Breathing


Although this song may not deal directly with this blog, it is one of my favorite Needtobreathe tunes.

I have found myself saying the words “The church needs to breathe” lately, and I thought I would share what I mean by that.

Last year I read
And: The Gathered AND Scattered Church written by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. Their previous book was entitled The Tangible Kingdom, a book that describes how Christians and the church ought to make God’s Kingdom tangible. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it. After Matt and Hugh wrote this first book, they travelled and spoke to different churches across the United States and Canada. Those hearing their story were surprised to find out that Matt and Hugh were pastors… of churches! Of churches that had worship services! See the book is a call for Christians to go. The Tangible Kingdom calls on Christians to go out into this world and to bring the church and the presence of Christ into this world in real, practical and applicable ways. This led some to interpret them saying that the large group gathering- historically known as ‘going to church’- is unimportant. Matt and Hugh’s call for the church reminded Christians that the church is made up of people. The church is a ‘building of people’, not a building of bricks or a particular time of the week. But Matt and Hugh had no intentions to neglect the call and place of the local church and the large group gathering. So as a follow-up to The Tangible Kingdom Matt and Hugh wrote And in order to emphasize that in order to go, your need to gather! In order to go out together, you need to come to gather.

As a church planter, the goal for me is to hold the gathering and scattering in constant and healthy tension. The gathering and scattering of the church is just like breathing. If you breathe in and hold it, your body will be filled with carbon dioxide which can’t give us ongoing life. If you breath out and hold it, every ounce of oxygen in your body will disappear and life will burn out. The same applies to a congregation: If a local congregation constantly breathes in, then koinonitis (Rick Warren’s diagnosis for churches that suffer from the
inflammation of fellowship) sets in. Growth stops and navel gazing becomes the default activity. Members of the church hold fast to programs, not people. Preservation becomes the priority as opposed to reform. Many churches suffer from koinonitis, and it is killing local church institutions. On the flip side, if a local church constantly breathes out and just does, then burn out ensues and halts the good work altogether.

Needtobreathe is my favorite band, so it’s just fitting that I keep reminding myself that the church needs to breathe. It’s a simple principle, really. It’s not rocket science. Are you breathing in or breathing out? Are you breathing at all? Remember, the Bible talks about the Spirit of God as the Ruach- the Wind! He’s the one that needs to be doing the breathing through the local church and in Christians sent out on God’s mission.

Next Stop: Unknown


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So if you have been following this blog over the past several months, you will see that it has a new look. I am excited to launch it right now because it marks another milestone along this church planting journey. This Sunday we will have our third small group meeting in our home. So far, so good. Yes, there have been challenges already, but at the end of the day we are growing as a little community. The weekly gatherings have created a weekly pattern now. Deadlines are part of the weekly routine.
The future, however, remains unclear. We have a plan and we continue to create strategic goals to execute the plan. In fact, I think I will have to write a blog on strategic planning and goal setting someday. Church planting requires someone with an entrepreneurial spirit. Looking back at my experience, a business class would have been really helpful. You need a business mind at some level because business tools help anticipate the future with objective, common sense movements. But even given all the planning that is required, it is striking to me how quickly we need to shift things around. The future is so unknown, and there remains a number of significant reasons for there to be anxiety about the future. Now I am not known to be a worrier, and even now I am not sitting here all consumed in worry. I am an optimist and I feed off the good and exciting things that are happening. I guess my point is that a tension exists between the comfort in planning and the unknown obstacles ahead.
Yet this website remains a milestone of the exciting present we are in. Gathering in our home and doing communion right in our living room is just wonderful. We are grateful for that delicate and precious moment. We have a great team of musicians and a unique group of talented people worshipping with us. God has been so good.
Does your mind dance between the comforts of planning ahead and the fear of the unknown obstacles? If so, where do you find solace? I find it in this statement right before I serve communion:
Take eat/drink, remember, and believe that the Lord Jesus Christ gave his life/shed his blood for the complete forgiveness of all our sins. It’s true, you know.

First Liturgy

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It may be the smallest communion tray I’ve ever served, but I can assure you it’s a meaningful one.


So this Sunday is our first worship gathering. That’s tomorrow. 11 hours and counting. It goes without saying that a worship gathering requires a lot of details! I’m blessed to have wonderfully detailed minded people, one of whom is my lovely wife. This Sunday is a milestone for us. We have lived in North Carolina for a year now, and I am eager to get into a routine of worship planning, discipleship, and mission. A new adventurous chapter begins on Sunday, and I am thrilled with the types of people God is gathering together.

Throughout the fall we will be going through the book of Acts together as a group. We begin this Sunday with Acts 1:1-11 with the title
Kingdom Witnesses. For this week, I simply wanted to share with you what our liturgy will look like. We have fleshed it out a little bit, however, we may have to tweak things around here and there over the next few weeks.

