Taking the Offering – Literally

Last spring, Cross Timbers Community Church in North Texas began giving money away. Lots of it.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars.  They’ve given single moms and widows $100 gifts; they’ve given $200,000 to four local and two mission organizations; and they’ve fed, clothed, and paid utility bills for  many local people during these tough times.

Last April, the church gave 1,400 families $50 each and told them to give it to someone else. And before that, Pastor Toby Slough told his congregation to take money from the collection plate if they needed it – even though church donations were down. That day they had the largest offering ever.

When asked if he worries people will hear of the church’s generosity and take advantage of it. Pastor Slough replied, “If I’m not being taken advantage of, I’m not being like Jesus.”

To read and watch more about this, click here.

How Much Is Too Much?

At what point is too much too much?  I recently heard about the massive $130 million building campaign of First Baptist Church of Dallas, and my mind immediately went to this question. It was just announced that the church (founded in 1868) will launch one of the nation’s largest church construction projects, aiming to transform its downtown campus.

The plan calls for tearing down five buildings and keeping the 1890s-era sanctuary. The centerpiece is going to be a new 3,000-seat glass-front sanctuary that will be connected by a sky bridge to a six-story education building. A major feature will be a fountain topped by a cross.  One of the pastors was quoted as saying that the church plans to be a spiritual oasis in the heart of the city.

Is it me, or am I missing something?  I like the idea of a church striving to establish itself as a “spiritual oasis” in the heart of a city, but does it take a $130 million building to do that?  Can’t a church be a spiritual oasis without spending so much money on its facilities?  I’m fine with spending money on church buildings, but $130 million?!

Seems to me that what a city like Dallas (or any other city for that matter) needs is a church willing to spend that kind of money not on its facility but on the people of the city.  Much needed jobs could be developed, low-income homes could be refurbished, single mothers could be assisted, college scholarships could be established for students with no chance of attending college otherwise – all in the name of Jesus.

And with the kind of money that First Baptist Church of Dallas has at their disposal, imagine the “oasis” a church like that would be if they used a large portion of that money to redeem the lives of people rather than build an insanely expensive church facility.

Struggling with Jennifer Knapp

Jennifer Knapp is a songwriter and Christian musician whose lyrics have always been honest and at times profound.  Her music is good; a folk/rock mix with a sometimes gritty and raw edge.  Two of her three albums were Grammy nominated, and in total, the three albums have sold nearly one million copies.  She put out these albums between 1998 and 2001…and then she fell off the face of the earth – almost literally.  For the last seven years, she has been roaming around Australia with only her acoustic guitar.  She sold everything else and walked away from it all.

And then last September, she came out of hiding, moved back to the U.S., and decided it was time to record a new album (which is being released today).  Not only did she come out of hiding; she also came out of the closet, confirming what some had suspected to be true for years that she was – in fact – gay.  In a recent Christianity Today interview, Jennifer said, “I’m certainly in a same-sex relationship now, but when I suspended my work, that wasn’t even really a factor. I had some difficult decisions to make and what that meant for my life and deciding to invest in a same-sex relationship, but it would be completely unfair to say that’s why I left music.”

In one of her recent blog posts, she writes, “I share my life with a woman. I have approached this relationship with gratitude, joy and humility. I am honored to have the support of my loving family, a caring partner, friends and people of faith who have accepted me as I come, while encouraging me to become who I am meant to be.”

As would be expected, Jennifer’s “coming out” has been met with many questions about how she justifies her faith with her sexuality.  In a recent interview with Relevant Magazine, she said that the concept of homosexuality has “always sat a little bit uneasy with me, for one reason or another.”  She goes on to say, “I’ve experienced a fair cross section of people in my life that has made me less concerned with what particular point I might label or call a sin.”

“As a Christian,” she continues, “I’m doing that as best as I can. The heartbreaking thing to me is that we’re all hopelessly deceived if we don’t think that there are people within our churches, within our communities, who want to hold on to the person they love, whatever sex that may be, and hold on to their faith.

In an interview with The Advocate, which is a gay and lesbian news magazine, Jennifer says that she no longer feels like being gay and being Christian are in opposition, even if others do. “I’m quite comfortable to live with parts of myself that don’t make sense to you,” she says.

And I guess this is where I struggle.  I do hurt for her and for others who confess Christ while also struggling with their sexuality.  I can’t imagine the pain, frustration, and confusion they must suffer.  However, it seems from Jennifer’s words that she is no longer struggling.  It seems that she has found a place where living as a Christ-follower and as a lesbian can comfortably co-exist.  She no longer seems to be interested in engaging in the tension, and while I understand her desire to land somewhere outside the tension, I also feel sad for her.

