Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | June 27, 2016

Church By The Dumpster, by guest blogger Tasha Lynn

On a recent Sunday morning, a soft rain had just started to fall. I was running late…again. My boyfriend and I were meeting another couple to watch The Jesus Lens, an enriching DVD series about seeing Jesus throughout the Scriptures. With a 90 minute drive ahead of me, I needed to quickly drop off the clothing donation in my backseat and get going.

I am often late. It is one of my downfalls. But according to God’s agenda, this time I was right on time! If I had left the house any earlier or later, I would have missed the meeting of the church beside the dumpster.

As I entered the thrift shop parking lot, I noticed her… a middle-aged Hispanic woman with a shopping cart, rummaging around the dumpster. This was not a particularly uncommon sight in this area. Any other day, I might have driven on by. But I was drawn by that invitation of the Spirit, unmistakably tugging at my heart.

I’ll call her Marta. In broken English, she kindly responded to my questions with answers I would not have guessed. No, she was not in need of food or clothing for herself. Rather, she was searching for magazines that might contain coupons. Marta helps those in need by blessing them with practical items. She is leaving for Central America next month to distribute supplies to those in need. She welcomed the bag of clothing I offered her for the trip. She explained how God has so blessed her, and now she passes that blessing on to others.

Our language barriers were not so much of a hindrance that Sunday morning. My newfound sister’s radiant smile and grateful heart spoke measures as we each prayed to our Father while we stood in the rain beside the dumpster.

I asked if she had an umbrella. She did not, so I began looking for my small black one. Not finding it, I was prompted to give her the enormous, more expensive golf umbrella in my back seat, because “she shelters many people.” I think that word of encouragement was more of a blessing to her than the umbrella itself. I heard the Spirit say how happy God is with what she is doing, and when I told her this, she was deeply touched.

Marta asked for a ride home, and I dropped her off at a modest little house, where she pointed out to me her garden and the beautiful plants native to her home country of El Salvador. Our visit that morning must’ve lasted maybe 15 minutes, much shorter than most “Sunday sermons”. But how rich, spontaneous, and beautiful it was to me.

Friends, can we take a moment to consider our own definitions of church? Church is not a building, or a program, or a man-made agenda. It is God’s children being together, wherever we are. May we all be open to that next encounter. Led by Him, it’s a joy to experience church wherever we go.

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | June 9, 2016

Tithing: What Your Pastor Doesn’t Want You To Hear

Long ago, I remember the periodic Sunday night “testimony time” at the local church I attended. Perhaps once a quarter, the congregation of about five-hundred would gather, and after the singing of a few songs together, the pastor would hand the microphone to various people who had their hand raised… who wanted to share their testimony.

Invariably, “testimony time” seemed to always include someone who wanted to share a financial blessing. It usually went something like this:

“Hi, my name is Bob, and I’ve been attending this church for 10 years. I recently heard pastor Joe’s sermon on how tithing to the local church in obedience to Malachi 3 is vital if we expect God to bless our finances and keep the enemy from devouring our money. Well, six months ago I started tithing, and out of nowhere I just received a promotion at work with a 5% pay raise! I praise God that I listened to pastor Joe and started tithing in obedience to God’s Word (as he proudly pouts his chest for being such a faithful tither, unlike the non-tithing slackards in the congregation).”

May we all sing the praises of Bob for doing such a wonderful job of apparently earning God’s blessing which can never be earned (financial or otherwise), and for validating Pastor Joe’s Old Covenant, performance-based theology which has no legitimate place among a New Covenant people!

Of course, never mind the slew of “faithful tithers” who have been tithing for years yet are grossly in debt, many behind on their house or car payments, and who have credit card balances up the wazoo. No, these people aren’t raising their hands during testimony time; neither does the leadership want to hear from them. They just want to prop up guys like Bob, whose testimony validates them and their obligatory tithe doctrine.

