Posts Tagged ‘congregations’

The First Thanksgiving

November 1, 2017

The Pilgrim’s journey to America began in 1608 when they left their native England for Holland. They had decided to leave England because their Puritan religious beliefs were in conflict with those of the Anglican Church. However, by 1620, the Puritan’s experience in Holland had gone sour and they returned to England.  Plan B was to set sail for America.

Problems plagued their departure from the start. Leaving Southampton on August 5 aboard two ships (the Mayflower and the Speedwell) they were forced back when the Speedwell began to leak. A second attempt was thwarted when the Speedwell again began to leak and again the hapless Pilgrims returned to port.  Finally, after abandoning the Speedwell, 102 Pilgrim passengers, plus 30 crew members, departed aboard the Mayflower on September 6.  On the Mayflower, there were only limited sleeping quarters, and no bathroom facilities.  Because the ship was 100% wood, all of the food brought along for the journey was eaten cold, because of the fear that lighting a fire to cook the food might result in the ship burning down.  The intended destination was Virginia where they planned to start a colony. After a journey of 66 days they made landfall at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, more than 600 miles off course.  Two people had died during their journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Upon arriving in the new world, William Bradford helped to draft the Mayflower Compact:  the first truly independent form of civil government in America. He went on to guide the settlement as governor or assistant governor for upwards of 30 years. The Puritan Ethic of that time, as well as the concepts forged by the Mayflower Compact, and its eventual development into a somewhat democratic form of representative government, laid the foundation for later American government and made an influential impact that can be seen even today.

The Puritans were so named because of their desire to “purify” the Church of England above and beyond the perceived inadequacy of the initial reformation of the sixteenth century.  The Puritans sought a return to the “…ancient purity and simplicity of the church as established by Christ.” Their feeling was that even after the initial reformation of the church, there still existed unacceptable traces of Roman Catholicism.

The focus of the Puritan doctrine was on the sovereignty of God, our human dependence on God for salvation, and the importance of the individual’s personal religious experience through purification of self and society. This is the Puritan Ethic: Strict self-discipline and devotion to God and church, accompanied by contempt for sinful pleasures and luxuries. It is an ethic that lends itself well to a group of settlers about to face some of the harshest living conditions of their lives.

One of the key scripture passages for the Pilgrims was Matthew 5:14, where Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”  They believed they were coming to America to be a city set on a hill.  They had a missionary mindset.  They wanted their world to see the goodness of God.  They wanted to share it with others.  They believed that God was calling them to influence the new world they were settling.

But, their first year in the new world was full of pain, suffering, and hardship.  Almost half of the people in their group died.  They faced a severe winter that they were not prepared for.  They did not know how to survive in the wilderness that was so foreign to them.  If it had not been for Squanto, and the other members of the Wampanoag tribe, more of them would have died.  They gave the Puritans food to eat when they ran out of food they had brought from England.  They taught the Puritans how to fish and how to plant corn.  They taught the Puritans how to survive.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated at Plymouth Plantation by 53 Pilgrims and about 90 Native Americans in October or November of 1621.  The feast lasted for three days.  They were praying and thanking God for their survival through that first, difficult year.  They were grateful for a successful growing season and for their first harvest.  The feast was cooked by Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna White, along with their daughters and their servants.

The Thanksgiving holiday was celebrated off and on throughout the early days of our country.  Abraham Lincoln made it an official national holiday during the Civil War.  Each year, it’s a good idea to sit down with family members and loved ones, and take time to remember what we have to be thankful for.  It’s good to take time to pray and thank God for helping us survive another year.  It’s good to develop habits that make us a grateful people who don’t take our lives for granted.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Happy Thanksgiving.

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Your Questions

May 1, 2017

This month, we are taking a look at the questions that people are asking about God, faith, and life.  If you had one question you could ask God, what would it be?  What is the one question that keeps you awake at night?  We don’t have time on Sunday mornings to discuss all the questions that were submitted, so here are some responses to three others:

1.At what point does temptation become sin?  Or is temptation sinful?  What about Matthew 5:28 where Jesus says “If a man looks lustfully at a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart?

