Church Planting, Discipleship, Mission, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: You’ve Gotta Go

Jesus is full of surprises. Just when you think you’ve got him pegged, he pulls an audible and you’re left asking, “Whaaaat?”

When Jesus toured Galilee, early in his ministry, he performed miracles and taught about the kingdom. He also stared down the Pharisees and called people to follow him. His reputation grew and soon a huge entourage was following him.

He was a pretty big deal.

Which is why it’s surprising that he took a little excursion into a village called Nain (Luke 7:11-17). Nain was barely a town. It was more like a small hamlet with a few roads and some settlements. The entrance to the town was the end of a dusty street. It was pretty forgettable. Nobody who was somebody went to Nain. Nobody would have taken selfies in Nain. The Google Maps car wouldn’t have gone through Nain.

And yet Jesus went to Nain. And what we begin to discover, early in the gospel of Luke, is that Jesus wasn’t influenced by wealth, prestige, or fame. He didn’t have a bucket list of all the places he wanted to visit.

Jesus went to places where others wouldn’t go, to reach people that others couldn’t reach.

As followers of Jesus, we’ve got to do the same. The world is not changed if the church stands still. We’ve got to get out and get moving. Movement – wherever, however – is the starting point for Jesus to bring restoration to hearts and lives. His plan to change the world demands the motion of his church. There is no ‘Plan B’.

I wonder…what might that look like for you? You’ll never know, until you start moving. The starting point of mission is intentional – it is seldom accidental. It begins by putting one foot in front of the other.

If we learn anything from Jesus, mission doesn’t always happen in the glamorous places. Jesus’ feet led him to a village called Nain. It can be argued that Jesus put Nain on the map. Sometimes mission takes place in the mundane, everyday experiences, like when you’re out walking your dog. Or when you’re sitting in your work cubicle. Or when you’re down on the corner picking up your mail.

And sometimes mission leads you to go to costly places. Unseemly, dangerous places. Places that won’t bump up your algorithm on social media. Places that won’t make anybody’s bucket list.

Jesus is looking for people who will go where others will not go, to reach people that others will not reach.

Should this surprise us?

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Discipleship, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Radical Love

How should followers of Jesus respond to those who disagree with or mistreat them? In Luke 6, Jesus unfolds a radical alternative to opposition and hatred. As members in his new kingdom community – a kingdom where heaven is breaking through on earth – they are to have radically different values than the world empire.

He says in Luke 6:27-28 (NIV): “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

This was a radical idea. No other teacher from antiquity taught this – not in Judea or any other culture in the world. Jesus was the first to bring it to our world.

When someone hurts us, we are usually faced with two options. The first is retaliation. If you hit me, I’m gonna hit you back. If you take something from me, I’m gonna take something from you. The second option is to refrain. If someone hates you, or hurts you, don’t retaliate. Just walk away. Do nothing. Ignore them, or if you have to, tolerate them.

But then Jesus presents a third option: radical love. This is more than warm sentiment. This radical love doesn’t sit on its hands. It’s a DOING kind of love. If you keep reading in verses 29-31, you discover that radical love doesn’t hold back – it pushes forward. It loves, it prays, it blesses, it gives. And to illustrate this, Jesus uses a literary device known as overstatement. He gives examples of how to love radically, in worst-case scenarios. Turn the other cheek. Give the shirt off your back. He’s overstating in order to drive home the point that to truly love our enemies, we should give, give, and give some more.

Jesus models for us this radical love by how he responds to his enemies. He says to them:

Here is the whip – rip my back to ribbons.

Here is the crown – crush it into my skull.

Here are the nails – smash them through my hands.

Here is the spear – thrust it into my side.

Mock me, reject me, shame me. And I will respond by giving you my life.

This is radical love.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

relationships, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Messy Love

In every marriage, conflict is inevitable.

Even Solomon and Shulamith, those twitterpated lovebirds, had their differences. You read about this in Song of Songs 5:2-8. Solomon arrives home sometime past midnight. He comes knocking on the door of Shulamith’s room, hoping for a little bit of “something-something.” But she’s in bed. The makeup is off, cucumber mask is on, and flannel pyjamas have been applied. She’s a bit miffed that he’s shown up a few hours later than he should. So she shuts him down. Conflict anyone?