“Tithing as a mandate” permeates modern-day Christianity. The levitical law of tithing which was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14) is continually resurrected by the professional clergy; some do it because of a lack of understanding of the implications of the New Covenant upon the life of the believer, and others do it primarily because it is the means by which to have their salaries paid, the staff salaries paid, the building costs and operating expenses paid, and to support the at-large institution they serve. To show them that their tithe doctrine can in no way be supported through a New Covenant interpretive perspective will, with rare exception, be met with the strongest of resistance. It was Upton Sinclair who rightfully said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

But there’s another testimony I want to share that you’ll never hear in church… a testimony that is much more representative of New Covenant reality, revealing the preeminence of Jesus and His grace in a believer’s life. For the sake of privacy, I will call her “Wendy.” The details I’m about to share as to what has been transpiring in her life are 100% accurate and true. In fact, if you live in Raleigh, I’ll gladly introduce you to her! If Wendy was given the microphone during “testimony night” at a local church, you would hear something like this:

“Hi, I’m Wendy! I used to attend church, but I don’t go anymore. And I used to be a meticulous tither, but I ditched that many moons ago. Back in February, my car engine went bad. I was about to take out a loan to purchase another, when out of the blue, someone close to me said that God laid it on his heart to buy me a brand new 2016 car…. no strings attached! I love my new car! Two months ago, I was looking for a job in Raleigh, the town I’ll be moving to. I went to my first job fair with over a thousand other “job hunters” and landed a wonderful position in my chosen field, with a 10% pay raise to boot! Over the last few weeks, I’ve been looking for a new place to live and have been astonished at how high rent prices are. Then, out of nowhere, through no effort or influence of my own, a married couple informed me that they would allow me to live in their beautiful 3000 square foot second home in Raleigh, RENT FREE!! All I have to pay is the utilities, and it’s 10 minutes from my new place of employment! I’m so grateful to God and His grace extended to me in Christ!”

Oh, by the way…. Wendy is 100% debt free.

Someone may say, “But she doesn’t even attend church, so she’s probably one of those independent lone ranger types! And since she doesn’t tithe, she must not be very generous. Perhaps she’s not even a Christian!”

Nothing could be further from the truth. No, she doesn’t attend “church,” but she is experiencing authentic community with other believers to a greater degree than most who do attend church. It’s just not within the institutional church structure. She doesn’t embrace “tithing” as the way to order her giving; rather, she’s sensitive to her surroundings and the needs of those within her relational and social spheres, being generous with both her money and time as the Spirit leads. Best of all, Wendy knows who she is in Christ.  You’ll never hear her say, “Because I gave some money to my needy co-worker, God did this or that for me…” No no… she understands New Covenant grace; that she is the object of her heavenly Father’s love, and that even in the midst of her fears, flaws, failures and life’s difficulties, His grace is extended to her in countless ways as a free gift, aside from any contributing factor on her part. Her obedience is simply the fruit of her relationship with God and the by-product of living loved. And His blessing on her life is the result of her spiritual union with Christ; nothing more, nothing less.

Bob and Pastor Joe can learn a lot from Wendy. So can all of us.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to get into a comprehensive discourse on tithing. For those who want to go deeper on this issue, refer to my four part series on this blog, entitled “Tithe Doctrine: Challenging What’s Preached From The Pulpit”

 

Obsessed with Sin OR Coming Alive in Grace?

Do you find yourself rehearsing your failures and mistakes over and again in the theater of your mind? If so, you are not alone! Countless people, those who have trusted Christ and those who mistrust Him alike, engage in a similar private monologue daily. From a place of deep empathy from my own personal experience with this struggle, I write…I believe that rehearsal is the biggest waste of time, like digging a hole to nowhere. It eats up energy and it robs us of time that could be better spent developing intimacy with God and others, being led by His love in the adventures of life.

Let’s lift up our eyes from what we perceive to be our failures and get a look at reality, my friends. If you trust Christ to be your life, then you can look back at your past sins only as evidences that you’re still living in this human body. You can rest assured that those times were simply moments when you had temporarily forgotten that you were God’s dearly loved child. Those who know how deeply they are prized and cherished and accepted, don’t go around making a habit of sin. The best way to lessen the pitfalls of sin you may find yourself in is NOT to memorize more scriptures, and NOT to get an “accountability partner” (which I believe is not a grace-based practice anyway, but I will further expound on that in a future blog), and NOT in any other sin-management technique or program you may have tried. Getting your focus on Christ and giving up on your self-repair tactics is the only way to experience the full kind of life we were designed by God for….a full, spiritually rich, satisfying, and peace-filled kind of life. This is the kind of life that prevails in the midst of whatever hard circumstances it faces….a life that is “set aside for God” kind of life, which will never flow from having a focus on sin…but only from a simple faith in His acceptance of you exactly as you are, complete with all your messes and all!

