Tag Archive: i church


Who am i reading? [2015]

lion

i love to read.

i was challenged a couple of years ago by the idea of diversifying the voices that i invited to speak into my life. For me that related mostly to books as i don’t tend to find the time slash bandwidth to do much podcast listening, but it would apply to both.

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In Acts 7 in the bible, we read about the stoning of Stephen.

Does anyone know what role Stephen had in the early church?

Let me give you a clue: In Acts 6.5 we see him described as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit”.

So what did he do? Are we thinking pastor? Elder? Worship leader?

Let me give you another clue: In Acts 6.8 we read that Stephen was “a man full of God’s grace and power”.

If you think of someone like that in your church, what is their role? Any closer to figuring out Stephen’s?

stephen

STEPHEN WAS THE FOOD GUY

So at the beginning of Acts chapter 6 we read how the twelve disciples chose seven men ‘known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom’ to take over the work of the daily distribution of food [a move that was done because a certain group of widows was being neglected and they wanted to make sure it wasn’t so].

And Stephen, who went on to be martyred, and who saw heaven opened and witnessed the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand side of God [Acts 7.56] was one of those seven. His role in the church was to make sure that food was handed out.

BE THE CHURCH BE THE CHURCH BE THE CHURCH

As i have been having intimate book launches and creating space for people to ask any questions they might have about church and God and following Jesus, i am becoming more and more convinced that the church is meant to be so much more of an identity than it is an experience.

This does not appear to be the most popular of opinions. There is a loud and insistent clamouring for church to need to be identified as ‘local church’ and a strong focus on the meeting at the particular place with that certain group of people.

i’m not suggesting for a second that local church is wrong, or bad, or should be stopped or left or run away from. At all.

But we are called the bride of Christ. We are described as the body of Christ. Both identity labels. Sure there is doing attached to both of those, but more importantly there is being. Who we are. Not just on Sundays, in the building. But always, everywhere.

It’s not even as if Sunday is the most authentic picture of who we are – we tend to dress up in a way we seldom dress during the week – portray a persona unlike the reality of what is really going on in our lives [So we don’t get to see people struggling with life or relationships or work or issues – every marriage looks perfect, every individual looks like they have it together] – and go through the religious ritual singing words of songs we often either don’t believe or pay attention to, prayers which sound nice and sermons which are too often comfortable and confirming of where we are rather than challenging where we should be being.

Jesus

i’m kinda tired of feeling like i have to defend my position on this. It feels like too many people have settled for the image of Jesus on the left and far too few are broken before the much closer image on the right.

i believe that being a part of the church means being infused with the D.N.A. of Jesus through the very fact of having His Holy Spirit in us and that it was always meant to be a description of who we are seven days a week, not just one.

It should rally us to social and societal justice, cause us to be more genuinely loving and affected people, move us to use our time, money and skills in the pursuit of the kingdom [not just 10% of them], help us to be more real in our relationships, challenge us towards forgiveness [of EVERYONE who has hurt us in any way] and spur us on to be salt and light and the fragrance of Christ amidst those who are perishing.

While local church is not a bad thing, what i am talking about feels so much bigger. It can be ‘Local Church Plus…’ for sure. And the benefits of community and accountability and teaching and combined worship and sharing of resources should be obvious.

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12]

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[Matthew 28]

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

[Amos 5]

So today, don’t give up on gathering, but let it be real. Let it be transformative. Let it be spirit-enthusing. And above all let it inform the rest of your week as you leave the building and continue to be the church day in and day out.

legchurch

[To read some more about the book i wrote on church, called ‘i, church’, and how to get hold of it, click here]

This year, the book i wrote, ‘i, church’ was published and you can read more about that over here.

But being Sunday where many people around the world will be using that somewhat confusing statement of ‘going to church’ i thought it would be a good idea to post an extract from my book, particularly one aimed at all of the people who think church may be dying or already dead.

