Organic Church

Even though churches and denominations have distinctive beliefs, most have a form common to the modern Christian church. Dr. Ed Stetzer recently blogged about a different form as old as the church itself, and becoming more common today.  He has two doctorates and works as a researcher, but his observations are more than ivory tower ideals because he has also served as a pastor and church planter.

Various authors label this form as simple church, or house church. You may have heard about the growth of Christianity in China through house churches, but the movement is not limited to that restrictive country.  Stetzer prefers the label “organic church,” which hints at the differences from traditional church.  Organic churches do not have buildings, programs, or paid clergy, but they do not emphasize that.  Their idea is that less is more.

Stetzer’s research indicates that the focus of organic church is discipleship. I would define that as helping believers apply God’s Word as they follow Christ.  He finds that in the U.S., organic church is more likely to be found on college campuses and urban, high-density areas where the cost of real estate is high.  According to Stetzer, “People who are disenfranchised, weary, or intimidated by the more institutional and organized forms of church may be open to an organic church.” Such believers and seekers might live anywhere, even in rural areas and small towns.

Organic churches may be networked, but they exist across denominations. Stetzer, a Southern Baptist, admits that he almost lost his job once for defending organic church as an authentic expression of the body of Christ.  He still supports it as he expects this form of church to grow.  Referring to the early church meeting in homes, Stetzer encourages believers to “cast their boat into a new sea that is really as old as the New Testament church.”

An older pastor once told me, “Not everyone is a good candidate for your church.” Likewise, if a person is looking for highly proficient music and well-organized children’s activities, they will gravitate toward traditional churches, and most communities have excellent choices for those.  All healthy churches believe that Jesus is Lord and His church is people, not just a building, program, or meeting.

Jesus once declared, “I will build my church.” If history is any indication, He will accomplish that in different ways and forms, some as old as His Church itself.

Perspective on the News

This is a word of encouragement to those who read and grieve the news of the day. Much of it troubles those of us who hold a Christian worldview, but we must avoid the slippery slopes of a hopeless response.

Without naming particular issues, let’s stipulate that the headlines that cause us to utter under our breath “God help us,” are usually about morality, leadership, economics, and terrorism. The Bible speaks to all of these; after all, it is the user’s manual for the human existence.

So many of an individual’s and a nation’s troubles are self-inflicted when they call “good” what God said is sin.

We pray for godly leadership, men and women that are humble enough to know their place and their limitations, and are willing to seek divine wisdom.

The Bible speaks plainly about economics, not the least of which is “the borrower is the lender’s slave” (Pr. 22:7). The less national debt we have, the more free we are.

Torturing, maiming, and killing people including children to advance an ideology is evil, and should be confronted. Who will advance the cause of freedom for the oppressed and persecuted victims of terrorism, and keep it from washing up on our shores?

It is hopeless to give in to the “fight-or-flight” response. To become bitter and angry or to deny and ignore the issues of the day will distract you from the perspective that Jesus offers to his followers.  He said the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that “grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches,” and “like leaven which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened” (Lk. 13:19, 21).  God’s kingdom advances slowly and purposefully and someday His rule will cover the world.

We can trust God to accomplish his purposes despite the news of the day. The wickedness of our age creates cultural refugees looking for rest, provision, and peace.  Our Father offers a safe place for the soul to anyone who seeks Him.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” As we utter those words, may the One who is mighty to save put today’s news into His perspective for us.

Finding Jesus

In March of this year, in the aftermath of the terrorist bombing in Brussels, a new face appeared in the American media.  Because he had just released his latest book Answering Jihad, both TV and print media sought out Dr. Nabeel Qureshi to comment.

Dr. Qureshi is certainly in a position to speak to these issues, having been raised a Muslim. His biographical work, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, documents his struggle to find the truth about God and faith.  He is a medical doctor, with master’s degrees in Christian Apologetics and Religion, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in New Testament at Oxford.

Born in 1985 in California, Dr. Qureshi spent most of his high school and college years in Virginia.  His father, a retired U.S. Navy officer, and his mother are devout Muslims of the Ahmadiyya sect.  They trained their son not only to follow that religion, but to be a spokesman for it.

But as he began to seriously seek the truth about life and God, he had questions about those teachings. At first his questions were private, and out of love and respect for his parents, he dared not mention them.  As a college freshman, he became close friends with a young Christian man, despite their cultural and religious differences.  For the next three years, these friends engaged in a respectful and honest exchange about the truth claims and evidences for their respective religious views.  Nabeel eventually accepted the challenge to simply ask God who He really is.

In response to that prayer, Nabeel experienced three highly symbolic dreams that convinced him that God was calling him to accept the gospel of Jesus. Though painfully aware of the risk to his family relationships, he eagerly began to find God in the Bible.  His search culminated as he read Jesus’ words, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” and at the age of 20 he prayed, “I submit that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

I introduce you to Dr. Qureshi as an example of, “My Father is working until now” (Jn. 5:17). Like Saul’s Damascus Road experience, the risen Christ found an unlikely convert, and changed the trajectory of his life.  Jesus not only convinced him of the gospel, but also moved Dr. Qureshi to abandon a medical career to give his life explaining and defending the Christian faith.

In 2014, I had the privilege of speaking in person with Dr. Qureshi for a few moments. I thanked him for his courage in embracing the truth he found in Christ.  I promised to pray for his safety as he declares Christ’s love and forgiveness, a message that so many in our world would not hear.  From this pen to God’s ear!

Thanks Mom!

For what does your mother deserve your gratitude? While you ponder that, let me tell the stories of two mothers who made it into the pages of the Bible, both deserving of thanks from their offspring.

The prophet Elijah encountered a widow preparing to bake her last flour. Her situation was so dire that she expected it to be her and her son’s last meal.  Elijah asked her to give the bread to him instead.  He explained that God promised that her flour bowl and oil jar would not be empty until the drought ended.  She believed, and did as he asked.  God provided for her according to the word He spoke through Elijah.  But the boy later became sick and died.  She again reached out to Elijah, who pled to God for mercy.  The Lord heard the prayer and revived the child. (1 Ki. 17)

This single mom was doing the best she could for her son. He owed his life to a mother willing to cooperate with God even in their darkest days.  We never learn their names, and we don’t know what ultimately became of them.  But I bet whenever she retold what happened to him as a lad, it filled his heart with gratitude to her and to God.

Hannah was a wife much loved by her husband, but she was barren. She pled with the Lord for a son, and promised to dedicate him to the Lord’s service.  She explained her plight to the priest Eli, and he joined her prayer.  Soon she did bear a son, and presented him to serve God with Eli.  She visited her son regularly, and the Lord blessed her with five more children.  Her firstborn was Samuel, who spoke God’s mighty words to the people of Israel as the last judge before they demanded a king. (1 Sam.)

This mother prayed for her son before he was born. She trusted the Lord with his birth and life.  She never ceased to love and care for him.  Samuel would not have had the faith in God, boldness in his calling, and impact on history were it not for his mother.

Every one of us owes a debt of gratitude to our mothers for giving us life. Most of us have much more to be thankful for, and Mother’s Day is our reminder to do so.  If you still have the opportunity, consider offering her more than just a “happy Mother’s day” wish, and tell her some specific reasons you are thankful.  That should make her day happy without you having to wish for it.