode. To go to the temple was to go into the presence of whatever god the temple was built for.

When God first engaged the Hebrews, He brought them out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Ultimately they established their permanent residence in Palestine. During all of these travels, they had tents in which they lived. They also had a tent dedicated to Him that we refer to as the “Tabernacle.” It was mobile and went with them everywhere they went. When they set up camp, they did so around the Tabernacle. Never… not once… did God ever tell them to build a Temple for Him. That was David’s idea much later on. David, out of his love for God, wanted to build God a house. He believed that since he had a place to live, it was only fitting that the God Who provided for them all had one as well. God gently rebuked him and said that His plans were the opposite of David’s. He didn’t desire or need a house but would indeed build a house for David. The house He was referring to, however, was one of family lineage. It wasn’t made from wood or stone, but of people and would bring forth the Messiah.

David wanted to build a temple anyway, but God forbade him from doing so due to him being a man of war. He said that He would allow for David’s son, Solomon, to build it. And that’s what happened. And God did enter into that Temple in all of His glory and make His presence known and felt.

Skipping waaaaaaay ahead to the New Testament.

When the resurrection occurs and then Jesus went back to the Father (which we call “The Ascension”), He sent His spirit to indwell His people… His ekklesia. Never one time was there a command to construct a building. Instead the command was to be in motion… always going forward with the Gospel… never anchoring down to a locale in order to establish a place “where God is.”

If you’re still reading, you likely are wondering what on earth I’m going on about. Why does any of this matter?

Because our idea of how the church exists is totally inconsistent with what He established it to be. He never intended for us to think of it in terms of real estate, buildings, and budgets. He planned on it always being an understanding that no matter where we were, there He was as well. He was not and is not confined to a place. When anyone has certain rules or preferences for things that go on “in the Lord’s house,” then they have illustrated a major misunderstanding of what and where the Lord’s House is.

This is not an attack on the church at all. It’s more of a redirecting of our energy and thoughts relating to it. A Temple (which is very similar to the modern day church building) gave the idea of a fixed and unmovable location. It presents as a permanent home where we go to visit God.

God’s design was never for us to park Him somewhere, but to be on a journey with Him. These buildings that we have are not evil in intention or usage. They are just often misunderstood. To answer the question above: yes. God is in the church… when we are. But when we cease to be there, He has no need to be there either. It’s just a utilitarian structure that facilitates our activities related to the worship of and teaching about God.

This is vitally important because this helps us understand that God is not in a church but is very much in His ekklesia. Peter refers to us as “living stones.” This is a clear indicator of an understanding that although we often think that we need to build church buildings, He has established His people long ago and is simply adding on and renovating as time marches forward.

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Image taken from: http://www.countrychristianchurch.com/

Don’t Get Saved…

I remember the difficult thing about preaching… It wasn’t the getting up in front of people that bothered me the most. It wasn’t that I was concerned whether or not they would like my message. It wasn’t a concern over whether I would have enough to say (never been a problem). All of these things and many more would go through my head repeatedly as the time approached for me to stand and deliver. No… the biggest concern was how to wrap it up in such a way as to make sure people felt a need for salvation. I don’t mean that it was ever manipulative (at least not in an intentional way). But one of the primary things we’ve seen modeled is that we must always make sure people understand the need to come to Christ for salvation. I would approach it with urgency and true concern over their hearts and souls… and on numerous occasions, they would come forward and make a decision right then and there to “get saved.” Continue reading

Not A Better You…

I was listening to a podcast yesterday and it had an advertisement break. The product being advertised had a tagline that was something like, “becoming a better you.” As I thought about this I realized that nearly everything we buy or buy into is presented this way… with a promise that if we use the product, service, or ideology correctly, then we will be an improved version of ourselves. I continued to contemplate this idea and realized this is the way that many people (if not most) approach Christianity. The problem is that Christianity is not about making you a better version of you. It’s not about fixing your broken parts… Continue reading

Repenting of Religion: Part 2

I didn’t mention this in the previous article, and I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before in other posts, but the word “repent” has a very simple meaning. Basically, it means a change of heart. It refers to reformation of the mind and heart. When we hear the word, “repent,” I think we don’t often know its meaning but instead just associate it with some religious mindset in an almost superstitious way. It’s almost treated like a form of incantation although not used to that extreme. When I think of the word, the person that comes to my mind the most is John the Baptizer. He was a fiery preacher whose most memorable phrase was “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!” What did he mean by this… and have we considered it and applied it correctly? Continue reading

Repenting of Religion

“I need to be in church.” “I need to be reading my Bible.” “I should not be doing such and such…”

How often have you said these very things, or thought about them in an almost condemnatory sense? How often have you had something bad happen, either by happenstance or in a context that you brought on yourself, and thought, “God is getting even with me.”?

