Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Power of ONE: The Church

This blog is a response to the current sermon series at Newbreak Church. To watch the message, you can log on to Newbreak's website and watch ONE: One Direction

When I was a kid, we went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. If there was a special event or we sang in the choir, we went again.

And that was it. Church-related activities took place in the church.  Well, we were supposed to read the Bible and pray everyday, but mostly I just felt guilty because I didn't.

A few years ago, people started saying, "Don't just go to church; be the church."

In other words, don't just learn more about God with other people who already believe in God; instead, serve people outside church. Serve your community. Hand out water. Feed the homeless. Clean the canyons. Do something.

Going to church is good. Going to church gives us the opportunity to worship God with other Christ followers.  Hebrews 10:25 instructs followers of Jesus Christ to gather together in order to "inspire each other to greater love and to righteous deeds." When we go to church, we hear God's Word proclaimed and explained, and we're challenged to follow Christ in our daily lives.

Being the church, or serving the community, is also good--and essential. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes the end of days, when he gathers together the nations. He separates people into two categories, those who have fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, nursed the sick, and visited prisoners. He honors those who lived lives of service and rejects those who did not, saying,"whenever you saw a brother hungry or cold, when you saw a sister weak and without friends, when you saw the least of these and ignored their suffering, so you ignored me." If we don't serve the people around us, we are missing a vital part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

And so both of these actions, going to church and being the church, are biblical.
And although they both use the same word: church, they are using the word in two different ways. When we say, "go to church," the word church denotes a place. When I say, "be the church," the word church denotes a certain type of behavior representative of service.  Quite frankly, I'm not sure how to define the word church when used this way.

Definitions matter. Otherwise we're using the same words, but we're talking about two entirely different things, which is bound to result in misunderstanding or disagreement.

To clarify discussions, we need to make sure we're talking about the same things.
How should we define the word church?  More importantly, what definition can we form by examining the way the New Testament uses the word church? What is it? How does it function? What is its purpose?

This discussion could fill a book (and many books have been written to address these questions), and blog format is adequate to fully explore the topic; nevertheless, I do want to join the discussion.

In Ephesians, Paul describes the church as the " body of Christ." This is a beautiful image; Christ is the head, and we are are all united functioning together as his hands and his feet. Just as our physical bodies were designed to work together rather than individually, Christ's body is designed to function today. We are not individuals in the body of Christ; we are a team. Christ is the head, and we are his body, responding to his direction, working in conjunction with each other.

My two hands can do different things at the same time, but they must all work toward the same purpose, moving in the same direction, at the same time. Think of it a pianist. Each hand, even each finger, plays different keys, sometimes separately, sometimes together. Individually, the effect isn't that exciting, but together, the music can be incredible. Each digit works with the others to achieve melodies and harmonies and rhythms. The feet work the pedals to sustain notes. All parts, even other parts I have not discussed, are essential.

This is the body of Christ. We need each other. Individually, we are fairly insignificant. Together we can do magnificent things.

And so we gather together regularly, at least once a week, to make sure we are moving in the same direction, learning the same things, working toward the same purpose. That's the "go to church" part. And then we work together toward that purpose. That's the "be the church" part.

Together we worship God, glorifying His name, Together we illustrate the power of unity. Together we embody His heart of love and service. Together we show the power of Christ, that so many individuals can humble themselves and allow the power of God to empower them.

I can go to church without being part of the church, and I can do good things on my own without being the church. The goal is to be part of the body of Christ, something I will probably be learning my entire life.

Of note, this sermon series is specifically about Newbreak church, but there when the New Testament speaks of the body of Christ, it is describing the entire body of believers. I've never heard this discussed before, but I wonder if perhap each individual church body could be described as a part of the larger body. If that is the case, then we must learn how to work together in a unified way to glorify the name of God. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Power of ONE: Lost

This blog is a response to the current sermon series at Newbreak Church. To watch the message, you can log on to Newbreak's website and watch ONE: One Direction

Duane and I have had a lot of experience with being lost lately, with walking in circles, confused by GPS directions that tell us to turn down streets we can't see, that aren't labeled, that look like driveways.  Everything looks the same. But it's not. Getting lost is exhausting.  