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SEARCHING FOR THE PULSE OF THE CHURCH

There are many people who believe that the church is dead. Or at
their most optimistic, that it is dying.

Instead of trying to convince you that it is not, let me share
something that should inject some hope into that scenario. In many
ways, a little bit of death in some cases is not the worst thing if it
means that there will be space created for new life to emerge. When
we have been caught up in doing things in unhelpful and even at
times harmful ways in the church, then maybe death is just what we
need to be inviting.

Sexism in the church. Racism in the church. Classism or
wealthism where those who have are given preferential treatment
over those who do not have as much. These are just some examples
of things in the church that need to die.

But if the church itself, the worldwide institution and family, the
body of Christ, was ever to be pronounced dead, then instead of
fear and panic, this stunningly powerful image in Ezekiel 37 would
be a good one to keep in mind.

37 The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the
Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of
bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many
bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me,
“Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know”.

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry
bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to
these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I
will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you
with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will
know that I am the LORD”.

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there
was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I
looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but
there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man,
and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from
the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live’. 10 So I
prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to
life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel.
They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut
off’. 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the
Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and
bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of
Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open
your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you
and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will
know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD”.

So, if you are someone who has lost hope in the current state of
the church in any way, know that this God who we serve is able to
breathe life into even the deadest of things and spark them into
life. Yes, deadest!

To those of you who believe the church may be dead or dying,
let me remind you of this: Resurrection from the dead just happens
to be God’s speciality.

[For a brief teaser of an overall idea of what the book is more about, click here]

My good friend Steve Graybill from Americaland, who has written for my blog before both on his strength weakness [which he identified, ironically enough, as a thirst for knowledge] and also on Sex in Marriage recently bought a copy of my book, ‘i, church’ on Amazon. He had some questions and thoughts which he shared with me via email and i asked him if he would write them into a post so that we could get more people engaging. Here is some of our back and forth conversation and some thoughts Steve had.

Steve and Helene

So, me and my wife, The Beautiful Helene (TbH) – when you can’t be original borrow – have had the privilege of hanging out with “FISH” a couple of times the past couple of years after meeting him at the Simple Way on a trip to “Come and See.” My wife being the awesome gift giver that she is bought a half dozen copies of ‘i, Church’ – two for us and some for us to give away.

I recently started reading the book and so far am really enjoying it. However, it is a bit weird to read a book of someone I would consider a good friend—a good friend despite not spending tons of time together, but some of the best quality time when we do hook up! I had a rather verbose FB message session with Brett regarding some questions with his book, which resulted in a brief dialogue, and Brett asking me to put the dialogue on his author page for further comment. So what follows is mostly what transpired, with some additions and editing from me on our conversation on ‘i, Church’.

[Steve’s First Message to Bret]t: Hey Bro, Enjoying the book–I am underlining the normal amount which is good. I have a number of questions which is also good. Perhaps one of us will get on a plane to get to the other or we can do a skype at some point but I have one question that I did want to present here more for food for thought than anything. You reference the parable of the Talents and it is obvious that you take the normal exegetical stance and see Christ’s referring to master in it as God. I will be frank, and say that I have never much liked this parable with that exegetical stance. In the past several years I have seen that passage exegeted with the Master representing the world not God, several times, this exegesis also aligns better with the other parable of the sheep and the goats in the same chapter in Matthew. Anyway, I was wondering if you had heard of this and your thoughts on it. Peace, Steve

[Brett’s Response]: hey Steve – i have heard the parable done from the other point of view [i think it was Pete Rollins] and i can see that – am researching Mark for a lecture i am giving today actually [5am here now so much later today] and came upon a piece yesterday [no idea where] where Jesus independently of that parable says the words ‘he who has will be given more and he who doesn’t will lose what little he has’ and so the meaning taken from that parable i feel is still a biblical principle even if that particular exegesis is not accurate [also with passages like branches not bearing fruit, salt losing its saltiness – that seems to be a clear principle throughout Jesus’ teaching?]