I find myself in these thought processes every day… on an almost constant level. The truth is: I’m a selfish, egotistical, self-serving, hypocritical, dishonest jackass. I know these things about myself and I’m not proud of them nor am I intending to remain as such. But because I know these things, I find myself thinking constantly about how I should be doing different things and acting in different ways. For example, if I wake up in the morning and turn on SportsCenter and watch it while drinking my coffee, I begin to be plagued with guilt about not taking the time to read my Bible or write on this blog or simply spend time in silent meditation or prayer or… well you get the idea. If I use a word that Christianity has deemed foul or coarse, I immediately begin to think about how much I must be displeasing God. If I don’t attend a church service on a given Sunday morning (such as this one) I feel like I’m playing hooky. If I don’t give a certain amount of money to the church, I begin to wonder if my finances will be cursed.

I don’t know if you can relate to any of this or not. My bet is that you can.

One of the biggest objections to our faith from outsiders is that we have a bratty or draconian god that is looking for any opportunity to “smite” us. This really is not fair, though, because God isn’t the One that makes us think this way. He isn’t sitting on His throne with a checklist like some angry Santa Claus, eyeballing our every move with disapproval and scorn.

For some reason, perhaps it’s control, we tend to always come up with a mindset that encapsulates our relationship with God within a system of rules and guilt. This is what religion is good at. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because it’s the easier way out in regard to answering questions about what God wants from us. Once again, maybe it’s about control.

Christianity isn’t the only guilty party in this line of thinking, to be fair. All religious systems have similar tenets. Even atheism (which is also a religion, by the way…) has rules.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Rules aren’t bad. Rules keep us from driving on whatever side of the road we so please and therefore having a head-on collision or running someone else down and embankment. Rules tell us not to steal, kill, rape, plunder, etc. Rules keep our society in order. Some rules are ridiculous, like the one in North Carolina that says I can’t plow a cotton field with an elephant. Or in South Carolina, I can’t keep a horse in a bathtub. Come on, what if my horse is sick and in need of a warm bath, and all the while my elephant is perfectly capable of plowing my cotton field right across the state line? See what I mean? Let’s be reasonable.

Seriously, rules aren’t bad things. The rules God gave us in the Bible were for our own good, not petty commands that a capricious and bratty god came up with. Some are strange, but they have a context and I’m not trying to dissect all of that right now. What’s bad about rules is that we attach our adherence to said rules to our value before God. In other words, if we do or don’t do these things, then God is pleased with us and loves us more. This is the essence of the religious mindset.

Here’s the thing: our value in God’s economy is demonstrated by what He gave for us. He sacrificed His very own life. He lowered Himself to the form of a lowly human being, all with the intention of receiving a disgustingly bad beating and execution… all for us. He did this, knowing full well how we would continue to mistreat Him and rebel against Him. He did this knowing that even after I made a decision to become a follower of Jesus, I would continue to do the most selfish things and act in the most inhuman ways.

God’s love for me isn’t base in my actions or inaction. His love for me is based in His own eternal and infinite identity. He loves us because that’s Whom He is.

I encourage you to go to church. Read your Bible. Give of your resources to help others and support organizations. Do these things out of a love for Jesus and the love He has given you for others.

But don’t for one minute remain in the mindset that these things are what makes you valuable in His sight because He has made you invaluable. He has made you priceless. Our value is determined by the One that designed us… not by our activities.

 

Jesus Has Been Hijacked

I think one of the greatest misunderstandings our culture deals with is that of the personality and likeness of Jesus of Nazareth. Aside from His divinity (which I firmly believe in), His influence on the world is likely the most widespread in all of history. He wasn’t an aristocrat, a prince, or a wealthy businessman. He was a laborer and a Rabbi (and, of course, is THE Messiah). Whether we believe in His God-ship or not, we all seem to have an opinion on what He was like…what He stood for…the ways in which He lived His life. The unfortunate reality, however, is that He has been represented in ways that further our causes more than He has been represented truthfully…and this really needs to stop. Continue reading

The Walking Dead

I don’t understand the fascination that so many in our current society have with books, shows, movies, and/or other media related to zombies. I’ve joked around about this for years. For some reason, I have a strange and definitely irrational fear of zombies. I actually scoured the web one day (just for fun) looking for a word that encapsulated this definition. I found one: ambulothanatophobia (click here for definition of ridiculous word). If you’re still reading this, you’re likely wondering why I would be writing about this subject on a forum such as this… Continue reading

