When Temples Topple: God’s Unexpected Blueprint for Community

Open door with a glow of light through it from the outside

Back in January when we asked a friend (who lives in Wuhan) to officiate our wedding, we did not expect a virus outbreak to happen. We really didn’t expect this outbreak to affect the world the way it has, with some of us just now returning to limited church gatherings and others still waiting.

As we are navigating how, when—or if—to start gathering in-person for worship, many of us feel displaced. For those that have gone back, church looks a lot different than when we left it. The old normal seems like an increasingly distant memory.

The Israelites experienced something similar but to a much greater extent during their return from captivity. The temple that was supposed to be the center of worship for the God of the universe had been destroyed, and the Israelites were sent to Babylon. The books of Ezra & Nehemiah tell the story about their return to Israel. This return to normalcy was pretty anticlimactic, especially regarding temple worship.

But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.

—Ezra 3:12

Those that wept probably had in mind the stories of the temple’s dedication where God’s presence descended into the midst of Israel’s assembly. Yet, this didn’t happen for them. Yes, they were back in their land, and, yes, the temple was being rebuilt. But this seemed like a far cry from God’s promise of establishing His kingdom of perfect peace over all the nations. This shadow of the former glory prompted the question of whether that former glory would ever return! One thing was for sure: the pre-exile days were over, and there was no going back.

But God had something greater in mind. After all, His covenant was not with a building but with a community of people. A few hundred years later, Jesus—God Incarnate—was conceived and born into the world. He is the true Temple. After His death, resurrection, and ascension, this new group of believers are revealed to be the place where God’s Holy Spirit rests and dwells.  It is through this community that God sets up His temple, and it is to this community He entrusts His kingdom. God has always intended His creation to be His cosmic temple, and us humans to work as priests within this ultimate temple. [By the way, the people at the Bible Project can tell a lot of this with much cooler imagery, and it is worth looking up!]

So, why am I talking about all of this temple stuff? It’s because it helps us understand where we are in this season. I do not believe God allows things to happen arbitrarily. He knew this pandemic would happen and disrupt our old normal way of doing church. Instead of trying to go back to the “former glory” or mourning its loss like the repatriated Israelites, we should recognize that we are moving from one kind of glory to another. God has something greater in mind.

God has allowed what can be shaken to be shaken, so what is unshakable remains (Hebrews 12:26-28). We have the opportunity to ask ourselves: “What is the Church without a building? Do we see the Church continuing to live and thrive? Did we put more trust in our temples/buildings/programs than in the Living God?” The Church is ultimately a community of believers. All we need is two or three for Christ’s presence and authority to be in the midst of us. For me, this has been a sobering reminder that I have maybe put too much emphasis on our centralized gatherings. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to see believers together in groups, and I miss it! However, I fear I have leaned toward making the same mistakes the Israelites did. They focused too much on a physical center of worship and lost sight of the main mission, which was to be a light to the nations. The mission wasn’t to hoard God’s presence but to spread it far and wide!

A great irony for me is that being that light is what we try to emphasize at Outpost. Our groups are really meant to be a communitas (a temporary liminal gathering for the purpose of change) more than a permanent static community. Throughout Strive—our summer masculinity program for young men–we emphasize that the goal of healing is ultimately not for yourself, but so that you can return to your community as a good gift. And we have seen many men do just that. In fact, we have had four weddings of alumni this summer (my own included). Our mission is not to hoard what God is doing, but to multiply it.

Even as we think of more enduring communities, such as our local churches, we must realize that these are not meant to be permanent and static. Our Christian “temple worship” was never intended to be contained within four walls. Our churches—and our gatherings of even two or three—are ultimately transitional spaces leading into God’s Kingdom and the fullness of Jesus’ rule and reign over everything when He returns! We are the living Temple, and we are meant to grow and expand and see God’s presence spread across all creation and all spheres of society.