There is a difference between temptation and sin.  It is possible to be tempted and not sin.  Sin is giving in to the temptation, and acting inappropriately on what has been seen or heard or felt.  Hebrews 4:15 says “15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  This verse is telling us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we have been, yet he never sinned.  The sin comes when we take action on the temptation.  When Jesus talks about lust in Matthew 5:28, this is more than just noticing an attractive person.  This is more than feeling drawn to someone you are not married to.  This is dwelling on someone in your heart and in your mind.  It is allowing your imagination to go down a road it shouldn’t.  While perhaps not acting physically inappropriately, it is an inappropriate mental action.  It allows your heart to stray and your mind to go to places it shouldn’t.

It is hard for us to say “no” to temptation in American society today, because so much of our advertising and our cultural philosophy encourages us to give in to temptation.  We are told that all of our desires are good.  They are not.  We are told that all of our feelings are healthy.  They are not.  We are told to indulge every emotion we have.  We shouldn’t.  Hebrews 2:18 says,

“18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  And James 1:13 says, “13 When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”  God will never tempt you to disobey God.  He will never lure you towards evil or to act vs. your original design.  Because Jesus was tempted too, He is available to help you whenever you ask.

2.What does God say about drinking?  Should we drink or not?

We know that drinking alcohol is not a sin because Jesus drank wine.  Some people will argue that the wine is Jesus day did not have as high of a level of fermentation as our alcohol has today.  That may be true.  But, there is nothing wrong with one or two drinks.  What the Bible says is a sin is getting drunk.  Ephesians 5:18 says, “18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”  In other words, instead of being filled with alcohol, be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Drinking too much is a problem.  Some people get addicted to getting drunk.  Some people are in denial about it.  Getting drunk can ruin your life.  But, if you don’t get drunk, having a beer or a glass of wine is fine.

In Romans 14:1-15, Paul was addressing a controversy in his day around eating meat that had been offered to idols.  Some people thought it was OK to eat the meat, because they didn’t believe in the idols.  Others thought it was a sin, because it had been offered to idols.  Who was right?  Paul’s answer was that there is nothing wrong with eating meat offered to idols.  It was not a sin.  However, if you cause a weaker Christian to sin because you are eating meat, then you shouldn’t do it.  Don’t put a stumbling block in someone’s way.   This verse can be applied to our present day concerns about alcohol.  Having a drink is not a sin.  But, if it causes a weaker Christian to sin, then give up your freedom to drink, for their sake.

3.What does the Bible say about Christian values for families?

Colossians 3:20-21says, “Children obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”  Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

 These verses remind us that parents need to teach their kids to obey.  Parents should not give their kids everything they ask for.  Parents need to discipline their kids and teach them right from wrong.  Parents who always praise their kids are not doing them any favors.  This teaches them the world revolves around them when it doesn’t.  They will raise kids who are brats that nobody wants to be around.  On the other hand, these verses also tell us not to embitter our children.  Parents should not expect perfection from their kids.  They should not be the kind of parents who are never satisfied.  You can crush a child’s spirit if don’t notice their accomplishments and tell them when they are doing a good job.

The Bible gives us a pattern in Luke 2:52 when it tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”  These are the four key areas we need to help our children grow in.  They need to grow mentally, physically, spiritually, and relationally.  We need encourage our kids to grow mentally by letting them know the importance of an education.  We need to teach them the value of reading, writing, doing their homework, turning in their work on time, and getting good grades.  We need to encourage our kids to grow physically.  Less than 1% of kids will grow up to be professional athletes, but we can teach them how to take care of their bodies, how to eat healthy, how to exercise, and the values of good sportsmanship and working with a team.  Kids need to learn how to win and how to lose.  We need to let our kids lose.  We need to let them fail.  They need to experience failure if they are going to become mature, healthy adults.

We need to help our kids grow spiritually.  We need to read stories to them from the Bible.  We need to teach them to pray at meal time and at bed time.  They need to see that faith is important to their parents, and that we don’t skip church for less important matters.  And, we need to help our kids grow relationally.  They need to learn how to make friends and be a friend to others.  They need to learn how to share and how to care for others.  Social skills are important, and kids need to see their parents modeling healthy relationships.

