Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hamster Wheel Christianity

Man there's a lot of noise and activity going on behind those four walls. So much energy and time spent in there. That little guy is so busy! He never comes out. You reach in and try to take him out of that cage and he bites you. He's just not used to being out. Poor little guy doesn't know how to socialize outside of his cage. If you get him out and put him down he'll run off into a corner all by himself. He gets scared being outside of the cage. Oh, well, pick him up, put him back in the cage where he's comfortable and feels safe, where he can run in his little hamster wheel and spend lots of time and energy going nowhere. But isn't he so cute?

Dear friends, the "church building" is to be a place to be fed the Word of God, equipped for ministry, worship with other believers, discipled, counselled, trained and empowered to be an effective witness for the Lord Jesus Christ outside of the church building, in your home, workplace, school and community. Yet so many church buildings have become a Christian Commune, a closed community, a week long retreat center, and a cage for saints.

I have a challenge for you, ask yourself these questions:

Do you live at the church building, work all week at the church building, volunteer constantly at the church building, go to school at the church building, socialize primarily at the church building and have community only at the church building? Is your weekly schedule full of church events, functions, classes or socials that only take place in a church building? Do you find yourself retreating to church building events in order to regain strength to live for the Lord? Do you find that participating in functions at the church property make you feel like you're fulfilling your spiritual responsibilities and that because you attend church events you must be growing spiritually? If the church building vanished today would your spiritual life fall apart? Do you find yourself hardly ever around unbelievers, and when you are around them you tactfully avoid them, or casually avoid conversations about Jesus? Do you never schedule appointments or coffee or meals or gatherings to intentionally be around unbelievers? When you think about the word "Church" do think about a building or property?

Perhaps you've answered "yes" to a few, some or all of these questions. Then you could be a committed member of "Hamster Wheel Christianity."

In Hamster Wheel Christianity there are a lot of activities, events, and gatherings all week long behind the four walls of the Church Building. Believers are very busy doing what they think they're supposed to do, but as the weeks and months and years go by there is not a lot of eternally significant fruit from all their labors. By this I mean that they're not necessarily becoming more and more like Jesus Christ in their hearts, and few are actually making disciples of the lost neighborhoods, communities, cities and nations around them. If you take them out of their comfortable church schedule or building and put them in the world around unbelievers for an extended amount of time they cower and crumble under the pressure, and rather than winning the lost to Jesus, they whine about how sinful people are and run back into their church building so they can feel godly and spiritual again among the godly and spiritual.

If I were the devil I think I would do exactly what's being done today. Could Satan's strategy be to get as many Christians as possible to commit to as many church functions as possible, located at as many church buildings as possible so as to place as much of the Body of Christ behind bars in a pious prison, playing church and convinced they're actually fulfilling Christ's Great Commission of evangelizing the lost and making disciples of all nations, while the world outside the Christian prison goes to hell untouched by the saints playing church?

It's a sad truth that today when Christians and non-Christians think about the word "Church" that they think about a building, not believers. I was talking to an unbeliever about Christ the other day and like so many others he implied that I should be preaching and talking about God "at the church" where people want to hear it, not out here in the real world. We live in a time in Church History where "Church" is a building not believers, and serving God is an optional career choice, where God's Word and the Gospel should only be preached behind the four walls of a church building, going to "church" is just a personal preference on Sunday, like a hobby, some people play golf, some people build model trains, others ride motorcycles, and some "go to church." What a sad concept of what it means to be part of God's Family.

As followers of Christ we should want to redeem the concept of the "Church" from all the worldly ideas, all the traditional baggage, and all the Hamster Wheel Christianity distortions. The "Church" is nothing less than God's own redeemed Children, Reborn People who have God inside of them, the Body of Christ, the eternal wife and Bride of Jesus Christ, a people who will live forever enjoying God together. This is no hobby.This is heaven's people living on earth. Not a bunch of hamsters in a cage, busy running in a wheel that's going nowhere.

