Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Being Saved

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." - 1 Corinthians 1:18

More and more it is clear how true this verse is. Even within Christianity, the purpose of the cross has become highly controversial. Those who deny our faith don't understand and consider it folly. Christians are considered anti-intellectual by most of the atheist camp. Paul called this shot a couple thousand years ago. We shouldn't be surprised that many will think the faith we cling to is ridiculous. It is. It is not logical, it is not reducible, it is not testable or reproducible, it's faith. As caught up as I am in all of this, it's not the point of where I'm going today.

The words "being saved" jumped out at me in this passage. I meet with a group of guys every Monday night that help process through the passages for upcoming sermons. It's an incredibly valuable time, and last night we talked about this very issue. It's heart-breaking how many Christian's testimonies are only past tense. If they have a miracle story, it's one they look back to. When people tell their salvation stories, it usually involved a date, place and time fixed in history. The phrase here is not limited to the past, put includes the present, and it looks to the future. Salvation is an ongoing work of God in our lives. If we refer to our salvation only in the past tense, then we misunderstand the power of God. We need the gospel every day. Every day we are sinners in need of a Savior. Every day we are being sanctified, we are transformed as we seek after Him and His ways. Philippians says that He who started the work will finish it. When is that? When we die. In other words, salvation is not something we look back to, but something we look forward to.

In the Fall I went to the doctor after finding out that my blood pressure was sky high. After blood work, they found that I have a genetic predisposition to the diabetic condition that almost killed my father last year. My doctor is a godly man, who told me it's up to me to determine when it comes. If I work hard, get in shape, eat better, and sleep more, then I may fight it off for ever. I've taken that challenge seriously and begun to change things. So, I can look back at that moment when I realized I was broken and in need of change. 5 months later I'm in better shape, I feel better, but I've still got a long way to go. Even if I set a hard fast goal and reached it, if I chose not to continue to take care of myself I would be tempted to celebrate only what's happened in the past. I would say something like, "I really worked hard and took care of myself and got to where I wanted to be." I feel like a lot of people talk about their Christianity that way. Back then I needed it, and now I'm in good shape because of what happened then. It's tragic. Scripture says God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. When He spoke to Moses, He described Himself as "I AM." He didn't say I was. He intentionally used the present tense which in this case includes the future tense as well. He was, He is, He will be.

My prayer is that we wouldn't look back and consider the greatest achievements of our faith behind us, but that we would look ahead and consider the greatest achievement of our faith ahead. We are being saved, we are passing from darkness into glorious light, we are being changed. It's happening now. We need it now, and we believe it's coming in even greater abundance. Let's embrace the now, let's be honest about our need for a Savior now. Let's consider that we're being saved.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


A few weeks ago, we worked with some other folks in our town to dip strawberries in chocolate to help rescue widows in Rwanda (click here for more about the project). It was great to meet new people and for Holly, Jacob and I to be able to participate in a mission project that is both local and international. True Vineyard raised $10,000 in a weekend, and it was an honor to be a part of it.

In talking with the other people we were serving with, I learned something. Our church is still pretty underground. Over the past few years we've enjoyed a steady rise in attendance, an increase in community activity and projects, and a growing interest and involvement in missions and orphan care. We have a good mix of college students and post-college adults, a lot of kids, and a growing Junior High and High School group. Things are better, stronger, and bigger than they've ever been. In spite of all of this, when people find out I'm a pastor (despite my attempts to keep it on the DL), a conversation like this ensues...

"Where do you pastor?" I say, "River Stone Community Church." They say, "where's that?" I say, "we meet most often on campus?" "Which campus?" "The Texas State campus." "Oh, are you that church that meets in the student center?" "No, that's Three Rivers." "Oh, do you meet up on the hill? I think I've seen your commercials." "No, that's the church formerly known as Fellowship of San Marcos - Bay Area Fellowship." "Oh, I think I had a friend go to that church" "That was probably PromiseLand. They've had their own building for 4 years now." Oh, I guess I've never heard of you guys." "Yeah, we keep a pretty low profile." "Well, good luck to you guys." "Thanks."

