Live the Church

Josh McCullough, Stonepoint Member

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:14 ESV

There’s a song that has popped up recently on the Christian charts called Church (Take Me Back) by Cochren & Co. At its heart the song has a good message. It is about a guy that grew up in church, but strayed into the pleasures of the world (very Prodigal Son-esque). He is wanting (almost begging) for someone to take him back to church. IMG_0002

He equates church to a physical place, full of people, with preaching and singing. 

When done for the right reason, and with the right heart, there’s nothing wrong with this definition of church. After all, Jesus himself said ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.’  Matthew 18:20 ESV

Meeting at a location we call church can be a renewing of spirit for believers. I’ll be among the first to admit that I look forward to Sunday mornings. There is something comforting about it, as stated in the song. Being with a group of similarly minded people, sharing in worship for a couple of hours each week. 

 But even the ‘unchurched’ do that. Sporting events, gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, and even theme parks are full of like minded people spending time on a recurring basis, praising (worshiping) something. 

So how are we as church goers any different? 

The short answer is “we’re not.” Not if we are simply church goers.

We must instead be church doers. As Brandon, Brian and the rest of the Stonepoint Staff have said multiple times the place the world calls a ‘church’ is just a building. The only thing special about the building is the people inside. 

The people are the church. 

Need proof? Look in your Bible. The book of Acts is full of stories of Christ followers meeting in homes and secret locations, sometimes even hidden in fields, because they had to keep moving or risk persecution. Yet they were still called the church. 

On Memorial Day weekend, we as a body participated in what is now called Mission Van Zandt (formerly Stonepoint Serves.) It is a yearly chance for us, along with other bodies of believers, to put this into action. To go out without expecting a return, no strings attached, and ‘Be The Church’ in our communities. 

We go out and and clean trash from parks, do yard work and clean up for the elderly or infirm, and occasionally tackle even bigger projects, like re-roofing a house or building a fence. 

But again, even the ‘unchurched’ do this. They, too, will take a day or a weekend and clean up trash (Earth Day) or give money to the poor.

So what makes us as the church different? 

Back in 1995 DC Talk released their album Jesus Freak. The title song on that album became, and still is, immensely popular. And it’s a good song, but it’s just one piece of an excellent album. I had the album on cassette and repeatedly listened to the whole thing start to finish. 

The song right after Jesus Freak is called What if I Stumble (if you’ve never listened to it I encourage you to do so.) It opens with a spoken quote by Brennan Manning.

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

This is where we have to be different. Don’t just ‘Be The Church’ one day a year and go on living worldly the rest of the time. 

We need to instead ‘Live The Church’ everyday. 

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

(Interestingly enough the next track on the Jesus Freak album is called Day by Day.) 

So, instead of waiting for the broken to want to be taken back to church like in the Cochren & Co song, we should be taking the church to the broken everyday. 

Count it All Joy?

Josh McCullough, Stonepoint Member

A good commercial has a sticking factor. A phrase or ear-worm that gets stuck in your memory. Growing up, one such commercial was the one for Space Bags. I remember the frustrated lady screaming ‘Too much stuff, not enough space!’ 

It’s part of our human nature to desire stuff. We collect and amass and still desire more. It could be books, jewelry, cars, trinkets and art, clothes, etc. My own personal vices are Legos and electronics.  

8fbaa9b5-8d8e-4e14-bc63-c91a878482be-shutterstock_9769461cjIt is common in American households to have junk drawers, you know the one…that drawer or cabinet full of stuff that doesn’t really have a place but that we’re not yet ready to throw out. 

Well my ‘junk drawer’ is an entire room, and no, I don’t mean my teenage daughter’s room (although it’s pretty close). The room in question is an office space off our master bedroom that has become more of a storage room than a usable office.  

We have definitely hit the point of ‘Too much stuff, not enough space!’, not quite hoarder status (although my wife might argue that point).

There is a Japanese custom for decluttering that has resurfaced and made it west in recent years, popularized by Marie Kondo. Essentially the custom is to hold each of your possessions in your hand and only keep the items that bring you joy. I’m sure that over simplifies it, but it’s the basic gist.   

Seems easy enough, go through everything and take a moment to see if it sparks joy. A beloved heirloom with pleasant memories attached, the little trinket gift your child made in school with their hand prints for Mother’s Day, that pair of headphones that are balanced just right for music or audio books (just me?) You get the idea. 

