My favorite chapter in the entire Bible is Colossians chapter three. If you add the first six verses of chapter four I would be willing to say it contains pretty much everything we need to know to understand how to follow Jesus. It’s like the liquid diet meal replacement of Bible passages. If there was any section of scripture that I would recommend memorizing just in case you were stranded on a deserted island this would be the one.
It answers the big questions of “So now that I’m a Christian, now what am I supposed to do?” Isn’t that what we all want to know? What does God want from us? How are we supposed to live our lives?
Listen to how the chapter starts again:
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”
Perspective. We have been given a new life. Born again. Adopted children of God the Father who created the universe and is making all things new. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ who sits at God’s right hand with all authority in heaven and on earth. What are you worried about again? What’s that heavy burden you are carrying around with you? Do you remember who your new Father is? Do you remember who your new brother is? Let the things of this world grow dim in the glow of His marvelous light.
For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
This is trippy stuff but what does it mean? This world is dead to you. The cares of this life were buried in your baptism, died with Christ, and when He came out of the grave He gave us a new life—our real life which is mysteriously hidden in God.
Perspective. When the cares of life fill our days with worry and we are worn down, tired and filled with concern about everything that surrounds us. How is there going to be enough money? Is my job secure? Are my kids gonna be alright? Will they do well in school? Will they find a good husband or wife? Will they survive being teenage drivers with cell phones? Everything is hard; my marriage is hard, my friendships are hard, work is hard, the house is a mess, I’m a mess… Stop. Listen to these words:
Your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
Christ is our new life. “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me” Gal. 2:20. He also lives in us by the Holy Spirit. “To live is Christ” Phil. 1:21. We believe Jesus will return someday and when He does we will appear with him in glory. At the second coming of Christ there will be a general meeting of all the saints; and those whose life is now hid with Christ shall then appear with Christ in that glorious new state, John 17:24. We will be made whole and be together with Jesus forever. Our futures look good. Here’s the point: Shouldn’t we remember who we are and keep focused on where we are going? Otherwise we’re like kids in the backseat of a car complaining about how bored we are while our parents are driving us to Disneyworld to have the time of our life. This isn’t supposed to be the funnest part of the trip. This isn’t supposed to be the most exciting point of the journey. We have a hope that goes far beyond any of the worries and concerns of our present situation. Perspective.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe you still haven’t figured that out. Maybe things haven’t exactly turned out like you hoped when you were a kid. When I was little I wanted to be Batman. I have report cards from the first, second and third grades that have the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and my answer all three years was “Batman.” You know what? I’m really glad I didn’t grow up to be Batman. I would be a terrible Batman. I don’t have enough money to afford the gadgets, I would look terrible in the Batsuit, and I don’t want to shave my beard. I’m afraid of heights and I don’t really want homicidal maniacs trying to kill me and everyone I love. Sometimes it’s a really good thing when life doesn’t turn out the way we wanted.
When I became a God fearing teenager I wanted to be Larry Norman. He was a Christian Rock singer/songwriter with long blonde hair who wore black leather and wrote clever songs about Jesus. I grew my hair out, dyed it blonde and bought a fake leather jacket. I started writing terrible songs and talking about Jesus. Eventually I figured out that I didn’t want to actually be Larry Norman, I just wanted to write and perform my own music that might challenge people to think about God. I also wanted to be a pastor and a writer. I spent years straddling the fence between those pursuits until finally—okay, I’m still straddling the fence between those pursuits.
What did you want your life’s work to be? Someone said if everyone grew up to be what they wanted to be when they were a child then the world would be overrun with policemen, firemen, and animal doctors. There might be a few cowboys or football players mixed in with the princesses but we would be hard pressed to find an accountant or plumber when we needed one.
We are talking about work. We all have work to do. Sometimes it’s fun and fulfilling to get stuff done, to put in a hard day’s work and get paid for it. It can be very satisfying. Some of us have worked hard to get the education and opportunities we have, we have impressive sounding titles and we feel good about what we do, we’re proud of our work.
But some of us, not so much. We cringe when we meet someone and they ask the inevitable question, “So, what do you do?” Maybe we feel like we should have done more with our life, or have gotten a raw deal. Maybe we’re just not where we want to be yet. Life happened and we didn’t finish that degree, things got tight and we were laid off from the job we loved, maybe we took our position for granted and messed up a good situation—now we find ourselves twisting in the breeze because of our own stupidity.
Whether we love our job or hate our job there is one thing that is in common no matter what our work is. Work is hard.
We were made to work, designed that way from the beginning. When God first made man He put him in a garden and gave him a job. It was good. It wasn’t until after the fall that work became the life draining suckage that it is today. In Genesis chapter three God looks at the newly fallen man and explains his new job assignment. His new annual goals:
By the sweat of your brow
will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
In other words, If you want to eat you’re gonna have to work, the work will be hard and then you will die. Any questions? Things haven’t changed, we’re not gonna get around this even if we are following Jesus, saying our prayers, reading our Bibles and going to church like good little Christians. We still have to work if we want to eat and work is going to be hard.
The good news is God can redeem our work. If we give our work to Him, offering it to Him as part of our worship, then it will not destroy us. Here’s what I mean: if we see our job as a way to glorify ourselves (by an impressive title, a big paycheck), or as something we begrudgingly endure, doing the least we possibly can to collect a check—then work will be a source of poison and torture in our life.
We were made to work but we were not made to be consumed by our work. That’s where we get it wrong. Jump to the end of Colossians chapter 3, verses 22-25:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do.
Even though it says “slaves” we need to read it as “Employees/workers, obey your bosses/managers/teachers in everything you do.” All of us have someone who tells us what to do and when to do it.
Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you.
Work like the boss is watching, that’s good advice. I told you, Colossians three is solid. It’s convicting though, isn’t it. Do you ever have an extra tab open in your browser so you can switch back to email or a spreadsheet instead of getting caught on Facebook or reading blogs? Of course not because we’ve read Colossians and we know better.
Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
Here is the point: Our real boss is God and as Jesus followers we’re to do everything as worship to Him. Did you know that one of the most common words for followers of Jesus is “slave?” Doulos. We are to see ourselves as the slaves of Jesus. Even though we are to try and please our bosses, you know how it is, some people just can’t be pleased no matter what we do. The world is full of horrible bosses. If we understand that our true boss is the Lord, and we are really His slaves then it doesn’t matter what the earthly boss thinks of us. Our sense of who we are, and how we are doing no longer comes from the job, what it says on our business card or what the job pays us. Listen to this:
Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.
Notice that it says we’ll get an inheritance as our reward, not a paycheck. A paycheck is something we earn. We put in the hours, finish the work, complete the project and collect our payment. That’s not ultimately how we are to look at why we do what we do. We are like the favorite slave who is treated like a son or daughter, then inherits the entire estate. This is the counter-cultural part of what I’m saying. It’s why I said we were made to work but not to be defined by our work. We have jobs to do but we are not to find our identity in our job titles. The reward we receive for doing our work as unto the Lord is because of who we are, not because of what we do.
At the Last Supper Jesus tied a towel around His waist like a servant and washed the disciples feet. Think about it, was He defined by what He was doing? It was a dirty job that no one wanted to do, it was humiliating, their feet smelled bad. This is a picture of how we are to go about our work.
Ask yourself this question when you are at work: How can I love people? Are there dirty dishes in the break room? What if you just quietly washed them? Did someone make the toilet dirty in the bathroom? What if you took some paper towels and cleaned it up so no one else had to see it? What if we weren’t always trying to squeeze the last dime out of every deal and showed some generosity now and then? What if we took a minute to listen to someone’s heart and gave them some encouragement? There are so many things we can do to worship God and love people through our work.
But there will be bad performance reviews, cruel supervisors, unfair teachers, impossible standards and bad things will happen. We will have days that drain us, maybe years. We will not always rise to the occasion and amaze our employers. Sometimes we will suck at our jobs.
This is a good time to remember that our life is hidden in Christ. We have been given a new life. Born again. Adopted children of God and our brother is the Lord of all Lords. This is great news because if we were to simply to be paid according to the purity of our work, I’m afraid we might not like the amount on our paycheck.
This next verse is a hard one:
For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
This sentence kind of comes out of nowhere and different translations go to very different places with it’s meaning. I tried to figure out what it is actually saying by looking at the original Greek. A literal word for word translation would be: “For the one who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and will receive it without any respect for who they are.” Which didn’t really help.
It could still mean at least three different things. It could mean that we should take comfort knowing that God will pay back “the wrongdoer” (our mean bosses and teachers) for all the unjust things they have done to us. “Vengeance is mine thus saith the Lord.” This is true and It could mean that but I don’t think it fits the context of the rest of the chapter, so I don’t think that’s what it is actually saying here.
It could mean if we are sorry workers who half-ass our work then we will be held responsible, that being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up sloppy work. But I don’t think that fits either. I don’t think the final point of this passage is that as harsh as our earthly bosses might be, God is an even more merciless judge, and since we are supposed to do our work for Him, if we don’t do a good job He will smash us—I don’t care who you are.” No, that doesn’t sound like good news.
