Church Definitions

What’s the definition of “church”?

It was great to see Mark & Rach Farrin – very dear friends from the UK,  a few weeks ago down here after so long, and it got me thinking about the old gang. “Church” for me wasn’t (and isn’t) an event once a week in a set location, it’s having deep fellowship with a few individuals who challenge, love and respect you enough to say to your face “You’re wrong” as much as they’ll say “You’re right”.

Sitting in a building once a week won’t make e a Christian any more than sitting in a garage will make me a car. I get daily fellowship with a few people who speak into my life and I speak into theirs – it’s real, and not always comfortable. That’s Church to me.

Intimate. Personal. Often uncomfortable, but with an unmistakeable undercurrent of Love behind it.

I’ve been to big churches. Went regularly for several weeks, into months. Then I stopped without telling anyone. After a year nobody had called. My absence was unnoticed.

I’ve been in small churches. One week I was half an hour late and someone stepped out of the service to phone me and ask if I was ok.

The relationships were different. The small group I was in in Totnes was called TQ9, based on the area code for the town. There were about 25 – 30 in total, and we had clicques like any group. Within the group there were people I was very close to and others not so much. But we spoke into each others lives. We knew one another’s stories. We could see by looking at someone if they were troubled.

That was fellowship. That was Church. We met together in each other’s homes. We prayed, rejoiced, grieved, laughed and played together. Fellowship. We sharpened one another. Made each other strong.

Now I have only intermittent contact with most of them. A fleeting facebook message that tells me nothing. Once these people were my closest confidantes. They knew when I got engaged. They helped me through the break up. I walked away when my dad was dying – I didn’t want their pity and my pride got in the way. I blamed them, but it was me who distanced myself. I stopped taking their calls. My fellowship crumbled because I didn’t maintain it.

I went into a dark place, deep depression and 4 suicide attempts later God placed a new fellowship around me that would lift me up and set my feet back on the Rock. They dogged me and hassled me into loving them. Most of them had known me over a year before they heard me laugh or saw me smile. But they Loved me anyway.

Again, it was a faithful few who chose to love me God’s way. I am alive today because of their Faithfulness. Dave, Tina, Mark, Rachel, Martin, Louise. Ok, Mark and Rach knew me, but the others just happened. And God Blessed me.

Now in a dark place again there is one person I’ll not name here but she knows who she is who, more than anyone else here outside the family has become a strong member of my fellowship. Not because she had to, but because she chose to. We speak into one another’s lives regularly, sharing what God is doing.

The Blood of the Lamb and the Word of our Testimony. And slowly we are both seeing the enemy beaten back in our lives by simply worshipping God by doing nothing more than sharing what His love is doing for us and our families. Giving Him the Glory that is His and being humble enough to use the gifts He gives us to speak out to one another.

My church is not where I sit on a Sunday. It’s where I have fellowship and feeding. The two are not mutually exclusive, but they are not one and the same either.

Just a thought.

The Cross behind the Manger

It’s that time of year again. Tinsel and ridiculous images everywhere portraying the most remarkable event of all time: the incarnation of God Himself.

I get angry at this time of year.

Very angry.

In South Africa we get all the signs: Eid Mubarak! Blessed Diwali! Happy Hannukah! Holiday Greetings!

Wait a minute… “Holiday Greetings!”? What about Christmas?

Shops will use any euphamism they can to avoid the word Christmas.

This year hasn’t been an easy one. My friends and family that I care about most have suffered loss and heartache, which makes the Cross behind the Manger more important.

The Christmas story isn’t a cute fuzzy tale to warm the heart. It’s the beginning of the most violent act of Love God ever did for His children. He took on the form of the ones He came to save. He reached out to us on our level.

Hands that had created the Heavens and Earth had to be taught to feed himself. His nappy had to be changed. He became utterly human, tempted as we are tempted. He would experience stress, hunger, grief, joy. Just like us.

He was persecuted from the day of His birth. The mission starts with genocide. Joseph and his family have to flee to Egypt to escape the slaughter of children Herod orders.

