Sunday, July 18, 2010



Although big C Churches may come and go, the church of Jesus-the gathering of His followers that He builds-will continue and thrive. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, "I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it."

The "gates of Hades" means death, specifically the coming death of Jesus will not prevent the church of Jesus from growing and thriving. The church of Jesus is built by Jesus and based on Jesus, the master of the followers who gather in His name. Jesus holds His movement together and will perpetuate it throughout the nations of the world. He is building His church and our responsibility is to be His church-His gathering-His movement.

What's interesting to me here is that the active agent is not the gates of Hades. It's not that the "gates of Hades" is the attacker of the church that Jesus builds. The active agent here is the church of Jesus-the Jesus movement itself-is so active and powerful that not even the gates of Hades-the power of death-can successfully withstand its penetration of light into the darkness.

This kind of power is not political power to legislate morality and righteousness. It's not a mega organization of any kind. Jesus is the only one who can activate this kind of power. He is the one who is able to empower His followers as they gather together in His name-Jesus. Note it's not the power of the membership of followers; it's the power of Jesus living and moving in and through His faithful followers.

The Jesus movement may appear small-just a few gathered together, but it's within the power of the few that the church of Jesus finds its greatest growth. Jesus taught this when He was describing what the Kingdom is to look like. Matthew records this teaching in the 13th chapter, He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." So, it looks small, yet the Kingdom-the Jesus movement-the church of Jesus-will experience incredible growth. It can't be stopped!

Jesus goes on to say in this same setting, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened." Here Jesus uses the illustration of a woman who puts a little yeast into about 60 pounds of dough and it permeates throughout the entire dough. No matter what you do, you cannot reverse this process. You cannot remove the yeast, once it is introduced into the dough. What He is teaching here is that the Kingdom-the Jesus movement-the church of Jesus-will experience irreversible growth. Again, once the Jesus movement is introduced into a community, it can't be stopped from spreading!

Aside from the pastors and Church leaders I referenced earlier in the week, those who are working in other cultures really understand the church of Jesus, how it functions and how it multiplies. The church of Jesus cannot be stopped. So, whether you are attending a big C Church or not, always look for the Jesus movement in your community. You can be sure He is there and active in people's lives. So, pray that you will be aware of Jesus sightings around you, then do everything you can do to encourage the movement and embrace it for yourself. See what Jesus is doing and get there as soon as possible!



As I mentioned yesterday Jesus only mentions the term "church" on two occasions. The "church" was not even close to the primary theme of Jesus' teachings. What Jesus emphasized more than anything else was the Kingdom.

The parables Jesus taught were about the Kingdom. Frequently, Jesus referred to what it takes to "enter" the Kingdom and He takes pains to point out those who will not "enter". Jesus believed it was necessary to hang out with His disciples after His resurrection for 40 days to prove Himself as the resurrected one and He taught them during this time thoroughly about one thing-the Kingdom. This is recorded in the first chapter of Acts. Then, in the last chapter of Acts Paul spends two years teaching and conversing about two things with those who came to visit him in Rome-Jesus and the Kingdom.

The Kingdom is the rule of God on planet earth both personally and in community. The church is a simple gathering together of Kingdom kids. Remember, the term "church" is not a special or holy word as many believe and teach. It literally means "called out ones" and was used to describe city council meetings or any kind of assembly where people are called out to meet for a purpose. It simply is a gathering of followers of Jesus.

The simple gathering of followers of Jesus on any day and at any location is a church. These gatherings revolve around four ingredients-fellowship, food, prayer and the apostles' teachings. The only one of these ingredients that might throw you a bit might be the apostles' teachings. We see this as what had been passed on through the early disciples about Jesus and the Kingdom.

So, since the kingdom is the rule and presence of God on planet earth, you could also think of it as wherever the King is, there is the Kingdom. The King and the Kingdom are inseparable. Therefore a good way to view the Kingdom is Christ-likeness universalized. Or, I like to say the Kingdom is Jesus actualized! The Kingdom is living out the principles and teachings of Jesus together.

The Kingdom is universal and everywhere. The church is a local gathering of followers of Jesus who are seeking, sharing in and spreading the gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom. The church is not everywhere, but localized and limited to those who choose to gather together. The Kingdom is everywhere and unlimited in its impact on society. The Kingdom is not waiting for a local gathering to be established in order to have its effect. The Kingdom is already there in every country and in every culture.