If I had a dollar for every time I had this conversation I could... well I could take you to Taco Bell, but it seems like a lot. The latest version included a follow-up question. "When are you going to get your own building?" Bum, bum, buuum! There it is. You can't be a real church until you have your own building. We're now in our sixth year as a church plant, and we're just now walking in the freedom and truth of who we were created to be. We're just scratching the surface, but our identity crisis is over. However, I have to confess, that from time to time in moments of weakness, I wish we had a better building situation. We've now been setting up for two years (before that we rented places where we could leave our gear in place). I'm tired of getting up at 6am every Sunday, leaving my family at home to go and pick up one of our trailers. Though I enjoy the time with the set-up crew, it's a lot of work. For two years now, our friends wait for us after our worship times and help to load everything out. We sit down to lunch around 2pm and get home between 3-4pm. At that point, we are fried! It sure would be nice to have our own place so my life would be easier...

By the grace of God, we meet in a theater that is closed 6-8 times a year. On those days we are forced to come up with a different meeting situation. I used to be frustrated by this, but now I consider it a tremendous dose of grace. It used to stress me out when I couldn't find an alternative location, and when I did, it would cost twice as much as the place we normally meet. However, one day that all changed for me. I heard someone speak on the underground churche in a foreign land, and they told how they couldn't announce their meeting locations because the cops would show up to persecute them. If they wanted to know where to meet, they had to pray and have the Spirit tell them where to go. Sold. No more complaining on my end. We'll follow the Spirit. It's not quite that bad at River Stone, but it's close. It's an opportunity for us to identify with churches around the world where the Spirit of God is still alive and well. It helps us remember the freedom we enjoy is rare and a blessing (or maybe it's a curse, but that's probably a different blog). People really do lay down their lives for the same faith we share, and while they're fighting for their lives, we've got climate control, video clips, coffee and doughnuts - thank you, Jesus! I digress...

Last Sunday (and this Sunday), we're without a place to meet, and we decided to do something different. We decided to give the set-up team the week off, and meet in a park. I've embraced what Rick Warren used to say, "you can worship with us if you can find us." So, the picture above is from our worship time at Landa Park in New Braunfels. No sound, no lights, no livestream, just the Spirit of God and his wonderful creation. People brought their lawn chairs and blankets and turned a concrete slab in a public park into a sanctuary. We sang with the birds and the wind. We lifted our hands with the trees. We bowed down with the valleys. We groaned with creation in anticipation of the Gospel. While we were there, I remembered a passage from the Life Journal in Mark 13. One of Jesus' disciples said, "Look, teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." And there you have it. Jesus doesn't care about buildings. Being a "real" church has nothing to do with having a building. It has to do only with the presence and power of the Living God! I pray that as a church, that's what we want to build - a group of people hungry for God and hungry to live differently because He's changing us. Hungry to dance upon injustice. Hungry to speak for those who have no voice. Hungry for the Kingdom to rain down on Hays county and the world.

For the record, there's nothing wrong with buildings, but a wise pastor told me yesterday... "It's incredibly rare for a church building that is full of people to be full in the next generation." Look around at all the empty church buildings. So many churches are closing their doors. Their buildings were no guarantee of longevity or even the presence of God. It's just a building. I continue to wrestle with this, but at this point, even if we had enough money to buy land or build a building (which we don't), I would have a hard time not suggesting to the elders that we give it away instead. A few years ago, I felt like if we ever had a building of our own, that it would be a gift, and we would receive that gift only if we could use it to consider our community more important than ourselves. I think I'm back to that. We are a nomadic church, and that's who we are. We're not in the same place every week. We don't make it as easy and convenient as possible, but we would love for you to be a part of our family. However, you have to understand that our goal is not to get in a building as soon as possible. Our goal is not to cater to everyone's felt needs. Everyone's need is Jesus, and He's enough. In fact, our goal is to stay out of a building as long as possible, because we're gaining a truer understanding of what the Church is called and created to be. It's not easy, but it's the right thing for us.

Welcome to the life of a nomadic church...