It’s understandable why couples conflict. In a marriage, you have two very different people coming together, with unique personalities, likes, interests, and families (you never just marry a person…you marry their family). And to add misery to the madness, each is hard-wired to be naturally selfish. It’s a problem that goes back to the Garden of Eden.

So if you’re in the early stages of a relationship, don’t be surprised when you experience conflict. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with your relationship. If you haven’t had it yet, it’s probably because you still have a superficial knowledge of each other, or you’re blinded by infatuation. Trust me, a day will come when your relationship will come crashing head-first into reality. You might not consider divorce, but homicide might seem like a good option (I kid…I kid).

So if you are facing conflict in your relationship right now, don’t freak out. A good marriage is not something you find but something you work for. You’re going to fight with someone for the rest of your life – it might as well be your beloved.

At the end of the day, the issue is not if you have conflict, it’s what you do with conflict.

Here are two warning signs that you may not be resolving conflict. The first is the absence of conflict, and the second, the permanence of conflict. On the one hand, if you are in a relationship that has an absence of conflict, it could be that you are in the early stages of blind-love bliss, but it could also be that somebody in the relationship is being overly compliant, or walked on. This means you are avoiding conflict, not dealing with it. On the other hand, the permanence of conflict can also be a problem. In this case, the same problem keeps resurfacing. Rather that dealing with it, it gets swept under the rug, and never resolved. When you sweep too much conflict under the rug, it results in a bumpy marriage.

Paul writes in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” God wants us to resolve conflict. You have your part to play in this. You can’t determine what your spouse will do in a conflict, but you can determine what you will do in a conflict. You are responsible for your role in bringing about resolution.

Marriages often fall apart, not because of really stupid decisions or irreconcilable differences. They fall apart because couples don’t know how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. The conflicts persist and the relationship experiences incremental degradation: one bad argument at a time, one hurtful word at a time. The relationship erodes, like a shoreline washed away by the sea.

Expect conflict. But more importantly, resolve conflict.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Before the Bedroom

Before our wedding, my wife (Karen) and I made the wise decision of getting premarital counselling. Our counsellor made a statement that I will never forget: “Foreplay begins in the kitchen.” Before you let your imagination run wild, let me explain what she meant. Her point was simple – as you go about your day, how you treat each other determines if you are moving closer together or further away. Intimacy is something that develops throughout the day.

In short, sex begins long before the bedroom.

Solomon understood this. In the fourth chapter of Song of Songs, he wooed Shulamith with his words before pursuing physical intimacy. This chapter depicts a night in the honeymoon suite (maybe even the first night). Here’s what he said in verse 1 (NIV):

How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead. 

Solomon understood the power of words. He began by declaring his bride’s beauty. In fact, he did it three times in the first seven verses. Then he continued to poetically describe her beauty, working from the top of her head, to below her neckline. While his metaphors could get lost in translation, in his day, they would have been Pulitzer prize-winning prose.

But what’s most astounding is that the couple hasn’t even touched each other in the first seven verses. Solomon didn’t come charging into the bedroom like a caveman, beating his chest. “Me Gronk! You Woman! We make love!” Rather, he understood that emotional intimacy should precede physical intimacy.

Did he want her? Absolutely. He was quite eager to climb his mountain of myrrh and hill of incense, and he wanted to do it all night long (4:6). But even so, he didn’t rush in, grabbing and groping, like a monkey searching for bananas in the dark. Instead, he wooed her.

Sex begins long before the bedroom.

And so, practically speaking, if you are a complete loser during the day, bullying, manipulating, or mistreating your spouse, don’t be surprised if you get the cold shoulder in the bedroom. This applies for both husbands and wives. But if you are tender, kind, supportive, and affirming throughout the day, you will build trust, security, and intimacy. Foreplay begins in the kitchen.

