Gospel as Family

This is our second Sunday in a journey through Acts where we examine the gospel through different images. Last week we looked at the gospel as journey. Today, we look at the gospel as family.

Which sounds like a great idea. All nice and warm and fuzzy. Until you think about what family is really like. Until we look in the kitchen, right now. And see the empty cereal box sitting on the counter. Cause we all know it will magically walk itself to the recycling bin. And we see the cabinet door left open. C’mon, really? How hard is it to close the dang cabinet? And the tube of Burt’s Beeswax sitting on the bar. Like it has been for the past 8 [LOOKS AT WATCH], 9 days now.

“Okay, everybody down here. Kids. Kids! Get your tails down here. Look. Look at that. How long has that been sitting there?  Nine days. Niiiiiiiiine daaaaaays. Whose is it? Whose Burt’s Beeswax is that?  Unnamed child finally pipes up, “Oh, that one’s mine.” We have a winner! And tell me dear, blessed, sweet child of mine, oooooh oh ohohoh ohhhh, sweet child of mine, why why why has that Burt’s Beeswax been sitting on the bar for nine days? “Cuz it’s empty.” Because it’s empty. It’s empty. You used it up, didn’t need it anymore, so why put it back in your pocket or your bag or your room? It’s empty. “Yes, dad. It’s empty.” Then why didn’t you throw it in the trash? Which is actually six steps away. Just throw it away if it’s empty. Just throw it… the trash… right there… Aggghhh! And when I start to pull my hair out they scatter like chickens in the rain.

If quarantine has taught us anything, it’s taught us this. Family is messy. Family is frustrating. Family is hard. And the worst part about it is we take the experience of our family and insert it into our expectations of God’s family. We start with our physical experience and apply it to our spiritual understanding. Which is exactly backwards. We can’t start with our family and throw our experience onto God’s family and say, “See, this is what God’s family is really like.” No, we start with God’s family, we start with God, and allow God to inform our experience. We allow God’s family to show us what our family can be like.

We read this passage from Acts 2:42-47 and say, that’s not what my church looks like. We don’t hold all things in common. We don’t have the favor of all the people. We don’t see God bringing people into our community daily. We don’t feel the awe, the holy discomfort of the presence of God which bears wonders and signs and miracles. That was way back then. That’s not what it’s like today. At least not here. Not now. Not with me. Because we allow our experience to define God’s reality.

So we miss out. We miss out on God’s family, not as it is, but as it could be. We miss out on the good news. Our misunderstanding of the true nature of family robs us of the family of God.  We miss the power of God’s presence. We lose the sense of awe and wonder. We go to bed spiritually hungry because we’ve been fed a skinny gospel that cannot fill our souls. We wake weakened to another wasteful day without joy, without generosity, without thanksgiving. We wander, apathetic and alone. Is this all there is? Is this really what it means to follow Jesus?

‘Cause that’s not what we see in the Book of Acts. Not for a minute, not for a second, not even a little bit. Here in God’s Word we see the good news of God’s family.

  • We see them devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship
  • “Awe came upon every soul” and they experienced the power of God in signs and wonders done by the apostles
  • They stood together, supporting one another, sharing all they had so no one went in need
  • They worshipped together daily and cooked together in their homes and ate together and gave thanks together “with glad and generous hearts”
  • This shared life gave them favor with all the people. It wasn’t hearing the word preached that brought people into the Church, it was seeing the word lived in the family of God
  • And day by day God added to their number those were being saved. Not evangelism programs or marketing strategies or church campaigns. God brought people because those people saw the family of God.

This is the vision God shows us in Scripture. This is why we need to allow God’s spiritual reality to shape our physical experience. This is why we need to let the Bible inform our understanding instead of the other way around.

The Bible shows us God loves us where we are, how we are, right now.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Rom 5:8

The Bible teaches us that God understands us, and difficulties we live in.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin – Heb 4:15

We see that God’s Word is powerful

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Heb 4:12

And that God’s Word never fails.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. – Isa 55:10-11

So we can rely on Scripture, the Word of God, to guide us into this new vision for God’s family.

We just need to engage those five verses from Acts that we read today.

We start by devoting ourselves to God.

What are you devoted to these days?

You know how we know what we’re devoted to? It’s really simple. So simple it’s scary, and kinda’ hard to look at.

We’re devoted to those things we don’t skip. So what is it that you don’t miss? Ouch.

Never skip work? That’s devotion.

Never miss a date night? Devotion.

Never miss a ball game? Piano practice? The news? Devotion. Devotion. Devotion.

Never skip a workout? That’s devotion.

Never miss a new release on Netflix? A post on Facebook? Alert on your phone? Devotion.

Never skip worship?

The good news is Acts 2:42-47 shows us how to be devoted to God’s family.

It gives us seven simple steps:

  1. Teaching
  2. Fellowship
  3. Prayers
  4. Giving
  5. Worship
  6. Serving
  7. Thankfulness

We’re gonna’ take it easy. We’re gonna’ focus on three of them.