Instead of being paralyzed by our lost-ness, Duane and I embraced the adventure of exploring new places. And we developed a system.  He kept track of shifting gears and watching for oncoming traffic, and I kept track of street signs and direction. Together, we stayed on track.

Most of the time. And when we got lost, we got "unlost" together.  (Unlost is not a word, but it works well here.)

We definitely needed maps and GPS directions. Somebody (or something) needed to know where we were actually going. But we also needed each other.  

Getting geographically lost is one thing, but every now and then, I feel emotionally and spiritually lost. Disoriented. Confused. Disconnected. 

I don't know where I'm going or what I'm going to do next.  I don't know where I'm going. Or what I'm doing next. 

I'm in limbo. Waiting for direction. 
I don't know where to turn. 
I don't know what to do next. Sometimes that's because there are too many options. And sometimes because I don't see any options. At least not the options I want. 

God seems far away.  Or at least not near. I don't hear Him. I don't sense His guidance.  
And so, in my confusion, I cling to anything that is familiar. 
And something the only thing that is familiar is the feeling of being lost. 

Feeling lost is such a lonely, isolating feeling. 

I've been journaling for nearly twenty years now, and my journals are sprinkled with this quotation from Psalm 119: 

I've strayed like a lost sheep; 
seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. 

Only God can take away the feeling of being lost. We need someone who knows how to get where we're actually going. Someone who knows where we're actually going even when don't.  

When I recognize that I'm lost--and sometimes I don't realize it for a while--I call out to God. And when I call out to God, I can trust that God loves me enough to reach out and find me. I cannot get "unlost" on my own. 

At the same time, I also need people around me to let me know that it's okay to feel lost, to be confused or disoriented, who remind me that even if I don't know exactly where I'm headed, God does. And He will find me.  

Hopefully we have those people around us. But what happens if we don't have those people? For a long time, I lived life on my own. I didn't know how to build relationships.  

But there are a lot of reasons why we might not have people around us, even if we've established those relationships in the past. Things change. They always do. 

In that case, we need to start all over.

I was thinking about all these things as I listened to the message on Saturday evening, and then Pastor Mike asked the church: Where are you lost? 

Maybe that question was for me. Right now I feel like I'm lost, and I'm trying to figure out how I got off track.

In some ways I I feel like I'm starting all over. After the Santee Campus closed, I seemed to drift relationally. Some Santee friends didn't follow us over to EC, and because the church was larger, I didn't see other Santee friends every weekend anymore. Added to that, I had a heavy work schedule and wasn't involved in church activities as much as I had been before.

After a year in EC, I'm back at the Tierrasanta Campus, a church I attended for fifteen years but haven't attended in six years, surrounded by people I know but haven't spent time with in years. And I'm surrounded by people I don't know. More than that, I'm at a new school. I'm living in a new house. My ministry roles are changing. I'm a little lost. 

I've been here before, and I think I know what to do. 
I'm calling out: Abba, I'm lost. I don't know where I'm going. Come find me. I need you. I need people to help me. I need to help other people.  

I'm embracing the adventure of exploring new places in life. 

And I'm joining a life group. I'm embracing my confusion so I can meet new people, so I can form new communities in my new church that is my old church, so that together we can help each other get "unlost." 

I'll repeat Pastor Mike's question: Where are you lost? 
Have you told your Heavenly Father? Who are your people? 
If you don't have people, what's your plan for finding them? 

Resolutions Part 8: Returning to San Diego (Let the BELLS Ring)

Well, my first day back from Europe has come and gone. It wasn't nearly as productive as I might have hoped.  

I have a lot to get done before school starts in a week.  
Aargh! Is it really only a week? 
And there I go. I've had this lovely vacation of discovery and rest and now I'm headed back to the craziness that is my life.
And I don't want to do that.  

I resolve to live less like a tourist, rushing to see this and that.
Instead, I want to slow down and spend time getting to know the people in my life, even getting to know new people.

I resolve to sit and sip coffee, less mindful of the time than of my surroundings.
I resolve to explore new things, dream new dreams, venture forth into the unknown. 
I resolve to get off the expressway and engage with life and with people and with God.  

