Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How to Think Like a Christian About Other Faiths

Wow! This is a hard topic. Let’s start by dealing with some basic Christian assumptions;

  1. God loves all people (John 3.16). There is no question that all people are loved and valued by God. In fact, all humans are of such value to God the Father that he designated his only Son as a sacrifice. That’s right, Jesus died for all people, even the ones that I do not like.
  2. Jesus is God’s plan for the redemption/ salvation of humanity (John 14.6). Jesus made it very clear that all people are eligible for eternal life in heaven, but only those who follow him (Jesus) are admitted.
  3. God does not want anyone to miss out on salvation (2 Peter 3.9). We learn in the Bible that one reason for the delay in the end of the world is to provide opportunities for the lost to be saved.

If these assumptions are true, it means that God loves Buddhists as much as Christians, Muslims as much as Methodists, Atheists as much as anyone.

So, how should we behave toward those around us who do not share our faith?

  1. We should love them with the love of Christ. Remember that Jesus talked about offering a cup of water to the least of his brothers. That includes everyone. Regardless of our theological, spiritual or political differences, we are to love all God’s children. (Matthew 25)
  2. We should look for opportunities to share our faith with those who are not- yet Christians. This does not mean that we should be preaching, judging or berating those outside our circle of fellowship. It means that we should be extending the circle to include more and more people.
  3. We should be praying for those who oppose the gospel of Christ (Matthew 5.44). Although we may be tempted to position individuals of different faiths as enemies, Jesus will not allow it. Instead of hating others, we should be praying.
  4. We should open ourselves to different experiences and expressions of God’s world and witness. We have a tendency to close ourselves off from anything that is not familiar and comfortable. However, God invented African, Caribbean and Middle-Eastern cultures. We should embrace them, and not try to conform others to our ideals as conditions for their inclusion in the Kingdom of God.

You know by now that my heart is for the evangelization of all people. Please know that to evangelize the world we must not force conversions of unwilling individuals. We will not win converts by involving ourselves in elitist name-calling or enemy-making. Remember that it was Jesus who came to the outcasts, the unpopular and the sinners. We should be doing the same.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Three Parts

We have established the need for a change in the way we do ministry. The church too often does not work, at all. But it is not enough to just complain about the complacency and apathy of the church (religious) world. There must be something that we can do. We must be intentional in our efforts to establish God's Kingdom on this earth.
So here we go. Let's look at the three parts that are essential to ministry growth.
  1. Discipleship. To be a well-rounded follower of Jesus, a person must be serious about his discipleship. In a previous post I discussed the four most important things. Each of those comes into play here. If we are to follow Jesus, we must pray, study the Bible, fellowship with other Jesus-followers and do the works of Jesus.
  2. Fellowship. The only way that we can develop as people, the only way to reach the potential that Jesus has for us, is to submit to the accountability, nurture and joy of being with other followers of Jesus.
  3. Ministry. The works of Jesus are not limited to the hands of Jesus. He has left his followers in the world so that we can continue what he started. All who call the name of Jesus need to pursue the will of Jesus. This includes, evangelism, feeding the poor and hungry, speaking prophetically to evil in the world and educating those without opportunities. This list is not exhaustive, but should serve as a starting place.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Seinfeld Community

I know that the content of Seinfeld is morally bankrupt. There are very few values that can be gleaned from the famous 1990's sitcom. Episodes routinely deal with pornography, phone sex, fornication, masturbation and the like. Surely there is nothing of worth here.
But let me begin by extolling the virtues of the writing on this program. Yes the content is disturbing, but the dialogue is unparalleled in television comedy. In fact, it was the writing that led Seinfeld to the cultural phenomen that it became, and remains. We have adopted so many 'seinfeldisms' into our everday speech that it boggles the mind; 'master of his domain,' 'yada, yada, yada,' 'not that there's anything wrong with that,' 'no soup for you,' 'close talker,' 'low talker,' and 'look to the cookie,' are just a few.
However, I believe that there are great lessons in Seinfeld Universe.
  • Love your neighbor. As much as Jerry is irritated by Kramer, he consistently goes to bat for him. Whenever there is a problem, Jerry can be counted on to help out. In fact, when pressed, Jerry would even help the dreaded (hated) Newman.
  • Build each other up. Although much of the idea behind Seinfeld is sarcastic and hateful, the four primary characters encourage, care for and advocate for one another.
  • Be creative. We usually see creativity at its best as Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer compete to come up with the biggest lie. But note that Kramer always has a great idea in the works. Jerry is constantly on the search for new material. And George invents ways to avoid work.
  • Community is powerful. Seinfeld is definitely set in Manhattan. It is a world away from what many of us think of as community. But Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer are a community. Together they survive relationship failures, moving, job losses and even a fiancee's death. They learned that together they can accomplish a lot.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Godfather as a picture of the church