Now, take these same three characteristics of the preeminent Jesus and apply them to the Kingdom today-where the King is: FIRST-The example of character. The Kingdom is the only moral authority with any kind of power to change society. The big C Church is not capable of it. The organized Church changes from time to time. Sometimes it is effective and sometimes it's not. Leaders are morally good and leaders become morally flawed. So, at any given time, the Church will not be able to deliver a moral authority to the community. The Kingdom is constant. It's power and effectiveness depend upon its leader-Jesus. Therefore living in the Kingdom and inviting others to share in it is the only solution to transforming a broken culture.

SECOND-Jesus' teachings lead to fulfillment and meaning. Jesus is the ultimate standard and the Kingdom is the lifestyle of living this out in society. The lifestyle of Kingdom living is where ultimate fulfillment and meaning reside. They are the laws of the universe. You cannot break the laws of the Kingdom, but they can break you. For instance, one of the laws of the Kingdom is to forgive those who have hurt you. If you refuse to live out this Kingdom principle, you will pay dearly for it. You will be bound by your lack of forgiveness. You will be eaten up with this unforgiving heart. By breaking the principle, you are broken. When living within the Kingdom, you are safe and free and most fulfilled.

THIRD-The presence of God. Where better to discover a personal relationship with the God of gods than where He lives in His Kingdom. Most people only go to Church at baptisms, marriages, and funerals-only to be hatched, matched and dispatched. As followers of Jesus practice the presence of the Kingdom, the church (a gathering of followers) goes to the people in our world rather than always invited them to come to Church. With this kind of practice our culture will be changed.

Here's how it works. FOLLOW THE KING AND YOU'LL DISCOVER THE KINGDOM; EMBRACE THE KINGDOM LIFESTYLE AND YOU'LL DISCOVER THE KING AS YOU GATHER TOGETHER IN THE NAME OF JESUS. The church of Jesus-the Jesus movement-is living out the Kingdom principles in society.



What's most encouraging to me is when I meet with a Christian leader, a pastor, even a mega-Church pastor and observe their response to my personal story of the spiritual journey I've been on. The response is the same with all of them. The simplicity of Jesus is so irresistible and refreshing.

Growing up in a very strict organized Church with all of its legalistic lists to follow in order to keep God happy, to make certain of heaven and to avoid going to hell, I always felt the heaviness of the religious system. It didn't make sense in so many ways that God would be harsh and demanding to those of us who were brought up on "Jesus loves me". I always felt there must be something more to a relationship with God. Then, at seminary I came to understand the freedom we all have been given in Jesus. This freedom blew my mind. I was free!

It was through this understanding that I entered into one of the great struggles of my life. Still trying to shed the feelings of guilt from my legalistic past and trying to understand who I was in this new-found relationship with God, I discovered that God made me and wanted me to be exactly who I am with all my weirdness. I felt so "out of place" in the ministry as I compared myself with others-so out of step with the norm. And on a very late-night walk in the snow in Washington DC I had an emotional conversation with God and found the freedom I needed just to be uniquely who God made me. From that day forward I have been on a journey to relate to God "personally" and uniquely.

When I had the privilege of serving as pastor of one of the early mega-churches, I came to the conclusion that in order to reach the non-churched, "secular" world I would have to separate myself from mainstream churches and Christianity. So, I did that to a certain degree, but I still had to take up offerings to keep the Church and its staff alive. This proved to be the beginning of experiencing a more personal relationship with Jesus.

In the second season of my life Jesus apprehended my heart in a fresh way and poised me toward taking this same "Jesus plus nothing" message beyond the "secular", non-churched world into the 7 major cultures of the world. The more I pondered how to relate Jesus to the non-Christian cultures of the world, the clearer picture I was given of Jesus. Jesus is preeminent. He is the way, the truth and the life-so much more so than I ever thought!

I have embraced Jesus in a new and fresh way and seek to follow His teachings and His emphases on everything. I want to get to the heart of Jesus and share what I believe His heart and intent to be for us all. So, now my focus and perpendicular learning curve have taken me to a simple understanding of Jesus and the Kingdom. I've spent so much time and energy unlearning a lot of my theological premises I received at graduate seminary while a student and professor. It's been a fresh look at Jesus and His message of the good news of the Kingdom. His message was not the church, but all about the Kingdom. He only mentions "church" on two occasions.

