Observations of an Organic Church Visited

My recent trip to Redlands, CA to visit Life Quest, a network of organic churches/ Christ followers was incredibly impactful. Christ’s church has many expressions. We may in fact argue which is a more biblical model than another. One thing that cannot be argued however is the fact that God desires those who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth. In my interaction with Life Quest, I have been exposed to a group intentionally seeking both. I was rocked by several things:

  • Jesus said, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners to be seen by men… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to the Father, who is unseen” (Matt 6:5-6). This group has the ability to experience the ‘secret place’ with God, while standing on the street corner! Because, they do this not to be seen by men, but instead because of their radical love for the Father and for the people he is calling.

  • They minister out of their intimacy with God, which is tangible.

  • Mike Giordano is a very gifted leader and charismatic communicator of God’s Word; one who could very easily be comfortable with and one could even say, deserves the ‘spotlight’. Instead, he values the Body being what they were called to be and allows younger men and women to be used by God as he mentors them ‘off stage’.

  • There is not the great divide between ministers and lay people. There is not that distinction. Everyone is a minister!

  • They seek to prophesy over and encourage people regularly. Not just people that fellowship with them, much more so people in the community. They go on ‘treasure hunts,’ using clues given by the prompting of the Holy Spirit to lead them to whom God is already drawing. The treasure IS the people in whom they share the resurrection life of Christ with.

  • ‘Church’ is truly an organism, not an organization!

Posted by Shawn McCracken on July 27th and tagged Life Quest, Matthew 6:5-6, Mike Giordano, organic church, spirit and truth, treasure hunt

VBS sees 37 Professions of Faith

VBS is in full swing! Northpointe Fellowship has joined forces with Engaging Life to present the best VBS ever to the Boys and Girls Club. The theme this year is THE ARMOR OF GOD from Ephesian chapter 6. Today was amazing as we saw 37 children make a profession of faith to invite Jesus to be their savior! Please pray with us that this will be more than a one time decision and that they would truly live for Jesus and become His disciples.

Today, we looked at the shoes of the gospel (good news) of peace. The kids learned that in the very beginning there was GOD... He created everything, including you and me. He told man and woman to obey him. They decided to be disobedient and go against what GOD told them and ushered sin into the world. Sin separated the fellowship we had with GOD, who used to walk with us in the cool of the day. That separation may as well be as huge as the Grand Canyon. All along, just like our ancestors, Adam and Eve, we tried everything to fill the great chasm caused by our sin. Mankind has tried hiding, covering up, blaming someone else, being as perfect as we possibly can be... all with no effect! The gap is still too wide. We are still separated from GOD, who is holy, because we continue to be disobedient. The Bible says that the only thing that pays for sin is death. A death sentence. But GOD had a plan!! GOD sent his son, JESUS to die in our place, so that we would not have to. The vast hole in our relationship with GOD was bridged by JESUS. He paid the price by His grace. Now, if we believe in JESUS and accept this free gift of grace by our faith in Him, we will have eternal life. We will be saved! We will be GOD's friends and walk with him once more... fellowship uninterrupted.

Posted by Shawn McCracken on July 12th and tagged Jesus, VBS, good news, gospel, plan, salvation, sin

Merging Official Statement

This past Sunday morning (June 19th) we gave a ‘state of the union’ address (audio found here) concerning where we believe God is leading Engaging Life. We covet your prayers as we seek confirmation from the Holy Spirit that this in fact what He has in store for our church. The elders believe through a series of promptings and validation, with much prayer and fasting that He has purposed for us to pursue merging with Northpointe Fellowship to become one new expression of Christ’s local body.

I shared with the congregation the story of the convergence of our two churches up to this point and likened it to the biblical account of mighty leaders joining David at Hebron and Ziklag in 1 Chronicles 11 & 12. I’m struck with how this relates to a possible merger as far as many gifts and strengths being pulled together by God. The description of these men included ambidextrous men with bows and slings, men who could do great exploits (the same exploits that David himself did showing like-mindedness and commonalities) and faithful and loyal dudes who wanted to serve in the ranks. They were effective and great on their own, but God designed for their hearts to be knit together for a common purpose to do even greater things together! The common purpose is well stated in 1 Chronicles 12:38:

"All these were fighting men who volunteered to serve in the ranks. They came to Hebron fully determined to make David king over all Israel. All the rest of the Israelites were also of one mind to make David king."