I Cannot Be A Christian

I grew up in the south. My grandfather was a minister for most of his life. Until my parents split up (when I was 7 years old), my dad taught Sunday School and my family was active in the church. Christianity was in our DNA. Church was inherited. It had been established in our minds and hearts as something we were to be a part of. In my teenage years and my very early 20’s, I had abandoned any belief in the Bible and in Jesus. I had certainly abandoned my belief in the church. However, there was always this nagging tug in my mind that I should be going to church. Even though I didn’t believe in it, I had learned this as an activity from early on in my childhood…and non-participation felt like a betrayal of my identity. We attended church nominally throughout those years and I would sometimes participate with my friends in a few activities…but it felt so foreign…so wrong…so fake…yet so important.  Continue reading

If I Was The Devil…

We see the cross everywhere. It is one of the most ubiquitous symbols in the world. It’s so pervasive that we may well have forgotten what it means. Worse yet, we may have become totally numb to what it represents. It’s possible that by putting this symbol in front of our eyes constantly, we’ve desensitized ourselves to the effect it should have on us. It’s a symbol of death. It’s a symbol of pain and suffering (I have written about his before more in depth, so if you would like to read that ===> CLICK HERE ). Being desensitized to something as important as the cross is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to us…and if I was the devil…It’s exactly the kind of thing I would want to see happen. Continue reading

Religion And Politics

Religion VS Politics

This is an election year. Every election year, a big discussion comes up about how a candidate feels about religious faith. Then there is a plurality of citizens that are offended by this. “Separation of church and state!” they cry. “Don’t mix religion and politics!” Are they right? Are they wrong? I don’t totally know…but here’s what I think… Continue reading

The Hell Of Jesus

cross and hell

During WWII six Navy pilots left their aircraft carrier on a mission. After searching the seas for enemy submarines, they tried to return to their ship shortly after dark. But the captain had ordered a blackout of all lights on the ship. Over and over the frantic pilots radioed, asking for just one light so they could see to land. But the pilots were told that the blackout could not be lifted. After several appeals and denials of their request, the ship’s operator turned the switch to break radio contact–and the pilots were forced to ditch in the ocean.

Can you fathom the feeling of that type of abandonment? That had to have been the scariest and most helpless feeling one could ever have… Imagine the panic…imagine the anxiety.   Continue reading

The Devil Inside

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As long as I’ve been a follower of Jesus, there seems to have been a list of things we aren’t supposed to do. As I’ve written before, one of the main questions that people ask when coming to a church or becoming a new believer is about “the rules.” Christians have a reputation for keeping kind of a tally of the things of this nature. I’m not referring to civil law so much…as in the law of the land…but to a moral code of conduct. Then…when we fall short within that framework…when we break one of the rules…when we cross over into “worldliness,” we feel dirty… impure… guilty… ashamed…hypocritical. Eventually, we arrive at a mindset wherein we believe that if we could simply NOT do those things anymore, then we would be better off…and we could not be more wrong. Continue reading

Why I Don’t Like Your Church…

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I don’t know how many other pastors struggle with this particular problem…and I sure haven’t heard any speak about it much. Perhaps it’s an understood problem and therefore a taboo thing to bring up…but I can’t help it. I think I need to expose a serious problem in my life…my heart…my soul…my ministry. I need to expose it because if I don’t, then like black mold that grows and reproduces in the darkness…it will simply become a problem larger than I can deal with. It will take over. It will rule my life and my ministry. So here goes: I am going to tell you what’s wrong with any church but my own. I’m going to explain to you why I believe all other churches aren’t good enough. I’m going to tell you why I don’t like your church…whether your the pastor or the pew-sitter. Continue reading

Lethal Savior

not a tame lion

I was teaching through a story in the New Testament recently…and something Jesus said really alarmed me. I have read this passage numerous times…and it has always seemed odd to me in light of whom I’ve understood Jesus to be. I had always been lead to believe that Jesus was simply a loving person…never harsh. Every time I had heard a sermon or lesson about Him in which He seemed severe towards someone…well…it was explained away through some type of verbal gymnastics, “In the original language, this word mean such and such and that phrase meant something totally different…,” and so on. Following along this same path of thought, when I would teach something difficult about Jesus, I would do the same thing…until the other day…and then I decided to let Him be Him…and I found a much more shocking Jesus than many of us have known… Continue reading