So when we think about community as Christians, let us not get discouraged by restrictions on how we meet or how long this will last. This is an opportunity to embrace a new kind of normal. A normal that truly realizes the priesthood of believers. A normal that fulfills our call to carry God’s presence to all people, all places, and all circumstances. That why we are called an Outpost. We stand at the farthest edges of the Kingdom, and we are seeking to expand that Kingdom into the hardest and darkest places of our world.

WHY DOES GOD ALLOW THE CORONAVIRUS? 4 CHRISTIAN INSIGHTS

compassionate hand clasp

Dr. Sean McDowell is one of the keynote speakers at the Restored Hope Network HOPE2020 Conference in June. This year, they have moved the conference online and renamed it HOPE 2.0. Since that makes this conference more accessible, we hope this blog post will pique your interest to check out the conference.

School cancelled. The NBA season suspended. People sick. And most tragic, thousands of people are dead.

Why would God allow such a terrible disease to become a pandemic? If God has the power, why wouldn’t He stop it?

Don’t be afraid of the question

Given that I teach Bible and apologetics, a number of people have been asking me this question over the past few days. My guess is that it has crossed your mind as well.

As Christians, we should not be afraid of difficult questions like this. Jesus said to love God with our hearts, souls and minds (Mark 12:28-31). The Apostle Peter said to be ready with an answer for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). Christianity has a rich history of wrestling with all sorts of difficult questions, including the problem of natural evil.

Caring for people in need

Yet, before we probe this question any further, let me state something up front: I am not going to pretend to address this question entirely. I am not even sure it can be answered in its entirety. God does not answer Job’s plea with a reason for his pain. Rather, He helps Job understand that his perspective is limited, and that God can still be trusted amidst Job’s questions and pain.

Even attempting a question can feel insensitive and uncaring, especially because so many people have been affected by this disease. Thus, if you have suffered because of the coronavirus, please know that I am deeply sorry for your experience. If you are a Christian, and you see people suffering, the first response is to empathize with them. As the Apostle Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). And then, of course, we need to reach out and love our neighbors.

Four Christian insights about evil and suffering

Rather than attempting to answer specifically why God allows the coronavirus, please allow me to offer four general insights from the Christian worldview. For those who want to go further, I will suggest some books at the end. My hope is that these four points will be springboards for further discussion with your family, friends, and neighbors.

First, the world is deeply broken.

Although the Bible begins with the creation of the world, and of mankind being placed in a beautiful Garden, the world very quickly gets messed up. The entire world is affected when Adam and Even choose to disobey God. Not only does sin break the relationship between God and human beings, but the physical ground itself is cursed (Genesis 3:17-18). The Apostle Paul reminds us that creation “groans” and awaits restoration (Romans 8:19-20).

The extent of sin’s effect on creation is debated among theologians. In fact, some scientists have even observed that viruses are necessary for life on planet earth. Yet Christians should not be surprised by the brokenness of the world, including the existence and spread of deadly viruses. Quite literally, sin has ravaged everything.

Second, God allows suffering and evil to draw us to eternal things.

God does not cause evil. But He does allow it. One reason may be that God knows that life continues for eternity after this present age. It is easy to get distracted by the desires and needs of the moment. Yet if the afterlife is real, God may allow evil and suffering to stir us up to think about eternal life. He may allow us to suffer so we move beyond our momentary pleasures and focus on what lasts forever.

Third, Jesus understands our suffering.

It is only in the Christian faith that God actually experiences human suffering. While Scripture does not mention Jesus getting sick, we do know that he suffered immensely from hunger and stress (e.g., Matthew 26:36-46). The author of Hebrews writes, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).

The God of the Bible has not abandoned us to our suffering. He has entered into it. He understands when we suffer and empathizes with us. Where is God when we suffer? Part of the answer is that He is right there suffering with us.

Fourth, Jesus has conquered this world.