When Church leaders hear this story they easily resonate with my journey. It's like a light bulb switches on for them. It's really no different than it was with the early followers of Jesus. In the city of Corinth there were two synagogue leaders who were so attracted into following Jesus-Crispus and later, Sosthenes. Sosthenes then became a co-author with Paul in writing back to the Corinthians. It's also said that a great many priests came to follow Jesus. Nicodemus, who came to seek out Jesus at night, was no doubt the leader of rabbis in his day. After his secret encounter with Jesus, we find him showing up at Christ's death.

The attraction of Jesus is His simplicity-Jesus plus nothing. Jesus, simply Jesus, is the foundation of the church He intended to launch. We tend to complicate Jesus too much. We throw up all sorts of obstacles for people. "You must accept Him as the Son of God!" or "You must trust Him as your Lord and Savior!" or "You must simply follow Jesus!" But here's the problem. How is it possible for a person to accept Jesus as the Son of God or trust Him as your Lord and Savior or even follow Him with your life, if you don't even know Him? We ask too much of people!

The better approach is to advance the conversation of Jesus so that people can get to know who this Jesus really is. He's not the scary, weird, other-worldly man you often see in movies. Jesus is for real. People have to get to know Him.

There are three things about Jesus that make Him compelling to anyone who is leaning in with interest: FIRST-Jesus' character is impeccable by all standards. Many people will be attracted to Jesus in this way. Years ago I argued the famous C. S. Lewis chart and reasoning that Jesus was a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. I gave no one room to begin to follow Jesus as a good example. But today I realize this is wrong thinking. His character is a wonderful attraction to people in this world and many times it is the first step in showing a person's interest in following Jesus.

SECOND-Follow the principles of Jesus and you will find meaning and fulfillment. The fundamental principles of life rest with Jesus in the presence of the Kingdom. Most every self-help book or seminar is chocked full of these principles without giving Jesus the credit. Even the highly praised book, The Secret, is straight out of Jesus' game plan for living your life on purpose. In this particular case, the principle is stated and then you're told to focus on and pray to the "universe". This is just another well-intentioned high-jacking of Jesus' Kingdom principles. Instead of praying to an impersonal "universe", why not keep the principle in its proper context and pray to the person of Jesus?

THIRD-Continue to follow Jesus and you will find God. The primary example of this is found with the early disciples. It took them several years of following Jesus before they believed He was the Son of God. By the way, this means that there are lots of people out there who are leaning in on following Jesus and His Kingdom principles, but haven't yet come to the conclusion that He is the Son of God. Give them room to follow. In fact, affirm them in their spiritual journey and don't be in a hurry to close the deal with them.

To add anything to Jesus is to complicate Him to the point where He can't be known. Jesus plus anything is actually the spirit of anti-Christ. Anti is literally "instead of", so when you add something to Jesus, it becomes the "instead of" Jesus and diminishes who Jesus really is. The church of Jesus is the movement that revolves around Jesus plus nothing. That's zero, zip, absolutely nothing that can possibly dilute the irresistible Jesus.



NOW before I begin, let me make it clear again: I am NOT against the organized Church. In our consumer-oriented world, the organized Church is the vehicle that can be a solution to the many community needs-to grow up as a family, to assist parents in strengthening the family, to provide a place of worship and prayer, to address the real needs of the community-hunger, clothing, housing and counseling.

Embracing Jesus' emphasis and intention with respect to the movement He was launching continually makes it seem that He was against the Synagogue (the modern-day organized Church). But this is not true. Jesus respected the Synagogue (the organized Church). However, Jesus came to launch a dynamic movement-a few here and a few over there, gathering together in His name. This is where He promised to show up-where two or three are gathered together.

And when Jesus shows up among the gathering of the few, He changes lives dramatically. This is a very critical thing. The church of Jesus is all about transformation. My friend, Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago, has probably trained more pastors and church leaders than any other. Within the last two years Bill and his staff came to the conclusion that all they had done building their church was sorely missing the mark. They found that their ministry had been emphasizing the wrong things-asking the wrong question, which was "How many people were in attendance?" The bottom-line is that the people were not experiencing transformation! They are now reworking their approach to ministry, identifying where each person is on his or her spiritual journey and ministering to their needs specifically. This was quite an admission, to say the least, and rocked the Christian world as the news spread.