Not sure what you’re saying with regards to sheep and goats – is that master also not God? have not heard that before and need to go give it a read with different eyes and see but i have never had issue with that one because it does seem to back up God’s heart for the poor and marginalized – so give me more of what you mean with that one?

[My Response]:

-Brett, I am really struck with this saying of Jesus! So here is what came up in a google search for: “Jesus, whoever has more will be given.”

Matthew 13:12: Hearing the Word (Jesus)

Matthew 25:29: Talents (Money)

Mark 4:25: Hearing the Word (Jesus)

Luke 8:18: Hearing the Word (Jesus)

Luke 19:26: Minas (Money)

In Luke 19: The master owns up to him being severe (unforgiving) “You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.” In Matthew 25’s account we have: “…you knew that I reap where I do not sow and gather where I scattered no seed…”

The other three times where this phrase is mentioned in the Gospels is regarding hearing the words of Jesus.

What about Jesus Claim that you cannot serve both God and Money?

Matthew 6:24 has Jesus discussing laying up treasure in heaven and Luke 16 Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest manager—the master of the manager in this story is diametrical to the master we find in Luke 19 and in Matthew 25—he actually commends his manager for his shrewdness in reducing debts and making friends with people knowing that he is about to be fired and the parable ends with, “You cannot serve God and money.” In other words, the manager has given up worldly gain for heavenly gain (human relationships) and is commended by his Master for this decision.

What if Jesus’ use of this phrase, “to him who has more will be given,” is purposely given in two contexts to show, much like Jesus lays out in Matthew 6:24, that we have a choice. Do we want to push into God and have more of Christ’s presence in our life? Or do we want to operate in the paradigm of the world and have material objects be more present in our life?

Brett: I think we more or less agree on the sheep and goat parable. My point was that in the Parable of the Talents we have this money-hungry master that in essence adds to the homeless population, while in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats we see a God who is found in the homeless, the widow, the incarcerated—a God who opposes the cruel masters represented in the Parable of the Talents.

[One more post from me on Matthew 25 that was at the end of the FB message just to create tension]:

Several months ago I heard a message on the Matthew 25 passage in question (Talents) that kept Master as God and honed in our the faithfulness aspect of it that I really appreciated. I see where positives and teaching points from both exegetical stances–how crazy it would be if Christ meant it as a “both and” scenario and not an “either or.” Late here and heading to bed–maybe I can copy and paste a big chunk of this convo onto your author page with some editing?

[A small addition to that post]:

The one thing from the message that stuck out to me besides the faithfulness aspect was what was not emphasized. I don’t necessarily agree that Jesus presents these parables as a both and scenario, but I am not a theologian and even if I were one, a good one anyway, I would have to admit that I do not have a monopoly on exegesis and hermeneutics. Anyway, during that message it was emphasized that it does not say: “Well done, good and hard-working servant,” or “Well done, good and incredibly driven servant,” but “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Having faithfulness being the teaching point of the message made that interpretation of the passage relevant and useful for me.

[My next message to Brett]: OK, Damn, another one: From ‘i, Church’: “The pattern in so many local church congregations is the paid staff and the minority of the people in the church doing the majority of the work which is mostly aimed at the church building/members. The majority of the people who frequent the building on a Sunday are quite happy to spectate. Come and watch a show if you like and then leave largely unchanged.” This made me think of Dave Schmidgall’s quote of NCC is a place where we want you to be a part of what God is doing through NCC and NCC is a church that wants to be a part of what God is doing through you.

Dave is my Campus Pastor and he has followed through with Helene and me more than once on that part about the church being a part of what God is doing through us. Another quote of his is “criticize through creation.” If you have a beef and complaint with the church and want to complain for the sake of complaining I am not going to give you much of an ear, but if you want to criticize and have plan for action then let me hear it and let’s get moving!