Sickness, evil, and death do not have the last word. Jesus does. The Apostle Paul suffered immensely. He was shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, and experienced deep hunger and thirst. And yet he refused to lose heart (see 2 Cor. 6:4-5). Why? Because he knew Jesus had already conquered this world. Paul believed in the resurrection of Jesus, and thus refused to grieve without hope (see 1 Thess. 4:13).

So much more could be said about why God allows suffering and natural evil. This post is not meant to offer a simple and tidy response, but to offer some insights about how Christians can think about such a difficult question.

Let’s have conversations with our unbelieving friends about why God allows suffering and evil. But remember, our first task it to empathize with and love them as our neighbors.

This article was originally published on SeanMcDowell.org. We hope you will check out the HOPE 2.0 conference and register to hear more from all the speakers, workshops and testimonies! There will even be a Q&A with the speakers! The cost is only $100. The speakers include Joe Dallas and Linda Seiler as well, both of whom have great testimonies and strong ministries that speak of God’s truth and healing power. This conference is for strugglers, family members, loved ones, friends, pastors, counselors and laypeople.

(Re)Introducing TCJHOP’s New Head Pastor, Dan P.

Two empty chairs face each other with a table for two with pastry and coffee between

We would like to welcome Dan P. as the Head Pastor of TCJHOP! While many of you have known Dan for years, we thought this would be a great opportunity for everyone to get to know Dan even better (or for the first time). Dan has a Bachelor of Arts from Crown College in Music and Bible (1980) and a Masters in Divinity from Bethel Theological Seminary (1986). Previously, he was in the role of Pastor of Ministry Relations. Here is a little Q&A with Dan and Jonathan, the Outpost Director.

Jonathan: Since we are introducing you to members of our Outpost family new and old, what’s something most people don’t know or wouldn’t guess about you?

Dan: “Umm. Coffee? No. Chocolate? No. Uh, well I was a piano performance major in college! Who just happens to love both coffee and chocolate!”

You’ve been a pastor for a long time. How were you first called into ministry?

“I sensed God’s call at around age ten when relatives went overseas as missionaries. That call was strengthened through serving on missions trips in 1975 and 1979. In between, there was always a struggle with my sexuality which pushed me towards greater and greater levels of commitment to Jesus and His service.”

I hear you’ve been at Outpost forever, but how long is forever exactly?

“I heard of Outpost 39½ years ago, and my first visit to Outpost was almost 34 years ago (Jan 1986). I became a regular attender and participant 30½ years ago at the Joshua Fellowship Fourth of July Picnic in 1989. I’ve been on staff for 26 years.”

Who is someone who had a major impact on your life?

“There have been many! But one notable person in regard to my connection with Outpost was Joe Hallett. He was the ministry director at the time I first got involved in Joshua Fellowship. It was through his ‘pestering’ me that the Holy Spirit convinced me to come to work at Outpost Ministries. Joe had an incredible gift of communicating, both through the written and the spoken word. He had a powerful understanding of discipleship when it comes to dealing with our humanity, specifically in regard to our fallenness in our sexuality. He taught me a lot about writing and the important impact of conveying meaning to one’s readers. Writing is work and requires due diligence on many levels and is not limited to fact, grammar, and spell checking! Additionally, words mean different things to different people. To really convey meaning, one must understand his audience and ‘speak their language.’ But mostly Joe was an infectious personality. When he laughed, the whole room erupted in guffaws. When he loved, everyone’s heart was warmed. When he worshiped, not only did we all ‘belt it out with all we had,’ but angels joined the chorus!”

I know you like to joke a lot, so I want to know who or what makes you laugh the most?                    

“One of my mentors typically has a ‘one-liner’ for me as we hug goodbye. His latest: ‘Dan, I like your [brighter-than-snow-white] shoes! Are they new?’”

 As you’ve experienced life and ministry, what is the most important thing you’ve learned about God?