FIRST – Give thanks. Say thank you. Thank someone. Thank God. Say a prayer. Send a text. Or go big and post it online. Share your thankfulness with the world, or at least your followers.

SECOND – Worship. I know it’s online and it’s not the same. Worship. I know the week is messed up and you can hardly tell what day it is. Worship. I hope you will worship with us, but you don’t have to. Worship somewhere. I worship while I walk in the park, listening to praise music and praying. Worship.

THIRD – Thy Kingdom Come – May 21-31, Ascension Day through the Day of Pentecost. Join us in this global prayer movement. We will pray for the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our community and in our lives. We will pray for friends and family. Grace Church will provide opportunities for us to pray together as a family, for you to pray with your families, and for each of us to pray on our own. The goal is simple: pray every day for 10 days.

That’s the plan. We start with Scripture. Give thanks. Offer worship. Say prayers.

And when we do, we find the antidote to anemic Faith. We discover the difference between going to church and Being the Church. We find hope in the midst of despair, see light shining in the darkness.

We have been living with uncertainty, worry, and fear for six long weeks now. The enemy wants to use this to distract and destroy us. Lord knows this quarantine has revealed the cracks in our relationships. For too long, we have used busy-ness as a buffer to avoid our problems. Now that busy-ness, that many and much-ness, that fast-pace and physical distance have been taken from us, we are forced to face our brokenness.

It starts to feel like everything is broken. Our society is broken into have’s and have-not’s. Our politics are broken into screaming matches between left and right. Our economy is broken so we see millions filing for unemployment. Our churches are broken, our families, ourselves. I am broken. You are, too. We’re doing our best, but we just can’t fix it. Some days it’s all we can do to try.

This is good news, my friends. Hard, good news, but good news all the same. Difficult and messy good news. This is good news because this is where God gives us a choice. God loves us enough to reach down into this mess we’ve made and offer us a choice.

We can give up.

We can settle for making through.

Or we can change.

God honors our choice. He never forces us one way or another. But he always meets us where we are. And when we choose change, when we choose God, when we say yes to new life, there we find God. He sends his Holy Spirit into us. We begin to see the world in new ways, to think in new ways, to find options which seemed impossible before.

We go to 12 step groups and find the courage and strength to break addiction.

We agree with our spouse to see a marriage counselor and discover forgiveness is powerful.

We taste mercy and grace, we offer forgiveness and receive it, we’re able to apologize, finally seeing that in vulnerability there is strength. It’s not magic, this Holy Spirit breakthrough, but it is measurable. We measure it in smiles and laughter and reconciliation and hope and thanksgiving.

We receive the love of God and it changes how we feel about ourselves, which changes how we see others, which changes how we move in the world. This is the gospel good news! This is transformation! This is new and abundant life!

We begin to love our brothers and our sisters. When you love someone giving what you have isn’t charity, it’s not sacrifice; it’s sharing. Sharing with people you love is easy. God reveals the gifts in all the little things. That gift has been there all along, but now we have eyes to see it. We give thanks and live in generosity and gladness. Fellowship with one another isn’t just another shallow party or trip to Vegas. We share life with each other, its joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, and discover the real community we’ve been craving the whole time. We worship in response to all God has done, to all God is doing, and it brings us joy. Worship is no longer a duty, a burden, a check on the holy to do list. Worship is entering into the presence of God. It becomes the highlight of our week because now going to church feels like coming home.

And when the world sees us living in joy and generosity, with thankful hearts and open hands, how could they not want to share in God’s family? This is when God brings people into our community because he knows here they will find peace.

Then when God brings us new partners and we see their lives change and hear their stories of God’s transforming power, how marriages are restored and families are mended, lost children come home and wayward friends are found, as we share in their baptisms we are refreshed and reminded of our own baptism, their new life lends us new life so we give thanks for the amazing things God is doing.

We see the old being made new. That which was cast down is being raised up. Out of death comes new and abundant and eternal life. Our physical experience no longer shapes our understanding of God because our spiritual reality is transforming our physical existence. The resurrection power of the risen Lord Jesus is making us new!

This is the gospel, the truly good news for each of us and all creation. This is what is looks like to live in the family of God. Alleluia. Amen.





I went to a strip club

Wow. Just, wow. You wanna’ know what Jesus is like? Not what the Church says He’s like, or what those outside the Church think He’s like, but what Jesus is really like? Read this post.

strip clubA while back I was asked by a group of pastor’s wives to go with them to strip clubs.

That sentence alone sounds strange. But hang with me.

At first I was a little hesitant. And not for reasons you might think.

I love people. Especially ones who are broken; it’s part of my calling. But, given what I’ve walked through, I know how fragile broken people can be.

And I know how insensitive the church can be.

And I was uneasy.

But, these weren’t just any pastors wives.

They had a vision.

One that longed to love on women that society had thrown aside.

It reminded me a lot of Jesus.

So, I jumped on it.

Their plan was to visit these clubs once a month to deliver a meal and gift baskets. I joined them the first night and I’ll be honest, I had NO IDEA what to expect.