[Brett’s Response]: “NCC is a place where we want you to be a part of what God is doing through NCC and NCC is a church that wants to be a part of what God is doing through you.” sounds like a great [but long] car sticker but not fully sure what it means – are you talking specifically as a building in terms of using their premises for ministry vibes? i do love the “criticize through creation” concept although not 100% – it has merit and most of the time should be applied but sometimes not having an alternative answer yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be muted on pointing out the fact that something is wrong… cos otherwise your motto is “Let’s continue doing it wrong til we figure out a way to do it better.” and sometimes things done wrong just need to be stopped altogether and then you can figure out a batter way of doing things – but i do get it and agree with it largely in principle… thanks for the questions.

[My Response]:

-Well, Dave’s wife happens to be a darn good business woman with ethics—not sure if you remember the Bittersweet Mag I gave you, but that is Dave’s wife’s use of her business for justice in the city. Anyway, she has a rented space for her business that use to double as their home until recently—anyway they have more than once allowed us to use that space during the evening for Kingdom purposes. That is

being a part of what God is working through us—they were even able to allow a couple to use it for their wedding—God is all about weddings!

-Helene and I volunteer at a hospice house in DC called Joseph’s House. While volunteering there we met a resident at the house who had another house in DC that was not habitable at the time and we asked our church if they might support us in renovating the house. They followed through with this giving us a small budget to work with. While the outcome of that experiment is still yet to be determined, that is being a part of what God is working through us.

-Helene and I are trying to make our spare bedroom a place for transitional housing for trafficked women in DC—currently this does not exist at all in DC. We approached NCC with this and they are partnering with an NGO in DC to create a pilot program for this. That is being a part of what God is working through us.

So, criticize through creation: several people have approached NCC with statements such as you are not doing enough to advocate for the homeless, what are we doing to end trafficking in our city?, HIV/AIDS is at epidemic proportions in DC, NCC needs to be doing more! We are not advocating for Children the way that we need to be what is NCC doing to address these issues. These are the criticisms that get thrown back at us—you are part of NCC head this up if you are passionate about it and NCC has your back. Those are our 4 key issues with our church right now and there are considerably more folks not on staff then on staff taking up the banner for those issues—Criticize through creation.

What about your thoughts? What have you liked or disliked with Brett’s book? What actions items are you taking away from it?

What are your thoughts about the church being a place that has you participating in the things that church is passionate about and having that church support you with Kingdom causes that you are passionate about? How is that playing out in your life? How are you criticizing through creating?

[To find out more about ‘i, church’, click here]

For those of you who have been following the book launch tour we have now had four different launches: one at Vovo Telo and one at the Warehouse in Cape Town, one out Stellenbosch way and recently another in Durban.

 

What i have discovered along the way is that my favourite part at every single launch was the Q & A time we scheduled in the middle of it. Opportunities for people to ask questions about church. Absolutely any questions without fear of judgement – in fact for the Durban launch, Barry who was MC gave out his phone number and people could ask questions live or text them in anonymously. Such great conversation and engagement.

And that has got me pretty excited to do more, which is where you may come in.

i realised in conversation last night with some mates that for the most part, those of you who bought the book because you know me are largely going to be in the metaphorical choir and while the book hopefully has some good stuff for you, there are likely people you know who it would be much more helpful for.

What about considering the opportunity of hosting a Q & A time of your own at your own home [or somewhere else that might be fun] where you bring the crowd [or roomful of people] that you feel may be wanting to ask questions about church and not have many places to do so – friends who are struggling with what church is about, people you know who attend regularly but don’t live it out, generally curious folk – and i come along and we create a space to ask some questions and wrestle with some things and then at the end give people an opportunity to get hold of a copy of the book if they would like.

If this sounds like something that might be interesting to you, get hold of me and we can chat.

We are going to have some books in Oakland, CA in June and are hoping to visit Pretoria/Joburg side of the country some time after that so if you are in any of those places, that would also be fun.

realbooks

If you’re looking to get hold of this on Amazon in the meantime, you can do so here. And if you are on Goodreads you can find it over there.

durbanichurch

This was the 4th book launch i have done for ‘i, church’ and the first one in Durban. And what another incredible evening it was.