Our desire ultimately (together or as two separate bodies) is to extend the Kingdom of God (to make Jesus king overall)! This potential combination of two congregations complementing each other in areas of strengths and weaknesses; we already clearly see God is orchestrating. We ask you to pray with us for confirmation, that this is indeed God; so that we can be fully determined and would be of one mind. Please pray with us!

Posted by Shawn McCracken on June 19th and tagged Engaging Life, Northpointe Fellowship, church, confirmation, merge, pray

Help Needed For Terri Blount

I think most of our church is aware that my mom (Terri Blount) was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to both her liver and spine a few months ago. Some of you have also asked how you could help, so here is a bit of information.

Updates

To stay updated with what is going on with my mom and our family you can read the blog that a friend of the family keeps updated. It will have the most current information and most of the time updates will be posted there before I even know about them.

Practical Needs

If you'd like to help practically, you can take the family a meal. My mom and dad are blessed with five young adopted children (on top of their 5 grown adult children) and my sister and her husband are helping watch the kids most of the time. Because they both teach in elementary schools near Clermont they are spending a lot of time driving and need help both with gas and with meals for the kids.

If you'd like to prepare a meal, you can sign-up here. All the details can also be found on that website.

If you'd prefer to help out financially you can email joshua@engaginglife.org and I'll work with you to make that happen.

Thank You

Thanks so much for your prayers and continued help. As a church we've already contributed a few meals and $100 toward gas and groceries for my family and I'm intensely grateful to be a part of a church that is so caring and generous.

Posted by Joshua Blount on May 22nd and tagged cancer, generosity, service

Invincibility "R" Us

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10)

This coming Sunday we are going to examine the last on the list of the Beatitudes during our series on the Sermon on the Mount, “Up is Down.” “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” “Blessed,” Jesus says! We have a difficult time relating to persecution for our faith. Sure, we know that prayer has been formally taken out of schools. It is frowned upon and even legislated that “In Jesus’ name” be taken out of our public prayers at such events as graduation and high school football games. The Ten Commandments have been taken down from walls in public places where it used to hang as a moral compass for our society. “In God We Trust” is in danger of being removed as a staple on our country’s currency. Retail stores are instructed to hang signage and address people during Christmas with “Happy Holidays,” rather than with the customary, “Merry Christmas.” Freedom of Religion in which our country was founded on seems now to apply to every religion other than Christianity. Still, while we see these disturbing trends escalate and can certainly identify with ridicule and taunting by others because of our faith; overall we are naïve when it comes to persecution. We’ve never experienced the brand of persecution that the church who went before us knew all too well, the torture other Christians are experiencing in other parts of the world today, and the tribulation that awaits the church in the last days.

There is a sense of invincibility in us, like a child never imagining that the dangerous things they do would ever result in injury or death and the prospect of dying of old age is an eternity away. Persecution of the church could not take place now-a-days! Yeah, we hear of it going on in other parts of the world—but not in the good ol’ U.S. of A! I pray that we don’t experience what others have and what others will. The question though is do we love our lives so much as to shrink from death? What or better stated, whom are we living for?

They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (Rev 12:11)

Posted by Shawn McCracken on April 7th and tagged Beatitudes, Jesus, Matthew 5:10, Revelation 12:11, Sermon on the Mount, dying for faith, invincibilty, overcoming, persecution, tribulation

Not I, It's He

Reflections on two verses in Isaiah 43:

18 Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

When we fixate on what was yesterday, we tend to look through different lenses. Hind sight might be 20/20, but it makes looking forward very blurry. While we need to mourn because of our sins, learn from our mistakes, remember how we achieved success, and cherish memories of time spent with loved ones; we can’t live there. The past we visit, we do not inhabit. A move of God we experienced 5 decades ago, 5 years ago, or 5 days ago does not take the place of what God wants to do in us now.