I wish I could take a poll of my friends’ wives and ask them: “What do you think is one of the sexiest things your husband does during the day?” I bet their responses might surprise their husbands. Chances are that flexing your gluts in front of the mirror in your tightie-whities doesn’t top the list. And neither does jumping out of the shower, and shouting “Woo hoo!” while doing the funky-chicken dance. So not sexy.

Surprisingly, the answer(s) might be:

  • When he texts me little love notes during the day
  • When he helps get the kids bathed, reads them a story, and tucks them in at night
  • When he serves others without complaint
  • When he prays with me and spiritually initiates
  • When he hugs me and tells me I’m beautiful – just because

I was surprised to discover what sexy looked like from my wife Karen’s perspective (she’s given me permission to write this). When we bought our current home, I did a lot of renovations prior to our family moving in. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to complete the baseboards. For months, we lived in our home without them, and my beloved was very patient with me as I tackled a demanding new job. Every once in a while, she would kindly hint about how nice it would be to have them installed. Finally, I took time off work and tackled the project. It was about mid-afternoon on the first day that she stopped me and said, “Just seeing you working so hard for us, finishing the baseboards…I am so attracted to you right now.”

Cue the Barry White music. Bow-chicka-wow-wow.

For the next year of our marriage, installing baseboards became a metaphor for something else. To my dismay, I finally installed baseboards in every room of the house. I did consider secretly removing some of the baseboards when she wasn’t looking…

God-honouring sex begins early, long before the bedroom. Intimacy grows throughout the day.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

 

Discipleship, spiritual formation

A Love Story?

This Sunday, Crosspoint launches a new teaching series called Love Story. We’ll be diving into the Song of Songs and exploring a number of its themes including attraction, courtship, marriage, intimacy, and conflict.

Some might wonder…Why are we doing this series? I’m aiming to answer this question.

But first, let me talk about the subject matter. Song of Songs is an interesting book. For much of church history, it’s been treated as a taboo text, most often interpreted as an allegory that reveals how Christ loves the church. A strictly allegorical interpretation is problematic, which I won’t get into here. That said, we will be taking the book at face value and interpreting it literally. I understand the book to be a real, flesh-and-blood love story between a man and a woman. It has a lot to teach us about romance, love, intimacy, and sex.

Now, why the series? First, I know a lot of people need help in their relationships. Every week I hear agonizing stories of marriages falling apart or calling it quits. I also do a lot of premarital preparation with young Millennials and I know many of them are eager to learn about building relationships that will thrive and endure. I think most of us in marriages will agree that our relationships could use a tune-up on a regular basis.

Second, our culture is sending mixed messages about romance and sex. Have you ever stopped to think about how confused we have become? On the one hand, we have seen the #metoo and #timesup movements gaining incredible popularity in the Twitterverse and beyond (which they should because there is absolutely no excuse for the sexual harassment or exploitation of women). And yet, on the other hand, in the United States, the porn industry generates $13 billion per year and 1 in 5 searches on a mobile device are for porn. Certainly, most of the women in those videos are being exploited (we can perhaps argue about this point later). Are we culturally confused about sex?

Third, the Song of Songs is in the Bible. If you accept that the Bible is God’s Word for the world, then you should probably accept that God gave it for a reason. 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV) tells us that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful…” Did you catch that? ALL of Scripture is useful. Not some of Scripture. It doesn’t say, “All Scripture is useful…except for that naughty bit of poetry after Ecclesiastes…you can ignore that one.” The Song of Solomon is useful. Boy, is it ever.

Finally, in a world preoccupied with sex and romantic love, the worst thing the church can do is say nothing. Romantic love is the topic of countless movies and songs. Sex is on the minds of billions of people, every single day. The world is talking about it – why isn’t the church? For example, did you know that the movie Fifty Shades Freed topped the box office a couple of weeks ago? It has raked in over $150 million dollars so far in world-wide sales and the franchise itself has made over one billion dollars. Hollywood has figured out what sells. If this topic is so pervasive, why are we so silent about it? Interestingly enough, Jesus wasn’t. And here’s the kicker…sex and romance were God’s idea in the first place. Why should we take our cues only from Hollywood? Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear from the Designer?