The funny thing is, when you forget trying to manage your sin and the sins of others around you, and learn to simply rest in grace and your belovedness, you will find that as a byproduct you will actually sin less! That is evidence of the law of LOVE at work in you. We are truly free from laboring under the old covenant and its law, which demands a perfect performance and striving to reach standards that none of us, even the best do-gooders among us, are capable of reaching. Therefore, to my friends out there who are tired of the weary self-examination and sin-inspection process, I encourage you to give yourself the gift of a permanent vacation from striving by believing the REALLY good news… Whether you are finding faith in Christ for the first time or are returning into the rest of a simple faith after being bombarded by the pharisaical teachings that are out there, the gift is equally as great…it is yours for the taking, freedom from life on the religious treadmill. So, fall into His arms and find the shelter and affirmation that your soul is crying out for. Come alive in His grace!

Tasha

 

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | April 21, 2016

Another “I Invited Someone To Church” Disaster

Just heard someone share another “I invited someone to church” story that turned out to be a total disaster.

If you have a relational connection with someone, why not take time getting to know them and engaging relationally with them over dinner or coffee? Why not be in an environment where there can be a mutual exchange of hearts? When opportunities arise, why not be there to offer the encouragement or help they need in the current moment? Why not let them taste of the life of Christ in you through your love, service and friendship? Why not demonstrate the reality of the gospel to them, and share the Word of the gospel when appropriate?

Inviting someone to church has become a convenient way for many of us to avoid relational engagement with those that God has put across our paths. It’s much easier to simply invite someone to church and wait for them to show up, rather than making ourselves available to them in time, love and service. It’s sad when our preoccupation with “church” becomes more important than walking by faith. No need to be present in the life or circumstance of another, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the life of Jesus through you. Just invite them to church and let them hear your magnificent pastor! Let the professional clergy do what they’re paid to do!

All to often, the whole “taking someone to church” scenario turns out to be the proverbial “nail in the coffin” for your guest. Not only are they not coming back; they’re totally turned off by our plastic church pageantry. Let me just say that I know that there can be exceptions to this; you may be part of a traditional congregation that is truly relationally centered and not given over to dry liturgy and religious form over relational substance. If that’s the case, that’s wonderful! But think about what so many people DO experience who are invited to church for the first time: They walk into an environment with a bunch of people they don’t know, typically hear “Christian Lingo” in the congregation and from the pulpit that they don’t understand, witness a “worship time” where the congregants robotically follow the instructions of the worship leader to sing, clap, praise, shout, jump, etc…, and then sit quietly for 45 minutes in a one way communication environment to hear a sermon that may or may not be relevant to where they’re at… something they could have easily listened to via a podcast or download in the comfort of their own home. No meaningful interaction whatsoever.

You may say, “Well, it’s still better than sitting at home on Sunday morning! For the Bible makes it clear that we should not neglect the assembling of ourselves together.”

But how “relationally engaging” are our typical Sunday morning services? They’re not, and it’s time we were honest about this. When the Bible talks of the assembling of ourselves together, the context has nothing to do with a group of people who continually gather under the same roof for years, yet for the most part don’t even know each other’s names. If that’s the “assembling together” that the New Testament speaks of, I’ll pass. And so will many of your friends who you invite to church.

I still recall the day I officially left institutional Christianity. Over time, I was slowly drawing back from it; I was becoming more engaged with others outside of the typical institutional church environment, and in the process was finding more authentic relationships with people and deeper growth in my relationship with God. After a particular Sunday morning service, the pastor implored everybody to “bring their friends to church so they could be a part of what’s going on.” I sat for awhile in my seat and asked myself some honest questions:

“Do I really want to invite people here? Do I really want to introduce them to institutional Christian religion… to Sunday services…. to hearing the mixture of law and grace coming from the pulpit? Do I really want them to be fleeced under a mandatory tithe which has no legitimacy from a New Covenant exegetical perspective? Do I really want them to be part of an environment that establishes people in performance based religion and a dependency upon services and programs, rather than the deeper realities of the New Covenant, our identity in Christ, the Holy Spirit within and real-life relationship? Do I really want to point them in the direction of finding relationship with Christ and others through this type of faith-expression?”

My honest answer was “No.” Which led me to the next question that I asked myself, which was, “Then why are you even here?” That’s when I left for good, other than to go back periodically to get a glimpse of various churches, for the purpose of having a point of reference when engaging with those who are coming out of religious institutions to find more relational expressions of faith.