I just finished watching The Godfather trilogy (again). I love these movies. The stories are great. The scenes are beautiful. The music is haunting. And the Godfather movies are a lot like the Christian faith. I know that does not make sense on the surface. After all, the Corleone's are criminals. They run an illegal gambling operation. They own casinos and hotels in Las Vegas. They maintain a prostitution business. They are violent, murdering, immoral, foul-mouthed thugs. Their only stand for traditional morality is that they hesitate to get into the drug business.
  • They teach us the value of loyalty to family. We are reminded over and over again that family is important. In fact, we learn clearly that investing time in your children is the best way to instill your values in the next generation. Vito, Michael and others remind us, "Never go against the family."
  • They teach us how to deal with adversity. Okay, they are really not a good example of this. They usually deal with adversity by killing someone else. But they do teach us to never give up. Even when it seems that everyone is against the Corleones, somehow they survive and grow. Church life is not always easy, but never give up.
  • Although the Corleones are bullies, they teach us the importance of making decisions. Vito offers Woltz an 'offer he can't refuse.' He asks for a decision, a commitment. Too often in the church we are wishy-washy and indecisive. It's time to change that.
  • Finally, the Corleones teach us the importance of commitment to the church. Michael was not a church person. In fact, he confesses to Archbiship Lamberto that he has not confessed in over 30 years. However, he has not lost his appreciation for the church. It is important that we maintain our love for God and the church that he has built and is building.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Anti-Status Quo

Everyone knows the old adage, "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got." A truer statement has never been uttered. We cannot continue to do the same things and hope for different outcomes. We will always get the same results as long as we maintain yesterday's emphases, programs and priorities. And this is exactly the problem in ministry and churches all over the USA. We are designed to support and maintain the status quo.
Our denominational bureaucracies are designed by the status quo, and therefore they primarily support continuing business as usual. Those who attempt innovation are pushed to the fringe of the establishment by those with power. It is no wonder that growing ministries are found to be independent, non-denominational or in very new denominations. Innovation in established systems is frowned upon.
A NOTE OF WARNING TO NEW DENOMINATIONS: Take care that you do not become enmeshed in the status quo. Continue to innovate. Make creativity and innovation a part of your expectations.
Our local churches are also prone to be committed to the status quo. Long-time members love to say, "We've never done it that way," or "Aunt Mary would have never approved of that." These words are essentially the death rattle of a once healthy and vibrant congregation. Every church should constantly be looking for ways to change, improve and make a new difference in their communities.
Our church members (including most pastors) love the status quo. After all, the way we have always done it is easier than changing. We are comfortable this way. "Don't rock the boat!" Every person, and especially every Christ follower should look for ways to change and grow. We need to constantly be growing in faith and ministry effectiveness. Our culture keeps changing, we ought to be changing with it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Not a new idea

Small groups are definitely not a new idea. Jesus led a group of 12. The first Christians met in small groups in homes (Acts 2). John Wesley saw the value of groups nearly 300 years ago. They all understood that people need community. The same is true today.
It seems clear that true and deep life change will happen best in the context of a small group of like-minded Christians who will encourage one another, as well as emphasizing accountability. Not only that, I believe that best avenue for reaching the pre-Christians in our communities is through just such a small group. This means that the group must balance some things.
  • The group must be non-threatening, even as it is rigorous in its expectations and accountability. Accountability can never be used as a weapon or a tool for judgment. It must be used to encourage and love all members.
  • The group must be focused on the spiritual growth and development of each member, even as it seeks to include new members.
  • The group must be social in nature, even as it tries to ensure that all meetings are filled with content.
  • The group must be informal, even as it makes sure that it includes the basic elements of its existence.
  • The group must have a leader, even as it seeks the equality of all members.
  • The group must have a design and a direction, even as it allows its members to discern where God is leading them.
  • The group must be a part of the church, even as it becomes its own 'mini-church'.

This is not a new idea. But perhaps moving the small group outside the church will bring about new results.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Three Options

There are three options when bad things happen in life and ministry. Either you are extremely unlucky, going through a bad stretch that cannot be explained. Or, God is using roadblocks and discouragement to get you off a road that you should not be traveling. Or, you are traveling in the right direction, and Satan wants you to change course.
After one of the worst weeks in my memory, I am choosing to believe that Satan is attacking. I see too many signs of hope in my life, in my family, in my church and ministry. God is at work and I like it. There are too many things that God is leading me to do to give up on them just because of a little discouragement.
It was my brother-in-law who told me years ago, "If Satan doesn't attack, that means you're not doing anything." How true. If there are no struggles with temptation, discouragement or helplessness it probably means that you are not involved enough in changing the world to get Satan's attention. I should be rejoicing because of what Satan is doing to discourage me. He has noticed my efforts and is concerned about their results.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Where to Start

So, I am going to begin a mini-church. And this is my plan: I am going to pray.
  • I am going to pray that God will lead me and help me to do all that is right.
  • I am going to pray that God will lead me to the right time and place to host a mini-church.
  • I am going to pray that we will start at the right time.
  • I am going to pray that the right people will be included in the mini-church.
  • I am going to pray for the right program, curriculum, etc.
  • I am going to pray for the right people to help lead this mini-church.
  • I am going to pray we will have the right priorities.
  • I am going to pray for all aspects of recruiting and planning.
  • I am going to pray that God will bless this work.
  • And most of all, I am going to pray that I will do what God wants.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Wild Hogs