19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

There is an emphasis on “I,” as in God saying He will do something new. He is not telling you to reinvent the wheel, or to discover a fresh and relevant new way of doing church, or a yet undiscovered way of using your gifts more effectively. He is dropping that on you, downloading that straight from the throne. Don’t miss the question though! That new thing that God desires to do, that thing that is springing up; “do you not perceive it?” Instead of brainstorming how you can do something new how ‘bout start realizing He is making a path; a new way. He promises to make that way in the wilderness and to bring streams in the wasteland. Comforting, to be sure; it seems to me that He always makes all things new in the environment of want and emptiness.

Posted by Shawn McCracken on April 1st and tagged Isaiah 43:18-19, fresh, new, reinvent the wheel, relevant, streams, wastleland, way, wilderness

Empty Jars

I have spoken to several people lately that are really crying out to God for answers, direction, empowerment, and revival in their lives. Many are feeling empty or at the very least only half full. Many are going through a process of God emptying them so that they will be available to be filled. God actively refining us through this process is certainly a joy, but not void of pain and discomfort. As we attempt to draw near to Him, the heat ‘in the kitchen’ rises as the impurities in us are brought to the surface. God is holy and expects us to be holy (set apart for His service). There seems to be a genuine yearning and expectation for a move of God in their lives, while still battling doubt, unbelief, and impatience. “Will this be the day that God speaks?”

It’s rather easy to use cliché religious terminology like, “God wants to fill you.” However removed from our culture that phrase may sound today, does not make it less true. God wants to fill you! A widow cried out to God’s prophet, Elisha concerning her need. A creditor was coming to take away her two sons as slaves to pay for her great debt. Elisha asked her, “What do you have?” She replied, “Nothing at all,” nothing! Well--- “except a little oil.” Elisha instructed her to gather up empty jars; not just a few. Take the jars and fill them all with oil. Yes, the very same small portion of oil that she had left to her name. She and her sons did this. The oil did not stop flowing until all the jars were full and there was not a jar left.

If we desire to be filled with God’s Spirit, His active presence; we need empty jars. Not just a few. What containers or partitions in our lives need emptied? Which ones are ready to be poured into? His oil will not stop flowing until these jars are full!

Posted by Shawn McCracken on March 30th and tagged 2 Kings 4:1-7, Spirit, empty, filled, full, oil

Caring to be the very best

If you are currently involved or are interested in being a part of taking care of people's needs during our Sunday morning worship services, we'd like for you to come to a special meeting for the Care Team at Engaging Life at 9AM this Saturday. The Care Team has two main focuses or "legs". One is the hospitality team; greeting people, getting info from and to visitors, coffee + donuts, etc. The second is the serving team; taking care of offering, communion, set-up, and clean-up, etc.

One of Engaging Life's core values is Team Service: To engage in a team-based culture by encouraging and empowering everyone to be involved in worshipful action. We must develop our strengths and spiritual gifts in order to work efficiently and gracefully together. Every member is encouraged to connect with a team and serve while focusing on what they do best.

1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (MSG): The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don't, the parts we see and the parts we don't. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ's body—that's who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your "part" mean anything.

Posted by Shawn McCracken on March 23rd and tagged care team, core values, hospitality, serving, team, ushers

The only stupid question is the one left unasked

Kids ask a lot of questions. They have such inquiring minds that they seem to have a knack of asking questions on top of questions. Asking why is probably their favorite. They would make good detectives, never satisfied with “just because” as an answer. They don’t always make the best movie watching companion, for this very reason. Those who ask the most questions usually learn more though, right? Charlie Chan say, “Question without answer like faraway water - no good for nearby fire.” We are God’s kids; we should really ask more than we do. God promises to answer, his is not “faraway water.”

Jesus instructs us in fact (direct quotes, mind you) to ask Him, and then pursue Him for the answers. Here is a list:

  • "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt 7:7-8)
  • “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Matt 9:38)
  • "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matt 18:19)
  • “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." (Matt 21:22)
  • “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13)
  • Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." (John 4:10)
  • “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)
  • “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:24)

What are we waiting for? Let’s ask.

Posted by Shawn McCracken on March 21st and tagged answers, ask and you will receive, questions

Excuses! Excuses! Excuses!