I hope you will join us on Sunday mornings this month as we continue to reflect on people’s questions, how to think about our faith, and how the Bible relates to the everyday, practical realities of our world.  Don’t be afraid to ask any question.  That’s how we learn.  God wants us to keep learning all the time.  Asking questions is what helps keep our faith growing.

 

New Habits for a New Year

January 2, 2017

We have flipped the calendar.  We have celebrated the end of 2016.  We have celebrated the beginning of 2017.  We get a fresh start.  We get a chance to start over, to try again.  So, now, what will we do?  Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but half of those people give up on their resolutions by the end of January.  The key is to develop good habits.  The key is to break bad habits.  We are much more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking, than we are to try to think our way into a new way of acting.  So, where do we begin acting differently?  As we start this New Year, I want to encourage us to begin 3 new habits:

1.This year, I will grow spiritually by ________________.

If you do not yet have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then look into this.  Read about Who Jesus is, what He said, and what He did.  Talk to people who believe in Jesus.  Explore it and check it out.

If you are already following Jesus, how can you grow spiritually this year?

Here are some habits to consider:

This year, I will read at least one chapter in the Bible every day.

This year, I will pray at least 5 minutes every day.

This year, I will attend church worship services 3-4 times a month.  (Research shows a significant difference in the strength of people’s faith who attend worship 3-4 times a month over those who only attend 1-2 times a month.)

This year, I will give ____% of my money to the church/missions/charity.

This year, I will take a Sabbath day every week.

These are called spiritual habits or spiritual practices.  If these become regular patterns in your life, you will grow stronger spiritually.

This is about Believing.

 

2.This year, I will grow relationally by ______________________.

Who are one or two people that you want to become better friends with this year?

This year, I will have coffee/lunch with someone once a week.

This year, I will invite someone over to my house to visit once a month.

This year, I will invite at least one unchurched person to come to church with me.  (The average Methodist invites a person to church once every 42 years.  What if all of us invited one person to church every year?)

This year, I will regularly attend a small group or a Sunday School class.

This year, I will call one person on the phone each week to ask them how they are doing or how I can pray for them.

This year, I will reconcile with one person I am estranged from.

This is about Belonging.

 

3.This year, I will grow missionally by __________________________.

How can you serve God in our community?

Where can you serve God in our community?

This year, I will share my faith with one person who does not yet believe in Jesus.

This year, I will talk to one neighbor a month.

This year, I will have a block party to get to know my neighbors.

This year, I will find a need in our community where I can help.

This year, I will participate in one mission effort with our church.

This year, I will donate clothes or food to a local school or mission.

This is about Blessing.

 

As we begin this New Year, I want you to think about 3 things you can do differently this year.  Think about 3 new habits you can start, or 3 current habits you can enhance and expand.  We are more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking, than we are to think our way into a new way of acting.  The quality of our lives has a lot to do with our habits – breaking old bad habits and starting new good habits.  If you become consistent in doing what God wants you to do, and consistent in living in healthy ways, you can live as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

 

The Advent Conspiracy

November 30, 2016

A lot of people look forward to the Christmas season each year.  And each year, a lot of people are let down.  Instead of being the enjoyable season we see on TV, it has become a time of the year that is hurried, rushed, busy and stressed.  What happened?  How did it get to be this way?  In order to change this, a number of people and churches are discovering a movement called the Advent Conspiracy.  The Advent Conspiracy asks the questions, “Can Christmas still change the world?”  The Christmas story is a story of love, hope, redemption, and relationship.  So, what happened?  How did it turn into stuff, stress, and debt?  Somehow, we’ve traded the best story in the world for the story of what’s on sale.

How did the Advent Conspiracy get started?  It started in 2006 with five pastors who started to imagine a better Christmas practice for their own communities.  Today, the Advent Conspiracy is a global movement of people and churches resisting the cultural Christmas narrative of consumption.  These churches are choosing to celebrate Christmas differently by Worshiping Fully, Spending Less, Giving More, and Loving All.

