Category Archives: Church
I love the Church of Jesus. Anything having to do with ecclesiology, corporate gatherings, or the worshipping community is kept here.
I had a conversation with Britt Merrick on the subject of “values.”
Britt is the founder of the Reality churches. Someone recently asked him, “What makes Reality the way that it is?” They were basically asking, what are the things that define your church’s identity, culture, mission, DNA, etc? What makes you you? Britt and I had a good laugh, having never really sat down to think very deeply about such things over the last twelve years. But after going home and pondering the question again, I began to see the importance of identifying who we are as a church. Soon after, about fifteen identifiable things came to me in a stream-of-consciousness. Once I began to think about it, it was pretty easy to see who God made us to be. I showed these to Britt, and he seemed to agree. That list grew to about nineteen identifiable things, and is what some of us might refer to as core values.
A value is a deeply-held principle that governs your standard of behavior.
You live out of what you truly value. Likewise, a church (or any organization) operates based on what it truly values, not merely what it says it values, or what it writes down as its values. For that reason, I tried to the best of my ability not to superimpose values onto our church. I am aware that I have ideals that I hope and wish we could live up to. But those aren’t truly our values. Our values are underneath what we are already doing. They expose what is already important to us. Having observed and worked at Reality for over a decade, I tried my best to take an honest look at the principles that emerged out of our shared culture. The values that form us on a daily basis.
It’s worth noting that this really only describes the Reality churches here in the coastlands (Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, and Ventura), and specifically Santa Barbara. There are certainly many overlapping values that we share with other Reality church plants, since we were all birthed out of the same vision and family. But as each church has grown, they have also developed core values that are specific to their own context and identity as churches. We love and celebrate this.
Reality Santa Barbara, by my estimation, has about nineteen core values.
By core, I mean that out of the hundreds of different principles we have as a church, these nineteen are the ones that form our identity and drive us to do what we do. They are what makes us a Reality church. And we need to identify and codify them so that we can continue to realign ourselves with what God has created us to be. So…I will post nineteen of Reality’s core values one at a time in the weeks and months to come. Can you guess what any of them are??
Please feel free to interact, ask questions, or even offer cordial pushback in the comment sections as this blog series develops!
The pilgrims of Plymouth, MA, were almost decimated after the Winter of 1620 killed half their community.
The remaining colonists formed relationships with neighboring Wampanaug tribe who taught them to hunt, fish, and plant. Less than one year later, the colonists had collected enough food to feed the community through the coming Winter. They ended up joining the colonists for a three-day feast in honor of their bounty. This is what we celebrate today as “Thanksgiving.” (1)
Historically, Thanksgiving refers to a kind of absurd generosity.
A coming together against the current of the times to break bread and show gratitude. It moves beyond giving to a friend in need, or donating for a roundabout benefit, like tax write-offs. It extends to those who could be perceived as enemies–what Miroslav Volf referred to as the “other.” The Wampanaugs and the colonists had plenty of reason to hate each other. Had the tribe turned a blind eye, their inability to sustain themselves and lack of resilience would have wiped out the colonists. Instead, the Wampanaugs empowered the “other” to thrive. No wonder the colonists threw a three-day party to give thanks.
Thanksgiving comes from generosity.
But it comes out from another party’s generosity. The colonists were thankful after being shown tremendous compassion. It’s charming to me that between the fear-mongering of Halloween, the consumerism that surrounds Christmas, and the debauchery that accompanies New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, of all the holidays (with the ironic exception of Black Friday) is somewhat free from the madness. For many, it stands out as a reprieve. Yes, Christmas should too. But culturally speaking, Christmas is entrenched with a materialistic message. Thanksgiving is still “safe” as far as most people are concerned. I wonder if it’s because of the generosity associated with it. Even the most self-centered persons will take a break from their self-indulgence to be thankful for something, even if it’s being thankful for all their stuff. In other words, thankfulness is still culturally engrained in the holiday. And it’s historically tied to generosity. Of course, it all disappears the next day when the stores open! But if you want to see a longer-lasting generosity, one has only to search the Scriptures.
When Paul wrote his very emotional second letter to the Corinthians, he kept attributing the church’s thanksgiving to the generosity of Macedonians (2 Cor 9:11-12). Earlier, he described them as being “in a severe test of affliction,” and yet that “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor 8:1-2)! To rephrase, the poorest of the poor were the most generous, and it was “overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:12). See that? Thanksgiving comes from generosity. But these people were very poor! Why did they give so much, when they had so little? And why, especially being poor, did their giving bring them so much joy?
Paul says that true thanksgiving comes not from our generosity, but from God’s.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV).
This is the generosity that lasts the longest, and goes the deepest.