The stable-cave of Bethlehem is replaced with a life on the run. By 12 he is back in Jerusalem, understanding and talking with the leaders of the synagogues and Temple. Amazing them with his insights. Sowing the seeds of Hope into their hearts only to heav Satan sow envy and hatred alongside. How many of the younger leaders He spoke to then called for His murder 20 years later?

The purpose of the manger is the Cross and the Empty Tomb.

Not presents.

Not a cute story.

Victory over Death. Salvation from Hell. Restoration of Relationship with the Creator Incarnate.

Personality vs Character

Ok it’s not original, Steven Covey said it first, but we live in a world that venerates Personality over Character today.

God puts Character first though.

Character develops over time. It is forged through experience and often hard knocks. Our decisions shape our characters. Personality is like a mask. We put it on as we leave the house and take it off as we get home. My GP refers to it as “Eleanor Rigby syndrome”.

There are examples of the Character vs Personality through Scripture. King Saul had Personality. David had Character. Pharaoh had Personality, Moses had Character.

Having Character doesn’t mean doing everything right. It means owning our decisions and choices. Saul tried to blame everyone else. He blamed Samuel for arriving late. He blamed the people for pressuring him. He passed the buck as far as he could, and it cost him everything. He was a Personality leader. The people admired him. He was tall, well built and good looking. He went out with the Prophets and spoke out for God. He led God’s people in battle.

David committed adultery with Bathsheba, then had her husband killed to hide his behaviour. Adultery. Murder. Yet God describes him as a Man after God’s Heart. Why? Because when the Prophet Nathan comes to David and faces him with his sin, David acknowledges it and repents. He throws himself down before God and weeps over his actions. He owned his choices. He lived up to his Character.

Moses started with Personality. He, Like Paul later, became Character. He owned up to his past mistakes and led the Exodus, risking his own life going before Pharaoh to deliver God’s message. After living as a Prince he commits murder and flees to the desert, where he allows God to shape his Character. On his return to Egypt his Personality has been rebuilt into Godly Character by spending time with God. Pharaoh on the other hand is self-obsessed and determined to be the embodiment of his petty-minded deification in Egyptian culture. Even when he summons Moses and Aaron to ask them to pray to get the frogs removed from Egypt, his pride and Personality get in the way. The land of Egypt is overrun by frogs and he summons Moses to ask God to remove them. When Moses asks him ‘And Moses said to Pharaoh, “Accept the honor of saying when I shall intercede for you, for your servants, and for your people, to destroy the frogs from you and your houses, that they may remain in the river only.”’ his response is driven by his personality – “So he said, “Tomorrow.” And he said, “Let it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God”. (Exodus 8:9 & 10).

Today we have nations led by Presidents and Prime Ministers who are elected on massive majorities, but their behaviour is less than admirable. They are modern Pharaohs. When faced with their crimes they try to hide by distraction. Then they use what has become known as “spin” to cover up and misrepresent the facts to distract the population from . Sex is redefined by Bill Clinton. Marriage by Jacob Zuma. The concept of Character was eclipsed by Personality. Robert Mugabe started with noble principles. His personality got him support initially, but after so long in power his Character has come through and he turned one of the wealthiest nations in Africa into one of the poorest. It remains to be seen what will happen in Egypt.

Leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Desmond Tutu all displayed Character in their leadership. They led by example and acknowledged their mistakes. They lived their character day in and day out (and still do in some cases).

Personality is selfish, Character is selfless. A Character leader seeks to serve, a Personality leader promotes himself.

Jesus and the disciples lived by Character. Paul started as a Personality, then God knocked him off his donkey and opened his eyes to the importance of Character. He humbled himself and although a leader in the Jews he went and sat to let God build his Character.

He still wants to do the same for us.

AAAAGH! A Wealthy Christian!

There’s a lot of negative stuff been bandied about regarding Christians and money. More experienced people than me have argued this subject and been put down for it. Less experienced have as well.

Young ministers are gently told by their listeners that they will learn the facts with experience. Older teachers are accused of being led astray by pride or greed or envy.

But scripture tells us there is a purpose to prosperity.