1)Worship Fully.  It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift up a song to God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

2)Spend Less.  Quick question for you: What was the one gift you remember getting for Christmas last year? Next question: What about the fourth gift? Do you remember that one? Truth is many of us don’t because it wasn’t something we necessarily wanted or needed. Spending Less isn’t a call to stop giving gifts; it’s a call to stop spending money on gifts we won’t remember in less than a year. America spends at least $500 billion dollars during the Christmas season, and much of that is joyless and goes right onto a credit card. By spending wisely on gifts we free ourselves from the anxiety associated with debt so we can take in the season with a full heart.

3)Give More.  I know what you’re thinking. “Wait, didn’t you just say I should spend less, and now you are telling me to give more? What gives?” The most powerful, memorable gift you can give to someone else is yourself. And nobody modeled this more than Jesus. So what does this look like for you? Tickets to a ball game or the theater? A movie night? The main point is simple: When it comes to spending time with those you love, quantity might be important, but quality is what’s really important.

4)Love All.  It all boils down to love. Love from a savior. Love to a neighbor in need. By spending just a little less on gifts, we free up our resources to love as Jesus loves by giving to those who really need help. This is the conspiracy a few churches began ten years ago, and has since grown to an international movement where thousands of churches have raised millions of dollars to love others in life-changing ways. It’s not that there’s something wrong with the shopping mall—it’s that the better story is about loving all.

So, what do you think?  Can we conspire together?  Can we get together and come up with a more significant, more meaningful way to celebrate Christmas?  It’s not enough to say “no” to the way Christmas is celebrated by many.  We need to say “yes” to a better way to celebrate Christmas.  If we intentionally devote more time and energy to Worshiping Fully, Spending Less, Giving More, and Loving All, we can make a difference in our own lives, in our families, and in our communities.  And if we make a difference there, it will begin to spread all over the world.  Today, thousands of churches are conspiring to celebrate Advent differently.  With each new person, and each new church, we end up making a far bigger difference than we ever thought was possible.  This year, let’s celebrate Christmas by joining the Advent Conspiracy.

(For more information, check out www.adventconspiracy.org)

 

 

Thanksgiving

November 1, 2016

Every year during the month of November, we pause to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.  There are certain national stories that are important to our country.  There are certain Biblical stories that are important to our faith.  There is value in telling these stories again every year, to remind us of who we are and how we got here.  They help us reflect on why we do what we do today, and help us get “back on track” when we forget where we came from.

The first major British settlement in America was at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.  Jamestown was named after King James of England.  The first settlers came for political reasons (to expand the British Empire) and for financial reasons (to look for gold).  13 years later, the Pilgrims settled in Massachusetts, arriving in 1620.  They came for religious reasons.  Thus, we see that our nation originated from different groups who arrived at different times for different purposes – some political, some financial, and some religious.

The Pilgrims set sail from England on the Mayflower on September 6, 1620, with 102 passengers and 30 crew members.  Their goal was to sail to Virginia.  The Atlantic winds blew them off course.  Instead of landing in Virginia, they landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts on November 11, 1620.  The trip across the Atlantic Ocean was a miserable one, with huge waves constantly crashing against the ship’s topside deck.  The passengers suffered from shortages of food and of other supplies.  There were two deaths on board the Mayflower, and there was one baby born, who was named Oceanus.

After landing at Cape Cod, the Pilgrims wanted to sail south to Virginia to reach their original destination.  But when the weather would not cooperate, they decided to spend the winter in Massachusetts.  To establish legal order and to quell increasing strife within the ranks, the settlers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact.

On November 27, an exploring expedition was launched under the direction of Capt. Christopher Jones to search for a suitable settlement site. They were obviously not accustomed to, or prepared for, the bitter winter weather they encountered.  The expedition was forced to spend the night on shore in below-freezing temperatures with wet shoes and stockings that became frozen.

The Pilgrims spent the entire winter on board the Mayflower, suffering an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.  When it ended, there were only 53 passengers still alive. Half of the Pilgrims had died.  Half of the crew died, as well. In the spring, they built huts on shore, and on March 21, 1621, the surviving passengers finally disembarked from the Mayflower.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621.  This feast lasted three days, and was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”, which were days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.