Not My Enemy

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Many times when I write things such as the following, my premise is misunderstood. Frankly, I think that some want to take it a certain way…looking for areas of disagreement, debate. If that’s the position in which you find yourself, then you may want to stop reading now because this is not an argument in regard to theology, philosophy, or politics. This is simply my journey in a sea of humanity wherein all are searching and many are wandering in darkness. Therefore, before I begin, let me preface this by saying that in no way am I trying to “find common ground,” or “sympathize” with anyone. This is about being human and…hopefully…biblically Christian. Continue reading

The Battle In My Head

careful what you think

I have a terribly judgmental and harsh way about me. Those that know me well also know that if you start a critical conversation with me, then I will escalate the discussion. This is not something I’m proud of in the least. This is one of those things that haunts me in the mirror. I spend so much of my time thinking back over things I’ve said and the ways in which I’ve said them, wishing that I had had the will to keep my mouth shut… Continue reading

The “War”

It seems as though it never fails…every season…someone is outraged by something a corporate entity does or doesn’t do relating to Christmas. I remember working for RadioShack and we were instructed to say “Happy Holidays” to our customers. This wasn’t about religion. It was about making money. The company took the position that they were serving clientele from many different cultures and traditions and therefore wanted to ensure that everyone felt a type of “season’s greetings.” Once again…this was not theological…it was financial. If someone felt welcome and comfortable in our stores then they were more likely to spend money and return to do the same next time. However…for some reason…many within the Christian subculture have decided that it’s the responsibility of the various corporations to spread the message of Christ’s advent…and I find this a bit bizarre… Continue reading

What People Think Of Me…

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I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with insecurity…and deeply connected with that concern is a fear of what others think of me. In recent months, I’ve written about some very serious social issues, but I’ve done so with a great deal of anxiety. The reason for my anxiety is that I don’t want to be dishonest about my beliefs or disrespectful to my faith while also not wanting to alienate those that don’t share the same view. I guess if I’m really and totally honest, my fear is that I would be lumped in with a particular segment in our culture that is seen as a very close-minded or even ignorant group. (I’m not saying they are close-minded or ignorant, but just that they are viewed that way.) So…what happens next is that I have a conversation with someone…or stand up to preach a sermon…or sit down to write an article…and then I begin to struggle through all of the possible outcomes to the various things I could say or write. This can be paralyzing to some people…people like me… Continue reading

Christianity And Homosexuality: The Main Thing

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This past week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that all states in the Union must acknowledge the legality of same sex relationships (it’s much more complicated than that but for the sake of brevity, that’s how I’ll summarize it here). As I looked on Facebook to see the general response from those I know, it was no big surprise to see our culture totally polarized. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion on this issue. Over couple of days following, the rhetoric online was a virtual tidal wave of anger and judgment from both sides of the equation. Those against same-sex marriage were outraged and angry and those that supported it were outraged and angry that anyone would be outraged and angry about it. Continue reading

Christianity And Homosexuality

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I have long dreaded addressing this topic…but it is one that is becoming more and more volatile…so it is with great caution that I wade into these waters. I truly want to insure that no one is offended by my remarks so understand that I acknowledge that I get a lot of things wrong. I am no expert on this subject by far. I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist, sociologist, medical doctor, scientist, or trained counselor. I’m just a pastor of a small church with no real credentials to speak of…and I really try…albeit with great failures…to follow the Jesus of the Bible. Having said that… Continue reading

I Am A Christian Part Two: Lovingly Bold

Christian

As I surf the web this holiday season, I have observed the inevitable tension that has been mounting for the last several years. One group viscerally says that we should say, “Happy Holidays!” while the other group responds angrily and says, “Keep CHRIST in Christmas!” I was reading some articles the other day and one of the common threads among those that do not like saying “Christmas,” was this principle that Christians should not “force” our religion upon others. I began to really consider this for a moment… Continue reading

I Am A Christian

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I meet people in all kinds of settings. A few days ago, I was in a situation in which I was in a waiting area. There was only one other person waiting there with me and she started a conversation. As we spoke, I quickly became aware that she was not a local. She eventually asked me where I was from, and I responded by telling her that I grew up just down the road. She then asked what I did for a living. I responded by saying, “I’m a pastor.” Her facial expression changed…and the conversation then went in an interesting direction… Continue reading