A purpose devised by God himself – to establish His Covenant with His People. “Establish” may be better interpreted as “prove”. Proof to the people who didn’t know Him. Proof to the Faithful of his goodness and provision.

But you shall [earnestly] remember the Lord your God, for it is He Who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day” Deuteronomy 8:18 (Amplified)

Given this statement, what makes us think financial prosperity is bad? Yes, there are many corrupt people who are wealthy, but wealth and prosperity are not the same thing. Wealthy men can be owned completely by a spirit of Poverty. They are so money-focussed that they will do anything and everything to hold onto that money. Their drive is to preserve and gather for themselves.

A Prosperous man, conversely, gives. As a result, God places wealth into his hands for redistribution. He becomes a reservoir into which God pours a harvest of resources; financial, physical, whatever the area in which he is blessed. Sometimes it’s time. Sometimes it’s money. It may even be compassion. He prospers in all areas as a means of confirming the presence of God in his life.

Abraham knew God. Joseph knew God. David knew God. Their prosperity was in multiple areas. They walked with God. They used their relationship with God to draw others to God. Abraham became an entire nation. Joseph saved the greatest civilisation of the day. David gave the largest individual share to build the Temple completed by Solomon. Their prosperity, whilst ultimately financial in manifestation, was an expression of God’s presence and Covenant with them in their lives.

Somehow having money has become synonomous with being Godless. Whilst worshipping finances and seeking them for their own sake is clearly opposed to everything the Bible teaches, having financial wealth in and of itself is no more inherently evil than having nothing. Both cause issues for a believer’s life. Excess is not what God wants for us, but neither is lack.

Each believer must walk his path with God. We need finances to share the Gospel, and we need clothes and food to live. God knows this, and His prosperity manifests in our lives how we need it in order to demonstrate His covenant with us. He gives us power to create wealth, and allows us to ask so we may receive, but the asking must not be from selfish intentions, but simply and in faith – inspired by Him to do His work.

No Mystery in Unity

I had the priviledge of being at a wedding yesterday. My wife’s cousin married his fiancee and they have begun a journey that will change their lives forever.

It put me in mind of the changes that I’ve seen in the last ten years I’ve been with my wife, courting for a year, and married for a little over nine now.

I wouldn’t change my decision to ask her for anything. It’s not been the easiest option, but I’d not want to be anywhere else.

Together we’ve walked this amazing journey that has seen us encounter joy and pain, loss and heartache, happiness and tragedy. Most of all, however, we’ve lived with Hope, Love and Faith as our companions.

We’ve walked through fire – life-threatening illness for both of us – still an ongoing battle – financial prosperity and crushing loss from medical bills. Through it all, Jesus has supported us. The support has come in many forms from many places externally, but through it all there has been a constant theme within the relationship.

Not once have we both hit bottom at the same time. God has aways given one of us the strength to lift the other – even when we couldn’t see it until later.

It’s 18 months since our lives really changed forever in a way I won’t go into now, but in that time He’s brought new friends into our life together who have themselves experienced hardships. We’ve been able to live as a true fellowship.

There’s a unity between us. We are united not by our troubles, but by our Hope. Not by the hardships, but by Faith. Not by the bitterness of the past, but by Love carrying us forwards.

The writer to the Hebrews says not to abandon the gathering of the believers. More and more recently I’ve realised that isn’t necessarily a denominational church as such, but rather getting together and sharing our lives on an intimate level with a few close friends.

I’ve not been a regular attendee of a denominational church since I left Torquay in 2003. I’ve not given up meeting with believers though. Family and friends who are born-again who we share our Faith with, teaching one another and sharing testimony.

I went to a few denominational churches over the last few years. Even a few house groups. Good people in them, but I felt superfluous. I wasn’t necessary to the life of the organisation. It seems to me that the church isn’t meant to be an organisation as much as it is an organism. An organisation will continue if parts are missing without change or noticing. Cut a piece off an organism and it stops functioning the way it was designed to.

My fellowship is small right now, but I know the people in it intimately and I trust them enough to let them know me. There’s a unity between us. It defines us. There’s no mystery in it.