I think it means this: We are all “wrongdoers” so we put our hope in the inheritance we have in Jesus rather than what we can earn with our works. In other words, if we were merely paid for the amount of work we accomplish, or paid according to the quality of the work we were able to do, if our ultimate hope was in our job performance alone, then we would be crushed by our work. The best we can do is not good enough. Our hope is not that we will be paid according to our works but that our reward is an inheritance. We will not receive the wage we have earned, but the glorious reward of a prince or a princess—and here’s the cool part—whether we are the C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 company or a fruit stand vendor in a third world country. When we do our work as unto the Lord the pay is the same, and the pay is beyond our wildest dreams.
Work is always going to drain us. It is always going to tempt us to find our worth in it. It’s always going to be hard, that’s why it’s called “work.” Do you ever feel burnt out? Drained? Our work will always demand more from us, more than we have to give. It will always crush us. Some people say, “Do what you love then it will never seem like work.” That’s nonsense. I do what I love and I am my harshest critic. My songs are never good enough, my recordings are never perfect enough, my messages aren’t as good as other preachers, there is always more to do, I never get enough done—I’m like a hamster on a spinning wheel. “Do what you love and you will never stop working” is more like it. Work is going to be work and it’s going to be hard. It’s going to crush us if we try to make it our God. Work will not save us.
That’s why we need to see our self in Christ. That’s why we need to keep our eyes on the hope we have in Him. At the end of the work day we don’t put our hope in our paycheck or what we can accomplish. We put our hope in Jesus and then we will receive our inheritance.
Work has been cursed as part of the fall. The Christian life doesn’t give us an escape from sweating while we work but we don’t have to let our job define us. Not our successes, which will go to our head and destroy us, nor our failures which will go to our heart and leave us in despair.
May we work as unto the Lord, seeing our vocation as part of our worship. May we look for opportunities to love people through our work, serve people in our workplace, may we humbly submit to the authorities over us and treat the people we lead with kindness and compassion. May we find comfort in knowing we are slaves of a God who treats us as His own dearly loved children and will give us an inheritance worthy of a prince. AMEN
This is the final week in the book of Jonah. It has been an exploration of what surrendering to God looks like. Especially when we don’t want to, which is almost always. It would be cool if you went back and listened to the Podcasts of the first three weeks so we are all on the same page but for now I will recap.
There are four chapters:
Chapter One: Jonah Runs the wrong way and God sends a storm,
Chapter Two: Jonah Prays from inside the belly of a sea monster,
Chapter Three: Jonah Preaches the most successful and lame sermon ever then,
Chapter Four: Jonah pouts and feels sorry for himself.
This week we are going to pout and feel sorry for ourselves—welcome to Jonah’s Pity Party. When the Ninevites repented and God had mercy on them it broke poor Jonah’s little heart. He had run around saying “Forty Days from now God will destroy Nineveh” and now that wasn’t even going to happen. He was so embarrassed just standing there with no destruction and everything. God totally stood him up. Don’t you hate when you tell everyone a city is going to be destroyed and then it completely is not destroyed and everything?
Let’s read through the text again and I’ll point a few things out as we go, Jonah chapter four:
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
So, Jonah tells on himself, this is why he ran the other way and didn’t want to obey God in the first place. He knew God was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster. Which all sounds like good news but Jonah didn’t want to share God’s kindness with people he hated so he goes on to say:
Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
!!!! Let that sink in. Jonah would rather die than watch God show kindness to the people who believed his message. Okay. I kinda expect God to go Homer Simpson on him, grab him by the throat and say “Why you little…” But that’s not what happens, instead God is as patient as a Kung Fu Master asking a rhetorical question:
And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
Try to snatch the pebble from my hand Grasshopper. When God asks a question it is always for the sake of the person He’s talking to, He is God after all. Notice Jonah doesn’t answer this time. He just storms off stamping his feet like a toddler.
Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.
He is still hoping that God will rain destruction down on Nineveh like a reverse Forth of July fireworks show.
Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.
Jonah had made a booth but the booth wasn’t enough to make him comfortable, probably because he was facing the sun. God applied a little Miracle Grow and suddenly he was feeling good. Rightly so, Jonah saw this as a “God Thing.” Probably made him feel very special. Maybe God would destroy Nineveh after all! There’s still time for this to all turn out great. Jonah was getting so hopeful. Here’s a truth about people, we tend to look for happiness in the same place we lost it.
But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint.
The worm killed the plant and the wind probably knocked down his little makeshift hut. These are also “God things” but Jonah, like all of us, doesn’t want to accept discipline and redirection from God. It just made him angry.
And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
He repeats himself. Once again Jonah is in “full on pouting brat mode.” I would expect God to act like Homer again but God speaks to him gently, like He’s speaking to a spoiled child:
But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”
I think Jonah knew exactly what God was getting at, just like we do, but he won’t admit it:
And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”
God responds one more time and then the book is finished:
And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
The end. Cattle get the last word.
We don’t know what happens next. Does Jonah repent again? Does God destroy Jonah instead of Nineveh? I don’t think so, God has shown nothing but patience and grace throughout whole story. Why does God ask a rhetorical question and leave us hanging like this? Maybe it’s because the question isn’t just for Jonah, it’s for us. It’s for the people of God who will read this account and realize that we also have a hard time surrendering to what God tells us to do. We have a hard time accepting that God both gives and takes away. He makes the sun shine on us in happy times and walks us through dark storms when He is the only thing we have to hold on to.
I think the main theme of the book of Jonah is that we’re rebellious and God is compassionate. We’re stubborn and God is merciful. God is our Father and we’re disobedient children. The open-ended question is how are we going to respond to this message? God, who loves us, in His kindness has told us to do something—told us to do many things—we refuse to do it and feel sorry for ourselves.
We stand there with Jonah at the end of the last chapter, God’s Word ringing in our ears. Will we be hard hearted and angry or — or what? What is the opposite of Jonah’s reaction? If our attitude is to be the opposite of Jonah’s, what should our attitude be?
Is the message simply to do what God tells us? Jonah did what God told him to do, so I don’t think that’s the point. What’s the point then?
I’ll tell you what I think, and it changes everything. The way to be the opposite of Jonah is to be thankful. Grateful. Humble. To be for others rather than for our self. It’s the direction of growing into maturity rather than wallowing in childish pouting.
Discontentment is the base sin and cause of almost all our unhappiness. It is our basic sickness and the cure is to be grateful. Thankful.
In the entire Bible there is nothing that seems to disgust God more than discontentment. Ungratefulness. Entitlement.
When my kids were a little younger they used to love going to Chuck E Cheese. They thought it was the most exciting, fun place in the world. To me it’s one of the most torturous things to do on the planet—everything from the bad pizza, mind-numbing noise and the animatronic singing robots is just painful. I think I’d rather go to Nineveh in the belly of a whale then spend an hour at Chuck E’s, but because we want to be good parents and we love our kids, we would spend our precious Saturday afternoon in the cheesiest place on earth. The kids would run around in a frenzy, play the lame games, ride the dumb rides, collect a few hundred thousand tickets that they could trade for an amazing prize before going home. Three million tickets would buy an eraser shaped like a mouse head. Totally worth the investment.
Then the most amazing thing would happen. Every time. As we got ready to leave, my kids would look up at me with tears of joy and say, “Thank you father for the great sacrifice of spending your precious Saturday bringing us to this place of glorious wonder. We are eternally grateful.”
Yeah, that’s the ticket. That’s exactly what they said.
Well, the tears in the eyes part is true. You know what really happened: They threw a fit and begged to stay longer. No matter how long you stay it’s never long enough, they always want more. They’re never thankful that you brought them, only sad when they have to leave.
And it never gets any better. I’m not just talking about the kids. We get a little older and grow out of Chuck E Cheese but then it’s replaced by other equally pathetic things until we’re fully grown adults walking around being ungrateful for everything all the time. No matter how much we get we always want more. No matter how long we get to stay we always want to stay longer.
What’s the sadness of death if it’s not just throwing a fit as we leave Chuck E Cheese?
It is sad when we have to go, and when our friends have to go, but we have the hope that there is life after cheese. If you can imagine the possibility of a place more wonderful than Chuck E’s.
We spend so much of our life obsessing over things that won’t bring us any joy. Jonah wanted to die because his pet plant had withered. Really? A plant! That seems really lame but I’ve lost my mind over stupid things, too. Is there something you have, some prized possession, that if it were taken from you would tear at your soul? How much would it bother you if you dropped your phone or iPad on the concrete and cracked the glass? Or if your car was stolen? Or your house was broken into? What if it burned to the ground? Or even worse things.
Would you be tempted to curse God and want to die? That’s pretty much where Jonah is at the end of the book.
I’m afraid it wouldn’t take much for me to go there, too. I’m not better than Jonah. I’ve been there before and I’ll probably be there again.
Some of the things God’s going to ask us to do are going to be hard. Hard things are always going to be hard. Surrendering to God, being obedient is how we grow into the people God’s called us to be.
The Book of Jonah shows us how gracious God is. Think about how patient He is dealing with stormy little Jonah. God has every right to be angry with him at every turn of this story but He shows kindness instead. Which is amazing to us because it’s not how we would react.