Now, I realize that some would rather avoid this topic, for different reasons than it being a taboo topic. For some, this series could expose deep pain. Maybe you’re single and you don’t want to be. You’ve wrestled with God about it and feel deep disappointment. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a relationship war, or you’ve just been through a break-up. Maybe the last thing you want to hear about are relationships.

First, let me say that my heart breaks with you. I’m not walking in your shoes, but I see your limp. I get it – this series might not be specifically for you. But I hope you understand why we’re doing it. What is more, I hope you will join us each Sunday, because what you don’t need when you’re struggling is isolation. Church isn’t just about hearing a message. It’s about belonging to a people. Christ’s vision for his body is that when one part rejoices, so do the other parts; and when one part is heartbroken, so are the rest.

Also, please know that we don’t believe that a person with a “married” status is of greater value than one with a “single” status (read 1 Cor 7:25-35). At Crosspoint we hold a high view of marriage AND a high view of singleness. People in each status have different concerns, capacities, and challenges. We never want to exclude singles. We’ve taught about singleness in the past and we’ll do so in the future. This just happens to be a series about relationships.

As it turns out, a lot of the relationship principles we will be exploring will apply in other relational contexts such as friendship, workplace, and family. The topics also focus much on becoming the right kind of person. There’s going to be something for each of us to learn. Plus, what you learn you can always pass on to somebody else who needs to hear it.

At the end of the day, Song of Songs is a fascinating book that’s worth getting to know. I hope you will come to love it as much as I have. Join us!

 

If you can’t make it out to the series, but would still like to tune-in to the messages, you can listen to our podcasts from Crosspoint Church. To subscribe, click here.

Church Planting

Three Small Church Myths

People join a small church for different reasons. Sometimes their reasons can lead to disappointment because they’re just unobtainable. I’d like to dissect three common myths about the small church.

Myth 1: If I go to a small church then I can actually get to know everybody.

Unless you have a photographic memory and don’t have a day job, you can’t possibly do this. The reality is that you can only manage about a dozen people in your close relational network. Beyond that, everyone else is more of an acquaintance. A small church of about seventy-five people is already too large for you, if you plan to get to know everybody. In this scenario, you might eventually be able to remember everyone’s name (after about two years), so long as nobody leaves or joins the church. But you won’t really know them personally and they won’t really know you. Since you can only manage so many people in your relational network, shouldn’t you instead strive to get to know some people really well? Oddly enough, this can be accomplished in a church of any size.

The reality is that it takes risky effort to move from acquaintance status into relationship status. And this amount of effort does not change, no matter what size of church you are in. If the church you are in has one-thousand people, you will have to work at building relationships and chances are the church has set up environments and systems to help you do that. If the church you are in has two-hundred people, the process might look different, but the effort is still the same.

Myth 2: I will have “on-demand” access to my pastor in a small church.

I doubt it. Not if your pastor plans on staying sane and not if your church plans on growing. Your pastor has a limited span of care which is, strangely enough, about a dozen or so people. While there are less people who may need his help in a smaller church, he also has fewer staff and is likely wearing more hats. Plus, if he’s leading a new church plant, he is likely expending a tremendous amount of energy on development. And don’t forget that your pastor has a home life as well. (He might even practice Ju Jutsu in his spare time.)

If your pastor is really thinking about helping people, then he’s probably not dropping everything to rescue people or put out fires. He’s likely strategically planning how he can best serve the needs of so many people because he’s self-aware and knows his limitations. So he’s probably spending a lot of time training and mentoring leaders who can care for more people – kind of like what Jesus did when he discipled the twelve and sent out the seventy. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments when your small church pastor shouldn’t drop everything to help with a crisis – but that’s very different than having an “on-demand” ministry.

Myth 3: Small churches are better than large churches because they feel more relaxed and less professional.

Small churches are neither better nor worse than big churches. They’re just smaller. Every size has its challenges and advantages, including sustainability, impact, governance, navigability, God-dependancy, economy of scale, specialization, and so forth. Different sizes naturally have different cultures and different ‘feels’ to them just by virtue of group dynamics.