This isn’t to say people who don’t know God can’t be generous; we can all do acts of generosity—even self-sacrificial ones—without knowing God. Rather, the gospel changes our deepest motivations, and loosens us from our most prized resources. We loosen our grip on things that matter less. And as seen in the Macedonians, the gospel makes everything we own seem less important than it used to be.
Thanksgiving is born in people who have experienced life in Christ.
And these have the most to be thankful for this week. In fact, Paul states earlier, that the reason you are given anything at all is so that “you will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
So when you enjoy the food, the family, the solitude, the air you breath this week–let it be a constant and thrilling reminder of the wealth you’ve received from God in Christ.
I leave you with a prayer of intersession from John W. Doberstein’s prayer book,
O God, who givest daily bread without our prayer, even to all the wicked, we pray thee that thou wouldst give us to acknowledge these thy benefits, and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
1- History of Thanksgiving. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 12:56, November 22, 2013, from http://www.history.comhttp://www.history.com/videos/history-of-the-thanksgiving-holiday.
The “Good Life” is the life that everyone is after. It’s a vision of well-being that we’ve been taught to create or chase. Yet it’s usually on the other side of the fence where grass always appears greener. It’s the dream that captivates our imagination, and just as often breaks our hearts. Many of us might agree that the Good Life is as evasive as it is alluring.
But the Bible presents us with a far more satisfying picture. Jesus explained that a taste of the Good Life is here with us right now. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, he gave supernatural examples, situations, and case studies of the breaking forth of God’s kingdom in the present age—the Good Life of Heaven coming down into our world. All of this is now on display in Jesus’ most famous and memorable sermon.
Join us as we begin a series through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, starting September 21st.
For what to expect, check out the schedule: The Good Life Series.
It’s Father’s Day!
In the last month, my twenty-month old Abby has choked on grapes, split her lip, stepped in a mound of fire ants, sprayed herself in the eye with chemical cleaner, developed a disturbing preoccupation with electrical outlets and hot coffee, and has incessantly pestered temperamental dogs. And our boy hasn’t even been born yet!
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that parenthood is the hardest thing ever. But strangely enough, as many parents will attest, it’s also the best thing ever. Because every difficult moment is outmatched by the joy of seeing her smile, pointing at a bug, giggling at me while hiding under the kitchen table, dancing to AC/DC, or cuddling on the couch. So yes, there are hard times on the parenting end, but there are way more good times to care about that. It’s the hardest and best thing ever. Which is why this Father’s Day will come with a certain satisfaction for me. Of course, that’s probably because I have a good dad, and love being a dad to my daughter.
But Father’s Day evokes a wide spectrum of emotion in different people
For some, Father’s Day evokes a different response. It reminds some that they lost their fathers–perhaps through war, a car accident, or cancer–the men who used to make them laugh while making faces under the kitchen table, have left an empty table setting at dinner. Others have fathers who are there, without actually being around. These are the successful dads who love their work more than their family, and kids who’s only memory of their dad is that success is the most important thing in life. I think also of dads who lost their daughters and sons during the tragedies that unfolded at UCSB in Isla Vista on May 23, 2014. Daughters who once put a smile on the faces of fathers, and the unspeakable pain that has been left in their absence. I thought of Abby when these stories surfaced in the news. I had no words. The dawning of Father’s Day for some of these people isn’t just hard, it’s unspeakably painful. And there is no silver lining.
I wonder what some of these must feel when we applaud dads in church on Sunday. Not to take away from the dads who were faithful and the kids who are appreciative. Good dad’s are rightly celebrated. And Father’s Day is a celebration for many dads. But for some, it’s an annual reminder of despair. And as it draws closer, some of you are dreading the day.
Fortunately hope doesn’t revolve around a day
In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul tells a bunch of Jewish Christians that they are no longer held to the ritual practice of their old “holy days.” The reason, he argues, is because these festivals, Sabbaths, and special days point them to something better: “the substance is the Messiah” (17b). This is loosely analogous, but when I read this text, I thought about Father’s Day. See, for many of you, this holiday reminds you that you don’t have a dad. For other’s it reminds you about how your dad has disappointed you, or was never there to begin with. But I want you to consider a new thought to fill your mind with this weekend. The gospel (good news) in the Bible is that when we are united with Christ by faith, we are brought into the family of God, and adopted by God the Father. We become HIS children. The apostle John exclaimed, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). It’s easy to think of your fatherlessness on this holiday, but in Christ, you have a perfect Father.
