What does a 21 year old seminary student know, that a 30 year experienced seasoned Senior Pastor doesn’t know? That question sounds like a set up doesn’t it? Sometimes it takes a newbie to come on the scene to effect a change towards a vision of desired future. This is especially true for the Church which struggles for relevancy in a new age. For sure, younger persons bring with them a keen awareness of the present culture. Cultural shifts have brought us to a place that is far removed from the culture of 20-30 or 40 years ago. Knowing the present culture is extremely helpful in reaching new generations. There is no doubt that pastors leading churches today need a different skill set for the demands of today’s ministry. Younger pastors in general are more in touch with what’s happening. I admit that this has caused this dinosaur some anxiety. But for us dinosaurs there is reason to hope.
Paul Nixon in his book, I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church, chronicles the ministry of a young pastor. New to ministry, and still in seminary, the pastor is given the unenviable task of ministering to people that have seen their church closed. Hurt, demoralized, and angry former parishioners, coupled with a pulpit supply pastor with no experience seems like a recipe for disaster!
Yet, what Paul Nixon describes is quite astonishing. (Funny how God works in the most unlikely context)! The church begins to grow and come alive with vitality. Why? This newbie changed the way people think about church. And that made all the difference in the world.
What I found amazing was that it was not the cultural awareness that the newbie brought to the table, nor was it his expertise in social media or technological knowhow, that grew the church. It was rather, his vision of people being connected to one another and to those in their community. In other words, what made churches vital in their communities years ago still applies today – connection to people.
And so starts the work of recasting a vision for the local church. This takes both humility and courage. Leaders who realize that their ministries no longer connect with people and wish to do something about it, start the hard work of discerning what will make new connections. What I find hopeful in all of this is that humility and courage are traits that transcend generational sensibilities, technological knowhow, and proficiency in social media. As helpful as those are, we get nowhere without humility and courage. Through practicing humility and leading with courage this young pastor helped the former parishioners make new connections in their community.
So how can we practice humility and lead with courage? Here are a few ways:
· It takes humility to look at ourselves and take responsibility for this lack of connection in our community.
· It takes courage to admit we focus too much on ourselves and not enough on others.
· It takes humility to realize sometimes we (the church) are paralyzed as to what to do.
· It takes courage to seek help and to use resources beyond our own means.
· It takes humility to rely on God through prayer, meditation, and study.
· It takes courage to commit time, money and talents to new ministry.
When churches see themselves in the larger context of where they are located, and know about the people that surround them, a new conversation starts. These conversations, make no mistake about it, will take humility and courage. And these make all the difference in the world!
Grace & Peace,
THE POWER OF STORY: AN EASTER PARABLE
I can remember an Easter sermon that my pastor preached, it must be almost 30 years ago by now. In that sermon my pastor used an illustration of a young boy and some birds in a cage. The illustration and the truth it conveyed has never left me. Oh, the power of story when it comes to describing something beyond human comprehension!
The story goes like this, (from what I remember anyway), a young boy was walking down a street carrying a bird cage with two small ordinary birds. The boy passed a man along his path at which point the man questioned the boy, “Son where did you get those birds?”. The boy answered, “I bought them at a yard sale. The people were moving and decided to sell the birds”. “How nice” the man said. The man further inquired, “So you like birds, well enjoy your new pets”. “Oh they’re not my pets” said the boy, “and I really don’t like birds” the boy continued. “Well”, said the man “why did you buy them?”. “Oh I am going to tease them, pull out their feathers, you know, have some fun with them” the boy said.
The man disturbed by what the boy intended to do asked, “How much did you pay for them?”. “Five dollars.” the boy exclaimed.
At which point the man said, “Will you sell them to me for twenty dollars?”. “Sure, but that’s a lot of money for just a couple of dumb birds”, the boy said rather excitedly. The man without hesitation bought the birds from the young boy. As they were departing the young boy asked, “What are you gonna do with those dumb old birds anyway?” The man answered, “When I get home I am going to open the cage and free them so that they can fly high.” “Why would you pay twenty dollars just do that? They’re just a couple of dumb birds”, the boy said unbelievingly. “Well I don’t see them as just a couple of dumb birds I see them as they were meant to be, free and flying high” the man said.
We do not know if the man’s words effected the young boy or not. But what we do know is that a couple of ordinary birds found a new freedom that day and lived the rest of their lives as their maker intended them.
