God’s House

Today’s blog is about the fixation that all types of Christians often have with their church buildings. I think we tend to get really distracted with the things we create to help us reach toward God.  I’m going to challenge some assumptions here…first, however, let me say that I love the Church.

The Church, as scripture describes it, is an organism.  It is Christ’s Body, His physical presence, in the world today.  Not to be confused with the churches (note the “little c”) that dot the real-estate landscape with bricks & mortar & parking lots.  But the One True Church, comprised of all followers of Jesus everywhere, who have become brothers & sisters & inheritors of the Real Estate of God’s Kingdom in this life and the life to come.  There is only one Church (“big C”); and although it includes local churches everywhere, it’s independent of the programs & organizations & buildings that Christians call “home.” If I’m being totally honest, sometimes I’m not that crazy about the “little c.”

I think we tend to get really distracted with the things we create to help us reach toward God.  We’re blessed to live in a country where we have freedom to gather for worship as we please and build state-of-the-art buildings for weekly experiences that are absolutely amazing.  It’s ironic, however, that these great benefits we take for granted in the wealthiest nation in the world haven’t seemed to make an appreciable difference in the percentage of adherents to the faith or the depth of their devotion to the ways of Jesus.  Now you may disagree with that subjective “from my perspective” assertion, but I think that current statistics & cultural perceptions back me up overwhelmingly. I am not against traditional church buildings at all, they can be incredibly helpful tools; but I am against the notion that they are sacred locations where God’s Spirit Lives.

In the Old Testament, with the people of Israel, God was setting the stage for how He would work through them (the Jews) to bless the rest of the world.  As part of that, He had them setup a Tabernacle, which later morphed into a permanent Temple in Jerusalem.  This was God’s Dwelling Among Men.  It was Holy and Sacred, two words that mean “set apart.”  People came to the temple because that’s where God was, literally.  But this changed dramatically in the New Testament with the work of Jesus to fulfill and supersede the law and its limitations.  Remember all the crazy stuff that happened after the death of Jesus on the Cross?  At that time, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom by the Hand of God Himself…symbolizing that the dividing barrier between God’s presence and His people had been eradicated (Luke 23:45).  Before this, only the High Priest could enter the “Holy of Holies” once per year to make atonement on behalf of the people.  After Jesus and the Day of Pentecost, His Spirit became available to all people!

The Church is not a building, an event, or an organization…it’s you.  The church building you attend services at is only holy because God’s people are there; other than that, it’s just another building.  Church services are meant to inspire & equip you to go and represent Jesus in your world, and whenever you’re with another believer (follower of Jesus, disciple, apprentice, Christian, whatever you call yourself), You. Are. The. Church.

One of the first amazing heroes of the Early Church was Stephen, a man full of faith & power & wisdom.  He is known as the first Christian martyr.  False witnesses were produced against him that claimed “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”  Stephen fearlessly laid-out the development of God’s presence throughout the ages, ending with the fiery assertion, “…the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands…You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”  Then they killed him.  His death became the lightning rod that sparked the first movement of “The Way of Jesus” outside of Israel, as individuals & families & small groups accepted their God-given identities as the Houses of God.

  • “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
  • “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:23-26)
  • “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
  • “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)


There are dozens of reasons why we do the things we do.  Motivations are what drive us, they’re the activation of our desires.  Desires are primary, instinctive.  Some are inescapable, hard-wired attributes that all of us are born with – like the desire to enjoy good food, be cared for by others, and be involved in pursuits that are meaningful.  Others are acquired through life’s traumas, which get written onto our permanent operating system as well…like inordinate desires to always be right, or to make a big splash in the world, or to be recognized & admired by others.  This is what I’m talking about…the insatiable hungers that develop in our souls as we live in this dangerous world.