“He does what He says! God is fully integrated, and His Word is His Action is His Identity. He never changes. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. That gives me great confidence in Him. I can trust a Person like that! Combined with His other major attribute of Love, one cannot go wrong in fully depending upon Him. His Justice never changes, either. And Justice and Love combined is the most powerful combination of personal attributes that anyone could ever have. So a God of Justice sees to it that the ones He loves always receive their ‘just desserts’ (truly justified rewards or punishments). Sin deserves punishment. But God loves sinners and therefore allows a substitute to receive the punishment, while simultaneously allowing the sinner who appropriates the punishment to Jesus to go free. On the other hand, Love demands Justice for victims of abuse. If the perpetrator of the abuse is not held responsible and punished for the abuse, the victim then must bear the weight of the abuse himself. That’s unjust. Instead, God Himself, in the form of His Son, Jesus, came to bear the weight of the victim’s abuse and free that victim of that burden. Rarely will a man lay down his life for a friend, yet Jesus laid down His life for His enemies. This is the Gospel!”

Over your years of involvement, what kind of legacy have you seen Outpost leave?

“Outpost has remained true to the Word of God. The importance of this can hardly be overstated. Taken as a whole, the Bible is a cohesive unit, explaining what’s been called the ‘Grand Story of Redemption.’ It explains that homosexual behavior is always sinful in every circumstance without exception. The world hates that message. But the Bible goes on to explain that there is a solution to the sin problem. And that God provided the solution for sin because He so incredibly loves us. He wants to have a relationship with us, and He did all the work to make it happen!”      

What is your hope for Outpost in the future?

Jesus is our Hope. Outpost will cease to exist when Jesus comes. Homosexuality will cease to exist for us when Jesus comes, for there is no marriage in heaven. Life on earth is not easy, never has been, and never will be. It wasn’t designed to be easy. It was designed so that we can choose holiness. When we strive for holiness, a part of our eternal nature, the image of God in us, is revealed. Our flesh weakens that expression of the eternal. But so what? This is just for time, not eternity! Living for Jesus is what matters most in this life.”

What encouragement do you want to share with our readers?

“The power to live for Jesus comes from Jesus. He is our strength, our courage, our faith. When the Holy Spirit lives in us, the life-changing power of Jesus lives through us, setting us free from the bonds of sin.”

Finally, I need to ask my classic ‘youth pastor’ question: If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?

“Hmmm. X-ray vision? Nah. While improved eyesight would be a marvel, I’d rather have the patience of Job. And it is listed in Galatians as being part of the fruit of the Spirit, so it is ‘super.’ It comes from life in the Spirit. If that would suddenly (see what I mean?) manifest itself in my life, I would gladly and easily put in my eye drops without complaint … every … 15 … minutes!”

                                         

Generosity + Joy: A Reflection on Matthew 6

Young group of smiling adults walk at sunset under a bridge

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”

Matthew 6:1-4

Several years ago, I was in New York City doing short-term missions work. It was this time of year – cold, crisp, and full of the expectation of Thanksgiving. During the grueling 14-day trip facilitating worship, outreach, and ministry to the homeless, I had one 10-hour break to enjoy the city. A few subway stops later, I was strolling through Central Park with a friend, on our way to gawk at 5th avenue and the finest that New York had to offer. Everything was full of lights and color, and overwhelmingly decadent. We strolled, carefree, and I’ll admit I was a little taken in by it all.

Ahead of us, a light turned red, and we stopped.

Beneath the cold street sign that boldly proclaimed “5th Avenue” was a homeless woman. She was lying on the sidewalk, wrapped in a dirty, gray cotton sheet. Her dark hair was matted into dreadlocks; her lips were crusted yellow with dehydration. Tears flowed freely across her beautiful cheeks as she stared at the ground in desolation. The glamour of 5th Avenue disappeared with a sort of violence, and my heart broke in two.

Her shoulders were shaking in agony as she wept. I placed a dollar in her plastic solo cup full of pennies and nickels. My friend knelt down and tenderly asked if she could pray for her. The woman nodded. We prayed.

