The problem with church highlights

6 10 2017

Some people don’t care for soccer because, in their view, there is not enough scoring. They may watch a few game highlights, but an entire game?  No way.

I identify. There are sports I don’t understand and therefore don’t watch. Like cricket.

But I undstand soccer and therefore know that where the uninitiated sees scoreless activity, I see skill, coordination, teamwork, fluidity, build-up, and maybe even a GOOOAAALLL!!!  I also see struggle, frustration, play-acting, and momentum change — all of which add to the exhilaration of a score.

Highlights do not tell the real story.

To state the obvious, the insistence on highlights has infected the church. I’ll spare the details, and merely say that we are not getting the real story of what God wants to do in His churches.

The real story of the church includes patience, confession, discussion, training, forgiveness, and decline.  And yes, the occasional SCOOOORES of teamwork, good preaching, reconciliation, amazing worship, and new disciples!

Ancient believers in the monastic tradition practiced the “vow of stability.” After an initial period of time, during which the individual and the community assessed their mutual “fit,” the individual would take a vow to stay with that community through good and bad. Why?

Does this speak to you current experience in church?





My letter to a young preacher

2 06 2017

Recently, our youth director gave a sermon. Here is the feedback I gave him. I thought his example might encourage some other young preachers out there.


Hey brother Allan,

I just listened to your sermon from youth Sunday. I appreciate so many things about your ministry:

  • Your story told with a personal tone is so engaging; you drew me into your own journey
  • You speak frankly and lovingly of your wife; I get the message from you that you love her, and that marriage is important
  • I love that you include the youth in your story; they matter; they are your colleagues and partners; you need them; this says a lot to them; they will not forget it
  • You take the preaching event very seriously; you labor in preparation; you are nervous because it means so much to you that you honor the preaching opportunity
  • You want the Holy Spirit to work; you want people to be encouraged and prompted to action; you value the emotional aspect of our faith, not just the cognitive
  • You are time conscious; your listeners know that you will respect their attention and time
  • You know you can’t do ministry yourself; you make it clear that you need prayer.
  • You are interactive; you talk to the people and welcome their response; you encourage them to look at, and talk to each other, comfortably (“at home”).

Don’t ever lose these wonderful traits.

Love you brother. In Christ,

 





How does a rich man repent?

3 01 2017

Recently I heard a sermon about John the Baptist and his call to repentance as a way to prepare for the coming of King Jesus. The preacher exhorted each of us to consider ways we should repent (i.e. turn around). The church was located in an affluent area, and the congregants reflect the lifestyle of the financially prosperous.

After the service let out, I was in the parking lot talking to my hosts, when another attendee walked past and engaged in conversation. He said he was soon to drive his motor home to Palm Springs to stay for some weeks, after which he would drive up along the California coast visiting beautiful cities along the way.

In these instances, we who have spent years in poorer countries or neighborhoods are often challenged with a private, parallel conversation. For me it could be summarized as, “What would one of my simple village pastors from Africa think if he had heard that sermon on repentance, and now stood in this conversation in the parking lot?” (Note: I include the descriptor “village” because some city pastors and elders in African cities are economically more akin to the American RV owner than their village compatriots.)

I had the same internal conversation on a walk during the recent Christmas season. I passed through a neighborhood of multi-level homes which cost hundreds of thousands to build. In the driveway sat at least one glimmering SUV, and on the lawn a “creche” depicting the humble birth of Jesus. Again, I wondered if a Christian from the developing world would view that scene as a bewildering contradiction.

How does a rich man repent?

I think of the rich young ruler who engaged Jesus with the question of  his salvation. Since the man was keeping the Mosaic Law, Jesus finally told him to sell all he had and give to the poor. The young man went away sad because he had many possessions.

Did Jesus want the young entrepreneur to give everything away so as to join the ranks of the poor? I think not. But the Lord saw that the man loved his possessions, which was an impediment to discipleship. Paul wrote along this line when he said that the love of money is the root of all evil. If I love my money, I need to repent. But how do I know when I have stopped stewarding my money righteously and come to love my money? If such love is actually covetousness, idolatry, possessiveness, or a source of pride, then no one knows if I need to repent other than God and me — and I am well able to deceive myself.