People are thirsting for relationships… for community. And that’s one of the reasons why there’s a mass exodus from religious institutions…. not by people who are “leaving the faith” but by people who desire a greater experience and expression of authentic faith. It’s an exodus from institutional Christian religion to the simplicity of life in Christ… a life of faith expressing itself through love, friendship and service… not via organized institutional events or programs, but through lives in true communion with each other that are sensitive to the heart-beat of God and open to engaging with humanity in the arena of real life.

Biblically speaking, the Church is not a place to go, or something to do. The Church (Ekklesia) is a people; we are the Body of Christ, and may His fullness be expressed in and through us, not only to one another, but to those that God has graciously placed within our unique spheres of influence.

 

 

 

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | March 31, 2016

Looking For Community?

As a believer for the last 25 years, I’ve noticed a common theme…. a common thrust among Christ followers. We desire to experience real relationships among each other, and an authentic expression of the Body of Christ within our midst. In short, people are searching for community.

For some, that desire has led them to the mega-church… the thought being that in a gathering of literally thousands of people, real friendships and community would be experienced at some point. Yet they never found it there.

Others have sought out a smaller and therefore “more personal” church environment, thinking that this was the key to experiencing real friendships and a more authentic expression of the Body of Christ. Yet they’ve walked away unfulfilled.

Still others have left institutional Christianity altogether and have started “house churches” with the expectation that this model would ultimately bring forth vibrant community. But when their experiences fail to meet their expectations, discouragement sets in as it becomes apparent that community is still lacking.

But our drive for community beckons us on, so we look for it elsewhere, perhaps through starting or joining another type of group that isn’t as formal or structured, or perhaps by trying to gather only “the right type of people” in our sphere who can hopefully give birth to an authentic expression of “Christ corporate” and community. Things may seem promising for awhile, just like in times past. But when the excitement fades and it becomes apparent that it cannot be sustained, we once again face the stark reality that “community” has eluded us once again.

Someone once defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting a different result than the one you’ve always experienced. I think that’s a pretty good description of out incessant pursuit to find or form the “right group” in order to experience real friendships, community and an authentic expression of the Body of Christ. I believe there are some real answers to this dilemma; they are not complicated. But it will require a death to some “sacred cows” we hold dear. So I present to you some thoughts which are at least a starting-point.

OUR THIRST FOR NUMBERS MUST DIE

Western values define success by numbers. The bigger the crowd, the more successful the experience. Numbers determine worth & value. The Church, for the most part, has adopted these values and the proof of this is found not only in our philosophy and methodology pertaining to church growth, but also in what we think passes for an authentic expression of the Body of Christ. We want to experience this apparently elusive “corporate man” and therefore busy ourselves in trying to grow our gatherings. We may invite 40 or 50 to a gathering, expecting 20 or 30 to come…. but when only 3 or 4 show up, we become discouraged because we can’t seem to find enough people who share in our desire for community and an authentic expression of the Body of Christ.

Yet does this portray a kingdom value?

Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” Friends, if we’re not content with, “Where two or three are gathered, there I am in their midst,” then all our lofty talk about desiring to to see an authentic expression of the Body of Christ amounts to nothing more than a bunch of hot air. So yes, we must die to the whole “numbers game,” and must see kingdom value in the “two or three” just as much as any other number.

THE “MEETING MENTALITY” MUST END

This runs very deep; most of us have been trained and ingrained in the idea that “life” springs forth from organized meetings. We may say we know better, but a close examination of our attitude, walk and talk would prove the emptiness of our claim that we’re past this.

A larger mega-church, smaller community church, house church, meetup group or any other organized gathering, regardless of how formal or informal, does not inherently have the power to magically produce community in anyone’s life, regardless of how often one attends. Only lives relationally engaged with one another in real life and given to each other in love and service will produce that. Unfortunately, most of us are more committed to a group meeting than to one another in the arena of life. Thus the reason why when we do gather together as a group, the environment often lacks the fragrance of Christ.

FORGET ABOUT THE “BOOK OF ACTS” COMMUNITY MODEL

For many years, I’ve joined others in expressing the desire to experience community as in the Book of Acts, where believers gathered together daily to pray, eat together, serve one another and generally “do life” together. But is this a worthy goal? Is it even a realistic goal? Should “community” be our goal at all (more on this to follow)?