Hundreds of people were passing by without a second glance, and who could blame them? Sometimes the need is so great that it is too much for our hearts to feel. We have to shut it out just to avoid despair, but I think we all can relate to getting it wrong sometimes. In that moment I was repenting for forgetting compassion. 

As my friend prayed, the woman raised her eyes. Slowly, afraid of what she might see, she looked up into my face. Surprise registered as she saw that I was crying too. She held my gaze for a long time, like a thirsty man drinking water. She tentatively held my hand with two of her bony fingers. There was not enough space in my heart to contain what I felt in that moment.

Suddenly another woman, in cashmere and leather, aggressively came marching up from a restaurant a few feet away and angrily spat at me, “I just want you to know, we decided to buy her dinner, and they’ll bring it out to her.”

I had to smile. As reluctant as that woman was, our choice to see this child of God in the street, had allowed her to see also. Our conviction begat more conviction. Our tiny, almost insignificant, generosity begat more generosity.


When I was a child (a very legalistic, perfectionist, pastor’s-kid of a child), I would read Matthew 6 with horror. How could I possibly keep every act of charity a secret? Would God be angry with me if someone else knew I was tithing from my $6 allowance? Once I even went so far as to sneak into the office after service with my dad’s key and add my tithe. It makes me laugh now; I imagine I may have caused the accountant some frustration over 60¢.

I didn’t understand the heart of it. I didn’t understand that it was about heart motivation, not a legalistic practice of physically hiding. I didn’t understand that generosity done for accolades receives its reward in the moment. It’s still generosity, it still has value to the one who receives it, but there is something higher to strive for. Generosity done out of care for the other, out of compassion, out of conviction, out of the love of Christ produces not only eternal rewards, but also produces joy.

In the famous soliloquy, Shakespeare penned Portia’s words:

“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

Like mercy, real generosity blesses “him that gives and him that takes.” Or more appropriately from scripture:

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work 
we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus
himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’.”
Acts 20:35

One day we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Our selfish deeds will burn away like chaff, and we will have to make an account for our actions. In Matthew 25, Christ admonishes us that whatever we do or don’t do for the least of these, we do unto Him. 

I like to imagine that I will be taken aback by the deeds that Christ honors in that hour: that woman who provided a dinner on the street in New York; a mother turning the other cheek as her son angrily rejects her; a man struggling against the temptation of pornography and choosing holiness; a husband quietly caring for his ailing wife without thanks or praise; an overcomer of sexual sin silently enduring slander from our culture and loving beyond the accusations and hatred. 

I like to imagine that as the Bride of Christ, we will have the opportunity to celebrate powerful acts of unseen love and generosity.

Culture, and so much of the Western Church, has turned its back on people who are struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions and sexual brokenness. These are a people “thirsty” and “given nothing to drink.” Someday, all of the agendas, the rhetoric, and the arguments will fade away, and Christ will bring right judgments about the way that the Church has responded to this sexual crisis. You are part of a different company of people. You see the need, and you believe in healing and transformation. You have poured out incredible generosity to help us bring hope and healing. You have helped bring living water to those in need.

As we enter into Give to the Max 2019 and this season of generosity, would you consider giving a gift to Outpost to help us continue in ministry? Your generosity begets so much more generosity, and your generosity brings joy.

Thank you for standing with us.

Donations can be given online at GiveMN.org on the TCJHOP organizational page, which will be directed to the Outpost General fund.

Meet Jonathan, the New Outpost Director

The words The Next Step written in chalk over dusty shoe prints

How, how did I end up here? I mean that in a tone of gratitude and wonder. Some of you reading this already know me, and many of you do not. So, I would like to share my story of how God moved in my life and got me to where I am today.