The LORD is patient with Jonah and He is also patient with us. The LORD offers forgiveness to anyone who realizes how ungrateful they’ve been, confesses their unthankfulness, repents and believes His Word. He offers mercy to everyone who’s rebelled against Him, to anyone to hears the Word of the LORD, turns from their wicked ways and believes in the promise of God.
And the promise of God is Jesus. When He hung on the cross dying in our place He looked at us, us—the people standing here with blood on our hands, holding the hammer, watching Him die—He looked at us and said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” That’s the promise of God.
Jonah was a selfish jerk with murder in his heart but he was also one of God’s beloved children. Just like you and me.
“Father, forgive them. It’s my blood on their hands. I shed it for them. I gave it for them. Forgive them.”
And God forgives us. At NewChurch we want to make sure everyone knows that. Here is a twisted paraphrase of the last thing God says in Jonah:
And the Lord said, “You pity your life, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and will perished in a night. And should not I pity the world, in which there are more than 7 billion persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Let’s pray together:
Father in Heaven we thank You for Your mercy. We thank You for everything. Help us to have thankful hearts and an attitude of gratefulness for everything in our lives. For the good happy times when everything seems right and for the dark stormy times when we feel the brokenness of this fallen world. Help us to hold onto You, to cling to You and rely on You to get us through the bitter darkness of every sad night. Your promise is Jesus, that in His resurrection we will find joy in the morning. Our hope is in Jesus who died, was buried and rose to life on the third day, we also have the great hope that death is not the end and we will raise to new life, and life everlasting. AMEN
Jonah was a prophet. His job was to hear the Word of the Lord and say it to the people, but when God told him to say something he didn’t want to say to someone he didn’t want to say it to, he was conflicted. In Jonah’s mind the Ninevites were terrorists and enemies. He didn’t want to tell them about God’s love and forgiveness. He wanted them to remain enemies and for God to punish them. Destroy them.
God asked Jonah to do something hard. Something he didn’t want to do. It was emotionally hard because he hated them but it was also physically hard. Nineveh was 500 miles away. He was going to have to travel by camel. I looked up how long it would take to travel 500 miles by camel and, no kidding, the first result I clicked on at ask.com said, “Too long.” That seemed about right to me so I didn’t look into it any further. I think Jonah probably felt the same way.
Jonah says “nah” and hires a ship to sail in the opposite direction to Tarshish, a wealthy port city where people lived in relative comfort and leisure.
Jonah didn’t write any of the Psalms. If he had it might have sounded something like this: “O God. You are great and wonderful, all powerful and mighty. I am your humble servant but I’m gonna take a pass on this one. No. Thanks for asking though. I really do think You’re super cool. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m gonna head on over to Rio. See you on the beach. Selah.”
“No Lord” is not an appropriate response but we say it all the time. We know what’s right but we don’t do it. We always have. Mom and dad told us to clean up our room and we kicked a few toys under the bed and piled them into the closet. When we get caught with our hand in the cookie jar we find someone else to blame. We compare ourselves to other people to make us feel better. To make us feel justified. We all become Charlie Brown and rationalize that our room is a monument of tidiness and perfection compared to Pigpen’s room. At least we’re not as bad as him. Besides, it’s not our fault that it’s such a mess. Our parents gave us too many toys, too many socks, how do they expect us to find a place for all this stuff? It’s only a mess because our brother or sister came in here and got everything out. Plus we have too much homework and we’re tired from being at school all day. It’s always someone else’s fault and we are never responsible. We can find reasons and excuses all day long to keep from doing what we know is the right thing to do. Plus, the right thing is usually harder than grabbing a bag of Doritos and watching TV.
But we know what the right thing is. We always know. God might not speak to us like He did to Jonah—most of us are not Old Testament prophets—and if you are an Old Testament Prophet then I’d like to talk with you after the service. It’s always interesting to talk to delusional schizophrenics plus I want to keep you away from the children.
For the rest of us God still speaks to us but He speaks to us in different ways.
He gave us all a conscience, an internal compass pointing us in the right direction. The problem is we can bend or break it by repeatedly ignoring what it tells us. Someone close to me once told me they believed whatever direction they were facing was South. No kidding. They retired to Florida and were last seen in Quebec Canada. It’s a lot like when we tell ourselves things like “I just follow my heart.” I have a verse for you: “The heart of man is deceitfully wicked above all things.” Don’t follow it. God may have given us a conscience but that’s only a starting place for knowing what He actually wants us to do because we have been actively warping our internal compass since we were in diapers trying to control the universe with our tears.
He also gave us His Word, the Bible. Heroes of the faith. The ten commandments. Jesus’ summary of the Law and the Prophets that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourself. Or in other words, “Worship God. Love People.”
But we don’t worship God or love people with all our heart, soul, mind or strength. We don’t even really try do we? If we did, what would our prayers look like? What would our singing sound like? What would our passion for knowing God’s Word be like? What things would we be doing to help people? When we say we are tired, is it really from doing the work God has called us to do with all our strength? Are we just too tired to do the right thing because we are so worn out from worshiping God and loving people?
God also speaks to us by His Spirit. This is more mysterious but anyone who follows Jesus for any amount of time will eventually hear a still small voice. Like any conversation, part of prayer, talking with God, is listening. When I get quiet and listen for God to speak He always does, but it’s never something I actually hear. It always seems like remembering that He just told me something. Like I’m praying and suddenly I have the sense that God has spoken to me, or guided me and I remember what He said. I never hear the actual words spoken—which is good because otherwise you’d probably think I was nuts. We don’t like to talk about the mysterious aspects of our faith, it makes us uncomfortable. I don’t know how it happens for other people but I believe God speaks to us when we seek Him in prayer. He will never contradict His word and usually He is simply reminding us of what He has already told us.
Of course one of the main ways He speaks to us is through people. Which is exactly what God was trying to get Jonah to do for Him.
The point is, He makes it clear to us in a number of ways what He wants us to do but we very often say “no.” The right thing is often hard and would mean we would have to leave our comfort. We have our plans and our desires and we don’t want to listen to anything that gets in our way. Most of us believe we’re entitled to follow our dreams and the desires of our heart, anything else is unAmerican.
To worship God is to bow before Him. To submit our will to His. To surrender.
Worship is surrendering our plans to God’s plans.
Jonah was a prophet! A freakin’ Old Testament Prophet who heard the voice of God. He was very clear about what
God said. God told him to do something he didn’t want to do and he said “no.” Before we stand in judgement over Jonah and say he was acting like a little punk maybe we need to examine our own heart.
What is God telling you to do in your life? What are you resisting? What hard thing are you ignoring?
You might be thinking, “dang, Frank, lighten up. I thought this was just a fun story about a guy who got swallowed by a fish. Why you gotta be so heavy and uncool.”
I think most people believe God is their personal Lord and genie. We think Jesus is our Life Coach. We look through the Bible for Life Hacks. Jonah’s seven secrets to personal fulfillment through submission. Our selfish motives for worshiping God are usually some form of “How can God help me fulfill my destiny. How can He help me get what I want.” Like it would be unfair and beyond reason that Jesus might ask us to abandon our plans and surrender them to His plan and His purpose.
When I was being interviewed by MTV in 1994 I didn’t think God was planning on me being a worship leader of a church in the suburbs for ten years, then starting a new ministry that will begin with lawn chairs on astro turf. I would have never anticipated or believed how glorious and fulfilling those things were going to be. I might have asked Riki Rachtman to throw me into the sea.
What if instead of looking at church and following Jesus as “what’s in it for me?” We asked a very different question, “What does it mean to be obedient to God?”
Does God want to bless you and does He want you to be happy? Sure, but His ultimate plan is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus redeeming and saving everything. It’s not about us but the cool thing is we get to be part of it.
Just like Jonah, God has given us a mission. We might not like it but we are supposed to make Jesus known to the people all around us. They might be hostile to us, it might be hard, but we are supposed to tell them about His love and His grace, we are supposed to look for opportunities to have super awkward conversations about Jesus. We’re to invite them to church and to be part of our family—our true family. We are to pursue them for Him. As impossible as it sounds, we are supposed to love people. We need to be serving our community, finding out what’s needed and giving it. How are we supposed to love the people of Katy? What does it look like to surrender what God has given to us and be obedient in giving to God’s mission? Time? Money? Comforts?
That’s probably going to be hard for us to surrender to. But it can be even harder to pursue our own families and love them.
We are to teach our children about faith by praying with them, reading the Bible with them, talking with them about His Word. We can’t pretend like we aren’t qualified to talk about faith with our family.
We are also supposed to love each other. To love the people in this room and the people who walk through those doors. To offer forgiveness to the person who offends you. To remain in friendship with the person who hurts your feelings. It’s hard.
But it doesn’t stop there. I want to address something important that concerns us as we start NewChurch. God has called many of us to leave the comfort of our old churches and do this new ministry. Listen to me, He is not calling us to say bad things about where we came from or hold bitterness in our hearts against the people there. He is not calling us to rejoice in their suffering. Our mission is not to persuade people to leave their churches and join us here. Our mission is to find lost sheep and love them, not to steal sheep who are already under the care of a shepherd. We’re not poachers. In Illinois they used to hang sheep thieves just like horse thieves. To this day it’s still an automatic third degree felony.