I begin to see that the African villager cannot really know how the rich American should repent, any more than the rich American can really know how the African should repent. But I am sure each would receive insight on the matter, to their benefit, if they spent some hours together reading God’s word and praying!

A young Christian family, living in the same metro area as the wealthy RV owner, formerly wanted to buy a larger home. But they intentionally decided to live simply in their current house. Dad takes the shuttle train to work, when he could drive his own car. A rich young family is seeking to live a lifestyle of repentance.

I heard of a Christian church that has decided to rent a central space accessible to all, rather than build their own building in the suburbs; this way they are able to put more funds into mission and outreach to the community. A rich young church seeks an attitude of repentance.

Repentance is a matter of the heart. If I am a hypocrite in my heart, I must deal with the fact that the Holy Spirit lives there too. A man with less money can actually love his money more, even as a man with more money can love it less. Are both of them ready to give their money away freely, as managers of God’s resources?

Repentance is a matter of my time, place, and circumstance. Another person cannot know my context, and therefore cannot rightly judge what I should do. But neither should I judge what another man does, or does not do. Maybe that is why community is so important, for people who share the same context can observe and speak forthrightly into each others lives.

“If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14, NKJV).


Photos:  WP ImageSmart/Pixabay

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When a church embraces grace

19 09 2016

The experience of the church at Antioch is reproducible and transferable because the qualities that created their community-life emanate from the unchanging life of God. Every time they gathered, they saw thankfulness and wonder in each other’s expressions. They were a church amazed by God’s grace, amazed at their inclusion in the forever-family.

grtitude irresistibleFrom The Amazing Potential of One Surrendered Church, by Robert E Rasmussen (p.36)





Extremist Christian

30 08 2014

a crossWhen does one acknowledge that we have entered an extraordinary period of history? I am prone to downplay statements which say these are unprecedented times. But it seems we would be wise to acknowledge that we entered an age of extremism several years ago, and extremism only seems to be increasing.

The 9/11 attack is the iconic event of this extreme era, but the sentiment is diffused globally and over many years.  Every nation places itself in the center of all things important, and America excels in doing so. So now the focus is on how Americans who went to fight for the Islamic State may return to America and commit acts of terror on our soil.

I have begun to ponder how I, one who aspires to follow and emulate Jesus Christ, should think about the possibility that a fellow American citizen could open fire in a shop or restaurant in which I am sitting. Should I begin to suspect everyone around me, especially those of black or brown skin, especially those with beards? Should I buy a pistol and keep it near me at all times? Should I move my wife and extended family to a remote area of the country, construct a fortress, and live out my days as a recluse?

As I reflect on this, and interact with other Americans, it seems we have adopted the belief that to be an American is to be safe. Wars are fought “over there” now. Not only can we send soldiers over there to fight to keep us safe, but we can do more of it with drones and rockets than ever before.

But I think I have been duped. My desire to live for Christ has been polluted by this American ideal of safety. Thomas Jefferson and friends, Adams and Franklin, gave an ideal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This Declaration of Independence has been wonderful to enjoy, but it is not good Christian doctrine. It is extreme humanism, or at best, deism.

And so this age of extremism is calling Jesus-followers to respond accordingly. I wish it could be all of us, but the myth of safety and happiness so possesses the Church that I am sure it will be only a Christian remnant that will change.

Jefferson prophesied for us “life.”  Jesus blesses us with life abundant.

Jefferson declared for us “liberty.”  Jesus calls us to servanthood.

Jefferson envisioned “the pursuit of happiness.”  Jesus relishes the pursuit of righteousness.

If anything, I sense that the call of Jesus is a call to risk. He said that anybody who desires to follow Him must deny self, take up the cross, and follow. I am called to an extreme love for my enemies which, to the degree it emulates Jesus, ends in death.

And some other words of Jesus help me envision how to be an extreme Christian. He told us (Matthew 10) to be wise as serpents and harmless (or innocent) as doves. To be innocent as a dove means to avoid evil, to commit no sin or crime, to continue to look at others with love and optimism even though I may be taken advantage of or harmed.

To be wise like a serpent is to know the danger of the times, to stay razor-sharp in faith, to know the wickedness of the human heart and not give my allegiance to any political or economic saviors but to Christ alone.

 

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