Firstly, we decided to do a small change with this one and focus on the Q & A aspect of the evening which was a highlight for me from each of the previous launches. And as a bonus, i got the chance to preach at 3 Westville Baptist church services on the Sunday before the Q & A slash launch so people got a direct invitation to the launch after hearing some of the heart of the book in my preach.

Once again thankx to a bunch of my friends largely including staff and congregants of Westville Baptist church, especially Rebecca Benn who spearheaded the thing while i was still in Cape Town and got balls rolling, the church for letting me use their hall and Debbie and Baz and some of the youth and young adults who got involved. And then my good friend Sammi Taylor who womanned one of the book tables:

One aspect that was different from the Cape Town launches was the addition of two poems from my friend Michael Toy’s poetry book [for the recovering evangelical] titled ‘Blame it on the HueHuetenango’ which i felt fit in strongly with the theme of the book.

My good friends Debbie and Baz did an intro and then hosted the Q & A using a mix of live questions and sms questions that people texted to Barry’s phone while the session was on – definitely stretched me to some deeper levels with some of the questions that were posed at this particular launch.

This was the best mix of people we have had generationally with some youth and young adults stretched out on bean bags and then a range of older people all the way to some seniors who were on chairs and couches and just such an incredible time of engagement and then conversation as i tried to speedily sign some books afterwards as well. Cape Town friends and friends from October Leadership camp 13 years ago and from Baptist Summer Camp many years ago as well as an uncle-in-law all made it a very special occasion.

i am glad we sold some books, but i am more excited about the opportunity to challenge and inspire people about church and possibly seeing and experiencing church as something that is even bigger than the people in the building who meet on that particular day of the week. And also getting a chance to challenge the church [as in those who were present] about the absolute priority that we need to have in matters of race and reconciliation and unity and speaking and acting and listening into areas of pain and hurt and fear and disappointment that exist in our country.

It really was another incredible night of connecting with God’s people and speaking about God’s stuff in love [which sounds very similar to what my definition of church is]…

And of course the world’s most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob, was on hand to bring his own special brand of protection to the books that were on sale…

For anyone who was interested in coming and maybe missed out, i will be leaving a stash of books with Debbie and Baz from Westville Baptist church and so you can get hold of a copy from them for R100 or as always it is available online at Amazon.

No_bob

[For a glimpse of the teaser including a short extract from ‘i, church’, click here]

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Three Cape Town launches done and dusted [what does that even mean, why would you dust an event?]

A decent amount of books bought.

Many people uttering phrases like “This kind of book is so important”, “I can’t wait to read this”, and “We really needed this.”

And then…

cricket

Crickets… well first there was the actual cricket and that was also a bit of a sad affair…

But even worse, perhaps, now that people are telling me i can actually be called ‘an author’, is the next few days after the launches have finished and the books have been bought and the statements made… and the sound of crickets echoes in this author’s inbox, on the Amazon review page, on the Goodreads question forum…

Actually not even the sound of crickets… just a silence…

Do people read this slowly?

Or even worse, do people not read this slowly?

Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much people love you and attend your events, how excited they are about the prospect of this book and what needs to be said, or how many were bought and signed and gushed upon…

It’s like the movies – week one is an indication of anticipation… week two to three to seven tells you if the movie was any good or not.

So i would say we had a pretty decent opening weekend of this movie… and now we wait to hear the reviews and to see if people tell their friends to go and see it and if anyone thinks there is anything significantly significant about this particular one…

In the meantime though, i did get a really fun and creative book launch review, which feels like it is a first…

But for now, i will retreat to my authory cave, and continue with the day to day of all the busyness i currently have to fill my plate, sneaking out every now and then to grab a peek at the internet and see if anyone has gotten to the point of sharing their words on my piece of heart, that lies exposed for everyone [who bought a copy] to see…

see

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