My sin is just as bad as hers.  I struggle with horrible things like anger, lust, spiritual apathy, and pride – just to name a few.  And as much as I wish that I could be “comfortable” living with these things as a Christian, I can’t.  I can not allow myself to get to the point where I let these things comfortably exist in my life.  I must continue to live in the tension, and continue to fight daily to put off the sin which so easily entangles me.

Funny how Jennifer’s lyrics from a song on her first album come to mind: “Time to get down on my knees and pray, ‘Lord, undo me!’  Put away my flesh and bone ’til You own this spirit through me.” It seems as though she’s given up doing this, and for that, I am sad.  I also see this as a clear warning for me in my struggle with sin.  If I stop praying that the Lord would empower me daily to put away my flesh and allow His Spirit to fill me, there – but for the grace of God – would I go too.

Missional Living and the Sermon on the Mount

Currently, my church is involved in a study of Jesus’ words from His “Sermon on the Mount.”  Along with Jesse Harden, my friend and associate, we’re preaching through it each Sunday.  Then following each sermon, along with Andrew Streett, my friend and our new Director of Missional Living, we’re discussing each sermon in more detail with our church family.  And there’s a reason why we’re doing this.

God has called our church (and your church too) to be missional – to join Him in His redemptive work in our neighborhood, our city, our country, and around the world.  And what better passage to study than Jesus’ instructions to His first followers recorded in Matthew 5-7 on what it means to join Him in His mission of redemption?

Andrew, being the missional director that he is for our church, sent me a link to a video where Mark Scandrette, an author, teacher, and missional activist shares his insights into missional community formation from  his 10+ years of radically living it with his family in a San Francisco neighborhood.  Mark’s words encouraged me that we’re doing the right thing in exploring Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with our church family as a way to lay some missional foundations with them.  He says:

Jesus said “Love your enemies.”  He said, “Don’t worry about your money and possessions anymore.”  Seek first the kingdom of God.  There are between 36 and 40 explicit things that Jesus said about how to live in the kingdom of God (in the Sermon on the Mount), and what a missional community does is they get it down to: How are we going to help each other actually live those things out?  What is our next step to living in the Jesus way?

The easiest thing to do is to talk about our dissatisfaction with the way our church is or the way our lives are.  But somehow we need to get to the point where we turn the corner and decide how we’re going to live into the reality of God’s kingdom, which is the revolution of love in the gritty details of our lives.  And THAT’S how you are missional.  It’s an inside revolution of saying: “What new choices am I going to make in my heart and in my relationships to transition from a self-focus to a focus that’s on being renewed in the way of love.

I am encouraged by his words, and think it’s cool that he kinda looks like Bono.  Anyway, I’m glad that – even though our exploration of the Sermon on the Mount has exposed some tough things in our lives and our church – we chose to dive in and are continuing to wade through the deep and choppy waters anyway.

Click here for the full video. It’s 17 minutes long, and Mark’s vibe is kinda funky, but his words are profound!  It’s well worth your time.

Missional: A popular word that’s as old as dirt

Missional.  It’s a new word in many churches today, but it’s not a new concept at all.  As a matter of fact, God’s call on His people to live missional lives is as old as the book of Genesis.  Simply put, to be missional means to join with God in His redemptive mission.  And a church that is missional is a body of people joining with God in His redemptive mission who gather in community for worship, encouragement, and teaching from the Word.

As Christians, we often fall into the trap of thinking that God’s redemptive plan is just about getting as many people to heaven as possible with little regard to the concept of redeeming (or rescuing, or making things right) here on earth.  But when Jesus sent out the disciples, He gave them the authority to not just proclaim the Kingdom of God, but to actually bring some of the redemption of that Kingdom to earth through healing people (making things right for them, redeeming them).

Luke 9:1-2 says that “he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.”  Jesus gave them the power to not only proclaim the good news: that the Kingdom of God was at hand with the arrival of Jesus but also to heal and cast out demons. To redeem (make right) things right here and right now.

In Luke 10:8-9, Jesus said, “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'”  Jesus told them to heal the sick and as they do, to say, “The Kingdom of God has come.”

The mission of God through Jesus is to make all things new, to set all things right, to bring His kingdom of redemption to earth as it is in heaven.  So, missional living then is living in such a way that we join Him in that mission – the mission of redemption.