Surrender to God’s will is important. Jonah found out about this the hard way, and so do most of us. When they asked Jonah what they should do he should have told them to turn the boat around and head toward Nineveh, but he chose to be thrown overboard rather than obey God. He thought God was trying to kill him and he was hoping to die.
When Angel was not quite two years old he needed dental surgery. Some of his baby teeth didn’t develope enamel and they rotted into little black nubs, this was going to cause problems for his permanent teeth. The dentist gave us the choice of strapping him to a board, head, hands legs, and body—or holding him. So, I laid in the dentist chair holding his head and arms while Kim held his legs. He screamed and cried, his face was bright red with tears pouring out of his eyes. He thought we were killing him. He did not surrender and he didn’t think what was happening was for his good.
This is the actual point of the book and it is easy to miss. God loved Jonah. Even when Jonah refused to surrender and thought God was going to kill him, God saved him instead.
Jonah spent three days in the belly of a great fish and as weird as that sounds, it saved him. This is a wonderful reminder of Jesus who surrendered to the Father in perfect obedience, spent three days in the darkness of death and as weird as it sounds, saved all of us.
God doesn’t give up on disobedient people. God loved Jonah no matter how much of a jerk he was, no matter how hard he fought against what God wanted him to do. Should we surrender to what God wants us to do? Yes. Will it make him love us more? No. Did I love Angel less because he fought against me?
May we listen to God’s small voice that He put inside our conscience, our spirit, in our dreams. May we hear His Word and seek to understand it, hiding it in our hearts so we might not sin against Him. Even more importantly, may we rest in the comfort that He will pursue us. When we are running from Him, like a child into traffic, He will run after us and rescue us. May we recognize His mercy and kindness even when they come to us in the form of something we don’t understand—like a great fish. AMEN
There are a lot of things Christians say that make me roll my eyes, a lot of painful plastic phrases that just sound phoney. We’re so quick to say things like, “I’ll pray for you, brother!” “Bless you sis!” Lord, if you’ll just put a “Hedge of protection” around us! “Invite Jesus into your heart” “God doesn’t respond to Email but He does respond to KneeMail” When people use amen as a question it drives me nuts—Amen?
This whole concept of the “family of God” is something we say but I wonder what we mean. Are we saying that our true family is made up of the people we share a common faith with? Or are we just saying some nice words to make church feel more special—instead of “these are some people I know from church” we say they are “my brothers and sisters.”
Some people like to say their workplace is a family, too. Funny though, because no matter how tight things get we don’t usually consider firing Aunt Mabel. Family, my foot.
Is blood thicker than water? Or, does Jesus want us to understand that if we are following Him then water is actually thicker than blood?
Last weekend I was able to go to a fantastic event at Oikos Church thanks to Pastor Aaron and his great team. It was a workshop seminar taught by Mike and Sally Breen. They have written some really great books on discipleship and being a family on mission. He said a few things that blew my mind, and I couldn’t wait to get back and share those things with you guys. Last week we were talking about how there are a million ways to do this church thing wrong, and this week I’m continuing on that theme—I want to talk about how Jesus teaches us that the church is our true family. It’s where we need to find our core identity, who we are and where we are going.
This might seem to be at odds with how our culture looks at the world. By now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the teaching of Jesus turns what we think we know about the world on its head.
Quick recap of the life of Jesus: Christmas in Bethlehem with angels, farm animals, sheep and wise men. Fast forward: twelve-year-old Jesus amazes teachers at the Temple in Jerusalem, then stays behind when Mary and Joseph leave—they find Him and ask where He’s been, He says “I was at my Father’s House, Duh!” The next time we see Him He is thirty-years-old, He is with his mom at a wedding turning water into wine. It seems like He had a pretty good life with His family and friends in Nazareth.
He is baptized by His strange cousin, the sky opens up and God Almighty says in a voice of thunder “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” Then the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove and blows everyone’s minds. It’s a cool moment. Jesus goes into the desert filled with the Spirit and is tempted by the Devil for forty days. Do you know what the temptation actually was? We think the temptation was to turn stones into bread, jump from the Temple or bow down to the Devil—but the real temptation is found in the Devil’s opening line each time he spoke. Each time he said, “If you are the Son of God…If.” He was attacking His identity as the beloved Son in whom God was well pleased. Jesus did not fall for the lie, and He left the desert in the Power of the Spirit, completely confident in who He is. In Luke 4 it says “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
That sounds really nice. Good for Jesus! Hold that thought and Let’s keep reading in Luke 4 starting at verse 16:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
It’s all going really well at this point. I can just imagine His mom back in the ladies corner beaming with pride as her son is being admired. His brothers are sitting there nodding their heads and smiling. Everyone is having a great time. Then Jesus says a little more and ruins everything.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.”
In Matthew it says that “he didn’t do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” Which is funny, because it seems like one miracle would be plenty of miracles.
Then He looks into their hearts and says what they really needed to hear, but what they were not at all prepared to receive. He told them that just like in Elijah’s time, the great things that He came to do were not just for them. The oppressed who were going to be set free and the sight that would be given to the blind was not just for them, but was also for all the people they didn’t like. All those dirty Sirians, Samaritans, Greeks, Romans and Gentiles.
Look what happens after He tells them this:
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Well, that escalated quickly. We went from smiles and beaming with pride to a mob filled with murderous rage. We know that Jesus’ mom and brothers and sisters were there and yet it says “all the people in the synagogue were furious, got up and tried to kill Him.” You know what it doesn’t say? It doesn’t say “But Jesus’ brothers gathered around Him in a circle and tried to protect Him from the angry crowd” it doesn’t say “But Jesus’ mother cried out ‘this is my son, BACK OFF freaks!” You know why it doesn’t say that? Because it didn’t happen, His family were part of the mob.
This is rejection you’re gonna feel when your mom and brothers go along with your enemies and try to smash your head with rocks. That’s not a good day. But it wasn’t time for Him to be betrayed and murdered, so He walked through the crowd and went on His way.
He walks all the way to the coast where He calls the disciples, teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven, and does all the cool Jesus stuff we are all familiar with. I think this gives us a little more insight into some of the more difficult things Jesus said about family. For example, one day He’s teaching in a crowded house, there isn’t room for anyone to come inside and it says in Matthew 12:46:
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
It was like:
“Hey Jesus, your mom and brothers are outside.”
“Did they bring the police? Do they have guns?”
“No I think they just wanna talk.”
“I don’t really have anything to say to them right now.”
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think I can hear the hurt and rejection in that passage. I used to just think Jesus was being cold. Like His poor mom can’t even get a backstage pass to visit her rockstar son—but that’s not what’s going on. They were not followers, they thought He was misguided and probably wanted to talk Him out of all this foolishness before someone tried to kill Him again. They did not believe his true identity and I think they were being used by the Devil to tempt Him all over again.
It makes sense out of some other hard things He said, too. Like in Matthew 10:34 where Jesus says:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Water is thicker than blood.
If you’re close with your blood family, you know that relationships with your natural family can be precious and beautiful. God invented the family and set it up as the foundational building block of human culture. I’m certainly not trying to say anything to discourage anyone from loving and enjoying their family. I wish everyone could experience the warmth and tenderness of a good family. Unfortunately, family is usually a mixed bag and we are stuck with the bad along with the good.
My biological father was a cruel abusive man. He abused my mother, sometimes right in front of me. I carry scars with me to this day—physical and emotional—from things he did to me. One night he showed up with a shotgun, blasted his way through a locked door and had every intention of murdering his family. He was stopped by my grandma and the police, he was taken away to a mental institution and I never saw him again.
God wants us to think of Him as Father. But If God wanted me to think of Him as my Heavenly Father, then the picture I had was of someone who was angry, mean and didn’t like me. If God wanted me to think of Him as a loving father who cared about me, then maybe He should have given me a better example.
And then He did. My parents were divorced, a couple months later my mom met a coal miner named Bob Hart who married her and became my step-dad. He was as kind and good natured as evil-bio-father had been bad natured and dangerous. God used him to save us from a destiny of violence, darkness and poverty that we were previously locked on like a laser guided missile.
But along with my new step-dad came three step-brothers. Over the last three years I have been writing a book and parts of the book deal with my childhood, so I’ve had to relive and remember a lot of things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I started to realize that I have a lot of bitterness and anger tucked away concerning one of my step-brothers. We fought a lot and he is probably the most difficult relationship that I’ve had in my life. I’ve only seen him a handful of times since high school. Over a year ago his daughter was killed in a tragic head-on collision—my heart was broken for her baby son, and I can’t imagine how hard it had to be for my step-brother, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. That’s not only jacked up, that’s not like me at all. My mom, his step-mom, died in January and just a few weeks ago his wife died—but I still haven’t talked with him.
I’m very close to my biological brother, Jeff. He’s not only a ninja, as some of you know, but he is also a brother in Christ. We were talking about all this one day and he admitted to me that he was not only surprised by my refusal to talk to our step-brother, but was also disappointed in me. Ouch. It was hard to hear that but that’s what a real brother can say to you.