Squanto, a Pantuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them. Squanto had learned the English language during his enslavement in England. The Wampanoag leader Massasoit had given food to the colonists during the first winter when the supplies brought from England were insufficient.  The feast was cooked by four adult Pilgrim women who survived their first winter in the New World (Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna White, along with young daughters and male and female servants).

When we read this story, we are reminded of a few key points:

  1. The first Thanksgiving was a time to give thanks to God for their survival. The Pilgrims were not ready for the harsh wintry conditions they encountered.  Half of their group died from disease.  This was a scary time.  The people who survived did not live because they were smarter or more talented or more prepared or because they had more faith.  They survived by the grace of God Who kept them alive.  They set aside three days to thank God for saving their lives.
  2. The first Thanksgiving was a time to give thanks for the grace and the hospitality extended to the Pilgrims by the Native Americans. The Pilgrims would not have survived without them.  God saved them through the Native people.  They had knowledge of the winter, the land, the crops that could grow, and how to survive, which the Pilgrims needed.  Thanksgiving was a time to thank the Native Americans for coming to their rescue.
  3. The Pilgrims were an adventurous people. They were willing to take a huge risk to leave England and journey thousands of miles to America, knowing that they might not ever see their loved ones again, and might not survive.  They were probably driven by a mixture of fear and hope, desperation and faith, uncertainty and adventure.  They were entrepreneurs.  They were willing to make huge sacrifices to find a better life.  They had a deep faith in Jesus and were moved to pray and thank God for saving their lives.

Their first year in America probably did not go as they had hoped or planned.  They had to adapt.  They had to learn lots of new things.  They had to adjust their lives to fit the new world they were now living in, while remaining grounded in their faith in Jesus, rooted in the scriptures, and interdependent on one another.  These are good lessons for us to remember today.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this month, what are we thankful for?  Are we still willing to make great sacrifices today?  Are we willing to set out on great adventures, stretching our faith, and willing to face new situations, like our Pilgrim forebears before us?  Do we realize that we need each other?  Thanksgiving is a story of people from different countries, different continents, different races, and different sexes working together.  Thanksgiving is a story of immigration where the first Americans welcomed some of the first Europeans with grace, generosity, and hospitality.  Thanksgiving is a story of success.

So, as we sit down to our Thanksgiving meals this year, we are reminded to be thankful to God, to be thankful for those around us who have helped us, and to take risks of faith and to make sacrifices for Jesus.  We are building on the story that began almost 400 years ago.  Jesus saves us to do something.  God rescues us to go somewhere.  The Holy Spirit is preparing us for something special.  Where will God lead us to go this year?

Leadership

September 28, 2016

Five months ago, Thomas Friedman wrote a column in the New York Times where he was talking about the state of politics in Washington DC and the nature of the presidential election we are in now.  He said that the nonstop fighting between our two political parties has left many Americans feeling like the children of two permanently divorcing parents. He said that the country is starved to see its two major parties do big hard things together again.

As a nation, we are in a time of transition.  We are facing big issues.  And we are in need of strong, capable, effective leadership.  Many people have expressed their frustration at the lack of leadership we are receiving.  We seem to be missing big opportunities to change, to address complex issues, and to discover desperately needed answers.

What is leadership?  Leadership is making things happen.  Effective leadership is making the right things happen.  Effective Christian leadership is being used by the Holy Spirit to help make God’s thing happen.  Many people fail to see themselves as leaders when they really are.  Sometimes we think that we have to be in an official leadership position in order to be a leader.  This is not true.  There are many people in official leadership positions who do not provide leadership.  And there are many people who are not in official leadership positions who actually provide a great deal of leadership.  Leadership is not about a position.  It is about influence.  If you are in a relationship, a marriage, a family, a school, a church, a business, or a non-profit – if you are in any group of people, you can provide leadership.  Even if you don’t have an official position or title.