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One Cannot Be Human Alone

MarkWatneySpacePirateHumans are made in God’s image.

God’s image is trinitarian, relational.

One cannot be human alone.


Your challenge this week is to laugh with someone you love.

Sounds easy enough, right?

But if you’re too busy to click the link to read the rest of this post, you realize this challenge might not be as easy as it sounds. So take a minute and slow down long enough to read this, really read it, and think about how you live.

Carl Jung once said, “Busyness is not not just FROM the devil, it IS the devil.” When I look at the pace at which we live these days, I cannot help but conclude he was right. The evil one has taken the Transitive Property of Equality (if A = B, and B= C, then A = C) and twisted it into the Transitive Property of Busyness. If busyness equals productivity, and productivity is good, then busyness is good. And we believe the lie.

Just look at your calendar. That’s all you have to do. Or look at your friends, if they pause long enough for you to see them. Watch your kids – overworked, overstressed, always rushing off to the next good thing. See how they learn from us. Ask yourself, I dare you, ask yourself, when was the last time you stopped just to hang out with people you love? How long ago was that? How often? What percentage of your waking hours do you give to simply enjoying the people you enjoy being with?

Now look , I get it. I really do. Overworking is one of the demons I wrestle with. I appreciate the self-satisfaction that comes from hard work. And I understand there are “seasons” in life, some seasons being busier than others. So I know, from my own experience, how easy it is for the busy seasons to bleed into one another until every season is just as busy as the last. Where is the joy in that? Where is the laughter?

Our problem is too many good things. Who of us willingly gives sacrifices our time and our relationships for bad things, for wasteful things? We may be forced to attend a few pointless meetings, but always in the context of some greater good. We’re too busy for wasteful things. We cut them out of our lives. Because if we’re going to miss a soccer game, or piano recital, or dinner with a friend, it better be worth it.

But is it? Worth it, I mean? Is our busyness worth the sacrifices we make to keep going, to keep running, to keep spinning our wheels?

My favorite seminary professor taught us something I just can’t forget. “You cannot be human alone,” he said one day. We didn’t get it, of course. So he explained.

To be human is to be made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). God exists as Trinity, three-in-one. God exists in a relationship within God’s self. To be made in God’s image is to be made for relationship. Humans are hard-wired for connection. Thus, to be disconnected, to be truly and totally alone, is to be less than human.

Robinson Crusoe on his island, not human until he meets Friday. Tom Hanks on his island, not human until he meets Wilson. Mark Watney on Mars, not human until he establishes contact with NASA. Why do you think solitary confinement is the worst punishment we can come up with?

We are made for relationship. Our busyness doesn’t merely wear us out. Our busyness renders us inhuman by the exact amount that it disrupts our relationships. Laughter is the antidote to this poison. Not the hollow laughter of a business traveler watching reruns of The Office in her hotel room. Nor the sad laughter of a dude watching cat videos. But the honest laughter that flows from the conversation of friends relaxing over coffee. Or the free laughter of lovers who have been married so long they no longer worry what the other one thinks.

Slow down this week. Create space in your schedule for someone else. Go out to dinner. Grab coffee. Catch a ball game. Just hang out. Don’t spend all your time at work. Give your time to the people you care about. Laugh with someone you love.

Why nothing seems to get people back to church – The issue at the core of decline

This goes right to the heart of our idea that church growth is not a goal, but a by-product. If we love Jesus, we will love his people; and that involves sharing and inviting people in. If we love our church, we will love our church people; and that usually involves keeping other people out.

The Millennial Pastor

“People just aren’t committed like they used to be”

This week, I came across this satirical article from the site BabylonBee “After 12 Years Of Quarterly Church Attendance, Parents Shocked By Daughter’s Lack Of Faith

The article humorously reveals an issue facing many churches today. I can’t tell you how many times (56,819 times) I have had the conversation where someone talks about the fact that young people aren’t as committed as they once were. People aren’t coming to church like they did in decades past, and those left behind have started to notice. Many congregations are feeling older, thinner, and tired out. The future feels bleak. The studies tell us that the church is declining.

And so churches try any number of things to attract people back to church. Youth group programs, revamped and modern music, renovated worship spaces, hip and cool pastors with tattoos and any…

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Why Does the Church Exist?

Hey y’all, I don’t know this guy, but I thought this was a great post. It certainly captures my own POV. Worth sharing.

Clergy Family Confidential

williamtemplein1942-abc-500This past week (November 6th to be precise) we commemorated William Temple on the calendar of saints. Temple was a second generation Archbishop of Canterbury (his father was also the ABC), theologian, scholar, and advocate for social justice. I could go on but I am confident in your abilities to access Google.

I bring this up because of a quote attributed to him — he said something similar if not in these precise words:

“The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.”

I can think of a lot of people who would disagree quite vehemently with this statement. It’s not that they wouldn’t want to help the poor and downtrodden and needy. And it’s not that they don’t think it’s important to share the Gospel with those beyond the walls of the church. But, frankly, it’s countercultural to think beyond…

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