Religious Machinery

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In first century Jerusalem there was huge temple for carrying out the Jewish sacrifices and customs.  This was built according to God’s design/blueprint and the intention for it was to be a place of prayer, contemplation, and repentance. Like most things, the original intention for the Jewish Temple was far different from what it had become by the first century. The Sadducees were the ones that controlled the temple and its various components and had become very wealthy as a result. It would have been a hardship to come to Jerusalem from far away in order to make a sacrifice if you had to bring the animal all that way, and the animal had to meet certain requirements as well. Therefore they sold animals for sacrifice in the temple courts…and some have said that they were very picky about the animals people brought in from the outside…insuring that they would have to buy an animal from the temple. Continue reading

the doomsday distraction

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today is the the 20th of december of 2012…tomorrow being the 21st…and there are many people in the world that are certain that on the 21st there are going to be major cataclysmic events that may bring an end to the world as we know it. let me start by saying that i don’t have any idea what the future holds nor will i spend much energy debating that subject. the only thing i will say is that Jesus told us that He would return someday and that would mark the beginning of the next age. i believe in that, and therefore i don’t put much stock in the predictions of mankind. something may happen tomorrow…who knows…but i refuse to be distracted and carried away by that debate. Continue reading

alone

recently i was watching the pilot episode of a series called “once upon a time.” one of the main female characters goes home on her birthday and has a single cupcake with a single candle and celebrates her birthday all alone. she makes a wish that she would not have to continue to spend her birthdays all alone…the interesting thing is that she lives in a big city…amidst a virtual sea of people…yet she is totally alone… Continue reading

the missing ingredient

after more than a decade of ministry work and church attendance, i have noticed something very peculiar…there is something missing…something very important…central…essential…and it’s totally missing. a.w. tozer spoke of this same principle when he wrote his book the divine conquest…he said that there is no greater reality than the utter unreality with which the Christian church approaches worship. what mr. tozer was saying was that the most real thing in the life of the church is that when we worship, we don’t act as though we actually believe in the Object of our worship…resulting in just another ritual which we are going through to check off the “religion” box for our week. i have been in very traditional settings as well as charismatic ones and the same truth is very observable in both…it’s just expressed differently. in the traditional setting, there is an insistence on dignified behavior and speech, and in the charismatic there is a desire to have an “experience.” but in both circumstances, i notice that people leave and then eventually begin down the same paths of habit and life as they had before…because transformation wasn’t/isn’t occurring…just temporary highs or reminders…but life-altering, mind-invading, heartfelt change was not/is not happening. Continue reading

runaway bride

a few years ago, i was at a men’s conference in a local church and i made a new friend. i was in a very disenfranchised and arrogant  state of mind regarding church and all of its various attachments. at that point in time and i made a comment to him…i said, “the Bride of Christ is incredibly screwed up.” he didn’t miss a beat, responding to me, “yet, He still loves her immensely.” that was a major defining moment for me…it rocked my world…it literally made me stop and catch by breath as i re-thought my attitude and mindset regarding the church. it was then that i realized that i was part of the problem…in fact, perhaps the larger part…because in all of my ponderings and thoughts about how bad off the modern church is, i never stopped to consider the solution…instead all i cared about doing was pointing the finger of judgment at the church, calling it “judgmental” (irony at its finest), and feeling superior in what i felt was a keen insight on reality. meanwhile, there she was…floundering…struggling…trying… and there i was…not helping one bit… Continue reading

disciples…or sons of hell…

in the majority of evangelical churches, there is a lot of talk about “the great commission.” this is the command that Jesus gave His followers to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations. truly, the original language (greek) doesn’t refer to “nations” as we understand them. it is the word “ethnos” (ἔθνος), which is where we get our word, “ethnicity.” so what He was saying was to make disciples of all people groups, of every color, and culture in the world. this is where our missionary efforts come from…sending out missionaries to carry out this commission. this is typically a very difficult but very rewarding lifestyle and many of our missionaries have given their lives in response to this call…spreading the Gospel message all the while and sowing seeds of the Gospel all across the world…in the attempt to make disciples. we also do this (or should be doing this) at home, in our communities, counties, states, and nation… Continue reading

they don’t see

i was speaking to a gentleman one time about someone who had committed a pretty despicable crime. he told me that he hoped they put the man under the jail and filled it with concrete. i remember the anger that came to the surface when he spoke of this incident and how much it affected me. it was such a visceral response that i was almost uncomfortable…but i understood how he felt. truth be told, we all feel like that about certain things. we want to see people punished for their actions and held accountable for their deeds. some of us may even like it when we see someone pulled over by a police officer…thinking to ourselves, “they’re getting what they deserve!” but when it comes to us being pulled over or us being the ones in the wrong, we never want justice. i’ve never heard of someone flying through an intersection at 30 miles over the speed limit seeking out a police officer to dole out their punishment…because we only want justice when it is directed at someone else…we always want mercy for ourselves…

Continue reading