In The Missional Leader by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, they state that “missional leadership is about cultivating an environment within which the people of God in a particular location may thrive.”  They write that “leadership is about cultivating an environment that innovates and releases the missional imagination present among a community of God’s people.”  This picture is the leader as gardener.  A leader is someone who plants seeds, waters them, puts fertilizer in the soil, and makes sure the young plants get the sun and nutrients they need in order to grow.  A gardener cannot force a seed to grow, but a gardener to do many things to create the right soil or the right environment so that the seed has the best chance to grow.

A leader is someone who encourages growth.  A leader is someone who seeks to inspire a new imagination – encouraging people to dream, to think outside the box, and to take wise risks.  A leader does not seek to control people, hold them down, or hold them back.  A leader is not someone who shames people, puts them down, or makes fun of them in front of their colleagues.  A Christian leader is someone who seeks to create a culture and a climate where people feel the unconditional love of God, where people are supported through their struggles, and where people are encouraged to fail as they develop their spiritual gifts and talents.

This is what we do when we seek to provide leadership in the church.  No human being can force a church to grow.  What we can do is lead like gardeners – planting and watering and nurturing and trying to create the right conditions, the right soil, and the right environment so those seeds can grow.

One of the great leaders we see in the Bible is Moses.  For Israel, Abraham was like their George Washington.  He was the father of their country.  Moses was like their Abraham Lincoln.  He ended their slavery and led them to freedom.  He led during one of the most challenging seasons in their nation’s history.  He led them through a very tenuous forty year exodus through the wilderness until they were finally ready to enter into the Promised Land.  When we read the book of Exodus, we can see the important leadership skills that were exhibited by Moses.  Moses is one of the key models we have for what a great leader looks like.  When we study his life, we can see how we can become better leaders.  We can see how we can vote for better leaders.

The leadership skills we are looking for in our world today can be found in the Bible.  Every one of us can be a person of influence.  Every one of us can have a positive impact on the people around us.  Every one of us can be a leader.

 

What are the Big Rocks?

August 1, 2016

There’s a story about a teacher who took a glass jar into his class and filled it with big rocks.  He asked the class if they thought the jar was full.  They said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  He then poured some small pebbles into the jar around the big rocks.  Then he asked the class, is the jar full now?  They said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  Then he poured some sand into the jar.  Then he asked the class, is the jar full now?  The class said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  He then poured some water into the jar.  He asked the class if the jar was full now.  They said yes.  He asked them, what is the moral of this story?  One student said, “No matter how full your life is, you can always squeeze more things into it.”  He said no.  The moral of the story is:  if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in.

The point is that we have to make sure we have the most important things in our lives first.  It’s easy to get busy doing so many good things, that we don’t have time and space in our lives for the most important things.  If we don’t get the most important things right, we won’t get the rest of our lives.  What are the Big Rocks for the Christian Church?  What are the most important things for us to focus on?

We believe that our Big Rocks are the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.  The Great Commandment is found in Matthew 20:37-40, where Jesus says Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus says Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you, for lo, I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth.

When we put the Great Commandment and the Great Commission together, we see that our Big Rocks are Loving God, Loving our Neighbor, and Loving our Neighborhoods.  These are the three big areas of focus for our ministry.  We want to help people come to Believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior for the first time and then to spend a lifetime growing deeper in their knowledge of God.  We want to help people Belong to a community and a purpose that is bigger than all of us.  Loneliness and isolation are the great social dysfunctions of our time.  We were all created with a sense of belonging.  And we want to help people Bless their neighborhoods and serve the community where we live.  We have been saved to serve.  We have been Blessed to be a Blessing.  We call these three Big Rocks:  Believing, Belonging, and Blessing

These are our Big Rocks – Believing (spiritual growth), Belonging (relational growth), and Blessing (missional growth).  Some people think that the Big Rock is numerical growth.  But, churches that make numerical growth their Biggest Rock, often do not grow spiritually, relationally, and missionally.  However, churches that focus on spiritual growth, relational growth, and missional growth, often discover that God is causing some numerical growth to happen as a result.  We do want to reach more people for Christ.  But, numerical growth typically follows spiritual, relational, and missional growth – not the other way around.

