Church Sent

10 07 2020

“Thank you for organizing this block party,” our neighbor exclaimed. “You’ve brought us out of our homes. We’re starting to get to know our long-time neighbors.”

So said a man down our street following our 4th of July party. We observed physical distancing, etc., and had 80-100 folks turn out for two live bands, barbecue hot dogs and burgers (individually served), and a lot of getting acquainted.

I have heard reports of others from our church reaching across the street to befriend neighbors. One family made pizza fixings for those nearby and invited them all to bake them and come outside to enjoy the feast.

Others are inviting friends to gather and watch our church services together on YouTube.

I talked with a woman the other day and we agreed that one change many of us could make would be to switch some of our activities from the back yard to the front, or from our apartment deck or balcony to the common area nearby.

Two days prior to our block party, Aimee and I walked over to the apartments near us and invited families (many from the Middle East) to join us. Three families came. (When I apologized in advance for the noisy fireworks, he replied, “Oh that’s nothing. Back home, when we celebrate, we fire machine guns into the air!”)

Rightly, we long for the days when we can gather freely to worship. But let’s not miss the opportunity to shift some of our focus to ministering where God has placed us.

You might be tempted to think Aimee and I do outreach because we are missionaries. I surely don’t question the fact that our life experiences have taught us to stretch our comfort zone and look for opportunities to help others. But I like to think we have grown in this way because ultimately we are just normal people who want to obey Jesus and share Him.

International travel may not ever be the same. Mission trips have been cancelled by the thousands. But millions of families from foreign lands got on airplanes over the last few years and now live near you. Perhaps they cannot leave, or maybe they will soon be asked to depart. Who knows if God has placed them in your city for this season so that they might encounter the love of Jesus through loving Christians?

Showing kindness to strangers is core to our faith. We are often surrounded by new neighbors who have never known a true believer nor heard of God’s love in sending His Son. Isn’t it obvious that God wants us to cross the street in His name? Are we held back by fear or busyness?

These days the Church cannot gather normally. What if we won’t be able to return to normal for a year or more? Will we look back and wish we had made the most of this opportunity to befriend others around us?

The Church is not merely scattered. We have been sent into our extended families and neighborhoods.

welcome neighbor sign

Do you know how I began doing this when I moved into my neighborhood two years ago? By smiling and waving to virtually all my neighbors as they walked or drove by. I mowed my front lawn and pulled weeds to be a visible presence as much as to tend my yard.

When Aimee and I got married, we just continued doing these things. Intentionally we posted this welcoming sign in our front yard. Now, when we learn a neighbor’s name, we write it down in order to hopefully address them personally next time. We’re slowly building trust.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a lifestyle, not a program.

Consider this:

What hesitations emerge inside you when you think of being “sent” to the people around you?

What possibilities stir inside you when you picture yourself crossing over and building new relationships?

Church Invigorated. What if?

4 04 2020
An article in Christianity Today (see link at end) asks church leaders in Italy and Spain to share insights to help North American pastors meet the challenges of Covid-19. They make several important points, including,
>>take social distancing seriously, NOW.
>>reach out to all members for care
>>stop all meetings
>>equip believers to feed themselves from Word

The challenge comes to us from European ministers:

>>> How can the urgency of this season result in a greater level of effectiveness as disciples once the crisis abates?

As we come to the end of Ephesians chapter one, Paul’s prayer from a heavenly point of view strikes with force,

“[that you may know] what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His might power, which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph.1:19-20, emphasis mine).

Would you not agree that God must be extremely interested in how the Church handles the mighty power that has been invested in us, especially during these days of crisis?

We are living in a most extraordinary time, a time to beg God to display His power.

The Church has a chance to change and emerge with spiritual force for the good of humanity. What part will you, and I, play in that change?

As I reflect again on Ephesians, I am more convinced than ever that our obedience will be weak and temporary unless it is built on the character and provision of God.

I have sketched (below) the contour of the Ephesian letter. It resembles a cross-section of North America, with
>>the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges on the west (or left),
>>maintaining the heights to the Rockies,
>>then giving way to the great plains of the Midwest,
>>with a final ascent at the Appalachians.

The high mountains are the great truths of God, things we must believe (orthodoxy = right belief). Note the great themes we will discover in coming days:
>>the power of Christ
>>Grace in salvation
>>One body unveiled

The great plains picture how we walk out our faith (orthopraxis = right practice), through,
>>Body ministry
>>New relationships (marriage, parenting, work)
>>Soul armor

I encourage you to read straight through Ephesians once again.
Note the contours which you observe.
Let’s pay attention to the ways we can walk worthy of our calling.
What is God beginning to stir in your heart?

If you would like to receive these reflections by email,  sign up here to receive “Robert’s – Today With Jesus.” 

Missed earlier posts on Ephesians? Click here to go back to the first one on my website.

Here is the link to the CT article I referenced.

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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