And yet . . . 

Now that I'm back, with only a week before school starts, I have stuff to do. 
How do I slow down when I feel like I need to speed up? 

I need a plan, some guidelines to help me to live deliberately.  

In his book Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Era of Disengagement, Australian and theologian Michael Frost challenged his church with the acronym BELLS. This is a plan for engaging with community, becoming part of the community and inviting the community to join something bigger.

I thought about bells as Duane and I visited numerous churches in Paris, Southwest England, Wales, and London.  

Honestly, it seems like there's a church in every neighborhood. Huge churches with amazing artwork. And bell towers reaching into the sky.  

And yet, we rarely ever heard the bells. I'm not really sure why. The bells are old, so maybe they're broken.

At Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, Paris, the multi-ton bell in the tower fell silent last summer, and now the church is raising money to fix it so they can once again ring the bells, calling the community to prayer.

That's what church bells do.

They reach out into the community and speak of God's glory and God's love. They remind the community to worship God on a moment by moment basis. Conversely, at the same time, they invite the community into the church. Come. Come join us. Come worship God with us.

We who are followers of Jesus Christ need to do the same.

We need to go out into the community and live and speak and sing God's truths, and we need to invite people to join us and welcome them openly when they do.

I thought about Frost's challenge as I wandered through the churches, and I see it as a plan for the year.  This (with some modifications) is my plan to keep me on track, engaging, connecting, getting off the expressway. 

This year I will:

Bless at least one member of my spiritual community and at least one person from the other parts of my life every week. These blessings might take the form of a letter, a word of encouragement, or an act of service. This doesn't seem like much, but sometimes I get so focused on my own projects that I forget to bless people. Sometimes I bless people inadvertently, but I want my blessings to be deliberate and intentional, fueled by love.

I "[c]ommit myself to the weekly rhythm of performing acts of kindness and generosity."

Eat with at least one member of my spiritual community and at least one person from the other parts of my life every week. Frost explains, "Sharing a table is the great equalizer in human relationships. Eating together breaks down barriers and promotes a healthy sense of solidarity. It models hospitality and fulfils the model presented in Luke 10 of sharing table fellowship with others."

I love cooking for people. Eating with people. Sharing laughter and good food. I've been so busy that I've crowded this out of my life. I want to make room for this again.

I commit to sharing meals with people in my life, to opening my home on a regular basis. 

Listen - I will commit to listen to the prompting of God in my life. For me, this means reading Scripture and books and articles from Christ followers from various spiritual communities. It means journaling. Praying. Walking. Exercising. Meditating. Slowing down.

This is hard sometimes. But I need this. I need this in order to clear my head. In order to hear God's voice.

Learn - I will read from the Gospels each week. Of course I will keep reading from other parts of the Bible, but how can I be a follower of Jesus Christ unless I keep my eyes on Him? And how can I keep my eyes on Him unless I read his acts, unless I hear his voice?

Send - I will see my daily life as an expression of sent-ness by God into the world. Too often Christians see that "life outside the church is irrelevant to the expression of God's kingdom," but my daily life can be an expression of God's love to the world if I see myself as an agent of God's mission on the planet. This might include "acts of hospitality and the just stewardship of our stewardship as well as working for justice and striving for global peace" (212).

When I see myself as "sent," my words and my responses and my actions become become deliberate and focused rather than random. I am on a mission. I am Christ's representative.

A plan for getting off the expressway, slowing down, and engaging with my world. 
A plan for deliberate living. 
A plan for not letting the craziness take over. 

A plan. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Resolutions Part 7: Getting Off the Expressway

Duane's family is from Wales. We think. 
At least the Flewelling name is Welsh. We think. 

And so in the quest to learn more about our heritage, we headed up to Wales. 
I wasn't impressed.

The drive took us on the expressway through two large cities along the coast, and instead of the rolling hills with stone walls, sheep, and intermittent gothic churches, we saw industry and suburbs. 

Surely, the bed and breakfast in a conservation village would be a little different. 
A little different but not much. 

