What would cause a middle-aged pastor with one wife of twenty-two years and his two teenaged boys to sell his house near the beautiful Central California coast and move to the Inland Empire to start a church in Riverside? Direction from God. God has been speaking to my heart and that of my wife for a long time. Manna is about transformation: transforming the church from a group of people into a the Body of Christ and transforming each person into that person that God intended. On this page, I hope to briefly outline the vision for Manna church. I will separate this into three sections: Why Manna? How Manna? What should Manna Look Like?
However, let me warn you. Manna is serious about "being" church, not "playing" church. The New Testament Pharisees played at being God's people. Too many evangelical, born again Christians play at church. I believe the current evangelical divisions are not between denominations but between those who truly believe Jesus is Lord and those who don't. If you are a believer, you will be expected to love and serve others. Therefore, if you want to be a religious consumer and "play at church", Manna will not be a comfortable environment for you. There are many churches you can choose from that "play" at church, but far too few that are church. We warmly welcome you into a real, living family of God.
Why Manna? · How Manna? · What Should Manna Look Like?
You will notice the same subject addressed on the menu to the left. After you read this, click on that section, read it, and return. The content is different. Both are true and have been on my heart for quite some time. However, I want to focus here on a more personal calling to me about "Why Manna?". As I was trying to outline the deep and swirling set of reasons that we have been called to start a church in this area, four reasons were paramount for this church and this location.
The Evangelical church is in crisis. Although our numbers are swelling, any pastor can confirm the studies that people are not much different, or even worse, in our churches than outside our churches. That is depressing to one who deeply believes in the spiritual power and necessity of the church. I've dedicated my life to service of God through the church. Frankly, although many evangelical churches in the Inland Empire area and elsewhere continue to shine the light of the gospel, the truth is that most evangelical churches have ceased to function as healthy churches and we are reaping the bitter harvest.
This observation is not new and many causes are cited. However, God has placed four concerns on my heart. First, we must be a church that reaches out to our enemies. A culture war is waged in our churches. An enemies list has been drawn up and we are battling the so-called "enemies of Christ". Apparently, nobody in these churches believe Jesus was serious when he told us to love and pray for our enemies in Matthew 5: 43-48. Not only that, when we examine our enemies list in light of the gospel, we understand that most often these people and groups are not enemies of Jesus or the gospel, but our evangelical culture. The church's function is not to uphold our evangelical lifestyle but to uphold Jesus. Yet, the evangelical political machine along with right-wing politicians have led the evangelical church away from holding up Jesus to our communities in favor of political issues and politicians. You're heard the litany for school prayer, ten commandments postings in public places, and the list of "godly" Republican candidates and office-holders. God obviously is a tax-cutting, ACLU-hating Republican.
This idolatry has left Christians with a weak faith. The net result is a lifestyle that can not stand up to the world and its system. When people complain about their weak lives, they are told that one more "march for Jesus", one more "Godly" Republican candidate, or one more constitutional amendment or law will fix the situation.
If politics won't cure us, then the snake-oil salesman with their books and seminars will fix us. So, books, movies, and radio shows are hawked. This type of "Christian marriage" or that sort of "prayer system" or even some kind of "Christian diet" will cure what ails you spiritually. Once again, our temples have become a den of thieves.
What church members are not told is the truth. Only confession, repentance, and a life of obedience can cleanse us and strengthen us to live obedient lives in our day and age. The answer may be old and boring, but it is true. I envision this church being high-tech, creative, and innovative, but always focused on the basic truth that only Jesus can change us. Only when we uphold Jesus, can we be blessed and a light to the world.
Manna must be a place that welcomes true seekers, even those who are enemies of the gospel and the evangelical lifestyle. We will strive to love our enemies. When church discipline is needed, it will be applied sparingly and lovingly. We must never confuse evangelical "idols" with the gospel.
The danger of this evangelical idolatry must be recognized. I would periodically visit and talk to a man who lived in a community where I've previously pastored. He was a frequent caller to conservative talk shows and very active in conservative political causes. His personal moral life was a wreck. His church attendance was almost never, but he regularly called upon me to distribute various political pamphlets in our church. I never have allowed or will allow such pamphlet (usually called "voter guides"). One day he told me we did the same thing. When I asked what he meant, he replied we were both trying to save America. Well, he was wrong. My job as pastor was to proclaim Jesus, not save America. I don't mean to be unpatriotic, but that is not the job of the church In fact, Jesus said in John 18: 36, that His Kingdom is not of this world. Our job at Manna is to partner with the Holy Spirit as He convicts and saves souls. I wish well for America as an American citizen. I have never voted as an active Christian pastor, nor will I at this church. Jesus is not a Republican or Democrat, nor will we enlist him in either party.