Sometimes parables speak powerful truths! The mystery of Easter can never be fully grasped though human understanding alone. But, what we can know is a love so deep that it enter human form, suffered and died, to pay the price for our freedom. The words of Charles Wesley’s beloved hymn, Christ the Lord is Risen Today, come to mind;
Soar we now where Christ has led, Al-le-lu-ia!
Following our exalted head, Al-le-lu-ia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Al-le-lu-ia!
Hail the Resurrection thou, Al-le-lu-ia!
The price has been paid, which enables us to enter a divine realm and be raised with Jesus Christ!
Christ is Risen! Indeed! We are freed from the torments of sin and death. Love makes us soar high and free. That’s what God intends us to be!
Truth in Advertising & the Gospel
Sometimes you strike gold (not literally speaking of course). You know, when you come upon that great find. For me, that usually happens as I meander through a discount department store and stumble upon the, “As Seen On TV” section. A whole section of the store dedicated to nothing but those miracle items advertised on TV as “too good to be true”. I don’t know about you, but the skeptic in me comes out every time a product is advertised to do amazing things. So, the As Seen On TV section is my chance to see if all the hype about a product is true.
From experience we learn that not everything is cracked up to be what it claims to be. So most of the time I remain unconvinced. Have you had your share of disappointment where your hopes and dreams of an outlandish claim are crushed when the advertised product doesn't work as promised? I am being overly dramatic, for sure. Not a big deal if the perfect pancake flipper is a flop.
Which brings me to the outlandish claims of the Gospel. The Bible is full of them. From prostitutes to criminals, and even leapers entering the Kingdom of God. Even ahead of, good and worthy people! The poor filled and the rich sent away empty, the guilty freed, those in great debt, forgiven. What’s up with that?
The gospel reveals that through the life, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see that grace unfold
Sadly, many people believe that the gospel is too good to be true. We, as the church, have our work cut out for us. The fact is, we have gotten too comfortable with our faith. We have watered down Jesus’ words or rationalized them away, because if we are truly honest with ourselves, Jesus’ words make us uncomfortable. Church has become our business and not people!
A huddled church focused on itself is no way to advertise the gospel. The church was never intended to shelter us from the world, but to be a place of discipleship. Discipleship that equips and empowers the people of God to fulfill the words of Jesus:
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah[n] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses[o] of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:45-49
How might we live out these words? First and foremost we must ask and seek this power from on high and be willing to move in some way beyond the walls of our sanctuary and beyond Sunday, into Monday and Tuesday and the rest of days of the week where people find themselves in need of grace. To use an advertising term, this is where we “pitch the product” or as Jesus would say ”be witnesses”. Never saw yourself pitchman/woman? You are!
May the church advertise the grace of God by witnessing a radical hospitality to others and by offering a safe place for the broken, disenfranchised and wayward to find a blessing beyond belief in Jesus Christ!
Grace and peace,
THE WAITING GAME AND THE LIFE OF FAITH
Let’s admit it most of us don’t like to wait. What we want we want right now. The days when delayed gratification was viewed as a virtue has long past us by. The coming of the credit card has put the proverbial nail in the coffin of delayed gratification.
The act of waiting is excruciating. Childhood memories of the sleepless nights before Christmas come to mind. Oh the wait! The retail business takes full advantage of our lack of patience when it comes to waiting. Displays in stores are months ahead of the actual season. Last month I went out thinking I would pick up a few Halloween decorations for the front of the parsonage only to find Christmas decorations! All that was left of Halloween decorations were leftovers exiled to isles in the back of the store. Halloween is still three weeks away and I thought I would find plenty of items- silly me!
When it comes to Christmas, even people in the church don’t like to wait. Many times a frustrated parishioner has said, “Why can’t we sing Christmas carols in worship before Christmas?” Fact is, we can and we do, just not to the extent it is promoted in the secular culture. The Church competes with retailers who pipe through the beloved carols into the hallowed walls of superstores way before their time. Shoppers start hearing these tunes around November 1st almost two months before Christmas! Is this a sign that the secular culture has more religious devotion than the people of faith? I don’t think so. Rather, the hopeful effect is to get us into a spending frenzy. Christmas is coming don’t wait - spend now. Retailers can’t wait to pull the dollars out of our wallets!