The expressway dropped us off at a stunning stone house built in the 17th century, but the house was located in the suburbs, surrounded by much newer homes.

At lunch, we asked the waiter for suggestions on what to do in the afternoon. He suggested the coastal village of Porthcawl, located on the Bristol Channel. 

I'm not really sure why.  
More suburbs. 

Ah well. At least the B&B was lovely.
And the church across the road surprised us with headstones naming possible ancestors. 


Maybe something more amazing was out there, but with a huge storm headed in, I didn't think we would get to see it.

On Friday morning, the rain died down enough that I talked Duane into stopping at some castle ruins on the way home.

And so we drove away from the expressway, past the suburbs, beyond GPS navigation, and into a faerie world of castle ruins and ancient bridges.

We almost turned around after losing the GPS signal and coming across water across the road. Instead I put on my boots and marched into the water to see if our little car could make it through.
And it did.

And one discovery led to another. And another. And another.

We just had to get off the expressway.

At the end of the day, as Duane and I drove back on the expressway, through suburbs and cities, I reflected on what we would have missed if we had not gotten off the expressway.

When we got off the expressway, away from the cities and the suburbs, we discovered unique stone ruins and living villages and people who laughed and asked about San Diego and told us about things we should not miss before leaving Wales.

Getting off the expressway allowed me to see Wales in a new way.
Actually it just allowed me to see Wales.  And it made me want to go back and see more.

Too much of life is spent on the expressway.
We need to get off the expressway if we really want to experience life, if we want to connect with people, if we want to make a difference.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Resolutions Part 6: Perceptions of Safety

Last week we wandered through Paris. Our only concerns were:1) not getting lost; 2) avoiding pickpockets.  Every now and then we saw soldiers in green, armed with automatic machine guns. They stood guard near the Arc of Triomphe. At Sacree Coeur. At the Louvre.

We didn't think too much of them.
We felt safe with or without soldiers.
We felt safe both day and night.

We left on Sunday morning. Three days later, on Wednesday, 12 people died at the hands of French citizens, in response to cartoons mocking Muhammad.

Last Monday, we thought about climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower, but the line was too long.

Today there was no line. Only police cars.

Our trip would have been so very different if we had chosen to go to Paris this week instead of last week.

I'm grateful we're not there right now.
I feel safe at my little bed and breakfast in southern Wales.

But I also felt safe in Paris last week.
I feel safe at home in San Diego.

What is safety?
Perhaps safety is only a perception of security. The feeling that we are out of the reach of harm.
Sometimes we're safe, but we don't feel safe.
And sometimes we feel safe, and we don't see the danger that's coming.
Thinks can change quickly.

There are no guarantees to life. Ever.
And so we live. We live fully.
With no guarantees.

We embrace life.
We laugh.
We love.
With no guarantees.

We venture forth boldly.
With no guarantees.

God is our shelter and our strength.    When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help.So why run and hide?No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails.    When the earth spins out of control, we are sure and fearless.    When mountains crumble and the waters run wild, we are sure and fearless.Even in heavy winds and huge waves,    or as mountains shake, we are sure and fearless.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Resolutions Part 5: Journeying (in Southwest England) and Life

Yesterday Duane and I set out on an adventure, driving on the left side of narrow roads barely wide enough for one small car let alone two normal size cars, navigating roundabouts, and towns we cannot pronounce.

Our destination: Dartmoor, a national park "famed for its wide open spaces, its dramatic tors, wooded valleys, rushing rivers and . . . its wildlife" as well as for "its diverse cultural heritage"  

It's a large park, as national parks go, so I thought that I would narrow our focus to somewhere in the center, so I chose to go to Widecombe, the quintessential Devon village in the center, the home of a 15th century church.

When our daughter Kirsten suggested that we rent a car to explore Southwest England, I knew Duane would love the adventure of driving on the left side of the road. I pictured driving down open roads and countryside. I pictured random discoveries of hidden villages and monuments.

I didn't think about traffic, confusing signage, or the real possibility of getting lost or turned around. On the first day of the car rental, on the way back to Kirsten's house after renting the vehicle, we missed the turn off three times.