There is nothing better than when our blood-family is part of our spiritual family.
As a side note, we parents are not raising our kids to become adult children, or good citizens, we should be raising them to be our spiritual brothers and sisters. All of our discipline should be aimed at making them disciples of Jesus so that we can one day stand beside them and pray to Our Heavenly Father.
So, lets continue fast-forwarding through the life of Jesus because I have one more punchline that is the best one yet.
He continues building His new spiritual family. The early church fathers and tradition says that eventually His mother Mary joins the followers and becomes part of the new spiritual family. We know that she is at the cross when He dies. Three days later is the first Easter and Jesus appears to a long list of people. This is where is gets really cool because St Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that one of the last people Jesus appeared to was His brother James.
What an amazing show of forgiveness and mercy. Can you imagine? You tried to kill your brother, you publicly spoke against him, you sided with the religious leaders who finally took him down. You probably stood around the Temple and synagogue with all the cool intellectuals talking about how foolish it was to follow the misguided idiot. You served as the best proof of their doubt—THIS is Jesus’ brother, and even he doesn’t believe in Him.
And Jesus appears to His faithless brother, shows him tenderness and brings him into His true family.
After the resurrection James becomes a leader in the church. He is the head of the church in Jerusalem. He presides over the council of Jerusalem in Acts when they are trying to figure out what to do with all the new Gentile believers. Remember, this was the very thing Jesus was talking about all those years before in the synagogue in Nazareth—the very thing they tried to kill Him for. The blessings of what Jesus came to do were not just for the home team. And then James is the head of the council deciding what to do with the Gentile Christians.
I think this is amazing. And as Mike Breen was talking about it last Saturday I couldn’t help but think of my step-brother. Jesus reconciled with His half-brother James, maybe I need to have a little conversation with mine.
Who’s God putting on your heart right now? I’ll bet there’s someone.
When people follow Jesus together we call that the church. We have a greater, deeper more important relationship with each other than any of the previous relationships in our life. Jesus even teaches that we shouldn’t hesitate for a moment to give up blood family ties if it becomes necessary in order to put God first.
But, you know what’s infinitely better than cutting ties with family members who try to stand between you and God? It is far better to reconcile with them and make them a true brother or sister.
This is what Christ has done for all of us. He’s gathered us here to follow Him together. To be His mother and sister and brother, His true family. To remember our baptism when He clearly says that we are His beloved child in whom He is well pleased. The water that binds us together as the people of God is stronger than the blood that ties us to our family of origin.
May we rest in knowing that we are dearly loved children.
May we stand together as brothers and sisters, may we stand on this side of the resurrection with our Lord and brother who was once dead but is now alive, and will never die again.
May we walk in the power of the Spirit knowing that we are sons and daughters of the Living God. AMEN
Last Update September 30, 2015
Headlines Without Articles
Over the last couple of months some really big and exciting things have happened at NewChurch, here are some headlines:
Anonymous Donation of $200,000 generated $233,000 in a MatchMyGift campaign.
NewChurch Worships at No Label with Free Beer and The Blues.
NewChurch Moves into Phase Two—Building Toward Public Launch.
Frank Hart Commissioned as Sent Minister by Oikos Church to Plant NewChurch in Katy.
Pastor Matt Popovits guest Preacher For 25th Week at NewChurch—170 Attended.
NewChurch Website is Live! – 5-28-2015
We are proud parents of a bouncing baby website. NewChurchTexas.com. If you have suggestions or comments about how we can improve it please let us know. Was anything confusing? Is there something you would like to see? We want it to be an accurate representation of who we actually are at this point in our journey. Putting our best foot forward without being impressive. Baby Steps. Take a look and see what we are up to, maybe you will want to help—that’d be nice.
Frank Hart starts a New Podcast – April, 2015
Frank is a great travel companion and now you can take him with you anywhere you go. Have deep conversations about faith, doubt, anger, family and other practical subjects. It will be a bit of a one-way conversation but it might be a springboard launching you to new thoughts and wonders. iTunes or Other.
NewChurch Saturday Nights – February 21, 2015
After serving at the same church for eleven years it was time for something new. Frank is starting a new church in Katy, Texas along with Kemper Crabb. Informal worship is on Saturdays at 6 pm. Join us if you want to help us start something new and amazing.
Westminster Encounter Service – March 22, 2015
Frank is leading worship for the Encounter Service at Westminster United Methodist Church on Sunday mornings at 9 am. He is joined by Johnny Simmons on drums and members of the WUMC House Band. Along with popular worship songs and ancient hymns, he usually performs a song from one of his recording projects as a tie-in for the message.
Atomic Opera For Madmen Only Twenty Years Later CD Re-Release – December 5, 2014
After being out of print for nearly twenty years the original Atomic Opera grooves are available once again. Three bonus tracks are also included: Hammer, Magic Castle, and an alternate version of Joyride.
Frank Hart’s Living Creatures Project CD Release – November 14, 2014
A CD release of worship songs written by Frank. The album was co-produced, mixed and mastered by Alan Doss (Galactic Cowboys). Frank wrote a series of blogs about the album. It is truly modern worship and classic rock.
Frank Hart Book Publishing Deal – February 7, 2013
Part memoir, part philosophical introspection and laced with dark humor. Frank uses stories from his life to speak about faith, doubt, music and love. The book is titled “Joyride: A beginning in every end.” Look for it in 2015.
Messages from NewChurch Saturday Nights.
Thoughts on how Jesus turns everything we think we know on its head. Worry. Anger. Worship. Raising kids. Miracles. Marriage. Friendship. Hope. Death. Family. The Future. Decisions. Happiness. Charity. Obsession. Sex. Possessions. Freedom.
A Million Ways to Do Church Wrong | MSG 4-12-15
If we were to start a new church, if we could clear the slate and start fresh, if we could open God’s Word and let it speak to us, what would that church be like? In our imaginations, what do we picture when we think of a “church?” In our preconceptions and presuppositions, what do we think a church is supposed to be? Is it a grand cathedral with stained glass windows, a pipe organ, gold ornamentation and heavy wooden pews? Is it a group of people meeting in someone’s living room with an acoustic guitar? Is it a little country church on the edge of town with old people, young people, an upright piano and whatever musicians just happen to show up? Is it a multipurpose facility with stage, lights, video projectors and a rock band? Maybe it’s a small group of people sitting in lawn chairs on astro turf—at least for a while.
What would be the reason for them getting together? Would it be to plod through a ritualistic, historical, liturgical form, making sure to cross themselves while they also cross all the “t’s” and dot the “i’s”—trying to do everything right, with the right words and in the proper order? Would it be to sing along with emotionally charged music, drumming-up the passion to feel a previous spiritual high—kind of like getting your Holy Spirit fix for the week. Maybe it would be more about hearing a deep, challenging, seminary level Biblical message. Or is it to hang out with your Christian friends? Is the point just to get church out of the way, check it off the list of weekly obligations. We go to church because we are supposed to. Maybe church should be fun, entertaining and good for the whole family.
Maybe it’s more noble and pure than any of that shallow nonsense.
Like, going to church should be a selfless act of worship, something we render to God expecting nothing in return? No wait, that sounds wrong, like we are doing God a favor. Maybe since God is the one who has everything we need, church should be a time of us simply receiving His gifts. Or is it both? Does He give us what we need and we respond with thankful praise.
Should church be more about edifying the people of God, deepening their faith, calling them to action and feeding them with Word and sacrament? Or should it be more about reaching those who do not yet know about God’s love and Jesus?
(John 14:3-6) says this: And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
There’s a lot to think about in this well known verse of scripture. It’s a very rich picture of who Jesus is and what He means for His people. I want to spend a few minutes thinking about how if we focus on one of these attributes to the exclusion of others we end up with a skewed vision of what the church should be.
Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life. He is all three, but too many churches focus on only one of these primary aspects of His being. For example, some churches are all about “the way.” In “The Way” churches the focus is on Jesus being the way to the Father, heaven and eternal life, and focus their entire attention on getting people saved. Every sermon is an evangelistic call to faith. The members end up getting “saved” every couple of years—just for good measure—because the only thing that matters is how many converts they make. How many people come forward, dedicate their life to Jesus, or get baptized. I’ve been to that church and you probably have, too. The old school “Way” churches were like tent revivals with “fire and brimstone you’re going to hell” sermons followed by an emotionally charged altar call. With every head bowed, every eye closed, no one looking around—I see that hand, and that one, and another, now just take that next step and come forward to the altar. The modern version of these churches probably have a rock band, multimedia presentations, and some kind of bigger than life preacher. They are gimmicky, trying to get new people to show up, and as big as the front door is—because they are highly attractive, I mean attractional—the back door is just as big. People tend to leave in droves, either when they figure out that there is very little beyond the big flashy evangelistic outreach event (so they go looking for a church where they can grow deeper in their faith) or when they are attracted by a newer, shinier “shock n awe” campaign. These are “the way” churches, and they hardly have time for silly things like Bible study, discipleship or helping the poor and vulnerable.