It's OK for animals to get used to cages, for a bird to be comfortable in a birdcage, or a dog in a kennel, or a fish in a tank, or even a hamster in a cage. But a Christian should never be comfortable just going to a church building, week after week, year after year. God's Children were not saved to be shut up, cooped up, locked up or leashed. We are not to be trained by the devil to stay in a cage, even if it looks like a nice building with a cross on the front and lots of fun things to do inside, that is not to be our home. God has saved us to send us out, not shut us in.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..." Matthew 28:19

"Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." Mark 16:15

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:8

Update May 2011

Hi Everyone,
We're finally updating you all on what's been going on with us. I know there are a few of you who have asked us to update our blog for a while now. I'm sorry this update is so late, I've been wrestling with what to write, but I finally decided to just post this and leave it at that. Because I've procrastinated it makes it that much harder to clarify what's worth writing. I will try to post more regular updates following this one. We hope you are all doing well and enjoying the Lord and one another. We love and appreciate you all and thank you so much for your prayers, encouragement and support.

I wrote a lot of this down a while back and over the past few months God has allowed me to be humbled and see that I really don't "have it all together" like I thought. It's crazy how walking with God is a process of being built up and broken down at the same time. I've also been reminded that God cares more about who we are on the inside than what we do for Him on the outside. With that said, "church planting" begins with plowing up the church planter.

Well, it's been 7 months since we moved to North Carolina last October, and God has completely taken care of us and established us in a new community and our roots are digging in deeper. It's crazy how the closing of one chapter begins the opening of another. We never really know where or how God is going to lead us but He does. I want to encourage anyone considering taking a step of faith to a new city, state or country that God will absolutely provide for you as you seek Him. Allow the assurance of His faithfulness to overcome your fears! I really believe God leaves a trail of His faithfulness throughout our past to encourage us to continue to trust Him for the future. Today Raleigh, North Carolina is currently our home on earth, but our citizenship will always be in heaven! We look forward to what God has in store for us here in Raleigh and how we might know and serve Him better.

Moving to a new community for us began with a basic framework of: 1-finding a job 2-finding a place to live 3-forming new friendships 4-adjusting to the new environment 5-and reaching out to people for Christ! Believe it or not God has absolutely orchestrated all of this for us. We're thankful for that! It hasn't been a smooth ride without it's bumps and holes, but we feel like we're moving forward in becoming part of this community.
Here is how God has currently established us in this community:
1-Greg is working for a great Heating and Air Conditioning Company.
2-We're renting a house in Garner, about a mile from Greg's work and just 10 minutes south of downtown Raleigh.
3-Holly moved in to stay with us last December, and she is working at a local Christian coffee shop just down the street.
4-And the Kinzer family moved in and have been staying with us since January. Anthony has a great job with an electrical company here in Raleigh.
5-We're all learning how to live, love and sacrifice together.
6-We've been learning the Raleigh, Garner areas of North Carolina and it is beautiful here.
7-We're experiencing the culture and community through everyday life activities and are looking for locations to minister, preach and share the Gospel.

Ministry takes place primarily through interpersonal relationships with those around us. We hope to grow those relationships as God directs. Here is a basic look at our weekly ministry.
1-Individually working to maintain a strong walk with God, marriage, family and friendships
2-Sunday Nights we have Dinner, Bible Study and fellowship at our home around 6pm.
3-Tuesday Night after the kids are asleep we have prayer at the house
4-Wednesday nights we attend a Small Group Bible study at Hope Cafe just up the street where Holly works. We've made some great friendships there.
5-We have various "family meetings" and fellowship times throughout the week. God has been doing a deep work in all of our hearts here at the house, learning how to better communicate, not misunderstand one another, and how to practice genuine love and care for each other.
6-We've reached out to our neighborhood a little and the community in downtown Raleigh.
7-Individually we're sharing Christ in our daily and weekly encounters with people in town.
8-Discipleship relationships are forming with a friend and his family from Greg's work. This has been a highlight for me personally. We all stumble and struggle through our own discipleship and yet God in His mercy still uses us to disciple others.