It seems everybody has a good excuse for not attending church. If you took a few of these excuses, and applied them to something like eating, they would look something like this:

  1. I was forced to eat as a child.
  2. People who eat all the time are hypocrites; they aren’t really hungry.
  3. There are so many different kinds of food; I can’t decide what to eat.
  4. I used to eat, but I got bored and stopped.
  5. I only eat on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.
  6. None of my friends will eat with me.
  7. I’ll start eating when I get older.
  8. I don’t really have time to eat.
  9. I don’t believe that eating does anybody any good. It’s just a crutch.
  10. Restaurants and grocery stores are only after your money.
Posted by Shawn McCracken on March 19th and tagged excuses, not going to church

The Kingdom is like a sower

Continuing our look at the Kingdom of God using the parables that Jesus gave in Matthew chapter 13, we turn our attention to the parable of the sower found in Matt 13:1-9 and his explanation of it, 13:18-23. He once again speaks of seeds. His focus is also on hearing and the condition of soil that receive the seed. When there are many things or people being contrasted in Scripture, it is often helpful to make a chart, to see the results side by side. Please see the chart that I made below:

Chart of Parable of the Sower

Observations:

The soils represent the condition of man when hearing the word of God (the seed). Each man compared has the following in common: each one heard the message of the Kingdom of God. Two of the conditions had to do with the understanding of the message; both the soil “along the path” and the “good soil”. There is a great importance in understanding, not just merely hearing or reading the word of God. Likewise, the other two (‘rocky places” and “among thorns”) share something in common; both upon receiving the seed (the word) allowed something to replace or extinguish it. It also bears mentioning that the only soil included that bears fruit is the good soil.

Duration of time also seems to come into focus here. Particularly with the seed that fell on “rocky places”; he receives it at once with joy, but since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. Then when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. Looking at the seed scattered “along the path,” the evil one comes and snatches it away, appearing to have happened right away like birds would do eating up seed scattered atop the ground. The seed planted “among thorns” speaks of a process over time of the cares of this world choking it. Finally, the “good soil” can also relate longevity as the seed has time to bear fruit, producing a crop.

Our job is to make sure our soil is fertile and not fallow ground. For others, we are to plant seeds, never fully knowing the condition of the soil in which we plant. After all, God brings growth.

Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you. (Hosea 10:12 NASB)

Posted by Shawn McCracken on March 17th and tagged 1 Corithians 3:6-7, Hosea 10:12, Matthew 13:1-23, condition, fallow ground, growth, kingdom, parable of the sower, seed, soil

The Kingdom is like seeds

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32 NIV)

So let’s see here, the kingdom has something to do with the act of planting, even planting something small—the smallest of all seeds perhaps. The kingdom has something to do with growth; even the smallest of seeds produce a new life form—from a seed to a tree. The kingdom has something to do with this new life form being used to hold-up, support, and provide rest and shelter—to have a purpose. All because a man took this seed and planted it. My guess is the man knew it was a seed, knew it had potential, and maybe even wanted a tree, though I doubt he had in mind the benefits that were far reaching even to the birds of the air. My guess is also that this was not the only seed that was planted by this man. He planted many. Perhaps there was more than this one tree that was produced, perhaps not. We know there was this tree though. And we know that the seed it came from and the diligence of the sower shows a picture of the kingdom.

Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another—or maybe both. (Ecclesiastes 11:6 NLT)

We don’t know which seed will grow into a tree. We do know that if we pursue his kingdom, there will be trees and we have seeds!

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Posted by Shawn McCracken on March 16th and tagged Ecclesiastes 11:6, Matthew 13:31-32, evangelism, growth, kingdom, plant, seeds

The Kingdom is like treasure

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“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.” Matt 13:44 (NLT)

Matthew chapter 13 contains some amazing parables that Jesus tells to reveal the wonder and majesty of His kingdom and the sheer life changing enjoyment that it can bring. One of these is found in verse 44; likening the kingdom of God/heaven to treasure. A disciple or kingdom citizen will find this treasure by the grace of God and hide it in the field of their heart. In their excitement of discovering this treasure; the good news of the Kingdom, coming face to face with Jesus, will cause wholesale change. They sell everything they have to be able to buy (maybe better stated, in order to have room for) the field that contains this treasure that they realize is far greater than what they already have their life filled with.