 Now I see memes online where people talk about throwing out their electric bills, dirty laundry, dirty dishes, etc. 

This falls in line with a worldly definition of joy, a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. In other words if something doesn’t make you happy, throw it away. 

The problem with using happiness as your guide is where do you draw the line? 

A $400 a month electric bill doesn’t make me happy, the same with endless piles of laundry or dirty dishes. 

The book of James opens with these words, ‘Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds’ James 1:2 ESV. 

So what is a biblical definition of joy? Surely James isn’t telling us to be happy that we’re suffering. 

Biblical joy is definitely a feeling, but not necessarily a feeling of happiness. 

Paul in his letter to the church in Thessalonica used the word as a verb in the form of rejoice and gave us a pretty good definition of biblical joy. ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.’  1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 ESV. 

Notice in verse 18 he says ‘give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ 

In other words be grateful. 

Proverbs 17:22 says ‘A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.’ Or if I may be so bold as to paraphrase, Being grateful heals, while grumbling destroys. 

So what happens if we use the biblical definition of joy and apply it to the Marie Kondo method?

Suddenly instead of that electric bill that I was not happy about, I can be grateful that I have electricity and by extension a comfortable place for my family to live. Instead of dreading the endless piles of laundry and never-ending dishes, I can be grateful that my family has clothes to wear and food to eat. 

And that’s just when applied to physical objects, but what about the argument you had with your spouse, or a disobedient action from a child. Sure these are things, but they also aren’t making you happy so we discard them. We jump headfirst into divorce, we kick kids out of the house or send them away. 

After all isn’t getting rid of relationships and the people involved the ultimate decluttering? There’s a billboard on I-20 between Grand Prairie and Duncanville, that if I’m honest, makes me angry every time I see it. It is an ad for a divorce lawyer that says in big, bold letters: “DOUBLE YOUR CLOSET SPACE.” In other words throw them and their stuff to the curb. 

Society, or as it is referred to many times in the bible ‘The World’, tells us it’s ok for relationships to be disposable. The world would have you look at the people you’re in relationship with as objects, no more valuable than the straw you’re not allowed to possess in California. The world encourages this reckless abandon for people while heavily pushing recycling of trash to help the environment. 

Not that helping the environment is a bad thing, in fact as Christians we should be concerned with the Earth that God has given us as our temporary home. But that’s just it God designed the Earth, the skies, and the heavens to be temporary. He will replace these in the end, but relationships were designed by God to be forever. 

1 Corinthians 13:7-8 says it this way ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.’ 

Instead of disposing of relationships in a time of struggle, we should renew our love for one another. In doing so we can place the appropriate value on each other and focus on decluttering where it really matters. 

Clean out the junk drawer (or room in my case), and be grateful for the people God has placed in your life.  

We, the Pharisees

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

Every once in a while, i start feeling like i pretty much have God figured out. 

PhariseeI mean, i’ve been a believer for a long time, grew up in church, and since i was in the cradle i was taught all of the Bible stories that are appropriate for kids. (And a few that probably aren’t. I mean, if you really think about the Ark or David & Goliath, we really do skim over some gory details that would give kids nightmares for weeks.) As Christians, we believe that God’s nature is revealed in the stories of how He has dealt with His people over the years, culminating in His Son, Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God.

The Pharisees in the Bible were the same way, but to the nth degree. Not only had they grown up learning the Law, they had devoted their entire lives to it. They had studied scripture, memorized huge parts of what we now call the Old Testament, and even went so far as to take the laws that were handed down to Moses, and ‘improve’ them (in their minds,) piling more and more minute rules and regulations on the people, until it was exhausting just trying to keep up with them. Their intentions were noble—they did all of this in the name of ‘good,’ with the idea of being holy and righteous before God.

Their lifestyles, however, tended to be purely judgmental. They had God and His laws figured out, dotted every i and crossed every t, but saw only the sin in other people, not the good that God might be working in their lives. They saw themselves as holy; and saw everyone else, because they weren’t as good at keeping the law, as failures.

Then Jesus shows up on the scene, and singlehandedly blows up all of their preconceived notions of who God is, and what is important to Him.