Before Christmas arrives there is a season called Advent which literally means “coming”. Advent is a season of preparation for the people of faith before the celebration of Christmas. During Advent the Church waits. Why? Simple. Waiting is a fundamental spiritual practice. To wait is to be steeped in prayer. To wait is to be immersed in the words of scripture as it foretells the birth, ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To wait is to be prepared. Advent is an active time of faith where God’s people listen deeply to another voice calling them. The voice of Hebrew prophets like of Isaiah, and Micah, John the Baptist, the Angel Gabriel, and Mary speak to us about God’s coming. Advent sets Christmas in its proper place, time and context which is rooted in the faithfulness and God’s promise.
We live in a world of instant gratification. Waiting is too passive and of little value in the world of merchandizing. When it comes to faith, however, waiting is anything but passive. Waiting is a time of active faith. Let us not rush into Christmas because the culture demands it of us. After the tree is down and the decorations packed away, our reward will be a shallow celebration with not much lasting joy.
So don’t be pushed into Christmas. Wait. Listen. Be prepared. Christ is coming!
Grace & peace,
Did you know that out of all animal species, humans have the longest period of our life span in childhood? Interesting.
For other species the time for maturation is fast. Not so much for us. In fact, childhood extends into puberty, the tween years, most of the teen years and ends at 18. At least legally it does. Science confirms that although an 18-year-old may be a legal adult, the human brain is not fully developed until our mid to late twenties (about 27 years for men and 25 for women).
Why do we humans take so long to grow up? Maybe God intended it that way! A prolonged period in childhood may be the way God instills something deep inside of us that we carry throughout lives.
Which brings me to the words of Jesus:
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ Truly I tell you, anyone, who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).
The sobering reality is that as we grow into adulthood, our lives become complicated. Responsibilities need to be met, commitments kept, hard decisions made. We learn fast that our decisions have consequences. We need thoughtful adult reasoning. This too is biblical (see 1 Cor. 13).
So what can we make of Jesus’ words?
First, let us not confuse childlike with childish. God calls us to childlike faith, not to be childish. God doesn’t expect us to escape adult responsibilities (that would be a childish thing for adults to do!). Yet, faith that is childlike pleases God. Think about it, a mature adult faith will have childlike attributes.
Maybe Jesus wants us to remember what it was like when our lives were simpler, when we were completely trusting, when we didn’t take ourselves so seriously, and when we knew our dependence on others. Things we knew well in childhood.
I thank God for the gift of childhood, because it never really leaves us even in our adult years. There is always something about childhood that we carry with us for our entire lives. That would be faith. May our faith always be completely trusting of God, never bogged down with too many needless complexities, willing to enjoy the simple things God gives us in life, and humble enough to accept grace as a gift from God.
Maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at?
This is my first official blog post! Be patient - this dinosaur faces a difficult learning curve. Nevertheless, here I am!
As I was reading through the resurrection accounts, this encounter struck me. It’s a fake news story – how timely I thought. The story begins at Jesus' tomb with an earthquake. Then an angel comes and rolls away the stone sealing the tomb. The guards posted to secure the tomb witness these events. Filled with fear, they make their way back to the chief priests to give a report of what happened. What happens next is this: a plot is planned, money given, and promises made in an effort to spread an alternate story. The chief priests offer an alternative fact: the disciples simply stole the body. This easily explains away the empty tomb.
Didn’t know that fake news is part of Easter! It is.
I have preached Easter sermons that make the point that an empty grave proves nothing. I know that some will say it is shocking that a preacher would say this. Still, though an empty tomb can be explained away by grave robbers. An alternate story, with alternate facts, and all very plausible.
So I ask the question, “How can we smell out a fake news story?” Simple. Motive. Look to those who are protecting or hiding something. Fake news is a means to cover up the Truth, which in this case, is Jesus who reveals himself to be the Messiah.
How did Jesus’ followers handle this fake news story? Presence and Witness.
What cannot be explained away, is the risen presence of Jesus with his church. The Risen Jesus stands and knocks at doors of human hearts. To those who open the door, the presence of Christ is real. The proof - a transformed life!
It’s easy for skeptics to explain away an empty tomb. Any fake news story will do. A transformed life, however, is impossible to explain away. And that is a powerful witness.
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