For others, Father’s Day is a continual reminder to some fathers of the loss of their child. No pat answer can remove that type of pain. But the gospel does offer you hope that all the turmoil and tragedy we’ve experienced–even the loss of a child–will somehow be reversed and turned inside out, when Jesus returns. I don’t know how that works, but those are the outlandish claims of God. The gospel is more than a pat answer. It offers deep hope.
There is also something else worth remembering for the rest of us. That Fatherly love of God is (sometimes) intangible until the family of God brings in those who hurt and gives them a family to belong. That’s what makes the gospel less than a pat answer for many people. Someone hurting may believe and experience the gospel of a Father to the fatherless by the power of the Holy Spirit. But a family of believer’s are responsible for driving that truth home.
Participate in Father’s day this year
This Father’s Day, let’s remember the fathers.
Remember the fatherless.
Remember the fathers who were robbed of their children.
Weep with those who weep.
Rejoice with those who rejoice.
And bring in those who have no where else to go.
Look around your church, workplace, comm group, recreation, and neighborhood. Is there anyone in your life who has a bad experience with Father’s Day? You have an opportunity. Celebrate by giving expression to the Father’s love.
Happy Father’s day, friends.
- Preaching connects us to all to all those elements listed above (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 1:9; 2:1)
- Preaching is an essential component of a local church (Rom. 10:14; 16:25; Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Tim. 4:13-16; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 4:1-2)
- Preaching is imbued with the power of God (Rom 10:13-17; 1 Thess. 2:13)
- Preaching allows the glory of God to shine (1 Cor. 1:21; 2:4; 2 Cor. 4:5)
If preaching is so important in the life of the church, we should expect a high standard of the preaching in our own church.
Now, I am not telling you to go pester your pastor on every point of difference you have with their preaching. The congregation I belong to can certainly testify that I have not preached infallibly behind the pulpit, though I aim for nothing less! Mistakes will be made in the pulpit, because no pastor has perfect theology, and we are all learning together. I am also not advocating that you hound every church in the city whose theology you disagree with. That’s a waste of time, and won’t benefit anybody. What is beneficial is identify biblical preaching, because then you can immerse yourself in the life of that church, obeying the Word of God as it is preached rightly. As we progress, I’m certainly not presenting myself as the high standard—but I think we can and should have a baseline when it comes to preaching, and strive for it.
What constitutes “biblical” preaching?
Perhaps we should ask, “What does the Bible think is ‘biblical’ preaching?”
By this, I mean, how does the Bible itself present preaching done correctly? We can find some examples throughout the Bible…
- “the Levites, explained the law to the people” (Nehemiah 8:7)
- Jesus “explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27)
- Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3)
- approved workman are “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15)
- “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2)
- “Teach and preach these principles” (1 Timothy 6:2c)
- “Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?‘ And he said, ‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: ‘He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He does not open His mouth. In humiliation His judgment was taken away; who will relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.” The eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:30-35)
I’ll stop there.
From the Old Testament to the New Testament, a pattern emerges: explanation, teaching, and preaching (which is proclamation). In other words, the Bible’s own “opinion” of correct preaching is at least the explanation and teaching of the meaning of the Scriptures, and the proclamation of it’s truths.
A preacher’s primary job is to give a sense of the Scriptures meaning, and then exhort people to respond.
Biblical preaching is expository preaching.
Mark Dever helpfully explained expositional preaching as explaining a Scripture’s main point, then explaining and proclaiming that main point in a sermon. Or even more succinctly, “Making the main point of the text the main point of the sermon.”
So according to the New Testament epistles (letters written to early churches), a church must include expository preaching as part of its worship gathering.
But, you say,
There are a lot of types of preaching! Some preachers preach for 15 minutes, others for an hour; some preach on a single verse, and others preach whole chapters or even books; in between these are so many different styles of preaching: storytelling, verse-by-verse, series, etc. How do you know which one is good?
I’ve heard some of my own friends elevate sermon styles over others, and denigrate others for preaching in a way that they do not like. Notice that this has nothing to do with faithful preaching, but preaching preference.
The requirement of faithful preaching is expository not stylistic. In fact, different styles of preaching are useful, as well as expository, that is, they can explain the Bible using different methods of communication. Here are a few (though not all)… Read the rest of this entry
“America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in it’s place.”
This introductory remark encapsulates the main theme in Ross Douthat’s book, “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” that the undermining of Christianity in America today is due to a deep chasm of cafeteria spirituality left over by mainline churches in decades past.
This thesis comes through two sections:
- Christianity in Crisis
- The Age of Heresy.