Other churches are more obsessed with “the truth.” They are all about deep Biblical teaching, Sunday school and study groups. They all but ignore the Great Commission but they can recite it to you in Greek. They are serious. Serious about their music, their form of worship, and every detail of their doctrine and practice. These churches tend to be small, but they can be quite large if the preacher/teacher has some charisma or is a published author. The main growth for these kind of churches is when people outgrow “The Way” baby churches and long for the deeper things of God. Many of their numbers come from burned out “Life” church members, too.
When I was fourteen, I started going to church for the first time in my life. It was a church that could be characterized as a “Life” church. My mom had warned me about it, she said, “Don’t go to that crazy church, those people are nuts.” Her objection was part of the attraction, part of the reason I went. God can even use teenage rebellion to get His children’s attention.
I started doing ministry in a “Life” church. I went to one of their Bible Colleges and was on my way to becoming a pastor when I “burned out” and took a fork in the road that led to me doing music for the next twenty years or so.
“Life” churches are the most volatile. If “Truth” churches are a cold, beautiful stone fireplace without any sign of fire, then “Life” churches might be said to light fires without bothering to build fireplaces—they just set everything on fire. Everything is done with passion and emotion, there is a desire to be filled with the Spirit, signs and wonders, laughing, weeping, dancing, naming and claiming everything for your best life every week.
In my experience, people in “way” churches tend to remain infants in their faith. People in “truth” churches tend to get cold and grumpy—quick to argue about everything—and people in “life” churches tend to burn out. Not always of course, and most people think their church is perfectly balanced—fine—your church is the exception and I’m not talking about you.
We’re talking about the ideal church, and I believe that Jesus wants His church to represent Him in fullness. I think we are to represent Him as the way, the truth and the life, all three. Making disciples, growing in knowledge and wisdom, while also enjoying a Spirit-filled, abundant life—while making sure others have plenty, too.
I have noticed that churches tend to either have faith or works but not usually both. Churches tend to either preach the hard truth of God’s Word and actually believe in Jesus—or they have a soup kitchen. They either say with their mouth that they believe what the Bible says is true, or they actually do with their hands the work of helping the oppressed, the orphans and the widows—what James calls “true religion.” He also says faith without works is dead. Churches tend to either profess belief in what the Bible says or do the work it tells us to do. Few churches seem to have both faith and works.
As a worship leader, I have led the music in all kinds of churches and noticed some patterns in how the congregations sing. In “the Way” churches, where they are mission focused primarily—you know, missional—most of the congregation hardly sings or not at all. They don’t seem to understand the concept of “praising God with raised voices,” participation is half hearted and they seem to treat the service more like a smooth jazz concert. In liturgical churches the people fill the sanctuary singing hymns and speaking the readings and responses with full voices and in charismatic churches they pour themselves into the songs like their life depends on it—hands raised, eyes filled with tears, teenage boys lining up to pray with the hottest girl at the altar.
It seems like there are a million ways to get the church thing wrong. So, back to my original question: if we could start a new church from scratch, looking at God’s Word and following Jesus, what kind of church would we make?
When I was first thinking about starting this new ministry I wrote a simple outline of the vision I believed God was showing me.
- To become a community of people following Jesus, giving glory to God and blessing to each other.
- To worship in a way that is Biblically faithful and culturally engaging, and
- To be a ministry focused on reaching out to those who do not yet know about God’s love, while continuing to love and care for the people who are already here—investing in them and discipling them toward Jesus.
I think this vision has the potential to be a balance of the way, the truth and the life Jesus wants for us.
We are starting with these informal worship gatherings. We meet here on Saturday nights, praise God with music, hear His Word and pray together. Then we hang out for a couple of hours getting to know each other over good food and drink while our kids have a blast and make friends. That’s the part you see.
The part you don’t see is just as important. We have assembled a group of eleven leaders who meet weekly in a discipleship huddle. We want this church to be led from a spiritually mature, safe group of people who know each other and hold each other accountable. After several months, the leaders of this group will start their own discipleship huddles and invite others into them. This is how we are starting our new church from the inside out. We are focusing on Jesus and how He invested in His leaders before He went public with the church that changed the world.
When we go public, we will go for it. When we have established a core group who will roll up their sleeves and do this ministry with us—all of you, plus a few others— we will have a grand opening. When we have a stage for the band, lights to make it beautiful in here, speakers to make it sound good and clear, some kind of screen so we can look up and read the lyrics and maybe show a video now and then, rows of chairs that you don’t have to carry in from your trunk. once we get the party ready, then we will release the Kracken. We will let the community know we are here. We will make signs, run ads, and tell all our friends. We will have events, concerts, sports celebrities as guest speakers, provocative message campaigns, and anything else we can think of to get people’s interest in walking through those doors and joining us.
I like to call this the “air war.”
We’ve all seen the shock and awe campaigns on CNN. Flashes of light in the distance as Baghdad is pummeled with bombs. It’s a spectacle. it gets everyone’s attention. It’s on the 6 O’clock news. It’s impressive but it doesn’t win the war. The war is won on the ground with troops going street to street, block to block, house to house, securing an area. It’s messy. The big worship show, with a rock band, multimedia, lights and a strange, yet somehow likeable preacher will only get us so far. There has to be a ground campaign with community, Bible study, and prayer—there has to be house by house, person by person discipleship.
Another big idea for our new church is the concept of “third place.” Your home is your first place, your work is your second, then the third place is where you meet your friends. It’s also part of what defines you. It’s the diner on Seinfeld, Central Perk on Friends, it’s Cheers—a place where everyone knows your name. Churches want to be people’s “third place” but they can’t be, not really, because they are never open—other than for worship events or Bible studies, sitting side by side with their friends listening to a speaker or singing along with a worship leader. People don’t get to know their friends in lecture halls or concert venues, they go to places where they can talk, meet for coffee, share a meal or have a beer.
This is why our worship is followed by a Hang out time.
Some of you have told me how much you look forward to our Saturday night gatherings, and how this is becoming your ‘third place” and that’s great, but our vision for NewChurch is bigger than that. We want to open a gastropub. One that is open every day. It will have great coffee, great food, craft beer and good wine. A place where we can meet our friends for fun, for business, for lunch or dinner or just to hang out. My hope is that it we be a place where people want to meet and sometimes God will open up opportunities for conversations and ministry to the people who show up. No pressure. No sales. Not a “Christian pub,” just a place where God’s people hang out with the community and worship on the weekend.
My hope is that we will be a church that introduces people to God’s love, His grace, and the salvation that is only available through Jesus. May we be people who are ready to give an answer to the anyone who asks about our hope in Him.
May we be a church that longs to know the deeper truths of God. Not satisfied with baby milk and candy, but hungry for meat—wisdom and knowledge—and are prepared to share what we have learned with the people puts in our lives.
May we be a church that is filled with the Holy Spirit, walking in the Spirit, and led by the Spirit. May we not only have faith and believe, but may we do what God asks us to do. Enjoying the abundant life that Jesus offers us and sharing our blessings with the people God puts in front of us.
I think we are off to a great start.
Even if God blesses us with the ability to add some production value to our Saturday night worship event, and even if He brings a bunch of people in here, I don’t want to lose what we have now.
I want NewChurch to still have this comfortable, accessible atmosphere. I want us to continue to be organic, warm, inviting and friendly. I want us to hang out and enjoy each other’s company, share food and favorite beverages. I want us to grow closer and more like true family. I want our kids to grow up knowing each other, making life-long friends.
Most importantly, I want NewChurch to follow Jesus. To know Him fully. He is the only way to the Father, He is the absolute Truth by which anything can be known or understood, and He is the resurrection and the everlasting abundant life. AMEN
WORRY | NewChurch 3-21-15
We’ve been looking at the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus addresses His followers and gives them a complete overhaul of the way we are to look at the world going forward. He turns conventional wisdom, and the things that everybody thinks they know, upside down. This is Jesus giving us His updated version of what it means to be a person who desires to live their life following God. Over the last four weeks we have talked about anger, judging people, making promises we can’t keep, an eye for an eye, let your yes be yes, walking on water — and this week we are going to talk about a subject that affects all of us. Tonight we are going to talk about worrying. Anxiety, fear, obsession and what we can do about it.
I want you to think about something, what is your “go to” worry? Is there something that pops in your head when you wake up in the middle of the night? Is there something you are worried about right now? What are you afraid of? What makes you nervous? Anxious?
Worry can be overwhelming. It can suck the joy out of life. What if this happens? What if that happens? We worry that something bad is going to happen, or might happen. We think if we worry about something, maybe we can prevent the bad thing from happening. Or at least keep it from getting out of hand. Worriers think it is their duty to worry about the anything they can imagine might happen—like it’s the responsible thing to do. The truth is, worrying doesn’t do anything good. It’s actually really bad for us.
Dr Robert Leahy wrote a book called “The Worry Cure: 7 Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You” and he says “Worriers are more likely to have irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, fatigue, aches and pains, In addition, it is a present symptom of anxiety disorders and overlapping psychiatric disorders such as depression.” He calls it “what if” disease, and says it robs people of their potential and well being.