My friend, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, California, shares a similar frustration. He shared with me his consternation over the glaring fact that the big C Church is just not changing the culture. Rick has been diligently training pastors as Hybels over the years and sees the reality that the big C Church is not having the Jesus movement impact on our society. Even though the mega Churches are more visible than ever, there are still 60-70 smaller churches closing each week. The net impact on our population is not increasing. It's like the big C Church in many ways has become a holy huddle in the midst of a troubled and lost world. But we cannot settle for this.

For the most part the leadership of the big C Churches sees the vital need to make the Church experience more intimate, so they break down the larger assembly into smaller contexts. One level of the smaller context is found through affinity groups-like couples with children or singles. Another level of the smaller context is an educational approach through offering a variety of classes. Then there are the smaller groups that meet in homes during the week to study a given topic. A final smaller context is more short-term, but proves to be quite effective and transformational-mission trips or retreats.

Any attempt to get smaller is better and creates an atmosphere that invites participation. But just because you are meeting in a smaller context doesn't mean you are practicing the Jesus movement. Most small groups never reach the level of intimacy and unity for which Jesus prayed. They usually drift into gentle friendships, which are good, but are not the revolutionary fellowship movement Jesus envisioned.

There are 3 dynamic, Greek words with a message of encouragement that can help you to stay on track with Jesus and to participate in A REVOLUTIONARY FELLOWSHIP THAT TRANSFORMS THE WORLD!

SECOND-katartizo-Keep on restoring one another! In I Corinthians 1:10, Paul writes: "I appeal to you that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." The words "perfectly united" are a translation of the Greek work, katartizo. It is used in several ways in the New Testament: to restore, to perfect, to fit, to prepare, etc. Possibly the most interesting use of the word is "to mend" a net. Fishermen around the world spend as much of their time mending nets as they do fishing. The maintenance of close relationships requires our attention to mending as well. It's even used for a physician to reset broken bones.

So, this word has 3 basic meanings: (1) To mend or repair the nets-Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19. (2) To complete, furnish completely, to equip or to prepare-Luke 6:40. (3) To prepare and perfect ethically and spiritually-I Thessalonians 3:10; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:12; II Timothy 3:17: I Peter 1:10.

THIRD-haplotes-Keep on reminding one another of the simplicity of Jesus! "But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (II Corinthians 11:3). This is a fascinating word that has more to it than simply simple. This simplicity carries with it a sincerity, a single-mindedness, an unaffectedness. There is also a notion of generosity and bountifulness in this simplicity. In other words, the simplicity of devotion to Jesus has a single-minded abundance to it-an overflowing fullness and liberality about it.

As you can plainly see the church or gathering that Jesus intended has to do with experiencing a revolutionary fellowship with Jesus and those who are also following Him. Although this isn't the primary purpose of a week-end big C Church service due to the nature of its size, you can experience a revolutionary fellowship within the big C Church.

So, what does Jesus want us to do with the organized big C Church? Reading through the 5 gospels (Matthew-Mark-Luke-John-Acts) it is clear what Jesus and the disciples did with the "organized Church". Let's view the synagogue as the organized Church. There are four observations that seem most relevant to us: 1. You don't find Jesus or the disciples bashing the Synagogue (Church). 2. You find Jesus constantly correcting the leadership of the organized Synagogue (Church), teaching and practicing living in the Kingdom. 3. You don't find Jesus or the disciples starting new Synagogues (Churches), because of inadequate teaching or worship. 4. You find Jesus and the disciples using the Synagogues (Churches) and then orbiting around them.

Several years ago I read a book, ORBITING THE GIANT HAIRBALL--A Corporate Fool's Guide To Surviving With Grace by Gordon MacKenzie. MacKenzie worked at Hallmark Greeting Cards for 30 years in the creative department. He found that he was unable to be very creative, if he had to spend his time in corporate meetings. So he learned to orbit around the corporate bureaucracy and not be entangled in it, freeing him to create. He also makes it clear that the hairball was absolutely necessary. Without it there was nothing to power the orbit and the hairball paid the bills. This is exactly what the early fellowships of Jesus did. They participated in the Synagogue, yet they were in orbit around their Synagogue, their communities and around the marketplace. They went to Synagogue (Church) every Sabbath, yet they were there for a higher purpose. They were there to introduce more and more people to the revolutionary fellowship and person of Jesus.