The outline of the Order of Worship is based on the vision statement: A family of God drawn to Jesus, challenge by his message, and released as missionaries. The intention here is that the DNA of this new church gets formed throughout each of our times together. It reinforces everything we do and gives shape to why we do it.
Drawn to Jesus connects to one of our three pillars: Worship. We are drawn in Jesus name to come together to worship. Challenged by his message connects to the second pillar: Discipleship. While we worship, we are confronted with the call to repent and believe. In other words, we are called to have a Time of Confession (repent) as well as hear God’s word read and proclaimed (believe!). Released as missionaries connects to our third pillar: mission.
Now to the liturgy:

Drawn to Jesus

  • God Calls and Welcomes: Colossians 1:15-20
  • Gathering Songs: Come People of the Risen King; Be Thou my Vision
Challenged by His Message
Repent…
  • Colossians 1:21-23 Prayer
  • Gospel Songs: Blessed Assurance; Amazing Grace
…and Believe
  • Children’s Time
    Scripture Reading: Acts 1:1-11
    Testimony Time
    Sermon: Kingdom Witnesses
Released As Missionaries
  • Lord’s Supper
    Prayer for the Body of Christ
    Giving of our Time, Talents and Treasures: You Said
    Closing Song: Bless be the Tie that Binds
  • Blessed to be a blessing...

For those of you who worship regularly in a Reformed or Presbyterian church, you will see a similar formula on a regular basis in your own bulletin. Some will use Latin words, while others use other descriptive words. However, the skeletal structure of a reformed order of worship is still very much there. This is, of course, intentional. Reforming and recasting reformed worship is, by definition, reformed worship. We don’t invent the wheel, but we do try to create refreshing experiences of worship. The goal will be to keep making the worship experience a refreshing one. Even church plants can quickly loose that cutting edge of freshness. I am already concerned about how our vision statement will stop loosing its edginess if the words stare at us in the face every Sunday. I’ll leave that concern for now though. First things first, let’s just have a worship gathering! Thanks to all those who are praying and supporting us. More details to attend to, so I have to sign off.

One quick thought to ponder: If you are someone who finds worship stagnant, in what ways are you making the experience feel more refreshing. The etymology of liturgy is ‘work of the people.’ In other words, worship is work, not entertainment. It takes investment. What does that look like for you?

Car Jail

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Last weekend I had the privilege to attend the National Christian Community Development Association Convention. I was excited to see booths and representatives from Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary, and World Renew right here in Raleigh. It was nice to feel less of a Christian Reformed Island, even if it was just for a weekend.
On Friday morning of the conference, I parked about a 15-minute walk away from the conference center. I was told me about a place I could park for free. I figured a 15-minute walk was worth saving $10 for parking. Friday came and went, ending with dynamic Pentecostal worship and preaching- all with a Latino influence. It was awesome!
The walk back to the car was prayerful with the adrenalin of Latino-led worship still pumping in my blood. But when I got to my parking spot at 10:00 Friday night, there was no car. My green Corolla was gone! Now, I’ll be honest, the first thing I thought was, “How much will insurance give me to buy a new car? It would be nice not putting my life into my own hands every time I try merging on Highway 1.” But of course, the reality of this bad situation hit. I found a sign nearby stating cars would be towed if parked there. So as per the sign’s instructions, I called Ace Towing. Sure enough, the Corolla sat in their car jail.
The injustice! Or to quote Gordon from Thomas the Train, “Oh, the indignity!” I came up with excuses: “What’s the big deal parking in that spot, it’s a useless spot?! Nothing else is happening there.” Rather than get a taxi and be out even more money, I ended up walking 2 miles through downtown with Harley-Davidson’s flying everywhere. Two other conventions covered downtown that weekend: the
Capital City Bike Fest and the Raleigh Tattoo Festival. I walked south to the unlit part of Blount Street near I-40. As I walked, I had time to reflect. “One thing’s for sure,” I thought, “I’m getting a sermon illustration out of this somehow.” But as I think some more, parts of me felt ashamed that I would even care about having to fork over $100 to get my car back. My car being towed was my fault, the sign was there. My car being in car jail was justice at work.
My anger about the situation ended up shaming me because of the types of things I learned at the CCDA Conference. See, the CCDA Conference is all about how to develop broken communities as Christians. We learned about justice, mercy, hope, and sacrifice. We heard story after story of true, real, and life-altering injustices. Simply put, this world is filled with broken stories of injustice.
My own hypocrisy hit me between the eyes. I got more angry about loosing $100 than hearing about a local stat I heard about the number of homeless people camping in forests nearby in Cary. Why is that? I think it’s because the $100 I forked over to release my car is personal. The $100 is coming out of
my wallet to get my own car back. But being a member of God’s Kingdom is supposed to be personal too. Jesus’ ministry shows us stories of healing, feeding, and visiting the oppressed, outcast, and vulnerable face-to-face. He showed us a Kingdom that is not some cerebral spiritual entity that exists outside of real time and real space. No, the counter-cultural Kingdom is personal. It’s so personal, God became flesh to make it so.
Is the Kingdom personal for you? If so, thanks be to God, because you are making the Kingdom tangibly personal. If not, then what is it that you need to deny, give up, or die to that will free you to make the Kingdom personal. For some of you, it may require you to enter into new relationships with people in this world. For others, it may require you to give up your own life as you know it today in order to know Jesus... personally.