1-We have moved here to "live out" our faith intentionally as they did in the Bible. You only get one chance to live an authentic Christian life of pursuing Christ, pursuing others with the Gospel and making disciples. We believe every Christian is called by God to actually live out and not just "believe" what is in the Bible. This is a life of experiencing God, not just believing in Him. We thank God that He so powerfully used Calvary Chapel Spring Valley to prepare us for wanting to prove God's Word and live like they lived in the Bible.
2-This kind of life is totally different than the world's way of living, and often even different than what we experience in the "modern American church." This kind of life should be convicting, contagious and challenging. We absolutely need God's grace and mercy every step of the way. Unfortunately the greatest opposition to living sold out for Christ is not the mocking world but critical, complacent Christians. God help us to pull others up rather than be pulled down. It is so easy to become complacent and just wait for God to set me on fire for Him. As time passes I realize that the powerful Christian life is not "automatic" but an intense battle of the will to sacrifice good things and extra time to simplify my life and spend time with God. It seems that the devil, the flesh, the world, and even good godly Christian activities violently attack our personal time with God in prayer, and His word. I am convinced that those who God uses the most to change this world are those who by God's grace have disciplined themselves to put God first consistently. May God help us all as the days get deceptively darker.
3-Coming out here has given me time to re-evaluate "church and ministry" and I'm praying God will lay a simpler model for us that intentionally focuses on Gospel preaching and discipleship relationships. We want God and people to be and remain the priorities. We want God to show us how to successfully do this. It has been refreshing to be able to freely examine various ministry models and philosophies. We live in a day and age where just about every kind and style of ministry has been attempted. The "Google Age" is both informative and potentially distracting.
4-As we've looked into the various Biblical mandates and models for ministry we have considered a more family integrated pattern of discipleship, ministry and worship. We are not sure how all this will work itself out practically but we're small enough to try different things. In light of our current culture today we can all see the obvious need for stronger godly families, more unity in the home, and parent instigated discipleship with their children. The modern drive for more individual independence it seems has invaded the family unit and church and the parents and kids have so personalized their own lives that there is little motivation for family or quality personal relationships in the home. We all battle to make home, marriage and family a priority while living in a self-focused culture.
5-I'm sure we'd all agree that personal discipleship relationships are essential and effective for accomplishing what the Lord has called us to do. And so our focus is one soul, one marriage, one family at a time. It has been awesome to see God answer prayers in this direction. I've been reminded that God does want us passionately praying for our unsaved co-workers, friends and family and He wants us ready to be used by Him to be an answer to those prayers. It's easy to lose heart, but if we keep it simple and focus on just a few, we can see God work regarding specifics. We're all new creations in Christ and therefore missionaries and ambassadors of the Gospel and Kingdom of God to those we meet each day.
6-We are convinced and believe the parents are to be the primary source of discipleship for their kids, and that fathers who live for Christ and faithfully train their families to live for Christ will help eliminate the current almost 80% fall away rate we see happening in youth ministries by the time a child graduates. These statistics force us to re-evaluate how to disciple kids and youth. We pray God gives a word of wisdom to His Church at large on how to do this effectively.
7-A return to biblical evangelism rather than embracing the many and diverse methods of evangelism today. By "biblical" I mean presenting the "Gospel" to the lost rather than simply talking about God or church or the faith. By "many and diverse" I mean replacing the saving message of the Gospel with "religious God talk." Certainly we must be discerning, and sensitive, and great listeners but we must be willing to share God's Gospel Message. Are we inviting people to church or to Christ? Are we ashamed of Christ but not ashamed of our churches so much that we'd rather invite people to a church building in hopes that the pastor or speaker will boldly share the Gospel? Every believer is called by God to know the Gospel and share it. We should communicate "repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." By "biblical" I mean being faithful to declare the message of Christ and the Cross and trusting God with the results. I see a need for training believers to effectively share the Gospel and quit making excuses. The schools, universities and ever increasing books by skeptics and atheists are equipping their followers to know how to oppose God, the Bible and our faith. We must rise to the occasion for in every generation the Church has had its critics and opposition, and by God's power has met the challenges. We need God's strength for boldness to overcome the fears we all face when seeking to break the silence and share Christ with a loved one, neighbor or coworker. It's intense! There is great opposition to the Gospel, and it is increasing by the day. But He that is in us is greater! And He has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.
8-Home Churches? What are your thoughts about home churches? I've really been thinking a lot about house churches. As with anything there are pros and cons. I find it interesting that for the first 200-300 years of the Christian Church the Gospel was preached throughout the known world and disciples we're successfully made without the assistance of a physical local "Church Building." The believers met in homes, had fellowship and went out into their communities to reach people for Christ and work with their hands in trades beneficial to their communities. Consider the revival and expansion of the church in China today. They are forbidden to build large buildings and the community of believers is exploding home by home. We've started a small a home Bible study on Sunday nights as our place of group worship, teaching and fellowship. It's been small and simple and we just give it to God to do with it what He wants. In mentioning house churches I want to say that I'm not opposed to church buildings because I recognize that God calls different people to different ministries. The Church of God is designed to be different and diverse. I praise God for the many large churches that are passionately and successfully reaching the lost and making disciples and using their large facilities for the Kingdom of God. I also recognize we are 2000 years down the road of church history and the expansion of God's Church and Kingdom through technology, buildings and millions of gifted believers. And so the applications and methods of ministry we see today naturally will look very different from what we see in the Bible. But the Message is still the same. May God give each of us discernment as to what modern methods to employ and what modern methods actually destroy. And may we be ever mindful that the "relevant ministry methods" of today become the "rituals and traditions" of tomorrow. God certainly uses all kinds of methods and means to accomplish His plans and purposes, but our ultimate loyalties should be fastened to our Master and His Message, not our methods of ministries.
We long to see the empowering of each individual disciple and their families, to see "Christ fully formed" in each person, and so a return to simple, intentional Gospel preaching and discipleship relationships we believe will accomplish this within our circles of influence. But may God lead each one of us to find our niche in the global Body of Christ and serve Him with all He gives!