As the leader of a service-oriented non-profit, I’m constantly serving other people and training volunteers to do the same.  Every year I work with literally hundreds of volunteers – they’re wonderful people and we do really good things for people in need.  Many of our projects have made life-altering impacts on those we serve and serve with, and I’m so blessed to be part of it!  That being said, it’s vital that we remain grounded when it comes to our motivations; because it’s easy to get sucked into doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Speaking for myself, motivation is especially important because I set the tone for so many others.  Godly, healthy motivations in me have a way of inspiring & launching the dreams of those I serve with.  On the contrary, when I’m being driven along by inner winds that represent self-serving motivations, it often ends up disempowering others and throwing wrenches in the gears.  Can you relate?  It’s like this with all relationships, really.  When our inner-desires are under control, we are free to pour ourselves into the people we lead and/or love without being distracted by what we think we need from them.  This is true in marriage, parenting, management, friendship, neighborhoods, social groups, church life, etc.  This is deeply spiritual, and has its birthplace in our relationship with God.

When we approach other people with needs we want them to fill, it’s all about us and we can end up sabotaging God’s work in us and in others.  This can even happen when we’re doing good things.  For example, sometimes I do good because I want to be recognized and admired.  This is one of my acquired default settings that tends to rear its ugly head occasionally; and as I continue to grow in relationship with God, I’m learning to recognize it and bring it to the throne of my Master.

Each of us was created to be in intimate, daily relationship with God…to receive our source of identity & meaning & motivation straight from Him.  When we get our deepest inner needs met by our Heavenly Father, we consequently don’t come to others with a basket of unmet needs to fill.  This is incredibly freeing!  It’s what the scriptures mean when they talk about joy.  Joy is totally different than happiness, which is related to the “happenings” of our lives and is ultimately transitory.  But Joy is independent, it’s what automatically rises up within us due to the wonderfulness of God and His ability to empower us to overcome the world!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you.” Psalm 37:4-5

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. 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 11:33-12:2