Smaller churches can sometimes feel a little more quaint and a little more tarnished. But that doesn’t make the smaller church better – it likely just makes your pastor pull his hair out and makes some people decide that they won’t bring their friends back next week. The less polished feel of a smaller church is often unintentional and a result of being under-resourced – which smaller churches tend to be. Small churches give God their best every week. They just have less to give.

In fact, I would argue that small churches should never stay small on purpose because the DNA of the kingdom of God is designed for exponential growth. Remember the parable of the mustard seed? It’s about how a tiny microscopic seed can produce a giant plant. Jesus taught that this is what the kingdom of God is meant to be like. God wants your church to grow exponentially.

Unless a small church is continually reproducing other churches or ministries, it shouldn’t remain small just because it thinks that being small is better. I’m sorry, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that through Scripture. God has a plan for every church. It’s a plan that includes growth, reproduction, and multiplication. Will you join him in his kingdom plan?

Mission

Withness

There are two general postures a church can take in its local community – either “withness” or “themness”.

The “themness” posture says, “WE are here to help THEM. We are here to help THEM because without US, they would be in big trouble.”  Sometimes churches get very excited about changing, fixing or serving the world.  Often this a good thing, but sometimes it can be threatening, or perceived as arrogance.  In our post-Christian, postmodern era, the “we have all the answers and we’re here to rescue you” kind of posture is difficult for culture to track with.

I’m not saying the church doesn’t have something valuable to say or contribute. We are witnesses to the greatest story ever told aren’t we?  And besides, God has sent us to love and serve and share the good news with the world.  So please, don’t get me wrong.

But what if we changed our posture? What if we sometimes took on a “withness” posture?  This posture says, “WE are here to work WITH you to create something great.”  Would that change the dynamic of our relationship with our local community?

I mean, who would you rather work with? Someone with a “themness” posture or a “withness” one?  Ever participate on a work team project with someone who had all the answers to every problem?

A couple of weekends ago (June 22-23), I was able to see a lot of “withness” ooze from the pores of our Crosspoint church community. We had the privilege of participating in the Northeast Community Summer Festival in northeast Edmonton. This festival has been operating for multiple years and this is Crosspoint’s third year helping out.  The festival is organized by people representing a number of community organizations.  Two of our staff members served on this team and many of our people volunteered during the weekend.

It’s a very unique event – an open-crowd festival that focuses on fun, engagement, cooperation and community. People who stay for the day typically walk away with a greater sense of solidarity and belonging.  You can learn more about the festival here.For us, the best thing about the festival was that it wasn’t our idea.  Rather, it was already happening and we simply jumped in as learners and supporters. You might say we were practising our “withness” posture. By the end of the weekend, we walked away humbled by the creative ingenuity, tireless effort, and inclusiveness of our local community.There’s a significant spillover effect to practising “withness”.  We have built solid trust relationships within our community.  Our eyes have been opened to see our community in a different way – more as insiders and less as outsiders.  Our love for our community has grown because we are part of the community.  And perhaps we have shown our community that we care, not just by our willingness to serve, but by our willingness to learn and to be served.So a word to churches. To engage your local community, you don’t need to start everything. I’m not suggesting you stop hosting car shows, pancake breakfasts, and kids events. Personally, I’m a fan of big jumpy castles and bacon. I’m simply asking: why not find out what is already happening in your local community and support it? Exercise your “withness”. The greatest contribution you make might simply be to roll up your sleeves and honour what they are already doing.Churches that authentically engage their local communities from a posture of “withness” will inevitably gain a voice at the table. They have earned the right to be heard because they were willing to cooperate, listen, and serve. It’s called humility – and God’s a big fan of that.Churches, maybe it’s time to fess up. We don’t always know the best way to do things. We don’t have every solution to every problem that’s out there. We don’t have a corner on the market of creativity.  (And if the theological hackles on your neck are rising, just remember the doctrine of Common Grace.)  So maybe we just need to seek to understand before we are understood. Maybe by extending trust to our local community, they will trust us more. Doesn’t trust, after all, beget more trust?Remember, don’t stop your “themness”.  Just practice your “withness”.