So, from a psychological standpoint, worry is not a good thing. It is not a pleasant thing. Tonight we are going to look at what Jesus has to say about it. I’m not pretending to be an expert on worry, I’m not Dr Phil, and this message is not a LifeHack. My hope is that we can look at God’s word together with an open mind, hear what God is saying to us, let it stir things up, and start a conversation about what we should do about it. A conversation with each other—which we will have time to discuss in our HangTime afterward, and a conversation with God. Listen to what the Spirit is saying to you through the Word.
Let’s turn to Matthew chapter six, starting at verse 25.
Jesus is talking to His followers about how they should look at their life and He just explained to them that they can not serve both God and money. If we are going to follow Jesus, then we can not be obsessed with material possessions. Then He gets on the subject of worry. It’s funny to me how very little has changed in two thousand years concerning what people tend to worry about.
…So, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, or what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Well, there you go. Simple. Just don’t worry about your life. Don’t worry about food—whether you like it or don’t like it, whether you eat too much of it, or don’t have enough, whether it’s covered in cheese or vinegar—don’t worry about drink (whether your water is bottled from a natural spring and filtered, or out of the tap, if the Coke is diet or if the Coke is Dr Pepper—which only makes sense in the South, if the beer is from a microbrewery or has a multimillion dollar ad campaign rather than flavor), and don’t worry about your body. I mean, what kind of self-obsessed monster ever worries about their body? Or clothes, I can’t think of anyone who gives a second thought to their clothes, or shoes. Maybe this passage doesn’t apply to us any more, maybe modern man just doesn’t worry about such mundane things. Or maybe it’s amazing how the petty things we tend to worry about haven’t changed at all. Although, It’s true that we tend to worry about these things in a more “first world” way. They might have been more concerned with starving to death or being forced into the streets naked. Continuing in Matthew…
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
A cubit is the measurement from your elbow to the tip of your fingers, about a foot and a half. It would also be a pretty big increase in height. If I was a cubit taller, I would be seven and a half feet tall. I think this is Jesus being funny. Which of you, by worrying can make yourself Yao Ming?
The average height of a Jewish man in Jesus’ day is thought to be around 5’1”, and the minimum height for a Roman soldier is believed to have been 5’10”. If this is the case, then it might have been a common inferiority complex for the Hebrews that they were so much shorter than their oppressors, the Romans, and they probably fantasized about being taller. Kind of like how some of us obsess over wishing we were thinner or had more hair—not that I personally know anyone who thinks about such shallow things. Weight and baldness. Not constantly. Like maybe every five minutes or so.
Try not to picture Jesus as five foot tall now. He continues:
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin
This is a very well known passage of scripture and it’s one that I have hilariously misunderstood for years. I pictured the lilies of the field literally spinning. Like they were trying to get the other flower’s attention with their wild spinning, dance moves. Which makes no sense because He clearly said they DO NOT spin. Plus, that’s not what this is talking about. Remember how Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel? A spinning tool was used to make thread and clothing. Thus, flowers don’t spin. Jesus goes on…
29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Jesus is saying the grass is clothed with flowers, more beautiful than the most glamorous, wealthy, blinged-out person they could imagine. And it’s only grass, which is here today and used as kindling for a fire in an oven tomorrow. Grass was burned in clay ovens to bake bread with an open flame—kind of like the tandoori ovens you can still find in Indian restaurants for making naan. Naan is delicious, and now I’m hungry, which brings us back to verse 31…
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek.
The Gentiles. Those filthy dirty Gentiles. “Gentiles” is a word that simply means “not Jewish” but the word used for “gentiles” in this passage is the Greek word “ethnos” which actually has a slightly different connotation. “Ethnos” is the same word Jesus used in The Great Commission when He said to go into every nation (ethnos) making disciples. He’s comparing the people who follow Him to the “ethnos”—the people who are not yet following Him. He is teaching on the Kingdom of God—He is King and we are the royal subjects—and comparing us, the citizens of Heaven, to the barbarians (the “ethnos”) we are sent to conquer. We are the people He has called to follow Him, and He wants us to understand that we no longer have to worry about petty, childish, silly things like the pagans who don’t know any better. Verse 32…
For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
We don’t have to worry about those things because we know that God will worry about them for us. He knows what we need and will make sure we have enough. And He ends with this..
So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
There you have it. Just stop worrying, it’s that simple. The end. Amen. Let’s all go home and live our new worry-free lives. Hakuna Matata.
Except we can’t. It doesn’t even sound like good advice, except we know we are supposed to think it is good advice because Jesus said it—but doesn’t it sound a little irresponsible–like a stoner teen trying to get out of a difficult conversation with dad? “Man! Stop worrying about whether I get a job or finish school, there’s plenty of time for all that, it’ll all work out.”
It sounds like bad advice. Is Jesus really telling us to be irresponsible and not plan for the future? No. He is saying to stop worrying about whether God will take care of us or not. That’s why He says “O ye of little faith.”
Think about it, a lot of our worry is functional atheism. We’re worried about something we think might happen and we don’t believe God will take care of us. Maybe He won’t take care of us because He is not there, maybe there is no God—we doubt that He exists at all—or at least in our worrying we act like it. Or maybe we think He’s there but just isn’t going to help us—we doubt His character—that He is good, or we think He’s not paying attention. O we of little faith.
Over the last twelve months I’ve had my share of worry and doubt. It had been a long time since I had been so consumed with anxiety. I don’t want to go into much detail, or fan any remaining flames of bitterness, but the last year was riddled with personal crisis leading up to my being laid off from a job I loved while at the same time my mother was slipping into dementia and dying. Heavy stuff. I fought giving in to worry and doubt, I prayed constantly, I searched God’s Word for comfort and direction and I woke up many, many nights not knowing what to do—trying to simply trust Him but struggling to find peace. I reminded myself that God is good, that He’s in control, that He loves me—and loves my mom. That He is not finished with me, and there is hope for her. I tried to stop worrying but I couldn’t. I tried to rely on my faith but all these doubts kept jabbing at me.
By the way, do you know the difference between a question and a doubt? I think this is a helpful clarification. A question is looking for an answer, but a doubt is just looking for a fight. Questions have answers. “What does Jesus mean when He says we shouldn’t worry?” That’s a question, we can think about it, talk about it, study God’s word until we find an answer. But, “What if the Bible isn’t true?” or “What if God isn’t really there?” Those are doubts, and these kind of demonic statements need to be punched in the nose. “What if the Bible isn’t true?” “What if it is?” Bam! What if God isn’t there?” “What if He is?” Bam!
So, we are going to assume that God is real and His word is trustworthy. And we are going to look for an answer to the question, “What does Jesus mean when He says we shouldn’t worry?” What can we actually do about it?
Here’s the first thing: We aren’t supposed to start with “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.” An old preacher friend of mine used to say, “When we see a ‘therefore’ we have to find out what it’s there for.” In the Bible, “therefore” is always pointing to a previous point, it’s the conclusion of an argument. So, what is the argument Jesus is concluding?
Verse 33: …seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…
We can stop worrying about tomorrow when we seek first the Kingdom of God. He’s not telling us to stop thinking about things—He says “all these things” will be given to us. He doesn’t expect us to just stop obsessing altogether—He made us, He knows we are human— He wants us to change what we are obsessing about. He is telling us to obsess over—seek—the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Jesus is our King, and He wants us to be in good standing with Him. Obsess over that. Take comfort in that.
We don’t have to worry about our standing with God, He took care of that for us. What does it mean to “seek” the kingdom of God, though?
Last week we talked about the Law and what God wants—demands—from all of us. The Ten Commandments can be summed up in the two great Commandments “Love God and Love People.” If we want to please God—if we want to do what God wants us to do—then the message is clear, He wants us to love people. Which sounds simple, except it isn’t. It turns out that people are the worst, and it’s really hard to love them. Especially the ones that we don’t like and who get in the way of our uninterrupted happiness. Murderers, thieves, rapists, liars, pedaphiles, bad drivers—you know what they have in common? They’re all people—of all the creatures under heaven, people might be the most difficult to love.
But, God loved us so much that He sent His only Son. He knew full well what was going to happen too, and He did it anyway. Jesus loved us, and loved perfectly for us. But, since people are the worst, we killed Him. He died the death we deserved, and by doing so made us completely right with God. We are put in good standing by what our King did for us on the cross. Obsess over that. Take comfort in that.
You might be thinking, “Fine. Got it. But, shouldn’t we plan for the future? How can I do that without worrying?”
Worry isn’t the same thing as concern or planning. There is a difference between running into a bear in the woods—definitely something to be concerned about—and worrying that a bear is going to attack you if you go outside in your own backyard at night, because worrying about that in Katy is a waste of time. Being concerned about an actual threat is warranted and wise. Making a plan to deal with the actual threat is prudent and responsible. But, worrying about imaginary scenarios that may or may not happen will only rob us of joy and lead to all kinds of bad things—as mentioned earlier.
Here’s a few simple ways of dealing with worry:
- Write it down. Make a list. Identify what you are worried about. Even better, write down a prayer about what you are worried about. Be a prayer worrier. I have an app on my phone and ipad where I write my prayers—not every day—but when I start to feel overwhelmed. It helps in so many ways, it defines what I am worried about, which a lot of times puts the worries into perspective and makes them less oppressive. It also clarifies what I am hoping God will do about it. And I can rest in knowing that I have given the burden of it all to Him.