Good Person

My son is involved with a local church youth group.  It’s a fantastic group with great leadership, and we’re so thankful he’s fallen-in with them.  The people and the culture are having a powerfully good impact on him, and watching him from the sidelines brings back a flood of hundreds of memories of when I was a youth pastor back in the day.  I must admit it feels so ironic and strange to be on this side of the equation as a middle-aged dad.  But it’s good!
A few days ago, after I came home from a meeting and he came home from youth group, I asked him how it was and what they talked about.  He said they talked about “goodness.”  My initial feeling was “oh, that’s not very compelling.” Of course I didn’t say that, I said something like “oh that’s cool…how was it?”  I try to always ask questions because teenagers don’t usually talk to us parents unless we do…right?  Anyway, his response was super insightful and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.
“Yeah,” he said, “he (the youth pastor) was talking about how goodness is seen as not doing what’s wrong.  Like when parents say to their kids ‘be good,’ what they actually mean is ‘don’t do bad things.’  But being good is more than that.”  We proceeded to have a tiny treasure of a conversation about how “goodness” is often seen as the absence of destructive behavior instead of the presence of life-giving behavior….and how that’s not what the Bible means.  In that moment my son was my teacher, and I was the learner. 
When I roll the word “goodness” around in my brain, I think of someone who’s boring & naïve, who takes no risks.  That’s partly because of my own baggage as someone with a hard-wired propensity to be rebellious.  But beyond my own interpretation, I do think that our society sees “goodness” as somewhat passive and fragile.  But there’s nothing fragile or vulnerable about Jesus or His followers when I read scripture.  There, I see a culture of strength under control, great power bridled by humility, effectiveness with respectful restraint.  The early Christians were not extreme on either side….neither self-righteous finger pointers, nor weak-willed emotional doormats.  They were powerful and vibrant and respected for the good they were doing, and humble and gracious and inclusive about giving credit to the Father of us all in the process.  This example stands in stark contrast to the chosen religious benchmark of our age.
The “good person” assessment is a litmus test we’ve created to define ourselves with pride, to differentiate ourselves from the “bad persons,” and to lay claim to the afterlife reward we’re sure we deserve.  This is the root of all religions, and although its birthplace is the echoing God-Stuff in all of us, it’s expressions are hopelessly corrupted by pride.
Today, when someone says that they are, or someone else is, a GOOD PERSON, what they usually mean is that they don’t murder or cheat on their taxes or do malevolent acts that harm others.  Being a good person, in American Culture, is the absence of extreme badness….and we seem to believe that staying away from egregious anti-social behavior is God’s definition of goodness, and that heaven awaits every person whose good behavior outweighs the bad.  This is the predominant religious belief in America….and it’s a sinister lie.  It tricky because it’s surrounded by appearances of truth….but like many other destructive spiritual errors, at its core is a wicked, evil, God-less lie designed to alienate us from the real Living God.
The lie is that we can manufacture our own goodness and deservedness of God’s blessings in this life as well as the hereafter.  Of course God wants us to be good, but His goal is not behavior it’s relationship.  Godly goodness is behavior that flows out of a right relationship with Him.  The Biblical word translated as “GOODNESS” in English describes action-oriented character that originates from God and is empowered by Him through the expressionsof our lives.  We are not the author of what goodness is, God is…and we cannot attain goodness outside of relationship with Him. 
Often when I talk with people who hold onto the “good person” theology, it’s in the context of them wanting to have an alternative to following Jesus’ ways or getting too close to Him in a true relationship sort of way…but then they’ll throw out the good person claim like it’s some kind of “get out of jail free card” so they can go on living their own lives without any serious commitment to God in their daily lives.  This is the pseudo-religion of the American media & entertainment industry, which has replaced the Bible as the new foundational moral compass of our society…and it’s just the latest deception.
Why am I saying this?  Am I coming across like a judgmental buzz-kill right now? My goal isn’t to criticize people’s pursuit of happiness, but to point to a higher truth & fulfillment that actually works.  After all my years of pursuing truth, researching religions, and living life, it has become crystal clear to me that the historically-reliable testimony about Jesus is completely unique and true.  All religions demonstrate man’s attempt to reach up to God, but only in Christ do we see God reaching out to man to produce the goodness He desires.  And when we come into right relationship with Him, only then is His definition of goodness fulfilled in us. Any other “goodness” we try to manufacture without Him is like trying to clean a kitchen with filthy rags.
“No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law [of God] commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood [on their behalf].” (Romans 3:20-25)
“Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (John 7:37-39)

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature…rather, walk by the Spirit…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, GOODNESS, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5, excerpts)


I’ve been learning a lot about faith in the past several weeks.

Maybe “learning” isn’t the best word, because in our information-oriented culture, we tend to associate things we learn with things we have.  For example, once we “learn” something, then we “have” that thing or body of knowledge or skill indefinitely.  To some extent this is true, especially in the case of matters of pure, objective knowledge like riding a bike, understanding math, knowing how to balance a checkbook, driving a car, etc.  But in the world of ideas & relationships & behaviors it’s a bit different, isn’t it?  I “know” how important it is to treat people I don’t like with respect, but sometimes I “forget.”  I know it’s important to control my tongue, but sometimes I don’t want to.  I know it’s wrong to cheat & lie but sometimes I find myself pushing the boundaries and justifying myself so that I can achieve my desired goal.  I want to follow God’s ways and receive the blessings that He promises but sometimes I want to do what I want, when I want, more.  I’m not alone in this.

We all suffer from lapses of faith.  We get caught in cycles of selfishness & immaturity, most often resulting from the fears that lurk in our hearts that cause us to not believe God.  Not to say that we “stop believing in” God, but that we stop “believing Him.”  We sometimes find ourselves not believing that His way is best and that He’s the boss of us.  We’re like petulant children sometimes, right?  We want the benefits of knowing God without the responsibilities & disciplines they require.  Often, that’s why our prayers stop at the ceiling…God says “no” because giving us what we want isn’t His end-game…relationship with us is.  