Introducing the first section, the New York Times columnist prepares a rather exciting taste of the Church’s glory days through the beginning of the twenty-first century before issuing a scathing diagnosis on mainline churches for botching everything up. Douthat argues that the church typically wavered between accommodation and resistance when faced with cultural difficulties. A single, albeit notorious, example of this were the tired arguments over biological evolution and the book of Genesis which helped excuse the church to the margins of the scientific community. Conservatives and Evangelicals came out swinging on a variety of similar issues, but left a lot to be desired. In the end, the fundamentalism that emerged from the fight was Read the rest of this entry
There’s a fairy tale of Irish folklore on how leprechauns would hide their treasure in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The problem was that the closer you got to the end of the rainbow, the farther it went from you. In other words, you’re chasing something illusive.
The Christian version of the disappearing pot of gold is “accountability.”
Many of us want accountability, and rightfully so—we go to mid-week gatherings, we sign up for redemptive groups, we meet other Christians for coffee, we ask pastors for wisdom, we set up counseling appointments, and these are often with great effect—but not everyone who does this is as vulnerable, humble, and teachable as they need to be. So instead of “accountability” what we end up with is victimization. Instead of surrounding ourselves with people who can check our blind spots, we surround ourselves with people to blame. Accountability is illusive, not because there aren’t people willing to bear our burdens, but because we sometimes expect those people to do for us what we are too prideful to do ourselves: repent of our sin.
When this happens,”accountability” is nothing more than a cheap buzzword that we think will save us if we say it repeatedly. “Accountability,” “Keep me accountable,” “Who are you accountable to, bro?” “She’s been keeping me accountable.”
Accountable how, exactly?
Think about this. If you struggle with lust, you can probably entertain those lusts, even act them out, in secret for many years—perhaps for the rest of your life—without anyone finding out. What good is having a hundred accountability partners if you are better at hiding your sin than they are at keeping you accountable? I think we give other Christians too much credit in this regard: we think that others will check us on all the sin issues of our heart, and yet we are masterful at hiding such things! The only way our friends can really know how we struggle, and thereby work to restore us, is when we are brutally honest with the right people. But some in the church feel as if “accountability” will do all the work for them, kind of like a butler who launders their clothing while they are asleep. Yet they wake up to find their dirty clothes strewn across the living room floor because they don’t really have a butler, and they don’t know how to operate the washing machine by themselves. The problem with Christian accountability is not accountability, per se, it is the Christian who is not really willing to humble themselves, submit to others, and face the fact that they are worse than they think. We all are.
Instead of throwing around magic buzzwords, the Bible calls us to open our lives to fellow Christian’s who we trust and can speak into our lives. And it’s not enough to ask people to “keep us accountable”—we must also listen and heed the righteous judgment of others, while being honest with our shortcomings, sinful habits, and idolatry. This is true accountability. It’s a two-way street where all our crap is on the table, and brothers/sisters can gently show the blind spots in our lives. It is also a God-ordained means of sanctification, whereby God uses the community around you to conform you into His likeness.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” James 5:16 (HCSB)
Accountability involves honesty, humility, teachability. Without these, we’re just chasing rainbows.
Pope Francis: “That is why the center of our faith isn’t just a book, but a history of Salvation, and above all, it’s about a person: Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.” (HT: http://goo.gl/UXyb8)
Martin Luther: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony from scripture or by evident reason—for I confide neither in the Pope nor in a Council alone, since it is certain they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am held fast by the scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience is held captive by God’s Word, and I neither can nor will revoke anything, seeing it is not safe or right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.“ (HT: http://goo.gl/JqSOu)
Pope Francis: “The interpretation of Sacred Scriptures cannot be just an individual academic effort, but must always be compared to, inserted within, and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church.” (HT: http://goo.gl/UXyb8)
William Tyndale: I defy the pope and his laws! If God spares my life, in a few years a plow boy shall know more of the Scriptures than you do. (HT: http://goo.gl/RjAvU)
My close friend is a pastor of a church in Boston. He wrote a short blog about the recent tragedy at the Boston Marathon.
As we mourn this moment, we do so with a hope that a Kingdom is arriving—a Kingdom that will right all wrongs, and turn all our sorrows into dancing. Until then, we look for ways to help others grieve with a hope beyond themselves.
You can find the full post here. Read it. Weep for brothers and sisters you’ve never met. Be unified with them in prayer. Maranatha.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ASV)
If you don’t already know about these horrific crimes against humanity, women, and infants, or the subsequent trial of the century happening right now, here are a few links to quickly inform you on Kermit Gosnell. I must warn you, the first three links are VERY GRAPHIC and DISTURBING. But such is the nature of sin and evil. Rather than ignore such horrific atrocities in the world as if they were non-existent, the Christian should address them head on with the hope that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer and the church is the amplifier to put it on blast. So catch up if you are unaware and weep with the voices that have been brutally silenced.