- Analyze the list. Look over what you wrote down. Is there something you can do about any of them? Ask God to help you make a plan for what to do. Is there nothing you can do about it? Then realize it is an unproductive life draining exercise in futility to continue worrying about it. Losing sleep over whether or not you are going to be mauled by a bear is dumb—so is losing sleep over whether or not you will get cancer.
- Trust God. Embrace your uncertainty, but cling to faith in His goodness. Whatever the outcome of the thing you are worried about, trust that God is loving and faithful.
- Be patient. Wait on the Lord. We are always in a hurry to get an answer, to know the outcome, to get what we want, but God’s timing is not our timing. The Lord will fight for us we need only to be still. They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.
- Talk about it. Yes, talk to God, but also talk to the people God has put in your life. Admit what you are worried about with the people who love you. Let them help you find what’s at the root of your anxiety. Don’t be afraid to show emotion and be vulnerable. You might find that you are so afraid of bears because of a traumatic childhood experience with Winnie the Pooh. You wouldn’t be the first.
The most important thing is to remember who we are. God loves us. We are important to Him. We’re more important to God than birds, or flowers, or grass. We are made in His image. We are His beloved children. Jesus is our King, our brother and He called us His friends. It’s true, this life is a vapor, a mist, it’s short and temporary—our lives will fade like flowers, wither like grass and we will all die like birds, but we don’t need to spend our days worrying about it. We will certainly die, but we will only die once. A comedian said, “Every day thousands of people die and it’s never me.” That’s gonna be true every day of our life except for one. And even then, it’s not the end. The difference between a happy ending and a tragedy is where we stop telling the story. We have the promise of resurrection and eternal life because of Jesus. From dust we came and to dust we will return but that is not the end. It’s only the beginning. So, we’re free to not worry about death. Not our death, or anyone else’s. Our loving God has taken care of it.
And while we are still here, He wants us to love people. He wants us to love the people He has put in front of us, the people who are all around us. He wants us to consume our days with loving people—that’s what it means to seek first the Kingdom of God. We are to be faithful to our King by following His orders, even though we will not be able to do it perfectly.
He doesn’t want us to worry about that either.
We are free to fail because Jesus took every worry we could ever face and showed His power over them. We worry about money but He lived in poverty, We worry about people liking us, and He was despised, misunderstood and had many enemies, He was falsely accused and put to a horrible death, humiliated and publicly tortured. The night before His execution He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane and was so disturbed by what laid ahead of Him He sweat great drops of blood.
Over the last year, I had many sleepless nights but on no occasion did I sweat blood.
He drank the cup that the Father set before Him. On the Cross of Good Friday, and in the resurrection of Easter, Jesus proved everything He ever said. We can trust that God will take care of us today because Jesus said He would, and He keeps His word.
Don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Mankind is prone to worry, and it is impossible to not worry in our present state. I believe Jesus is giving us a remedy for our destructive inclinations by telling us to focus on Him. He will provide for us so we are free to “obsess” over His Kingdom instead of our own.
After eleven years of amazing opportunities in ministry at CrossPoint, I found myself trying to figure out what God wanted me to do next. I began seeking Him for a new opportunity. I prayed for direction. I had conversations with numerous people to see what was out there. I talked with friends and family for their advice. Should I seek a position leading a worship department at another church? Maybe take my show on the road offering consulting and coaching for worship ministries that could use a hand. Write more books? Record more records? People had a lot of ideas about what my future could be.
Many of the conversations led to the same surprising idea—at least surprising to me—that I should start a new ministry. A ministry to the people of Katy without being in direct competition with other local churches.
One of the first people to bring up the idea was my daughter. “Dad, why don’t you start a new church?” I tried explaining to Von how hard it is to start something from scratch, how we had tried a couple of times in the past, and how it is a lot easier said than done. She shrugged her shoulders and insisted, “I think it would be awesome.”
My typically wise friend Kemper Crabb was the next one to bring it up. “Have you thought about starting a new church? You’ve been ministering to a lot of people over the years who may want to join you on something new. I don’t think God’s done using you in this area.”
Several other people came forward to say roughly the same thing. I began to take the idea to heart. I started fantasizing about how cool it would be to start a church that was also a “third place.”
People need a place that is not their home or work, they seek a third place, a safe place to gather and hangout with friends. Like home and work, the third place also shapes your identity. Not unlike the bar in Cheers, Central Perk on Friends, the diner on Seinfeld, or even Starbucks, a “third place” would combine the things I love most—great coffee, great beer and comfort food—with worship. A lot of churches desire to provide the “third place” but they’re not equipped for that because they’re only open on Sunday and don’t offer a setting for people to actually get to know each other socially, at least not on a daily basis. What if I opened a place that offered all of these things all week long, in a way that fosters hanging out with friends, belonging, sharing life and becoming community? We would also come together to enjoy great worship on the weekend. It seems like the perfect means to be a vocational blessing to the community while building a bridge to and with the people who live here.
I started seriously considering that God might actually want me to do this crazy new ministry. But I kept talking myself out of it, “Nah. That’s nuts.” There must be a thousand reasons why planting a gastropub church in Katy is a bad idea.
After this, I had a dream about starting a new church and remembered every detail about it. I saw the facility where it was located. I saw the stage, the lights, the sound system hanging from the ceiling—I even recognized a bunch of the people in the room. I saw how we could install stage lights to define the space, how we could hang a giant black curtain to make the room beautiful, and use TVs to display lyrics for singing. I woke up thinking, “Hmmm, that could actually work.”
I couldn’t get it out of my head all day. I started thinking of names for the church. I contacted the owner of the facility through Facebook and asked if I could run an idea by him face-to-face. I didn’t know him very well but we had exchanged hellos many times. The only real conversation between us had taken place four years earlier when my son went to his daughter’s birthday party because they were in the same class. He invited me to meet him at his facility the following day at 6 pm.
The next evening I sat in a conference room with him and his wife and described my dream of starting a new church. He told me that on the way back from a business meeting earlier that very day they had been discussing my layoff and decided to search for a new church home. An hour later, there I was, sitting in front of them, presenting my ideas about starting a new church. The more we talked the more excited they got about the idea.
“Yes. The answer is ‘yes.’ We are in. Mi casa, su casa!”
I said, “Wow, that’s really cool, but you need to hear about the crazy left turn I want to take in phase three of this church idea.” I started telling them about “third place” and how I think having a gastropub would be a great way to be a bridge to the community. Not a “Christian pub,” just a great establishment where we also happen to have worship services on the weekend.
He looked at his wife, who was giggling by this point, and said, “Did you put him up to this?” They explained they had already begun securing the space next door to install a coffee shop/wine bar. In other words, the idea was already underway. Suddenly, it was as if the 150,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of this new church had flown out of the box and landed nearly completely assembled on the floor. I was starting to see it.
I set up a meeting with a pastor friend named Aaron who had started a church about a year before called Oikos. Like me, he had been part of the same LCMS church for over ten years and had recently started a new church near his former congregation. I wanted to ask him what he had learned from the experience— maybe there were things we could do differently and avoid problems. I hadn’t explained to him why I was coming over.
We sat in his living room and he said, “I’m dying to know what this meeting is about. I know what I HOPE you want to talk with me about…”
I laughed, “What do you HOPE I am here to talk about?” I assumed he wanted to know what had happened between me and CrossPoint.
“I think it would be awesome if you wanted to talk about starting a new church.” He actually said that. I was floored.
God has confirmed the idea of this new church in many ways through various people and circumstances. Although I have not talked about it publicly, people have come to me asking what I am planning on doing next and in what ways they can be part of it. Whatever it is.
God is assembling the launch group for this new adventure.
THE NEW CHURCH
So, I’m starting a new church and it’s pretty exciting. We meet on Saturday evenings at The Athletic Performance Lab of Katy near Toys R Us on Katy Fort Bend road. Informal worship from 6:00 to 7:15 pm is followed by an amazing BYOB and food hang time until 9 pm or so. Jesus is glorified and we have a blast.
You probably have questions. There is a lot about this new church that we don’t know yet, but we are listening carefully to what God wants us to do and who He wants us to be. Some things are perfectly clear and others are still taking shape.
This is our origin story. Phase One of our journey has just begun. I would love for you to consider joining us but I feel like I need to must warn you beforehand: WARNING! We are not trying to impress anyone. This is not the time to “check us out” by kicking our tires unless you want to help us build the rest of the car. In time, the dream will come alive in full splendor with lights, sound and snazzy production. If those things are important to you, you could wait and kick the tires then.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” Zechariah 4:10
It has been amazing watching God orchestrate this new church as I follow Him around like a kid on an Easter egg hunt. Right now we are assembling our core team, the people who want to be on mission with us, people who want to be part of an exciting new thing Jesus is doing in Katy bringing glory to God and blessing to others.
Maybe you want to roll up your sleeves and join us. That would be fantastic! We need more people to help us with this new adventure. If you do, bring a lawn-chair, we don’t have many seats. Yet.
(If you plan on coming and need childcare, please RSVP)
Saturday evenings at 6:00
481 Katy Fort Bend Rd #210
Katy, TX 77494