A really good question.

I was driving through the beautiful countryside of central VA this afternoon with my wife behind the wheel and our college student daughter in the back seat. We were on a familiar road, as we were again delivering our daughter back to where she’s currently residing while in school. Classes start on Monday and she’s been anxious to get back. She lovingly calls where she’s living “home” which I must admit…stings a little bit.

small church building 2My wife had driven the same road a few days ago when she went to pick up our daughter and apparently had found a couple of buildings she wanted to point out to me: the first was an empty, aged, faded-paint building that was screaming to be revived into an adorable shop of some type. And down the road, within eyeshot of that building was a small–and I mean small–church building. Both as picturesque as could be in this rinky-dink, blink-it-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of town. She shared her daydream that she could run that small shop and I could pastor that small church. Nice thought, huh?

I didn’t honestly stay with that daydream of hers for very long. After all, it was HER daydream and I was happy to leave it that way. Instead, I began to think thoughts triggered by that adorable, pocket-sized church building.

You see, I’m a pastor on staff at a rather non-pocket-sized church. With attendance ranging from 1200 to 1400 on average, its quite the situation. I love ministering there, I love the people, I’m grateful for the support of countless parents, and I absolutely am crazy about each and every student that calls Southside home. I’ve been there for 11 years serving as Student Discipleship Pastor and I’m fairly certain I’d be fine with 11 more.

But when I passed that country church building today, I began to think thoughts I haven’t explored nearly deeply enough. Today in 2015, there is a resurgence of the “house church” movement in America. House churches are precisely what they sound like: groups of Christians and those at least interested in Christ gathering together in homes for activities we could commonly connect with “church”. Worship, fellowship, teaching, and even eating. One of the reasons I think the house church movement is growing is because of the perceived misdirection of many established, brick-and-mortar churches.

The word “church” is the biblical Greek word “ekklesia” and it is not now nor ever meant to be attached to a geographic location. The word refers instead to the “called out ones” as the definition states. However, over time we have morphed this word “church” to be precisely that: a location (“Let’s go to church.”) or an event (“Please come to our church service.”).

 

gigantic church serviceSo, a great clarifying question for those in ministry (and those not) to ask is this: How would we do this without a location, schedule, resources, or a program? In other words, let’s say that the “church” you attend (as in the meeting place/building) burned to the ground. What then? The purists might knee-jerk respond with “we’d just meet in an open field.” and to that I’d say, “Good for you.” but if our American church culture is any indication, it wouldn’t be too long before that got old and rumblings of a “building campaign” began to ripple through the crowd.

 

Now let’s get something straight. I’m not against buildings. I live in one. I worship in one. I work in one. I like them. Buildings are good. But has the church mistakenly equated ministry with a location, a schedule, resources, or a program? What if we erased those 4 words from our ministry vocabulary and didn’t have any of them? How then would we “make disciples” as is the Commission given to us by our King? Are we leaning far too heavily on what we have and far too lightly on who and what we are?

I challenged our students last year with this thought: What if more of our church’s ministry happened outside the walls than inside? What if we were known more by who we are than where we meet?

Some might say for a church to have any building at all is a sinful waste. To them I’d respectfully say read your Bible. Having a building, land, or resources isn’t wrong, or bad, or sinful. But putting our hope and trust and faith in those things rather than being the Called Out Ones (who love everyone everywhere with the lavish love of Jesus) is. If you are a part of a church that has a building to meet in, by all means be grateful and leverage all resources for the Kingdom work. To do any less would be wasteful.

What do you think about this? Have we turned “church” into a place and schedule rather than a people and a passion? When you hear the word “church”, what comes to your mind? What is YOUR opinion of “church” in America? What would it take for the negative connotations to be turned around?

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The Reality of Non-Existent Time

Clouds, wings, harps, flying, escalators, cotton candy, halos, dogs, bare feet. These are just a few of the things I’ve heard are somehow connected to heaven. We have lots of ideas. Google even brought me this one:

motorcycle heaven

This past December 14th, a young man I know named Tim Vaughan finished his 4 year battle with brain cancer and stepped into eternity. He left behind a beautiful wife and 2 young children. At 33 years old, no one would have thought it’d be his time to go.