Back in Jesus’ day, believers lived in a community based, agricultural society. Most were farmers, much (if not all) of life revolved around the home, and people lived in very close proximity to one another, making it fairly common for believers to be in daily, personal contact. Yet we live in a western, industrialized society, most are not farmers, and life does not revolve around the home in the same way it did back in biblical times. Furthermore, the increasing globalization of today’s society results in many being hundreds if not thousands of miles away from home for varying stretches of time.

To expect “community” in our culture to mirror what we see as “community” in their culture is unrealistic, and it’s time that we were honest about this. If you’re expecting Christian community to be a living reflection from the Book of Acts, you’re going to be waiting for a very long time. Unless the economy collapses (which is possible), or unless you find a group of people to live off a farm with you.

OUR VERY GOAL OF “TRYING TO ATTAIN COMMUNITY” MUST END

Neither the Apostle Paul or any other disciples ever called a meeting to discuss how they might create community, cultivate community or experience community. But genuinely loving one another as Christ loved them naturally resulted in a community dynamic that was attractive to those in their sphere; a strong testimony to the reality of Christ among them.

My point is simply this: In their day, they had the horse before the cart. They were engaged with one another in real life… genuinely investing in one another in time, love and service. Therefore, when they did happen to gather together, there was an unmistakeable sense of community because COMMUNITY ALREADY EXISTED. But in our day, we have the cart before the horse. We want community, but apart from the sacrifice of time, love and service to each other. Oh, we’ll come to meetings, but to take the time to invest in someone’s life outside the scheduled meeting is too much to ask. No wonder why so many of us aren’t experiencing community.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE

Community is not a goal to attain, but the natural fruit of lives given to each other in time, love and service. You may be the king of church attendance. You may be meticulously faithful to your small group weekly gathering for Bible study, prayer or whatever. But outside of the meeting, how relationally engaged are we with others in the arena of real life? When’s the last time we’ve invited someone over for dinner or out for coffee…. with no other agenda than to be a friend? When we come across someone that’s struggling, when’s the last time we asked, “Is there anything going on in your life right now that you need help with?” When different needs of people become known to us during our normal, routine every-day lives, are we sensitive to the Spirit’s prompting to relationally engage with these people and serve them? I believe that if we’re sensitive to the Spirit’s voice, we’ll find that He is prompting us in such matters more than we may realize.

I’ll end this post by quoting a portion of the book, Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More  by Wayne Jacobsen. Wayne was a pastor within the institutional church for 20 years… always having a heart for community, but never truly experiencing it within the organized structures and systems that have become synonymous with “church” in our culture today. Ultimately , he walked away not from Jesus, and not from other believers and people, but from the system of institutional Christianity. Ultimately, he experienced and is continuing to experience what his heart always longed for….. in the most unexpected way and in the most unlikely places. Wayne explains:

“By simply following what Jesus put on my heart and loving people around me, I found myself living squarely in the middle of the church life I had been hungering for all those years. I didn’t even realize it at first, because it didn’t fit into one of the sanctioned boxes I thought to be essential to identify as a church. There were no services, no buildings, no committee meetings, no designated leaders, no permanence, and no name in which to stake our identity. Those who knew Jesus best around me had no desire to create institutions or set themselves up as leaders, preferring to care for others in need and helping them to follow Him.

I ended up with vibrant connections to other people who were also learning to live the life of Jesus.  We were having conversations that stimulated us to live more deeply, and gatherings that were rich and encouraging. We even collaborated on tasks Jesus seemed to nudge us toward with great joy and fruitfulness. We didn’t see the need to create formal attachments or press ourselves into weekly meetings.

That’s when my view of church shifted. I had been looking for her in structures and organizations, but they always seemed to gravitate away from the substance I was looking for. I began to see it in a growing network of people who are being transformed by the love of God. They are warm, engaging, kind, generous, and passionate. They allow people to be honest even about their doubts, struggles and failures. They free people from shame, not exploit it for their own ends, and they will encourage you away from the bondage of religious obligation that has little impact on how you live your life with Jesus. I’d been living in the church most of my life without recognizing her because I was so busy trying to create a version of my own….”

The Church was never meant to be a place, a structure, an organization. Biblically speaking, the Church is a people. We are the Body of Christ, and may our love for one another grow more and more.

Grace to all.

 

 

 

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