This month marks the beginning of a new school year here in Terre Haute.  It also marks the beginning of my second year “back home” as a pastor in this community we love.  Kim and I are delighted to back in the Wabash Valley again and we are grateful that God has led us to be a part of this community.  I have a lot of hope for this coming year.  I believe that God is doing something in our churches and in this community.  I believe that if we keep our eyes open, we will see many opportunities for ministry and new doors that will open for us to make a difference in people’s lives and in our community.

I want to invite you to join us for another important year of ministry.  I don’t know what God is going to do, but I believe He is going to do some significant things, and I want us to be a part of His mission on earth.

These are our Big Rocks – Loving God, Loving our Neighbor, and Loving our Neighborhoods.  We call these three rocks Believing, Belonging, and Blessing.  We want to help people grow spiritually, relationally, and missionally.  Please pray for me.  Please pray for our church.  Please pray for our community.  Pray that we can stay focused on what is most important – our Big Rocks.  And pray that we will be open to all the ministry opportunities God brings our way.

 

The “Good Ol’ Days” Are Not Coming Back

June 30, 2016

As I look at what is going on in our world today, I hear a lot of people voicing a deep sense of frustration.  Many people sense that the world is stuck and isn’t getting any better.  Since 2000, most people’s wages have not increased much, if at all.  Since the collapse of the housing market in 2008, many people have not seen a financial recovery in their own lives.  The job market does not seem to be getting better.  Our economy does not seem to be getting better.  Our educational system does not seem to be getting better.  Washington DC does not seem to be getting any better.  We feel stuck.  We feel frustrated.  And we feel angry.

In Yuval Levin’s best-selling book The Fractured Republic, he says that this has led many Americans to look back at the “Good Ol’ Days” and try to figure out how we can go back in time.  Many of our imaginations were shaped by the post-World War II years, where our economy was growing, jobs were plentiful, America dominated the world stage, and life seemed to get better every year.  Levin says that the Democrats keep looking back to the Great Society years of Lyndon Johnson and want to go back to that period in our history.  He says that Republicans keep looking back to the 1980 years of the Reagan Revolution and want to go back to that time.  But, the problem is, those “Good Ol’ Days” are not coming back.  We can’t go back in time and nobody seems to be looking forward.

We see this with the Brexit vote that was taken last week.  The United Kingdom voted to pull out of the European Union (EU).  Many people were expressing their frustration with the current realities of globalization and immigration and free trade and wanted to take their country back.  They wanted to become more British.  However, after the vote to leave the EU, the most asked question from England on Google was “What is the EU?” implying that people didn’t really know what they were voting for.  It seems as if they didn’t realize their vote would crash their financial markets, weaken the value of the pound, and put their economy in the tank.  Many wanted to go back to the Good Ol’ Days, but they are not coming back.

We see this in our country as well.  One presidential candidate wants to “Make America Great Again”, which is slogan that is looking to bring the “Good Ol’ Days” back again – something which cannot be done.  The other presidential candidate talks about bringing back the financial heyday of her husband’s presidency, which is looking to bring the “Good Ol’ Days” back again – something which cannot be done.  Nobody is looking forward, and people are frustrated with their leaders.

We see this in the Bible as well.  In the Old Testament, after living in Egypt for 400 years, the Israelites were finally set free by Moses, and crossed the Red Sea into the wilderness.  After two years in the wilderness, they were on the edge of the Promised Land.  But, in Numbers 13-14, it tells us that they became anxious and scared, and wanted to go back to Egypt.  They wanted to bring the “Good Ol’ Days” back again – something which could not be done.  They were frustrated with their leaders – Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.  They wanted to vote them out of office and pick new leaders.  Sound familiar?

Today, in the United Kingdom, here in the United States, and around the world, we are still making the same mistakes the Israelites made in the wilderness some 4000 years ago.  We can’t go back to the past.  The “Good Ol’ Days” are not coming back.  If we keep pining for yesterday, we will never find the path to tomorrow.