Three years to the day earlier my wife’s sister, Markelle Dumm finished her battle with cancer. She fought for 8 years. 8 years of chemo treatments, medications that required a dry erase board in her room to keep track of, and post-treatment exhaustion unexplainable to those who don’t live it.

These two amazing people stepped from temporary life on earth into eternal reality of heaven on the same day, 3 years apart. As I thought about this, I began to wonder some things. In my imagination I could see Tim walking up to Markelle and the conversation going something like,

“Hi. I’m Markelle. When did you get here?”

“Just a couple minutes ago actually.”

“Oh really? That’s crazy. Today is my 3 year anniversary of coming home.”

“Well, you’ve been here 3 years, and I’ve been here for 3 minutes.”

“It’s really great to meet you. As you can see, you’re gonna like it here.”

But then I began to think things that contradicted the tidy, cute little scene described above. And those thoughts were even better.

But first, let’s remind ourselves of a few things. You and I (the ones looking at these words) are right now existing in time and space. Time and space are the conjoined twins that together make up what we call history. We exist in a reality of moments, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, & millennia. The only reason for that is because the Earth orbits the Sun. And that was set in motion by a Creator. More on Him later. (Don’t believe in a Creator? That’s your prerogative.) (Right Ted?)

Here’s the thing: the realm of eternity is completely free and unfettered by time and space. No orbiting, no Sun, no calendar, no clock. Just for 60 seconds, stop here and try and grab that thought and pin it down. Good luck with that. The reason its difficult is because all we see and are surrounded by screams minutes, hours, seasons, and finite reality. Therefore, putting your mind into the infinite is next to impossible.

Today I’ll be attending another Life Celebration service at Southside Church where I’m on staff. This time for a sweet princess named Virginia Rose. You may have seen Virginia Rose and her parents, Jonathan and Jennifer Vandermark on The Today Show, Good Morning America and other national spotlights. They’ve been the face of the fight for childhood cancer since Easter of 2015, when Virginia Rose was diagnosed. Nine months later, here we are laying her tiny body to rest. Virginia Rose finished her fight with cancer this past Tuesday morning, Dec. 29th just after 9 a.m. At that same moment, Virginia Rose stepped into eternity where Markelle and Tim are.

Markelle, 3+ years in eternity. Tim, 2+ weeks in eternity. Virginia Rose, less than a week in eternity. Except it very well may be that none of that is true…not to them anyway.

The amazement of eternity is the non-existence of time. Markelle would never say she’s been there 3 years. Tim wouldn’t say he’s been there less than 3 weeks. And Virginia Rose probably isn’t thinking she’s been in this mind-blowingly beautiful place for 3 days.

What I love most about eternity and spending it in this place called heaven is that I can’t really understand it. This doesn’t make it some fairytale place that might not exist at all; quite the contrary: The fact that we can’t comprehend heaven means its more real than you and I are.

Now, if you want to chalk up my eternity/heaven/Creator mumbo-jumbo to my inability to deal with reality as it is, that’s your call. But what if the bones, veins, organs, muscles, and skin we walk around in isn’t really us at all? What if the temporary really does give way to the eternal? What if horrific diseases like cancer, while devastating to watch, are propulsions toward the wonder of eternity? In the very moment that Markelle, Tim, and Virginia Rose exhaled their last breath on earth, they inhaled their very next breath of the unspeakable glory of heaven. And they bid farewell to time and space forever.

So its such a confounding thing then when I see people living their lives focused on the temporary comforts of here instead of the eternal joys of there. And while I freely confess that I can’t say for sure just what all the activities of heaven are, or if there is any concept of time there, I can say that an eternal heaven exists and that Jesus told us clearly that a love relationship with Him is the only Way there.  (John 14:6)

What is your view of eternity? Based on what you’ve heard, assume, been told, been taught, believe from scripture, what do you believe we can expect heaven to be like? I haven’t written this post to make a statement as much as to open a dialogue that might turn our attention to a reality greater than our own present condition. And that we are changed for the better because of it. And that as many people as possible would embrace the person of Jesus Christ: the Son of God who gave Himself freely for our forgiveness and salvation for the sole purpose of having us with Him forever in eternity.

If you’d like to read some Bible verses on heaven/eternity…

  • John 14:2
  • 1 Corinthians 2:9
  • Matthew 6:19-21
  • Hebrews 11:16
  • Ezekiel 1:25-28
  • Psalm 16:11
  • Revelation 21