Our GPS lady, referred to as Sat Nav in Great Britain, was very patient with us, but her calm, repetitive, and incomprehensible commands were not helpful.

At one point, Duane suggested that we return the vehicle.
I thought it might be a good idea.

I'm glad we didn't because we would have missed the rolling green countryside and thatched roof cottages. We would have missed discovering the Widecombe Cathedral in the center of Dartmoor.


We would have missed sitting in front of a fire in a local pub and eating bap with gammon.  
We would have missed discovering a twisted stick and fetching it out of the river.

The wandering creek. Duane's walking slowly.

I turn around, and Duane is doing something. I have no idea what.
Whatever he did before didn't work. But he's thinking.
Hmmm. What to do next.
He looks at me, but I have no suggestions. That's okay. He has another plan.

And now he means serious business.

Discovery of the twisted stick.
Not sure what we'll do with it since it doesn't really fit in our suitcase, but it sure is cool. 
We walked up the road and discovered farms. I took another twenty pictures of the cathedral. And then we took a "public footpath." It was super muddy. I was glad I wore boots because the mud came up past my ankles. But Duane's feet were mostly clean.

And then we started our drive back to Exeter but stopped to climb a hill and a rock and felt like the wind would blow us away. Along the way we discovered some roaming sheep.  

And then we drove back to Exeter and only got lost once.  
There are more things I could say, but I suppose my point, and it took me a long time to get there, is that sometimes we set out on a journey, and our goal is good, but our expectations are unrealistic. And then we encounter challenges and want to quit. 

But if we keep going, adjusting along the way, we may discover some really amazing things. Keep calm and enjoy the journey.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Resolutions Part 4: The Long Train to England

After an exhilarating day walking the streets of Paris and discovering wonderful things at every turn, I should have been exhausted, but I lay in bed almost all night long. It was our last night, and I wondered when I would return, if I would return.

In the morning, we packed our bags and walked to la Gare du Nord, went through customs, waited in line unsuccessfully for one last Parisian meal to eat on the train, and said goodbye as the train set off for London. 

We picked up some sandwiches on the train, but they weren't nearly as satisfying. And our credit cards didn't work, so we had to pay cash.

I thought about sleeping, something people often do on trains, but instead I occupied my mind playing Sudoku. Two hours later we disembarked at St. Pancras Station in London, rushed onto the Underground to get to another Underground to get to another train station to get on a train to Exeter. 

Along the way our suitcase broke and Duane spilled hot coffee on his arm. 
Another four or was it was it five hours on the train? I don't know.
I had to keep track of five tickets for two people for one train ride.
I didn't do very well, but in the end it was okay.  

Our daughter Kirsten explained why each ticket was important, but I didn't understand.  

Kirsten is our guide to England and to trains because she works in England and spends a lot of time on trains. She says at first she liked them, but she isn't very fond of them now. They're boring.

When you are on the train, or in a train station, you are not really in one place or another. You are on your way to one place or another. You're waiting quietly in the place you don't want to be, doing the thing you don't want to do, in order to get to the place you do want to be, to do the thing you do want to do.  

You don't engage the people next to you. Why? You likely won't see them again.  

Sometimes you sleep. Sometimes you work. Sometimes you stare out the window. 
Sometimes you play with your mobile device and talk to someone who isn't there.  Or play Candy Crush. 

Mostly you wait until your train arrives at your destination. So you can start your plans. So you can start engaging other people. So you can start real life. 

I suppose that makes sense if we're talking about trains or train stations.
But too often we can live our whole lives this way.
We wait to do one thing until something else happens. 

I'll start ___________ when I __________.

I'll start exercising when the semester ends.
I'll have people over for dinner when life slows down. 
I'll start blogging again when I have more time.  

Those are some of my mine. What are yours? 

When we live as if we're in an in-between space, waiting to get to where we really want to be so we can do what we really want to do, we get stuck. We wait. We don't engage. We check out. We solve Sudoku puzzles. Or something else.  

The thing is, if we want to live as followers of Jesus Christ, we must make every moment count, even the in-between times of our lives. We can live present, taking in the moments, taking advantage of opportunities, engaging people, loving people, making a difference.