A mere spectator, a person within the “crowd” or “multitude” that follows Jesus from afar will find this remarkable treasure and bury it again. They will then drive by it and sometimes lament that they don’t have enough to buy it. Why don’t they? Because they want it AND what they already have their life filled with. Make no mistake, they are attracted by the treasure, see its worth, but don’t want to completely commit all of their time or resources into one investment. They like it, but would rather keep their options open. They will visit it, handle it, throw a church service around it, devote a day of their week to it (I don’t know, perhaps a Sunday?), but they will not own it!

A critic or a person with a religious mindset or spirit will find problems with the field or the box in which the treasure is stored in and reject the treasure because of their perceived understanding of what holds the treasure. They have their own box and their own field. They question the treasure, because they don’t really need it, because they are so awesome and earn their own treasure. Their field looks so much better than the other one.

Have you discovered this treasure yourself? Are you a disciple, a spectator, or a religious critic? Is Jesus one of many, or is He your one and only? What will you do with His Kingdom?

Posted by Shawn McCracken on March 14th and tagged Matthew 13:44, ctric, disciple, kingdom, religious, spectator, treasure

What does love mean?

Saturday afternoon two of my friends (Jordan and Lydia) are tying the knot. What a great time to reflect on my own marriage and your marriage too! The content of love in a marriage sometimes is best realized from someone looking in at the relationship and offering what they see. A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, “What does love mean?” Here are a few of their responses, followed by application for your marriage:

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love.” –Rebecca, age 8. Paul tells husbands “Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25) Being willing to sacrifice our life is not just relegated to physical dying on one’s behalf. Love is about self-denial, putting our spouse’s comfort above our own. Make sure you give yourselves up.

“Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss” –Emily, age 8. In Prov 5:18-19, we see that God gives us an incredible gift of intimacy that is to be shared and enjoyed between husband and wife. “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer —may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.” Make sure you protect and nurture your intimacy. It is truly a gift from God.

And now, perhaps my favorite response: “Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” –Elaine, age 5. Why is this so great to me? Because I like chicken! I also like having the best, who doesn’t? Paul writes about God’s best for our marriage; “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Eph 5:33) God designed a wife to both desire and need to be taken care of by her husband. He as well, designed her husband to be well suited to accomplish this task. He has placed within the very DNA of a husband to desire and need respect (read ‘awe’) from his wife. God, never doing anything haphazard, made his wife in such a way with the ‘goods’ to meet this need. A marriage is healthy when we choose to give our best. Make sure your best is always given to each other.

Posted by Shawn McCracken on March 12th and tagged husband, love, marriage, relationship, respect, self-denial, wife

What are we expecting to hear?

So let’s just say we are ready to listen to what God has to say to us. For some of us this has been many years coming of putting it off, getting busy or plain out apathy on our part. For some, this may be the first time of trying to distinguish the voice of God and obtain much needed direction for our family, business, or life’s calling. We are fasting, praying, getting rid of distractions, all bunkered down in a place of refuge (even if it is in the midst of our crazy schedule and surroundings)—now what? What are we expecting to hear? Will it be something we want to listen to or are willing to act upon? Here are some probable factors we will have to process:

  • God will probably tell us to do something that doesn’t make sense to our natural thinking. It won’t be what we expected to hear or be similar to what we’ve seen happen to others. Naaman was a man with leprosy who sought healing from the Lord through his prophet, Elisha in 2 Kings 5:1-14. Elisha told him to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed. That sounded ridiculous to Naaman who said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.” He thought surely God would do it this way…

  • God will probably tell us to do something that isn’t in our comfort zone. Something that’s not in our “sweet spot” or “pocket.” We will be most tempted to say “no” to whatever Jesus speaks. After all, it’s just too hard, not fair, and must be for someone else to do! Just ask the rich young ruler.

  • God will probably tell us to do something that will directly concern those who do not know His Son, Jesus. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10). He called us to do this work as His ambassadors here and here. He is always on mission.

  • God will probably tell us to correct something. Uh oh!

Do we still want God to speak? I sure hope so!

Posted by Shawn McCracken on March 11th and tagged Elisha, God speaks, expectations, listen, obedience, rich young ruler