In the story of the two sons, in Luke 15:11-32, Jesus paints a startling portrait of God, represented by the father, as ready and eager to forgive each son’s transgressions and restore fellowship with them. The father, undignified, bucking all Jewish tradition, even hikes up his tunic to run toward the returning prodigal, and embrace him, despite his many sins. It was blatantly clear that Jesus was telling the Pharisees ‘this is what my Father is like.’

Here they are, the teachers and keepers of the ‘capital L’ Law with Jesus standing there saying ‘most of what you’ve been taught and assumed about God is wrong.’ No wonder they didn’t like him.

Now if you grew up in church, like i did, a whole lot of life seemed to be whittled down to be this list of do’s and don’ts—The Ten Commandments, plus some other ‘suggestions’ that church traditions had added to them, to ‘improve’ people’s behavior, much like the Pharisees years before.

In the book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller puts it this way: “I grew up hearing about God, hearing that He had created the universe, some animals, the Grand Canyon, and that we weren’t supposed to have sex or drink whiskey or go to dance clubs, that sort of thing, you know. He’s making a list, He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…”

Some people today are still hung up on the law, even though Jesus came to fulfill it. As the keeper of the church Facebook page, from time to time i get random people asking why we don’t ‘keep the Sabbath’ and meet on Saturday like they did in the Old Testament instead of Sunday. That one’s a biggie, apparently. Nobody ever asks questions about eating shellfish, wearing blended fabrics, or trimming the edges of their beards, at least not on our Facebook page, anyway. (See Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 for reference on why we gather on Sunday.)

As humans, sometimes we try to boil ‘religion’ down to a set of moral codes—some sort of checklist of things we can say we did, and another list of things we can say we didn’t do. Even as believers, despite knowing God’s plan for atonement, we still think that those lists will somehow make us righteous before Him, and keep us in good standing. Truth is, if left up to our own devices, none of us can do that. God is completely holy, and one sinful thought that enters our minds separates us from Him for eternity. Without Him coming to earth, in the form of his Son, Jesus, none of us have a chance at redemption.

But, as you really start living it, faith is much more complex than a set of rules to follow. Once you enter into a real relationship with God, and learn more about Him, He begins adjusting your mindset, ever so slightly, one sometimes painful step at a time, to be more aligned with His mindset. 

Christianity isn’t some set of rules and regulations, but about falling in love with Jesus, and asking him to take over your life and allow you to see things more and more the way he sees them.

One problem we have, is while we accept that forgiveness and mercy for ourselves, we still look at other people, and pass judgement on their spiritual maturity though their actions. I’m not talking about someone obviously, blatantly living a life of sin here, but how we sometimes hold other people to a standard of rules that we have decided is right for ourselves. 

Here’s an example. Tony Campolo used to begin his speeches to Christian groups this way, “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 children around the world died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh*t. What’s worse is that right now, you’re more upset with the fact that I said ‘sh*t’ than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

People who live in their Christian ‘bubbles’ miss the absolute tragedy of his first point, as they are picking up stones to cast at him for the way he stated his second. All of the repentant feelings we should have for not doing enough about poverty and hunger around the globe is immediately ignored ‘cause somebody said a ‘bad word.’ It’s the ultimate hypocrisy.

Please understand, God’s grace means that we can approach the Father directly now that the Son has atoned for our sins and done away with the need for animal sacrifices through the priestly system. It does not mean we’re excused from obedience of any sort and can do as we please. 

One of our goals, as growing believers, is to truly see our sin as God sees it, ugly and repugnant. That’s where our road to healing and repentance begins. (1 John 1:5-9) All too often, though, we categorize, or write sins off as ‘not that big of a deal,’ when in fact it is a very big deal to God. (Romans 6:23) Jesus was full of compassion when dealing with sinful people, but always admonished them to leave their sins behind them.

But i do wish, as Christ followers, we could stop judging those whose sins differ from ours, and understand that so often, that road to redemption is a rocky one. Not all of us stay in the ruts, avoid the potholes, and stay the course without wandering into the weeds from time to time. 

Believers who stray off course need encouragement and admonishment instead of the judgement that we, the Pharisees are so quick to bring.

A thousand years from now, in Heaven, we’re going to have a much better perspective on what our lives on earth were about, but even then, we’re not even gonna be close to having God figured out.