A Little History

When I first came to do my Outpost intake in the fall of 2012, I never could have imagined that I would be leading this ministry seven years later! In fact, my initial attitude was that I would show up for a few months, get “fixed,” and be on my merry way to overseas ministry. I soon learned that’s not how healing works. I got serious about my own healing in summer of 2013. Throughout that summer, I learned so much about myself and what God wanted to do in me. That fall, I started meeting one-to-one with former Outpost director, Nate O., and really dug deep into my soul. In this process, I started to see how same-sex attraction was a surface level symptom of much deeper wounds I carried. I had so much love, anger, hatred, and ambivalence toward God and others that I needed to work through. As I continued to struggle, grieve, grow, and receive healing, God continued to transform my heart. God used Outpost to save my ministry calling and my relationship with Him. I came to a point where I was even grateful for my struggle. Without it, I wouldn’t have dove so deeply into this inner-healing work, and I would never have experienced this level of intimacy with my Father, His Son, and His Spirit. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for this ministry and how God has used its leaders, past and present, to bring so much hope, healing, joy, and peace into my life!

Up until last year, I was content just being a volunteer leader for Joshua Fellowship (our young men’s group). Eventually, I was asked to step into a staff position, Student Ministry Coordinator. Since I had a pretty cushy job working for the state’s Judicial Branch (government benefits are wonderful!), I was hesitant to jump into ministry. During this time, my dad received a prophetic word for me. He said that during a worship service, as they called forward people for full-time ministry, the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart that it was my time to do this. This was a huge healing moment for me and reminded me of God’s heart for the restoration of the family.

Just as I was getting comfortable as the Student Ministry Coordinator, I received an invitation from TCJHOP’s Call Committee to consider taking up the role of Director. After many long and prayerful conversations, I accepted the call. I am humbled yet excited to be in this role.

A Vision of Hope and Transformation

God has done such an awesome work in my heart, and in the hearts of many, through Outpost. When I take a step back, I am amazed to think about all the lives God has touched through this small and obscure organization. It illustrates what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:7 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (NIV). We may be a type of outpost, feeling remote and hidden, but we also have a gift for the Church. An outpost is the first line of defense. We have a calling to build up the Body and Bride of Christ. The ministry of Outpost has been entrusted with a powerful message of hope and transformation.

Hope and transformation are what this ministry is all about. We need to provide HOPE to our brothers and sisters who have none. We also need to continue to see and proclaim TRANSFORMATION in the lives of individuals, in our churches, and in the Church. This is the core of the gospel.

This will require us to continue to dig deep and do the hard work. We will continue to grow in intimacy. Partnership with the Prayer Room at TCJHOP is a core aspect of this. We need prayer. We need intimacy. We need intimacy through prayer! This is where true transformation happens. It is not a work of our own, but a work of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, we have some room to grow. There are many churches and communities who do not know ministries like Outpost even exist! This is something I hope to change. I believe there is a great field of ministry opportunity. But we need to ask ourselves: will we be ready for it? Will we answer the call of what God is calling us to in this next season? Will we hold onto our hope and proclaim the truth of transformation?

I certainly believe we can do all of this. I believe God has great plans for this ministry, and I humbly ask that you all would continue to walk with us as we enter this new season, while being open and ready for what God may be calling you to do. It just might surprise you as it surprised me!

A Note from Alissa, Outgoing Acting Director:

Last September, when my appointment as the Acting Director of Outpost Ministries moved from temporary status to permanent, I was at a loss. It has only been by the grace of God that I have functioned for the last year-plus in this role. There were good days and hard days, and I made more mistakes than I’m comfortable with, but through it all God was faithful. It is with tremendous joy that I am stepping down from the role of Acting Director, and back into my position as the Executive Pastor. I couldn’t be happier about Jonathan’s appointment as the new Director of Outpost Ministries. Over the last year, working with him has been one of the highlights of ministry. He is strong, steadfast, endlessly optimistic, and full of vision for where God is leading Outpost. It is an honor now to be able to serve alongside him in his new position. I’m not going anywhere and will continue to lead the administrative department and do ministry.  But I am delighted to be released to do the things I am called to. Praise the Lord for raising up the right person to be the Director, and His continued goodness toward Outpost Ministries! 

Alissa Holmes
Executive Pastor