Yep, a few weeks ago we had some tornadoes in North Carolina and one of them was right up the street from us just about 2-3 miles away. The Raleigh area had 3 tornadoes in one day around the same time. We're all ok and it's been a true blessing to see how God's people, as well as others have risen to the occasion to network and serve those affected. Please pray for those who lost loved ones and homes, and pray that God's invisible Kingdom would be built up as the physical rebuilding takes place in the community.

Some of you have donated to the ministry here over the past 7 months and we are so thankful for your generosity. Currently we have opened a "ministry account" with our bank, Sun Trust, and we are just depositing your financial support into that account as we seek God for His direction on how to spend those resources. We have used a little of the money to buy lunches for the homeless, Bibles, DVDs and other "give-away" items for evangelism and ministry. If anyone would like to know exactly how much is in the account and specifically what we have purchased with the resources I would be glad to tell you, just contact me personally. And please keep us in prayer as we seek God's direction in how to facilitate the finances.

Thanks again to all of you who think of us, pray for us, call, text or email. It's a real blessing to know we have friends and family out there who actually care about us and want to know what's going on out here "literally" in our neck of the woods. And for the rest of you we never hear from anymore, don't worry, we know, you're busy, we won't take it personally. We love you all!

Greg, Angela and James

"I beg you therefore, my brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." -Romans 12:1-2

Mommy and James at a park near the house

James and our neighbor's dog, Bella

Grammy Sheryl's big blue chair

Feeding the goose at the pond by the house

Jimmy jammin!

Worship band practices our latest song, "Out of Tune."

Baby Niah and James perform their duet, "Just duet!"

Don't make me turn this car around...

Toddler Executive

Tool time

Huh? what?

Free cool guy stare with a knuckle sandwich