There are two clear action steps here: FIRST-participate in the revolutionary fellowship movement of Jesus inside or outside the big C Church. SECOND-orbit around the big C Church, looking for those who are interested in Jesus and His movement. Once someone leans in with interest, invite them into the revolutionary fellowship of Jesus with you.



This week I want to clarify some of my thoughts on the organized Church today. I know some of you no doubt feel that I am against the Church, but this is not true. You see, I am striving to understand what Jesus intended and what Jesus did, in fact, launch as the church of Jesus. Much of the time we have added man-made doctrines and methods to His teachings. These doctrines and methods may be good in themselves, but Jesus had a better idea in mind. It's very important to say that I am not against the organized Church, but seek to support it in its many ministries and to encourage leaders and laymen alike to get back to the heart of Jesus as they conduct their Church ministries.

When I teach what Jesus said and did with His disciples and what He intended with respect to the future disciples of His disciples, it is clearly different from what we know and love today in the Church. And as I teach these things the contrasts are very clear, therefore it may seem that I am blasting the Church in the process. That is not my heart at all. I see the organized big C Church in much the same way as the early Synagogues and the Temple in Jerusalem. When you frame the Church in this way, it becomes clearer how the Church fits within the Jesus movement.

The Synagogue and Temple were the mass meeting places where believers would come to pray, confess, offer sacrifices, worship and hear the written Word of God read each week. The Synagogue had instruction for children through adults. Jesus and His disciples attended Synagogue, never spoke against it, didn't seek to change it, and didn't start another one to compete with it. There just wasn't any bashing of the Synagogue.

The Church today is the same as the Synagogue. It's a place where believers can gather in mass to pray, worship, hear teaching and enroll their children in some sort of spiritual instruction. It serves the consumer needs of the people. The mega churches provide programs that are unequaled and very helpful, especially to the needs of families.

So, the big C Church has its place in the plan of God, however it's too easy to miss what kind of thing Jesus intended. I call it the little c church. The term "church" is not a special or holy word as many believe and teach. It literally means "called out ones" and was used to describe city council meetings or any kind of assembly where people are called out to meet for a purpose. It simply is a gathering of followers of Jesus. The simple gathering of followers of Jesus on any day and at any location is a church. These gatherings Jesus launched revolved around four ingredients-fellowship, food, prayer and the apostles' teachings (teachings and principles of Jesus).

The big C Church by its very nature tends toward making most people spectators; the little c church is all about relational participation. The big C Church is founded on a set of beliefs or doctrines-a system of do's and don'ts; the little c church is founded completely on a personal relationship with Jesus and as we gather seeing Jesus show up. The big C Church is a place where you go; the little c church is not a place to go, but wherever you go you are to be the church-the gathering in the name and power of Jesus. The big C Church is an organization; the little c church is a live organism-organic in every way.

Check out these observations: FIRST-the church of Jesus is a movement. You cannot get your arms around it, visit it, or even see it. It's like the wind. You can't see the wind, but you can definitely see the effects of it. It's not a monument that one builds; it's a movement around Jesus that is contagious and must be caught. It's not a denominational or religious organization to be joined; it's a living movement through which Jesus captures your heart.

SECOND-the church of Jesus is everywhere and all around us-wherever followers of Jesus gather together in His name. No matter the location (coffee shop, living room, bar, race-track, battlefield, school, office), no matter the culture (Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Christian and even agnostic), and no matter the level of society (the powerful or the poor), you can find the Jesus movement making a difference in His name.

THIRD-the church of Jesus is a relational, participatory dynamic where people encounter Jesus and walk with Him together. The Jesus movement is not driven by a certain doctrinal system; it's driven by a real, personal relationship with Jesus, Himself.

FOURTH-the church of Jesus is out of control-man's control-and under the leadership of Jesus, the Head. Maybe the one most deadly move we tend to make in life is to be "in control".

We are given a strong clue to what Jesus came to do in His prayer to the Father in John 17. He said, "Father, I have finished the work you gave me to do." Let's listen in own this prayer: "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word." Jesus came into this world to invest His life in a few men and now He sends us out to do the same. "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world."

This is the essence of the church Jesus came to build-a movement consisting of a few followers who gather in His name in such a way that they are able to know the Father personally and intimately. He says, "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me."

So, are you caught up in the dynamic, participatory movement of Jesus-being the church-or are you satisfied with being a spectator-going to church?