“…You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but favors the humble.’  So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. (James 4:2-10)

Faith is not a religious word, actually.  It’s synonymous with trust, confidence, belief.  It’s interesting how faith & belief seem like religious concepts, while trust & confidence seem like practical ones.  It’s also interesting that we tend to differentiate between what we consider religious and practical…as if “matters of faith” and “practical matters” are completely different.  It’s much easier to trust in something that one can see, touch, feel, smell, or hear….but placing absolute confidence in that which cannot be scientifically observed is something quite different.  The problem is that we were not designed to be content inside the box of our 5 senses, we were created with eternity in our hearts and a constant gravity-pull toward meaning & purpose & destiny.  It’s the God stuff in us, pulling & pushing us to discover who we really are, what the world is all about, what happens after we die, and Who’s really in charge of it all.

Faith, real true trusting faith, is like a lost compass in the forest of the post-modern world.

The wonderful thing about God, the real God, is that when we finally “come to our senses” and come to Him (or come back to Him), He runs to us and throws His arms around us and takes us where we cannot take ourselves!  (Like the parable of the prodigal son…see Luke 15:11ff)

“But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-11)



When I was in college, I was part of a traveling drama troupe.  There were 6 of us, and we had some totally amazing experiences traveling & performing for churches and Christian camps all over the US – mostly the West and Midwest – representing Hope International University in So. Cal. (then called Pacific Christian College). We did one-act plays, skit shows, mime (yes, really), music, and preaching, for 3 weekends a month during the school year and 10-week tour during the Summers.  This was the time in my life when I really began to grow into the gifts God has given me…through constant practice & development, surrounded by people who believed in me, under the leadership of Steve & Cora Alley…the most wonderful couple I have ever known in my life.
It was a “golden age” for me.
Are there periods of time like that in your past?  Ages in your memory that seem shrouded by vitality & good feelings & friends that make you smile?  I wish those times would last indefinitely, but like all of us, I’ve also had my fair share of dark adventures & “valleys.” 
It was following one of these difficult seasons, in a window of time shortly after college, when my dear friend Steve taught me something I’ve never forgotten all these years.  I was getting ready to move from California to the Northwest.  I was excited, but also afraid. I was hopeful for new opportunities, but also anxious about the challenges awaiting.  He gave me a little black rock…I think it was from his garden or something…and told me the Biblical story about Gilgal. 
When the ancient Israelites were finished with their 40-year sojourn in the dessert, God was ready to bring them into the land He had promised to their forefathers.  He spoke through Joshua to the people, instructing them to camp alongside the Jordan River to get ready to cross in a miraculous way.  On the 3rd day, Joshua had the priests carry the ark of the covenant into the river, and as soon as they did, the waters piled-up upstream so that everyone could cross the river on dry ground.  This would have taken all day, there were hundreds-of-thousands (possibly millions) of them.  After all the people had gone across Joshua chose 12 men, one from each tribe of Israel, back into the river bed to gather 12 large stones.  They brought them back with them, followed by the priests with the ark, and the waters returned.  Then they took the stones and built a memorial so that they would always be reminded of the miracles God had done that day to fulfill His promises for their future.  (if you’d like to read the story for yourself, see Joshua 3 & 4).
I’ve kept that little stone all these years, it’s precious to me.  It reminds me of Steve, but it also reminds me of the many ways I have seen God at work in my past.  There’s no mystical power in the stone, but the One it draws my attention to is full of unlimited power and love; and He continues to plan adventures for my future with Him.  This is true for all of us if we will put our hands into His.  God is big enough to be the Creator & Sustainer of the whole universe…yet He is personal and imminent enough to count every hair on your head, to know every dream you have, and to be a trustworthy guide into unknown territories. 
When was the last time you experienced a miracle?  A real one?
Have you seen God work in your life in a specific direction? 
Are you paying attention?
What challenges are facing you that you+God cannot handle together?
Are you keeping Him at bay, or does He have permission to lead the way?

Consider the trajectory of your life, and put your hand into His today.