Secondly, I knew a couple who were slaves to Christian conferences and seminars. Their children suffered and they lived in near poverty. However, there was not a seminar or conference they would miss. The man often took off work to attend seminars and conferences. Christian tapes were always on in their vehicle, when it ran, which it often didn't. If the tape machine wasn't on, the Christian radio was on. They were fearful that if they weren't always plugged into "God" and resisting the devil, which meant fighting the enemies of the evangelical lifestyle, their lives would fall apart. They didn't see their lives falling apart while worshipping the idol of the evangelical lifestyle.
If what I told you is what the Christian life is all about, I certainly don't want it. Why should our neighbors? Fortunately, it is not. The Christian life is joyous and victorious. We don't fear the ACLU or that the devil will destroy our marriages if we miss the latest marriage seminar. Lives lived in fear are really no lives at all.
Our second concern is that churches do not stress conversion or transformation. Meeting Jesus means that lives are dramatically changed. We call this born again. Yet, the most common understanding of a personal relationship with Jesus is that Jesus is someone handing out free bus tickets to heaven. Do something the church says, like coming forward and praying a "sinners" prayer, and you will go to heaven. That's convenient. Unfortunately, it is not true. Many regular churchgoers will end up in hell with that exact understanding.
When a young rich man asked what he needed to do to be saved, Jesus told him to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow him. (Read Luke 18: 18-27) Sound easy? Believe me. Only a genuine conversion...a genuine change-can make anybody do that. That is why Jesus noted that the road to heaven was narrow. (Matthew 7:14) Manna will stress conversion, a real change, to what is written in the entire Scripture.
That is one reason we stress justice issues. Charles Finney, one of our country's most effective and early evangelists, noted that revivals were hindered when churches' supported oppression and did not do justice. In this case, the issue was slavery. Many evangelical churches today have swallowed the hard-right rhetoric to the point that they once again oppress Jesus. They ignore Jesus' word when he banished to hell those who would not feed him when he was hungry or give him water when he was thirsty. When they ask why, He will tell them when they refused the least they refused Jesus. (Read Matthew 25: 41-46) Rhetorical language? For people who claim to believe Jesus literally, this is a strange passage to ignore. Maybe Jesus meant what he said, He will judge us by how we treat the least. At Manna, we will take Jesus seriously.
"So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free."
John 8: 31-32
One mark of knowing the truth is a changed perspective. It is a byproduct of having a transformed life and renewed mind that is discussed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 12: 1-2. Yet, all to many Christians, a number of them in the pulpit, do not have such a transformed mind. How do I know? Their fruit. The rot is not in any one denomination or theological understanding, just like the genuine knower of the truth are not stashed in one church or denomination. The difference is obedience or service. Christians who do not serve do not obey. Christians who do not obey do not know the truth. Christians who do not know the truth serve a lie. Ultimately, Christians who serve a lie are not really Christians at all. The Apostle John had no problems in labeling these people as non-Christians or to use the current lingo, they're the "un-Christians". In 1 John 1: 8, we read that "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." It is hard to characterize the mindset and attitude of many evangelicals as loving in this day and age. I will let the Bible speak.
Also, the pervasive atmosphere of fear that characterizes the evangelical community is not one that displays Christ. Also, 1 John 4: 18 says it well "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love." Remember the shameful Y2k scare that got out of hand in the Christian radio universe and in some major pulpits. It is an old game to scare the faithful so that they feel the need to maintain the allegiance and soldier on. Many of our "esteemed" evangelical leaders are guilty of stoking the fires of fear and its relative hatred on a regular basis. A true church is not afraid. We have the full power of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. Manna will refuse to play the fear game.
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Manna will emerge from the hearts of the congregation literally. This site has many opportunities for service. Will we do all these? I hope so. I don't know. These are opportunities that I've seen. I hope you've seen more. We will do some on these lists. We will do some things not on these lists. I realize that I may sound cryptic. I really don't intend to sound this way.
So, let me try to say this again in a clearer manner. I believe this church should form around what God has laid on your heart and my job is to try to organize, equip, and enable you to serve effectively. I want to help free people to serve God with all their heart, soul, and mind. The problem with many churches is that it is limited to the vision of one person, usually the pastor. I do not want that to happen here. There are some things that I've envisioned. I will start to move in that direction and hope others join with me. However, I want to see what is on your heart and help to get others to join with you.
I have seen what happens when a church really takes off. The pastor feels like a traffic cop. Go here. See this person. Team with that person. Good idea. Go to it. It is wonderful to have a church that you are just trying to organize, enable, and equip those who are eager to serve. The joy can be cut with a knife. If you have had something burning on your heart...something you know God wants you to do, by all means let us know and let's see if we can get it going.
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I don't know. I do know that if we don't look different at different times, we are not letting the Holy Spirit lead us. There are things placed on my heart, but if I said I know what it should look like, then I am arrogant. As a pastor, I must make room for the Holy spirit to lead. However, planning, preparing, and finally moving are activities required of us by the Spirit. Likewise, allowing the Spirit to upset our plans and showing that God always knows better is our task. We find that God's fruit is always better than what we imagined if we let him use our efforts, which include planning.
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