I saw the new movie Wild Hogs, over the weekend. I have to admit that I did not have high expectations. I was fully anticipating a disposable comedy with lots of gross-out and body part jokes. To a certain extent, that is exactly what I got. There were motorcycle crashes, fight scenes, even a game of slap the bull. The lowest moment had to be when the gay motorcycle cop shows up to join the four friends skinny dipping. Low brow humor does not get lower.
But this movie is a little infectious. It gets under your skin and it is not completely worthless. The main characters are all middle aged men who are trying to break out of boring lives. It is the mid-life crisis for the 21st century. It is City Slickers with oil, gas and a loud engine. They learn some valuable lessons during their cross country journey with no schedule, no phones and no rules.
They learn the value of friendship. Although the movie is built on the concept of their friendship, these four do not truly learn how deep their relationships are until they are tested with violence and the threat of death.
They learn about commitment. Only when they have the opportunity to give up do these guys realize how important it is to keep going.
I can't give it two thumbs up or four stars, but Wild Hogs is a pleasant diversion with some value.

Monday, March 5, 2007

A New Way

So what is the church? What does it do? Is it broken? How should we fix it?
I am not sure that I can answer any of those questions, but I can take a stab at figuring out my own life and ministry.
I believe that the church is a community that exists to meet needs and to know God- at least, that's what it should be. Too often, as we are all aware, it meets no one's needs and would not know God if He showed up for the 11am service. Thankfully, he doesn't show up at those services very often.
Instead our churches are filled with the status quo. We do ministry not for the sake of pleasing God or meeting the needs of people, but for the comfort of those who attend it's perfomances/ services. We worship like our ancestors did 100, 200, 400 years ago, and are surprised when people nurtured on technology, communication, innovation and speed are not thrilled with what we have to offer. We should be ashamed.
The problem is that I am not sure that anything can be done for the established church. It would be better said that the established church does not want anything done for or to it. Those Christians are happy with their lives and amazingly unconcerned with the lives of others. What a tragedy. That is why it is time to cicumvent the estabished church.
What I am about to propose is not new. It is not an indictment of existing structures, fellowship groups or denominations. I believe that the 'New Way' can be used in every congregation where even one Christian seeks renewal and the blessing of Christ.
I propose that every Christian work toward planting at least one mini-church. This mini-church can serve within the existing structure of the church to be a renewing agent. Each mini-church should include both Christians and not-yet Christians. It could meet in a home, a restaurant, a coffee shop, a workplace, a dorm room or a shopping mall. The mini-church should meet at least bi-monthly. For the sake of consistency, a regular meeting time and place on a weekly basis would be best. Each meeting of the mini-church should include the following:
  • Friendship- Mini-churches should be a place where all people can share their problems, their triumphs and their struggles. There should be mutual support and concern. Although sin should be examined and condemned, persons need to feel welcomed and loved. In addition to sharing, there should be a measure of accountability. For growth in Christ to occur, we must submit to the challenge of others.
  • Nurture- Each mini-church should see to build up each participant in the mini-church. That should be done through regular times of prayer, worship and teaching. Although these times will be less formal than in the traditional church setting, they are more important than ever.
  • Outreach- Mini-churches need to be groups that purposefully reach out to others. This will be accomplished in many ways. One of the most obvious is that not-yet Christians are involved in every aspect of the mini-church life. The existence of the mini-church is in itself an outreach. Additionally, each mini-church should be intentional about doing ministry to others in need. This might include missions trips, community service or evangelistic programming.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

If it can happen here...

Some ladies from my churches recently asked me to read a book called, If It Could Happen Here, by Jeff Patton. Although many of the ideas in this book are not new to me, it was good to see these ideas coming from a fellow United Methodist Pastor. I came away with the following specific things.
  1. The church must be committed to quality, even when it is costly or inconvenient. That includes worship, music, preaching, care, fellowship, all aspects of ministry.
  2. The only true motivation to grow in the church and in ministry is a result of an honest, open and deep relationship with Jesus.
  3. True renewal and change can only come with commitment from the whole congregation, not just the leaders, or pastor.
  4. The world requires that we do everything with excellence. We are not competing against other churches, but with Hollywood, the media, video games and the internet.
  5. Change is possible in any church. There are not limits to what God can do, or boundaries to where he can work.
  6. Evaluation of everything is key.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The 4 Most Important Things

I believe that it is very important that every person, especially those that follow Jesus, grow in their faith and understanding of life. It is my conviction that if you are not growing, you are moving in the wrong direction. A relationship with God is like every other relationship. It takes work. That is why I believe that the 4 most important things are crucial for every human.
  1. Bible reading. To know God, you must read about God. The Bible is the best source for material about God that is available.
  2. Prayer. To know God, you must talk with God. Prayer goes both ways; it is equal parts talking and listening.
  3. Fellowship. To know God, you must spend time with God people. God people will challenge you to be more like what God intended you to be.
  4. Changing the world. To know God, you must do what God wants. It is God's desire that everyone should know Him, and that our world more closely resemble His.

A regular discipline of these practices will make a great difference in the life of any and every person.