Because the Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt, they ended up having to stay in the wilderness for another 38 years.  They remained stuck and frustrated until the whole generation who were in leadership had died off.  They had to wait for the next generation to grow up, with fresh ideas, new perspectives, and a new imagination.  They needed people who were not afraid to take wise risks, to launch new experiments, and discover a new way to live in a world that had shifted significantly.  Our God is a creative God, and we need to encourage people to be more creative.  Jesus was a provocative and disturbing Bible teacher, and we need to encourage people to teach like him.  The Holy Spirit leads people through visions and dreams, and we need to encourage people to dream.  The seven last words of the church are “we’ve never done it that way before.”  Our past should never inhibit our future.  It should always provide the foundation to build new steps to a different future.

The Israelites in the Old Testament learned a hard lesson.  They learned that they couldn’t go back to the “Good Ol’ Days” and that they were never coming back.  Because of their stubbornness, they got stuck in the wilderness for a generation, before people were open to God’s new imagination.  We don’t want to make the same mistakes today.  Whether we are looking at our nation, our world, or our church, we don’t want to keep looking to the past when God wants to prepare us for a new future.  What will it look like?  We don’t know.  But, we have to keep looking forward, not backward. We have to learn to adapt to new situations and not be afraid to start new ministries.  We have to grow deeper in the scriptures to understand fresh ways to engage the new missionary context in our world.

We don’t know what the future holds.  We are faced with a lot of uncertainty.  But, we know that God holds our future.  We know that Jesus is leading us forward.  We know that the Holy Spirit will guide us on our journey.  We know that we don’t need to be afraid.  And we know that the “Good Ol’ Days” are not coming back.

 

 

Already But Not Yet

May 3, 2016

My friend, Rich Hansen, who pastors a church in Chicago, has just published a book called Paradox Lost.  In one of the chapters, he describes how the church he grew up in paid little attention to the Kingdom of God.  For some reason, a lot of American churches haven’t paid a lot of attention to the teachings in the Bible about the Kingdom of God, but it was the main thing Jesus talked about when he walked on earth.  The Kingdom of God is mentioned 122 times in the four gospels including 99 times from Jesus’ own lips.  In the Gospel of Mark, the very first words that Jesus speaks are about the Kingdom of God: ”The Kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)  The good news that Jesus brings into our world is about the Kingdom of God.

Rich writes in his book that the Jewish people had been expecting the Kingdom of God for a very long time, just as the Old Testament prophets had predicted.  All creation started off very good (Genesis 1:31).  But God’s good creation came under the brutal tyranny of Satan.  Now Jesus is leading a counterattack, recapturing the territory Satan has held.  Whenever Jesus heals someone, the Kingdom of God has come.  Whenever he casts out a demon, the Kingdom of God has come.  Whenever Jesus reaches out to love people no one else loves – like lepers or tax collectors or prostitutes or sinners – the Kingdom of God has come.  Whenever truth and justice defeat injustice, the Kingdom of God has come.  Person by person, piece by piece, Jesus is reclaiming the territory that has been under the dominion of Satan.

Rich points out that the reframing nature of Jesus’ parables presses home the paradoxical, unexpected nature of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom will not arrive in overpowering might, as the Jews expected, but is already quietly at work, as insignificant to human eyes as a mustard seed or bit of yeast in some dough.  Jesus’ kingdom looks embarrassingly small and weak against powerful world systems that seem to have the upper hand in every quarter.  Yet he tells us it will expand to penetrate every corner of God’s creation.  As the nineteenth-century Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

Rich reminds us that other parables continue the beat of the Kingdom’s mystery.  The Kingdom of God will not be joyously received everywhere, as the Jews expected.  As we learn in the parable of the sower, it will never take root in some lives, it will be superficially received in others, and it will be choked out in still others (Matthew 13:1-9).  One of the hardest truths for Jesus’ audience, and for many of us today, to swallow is how many people ultimately reject the Kingdom (Matthew 7:13-14).  Also contrary to Jewish expectation, the Kingdom will not vanquish evil all at once, but comingles with an evil world, like wheat and weeds growing together until the final judgment (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).

New Testament scholar George Ladd has written: “The new truth, now given to men by revelation in the person and mission of Jesus, is that the Kingdom that is to come finally in apocalyptic power, as foreseen in Daniel, has in fact entered into the world in advance in a hidden form to work secretly within and among men.”  Hence the classic phrase describing the Kingdom of God:  “already but not yet”.  It is already here, but it is not yet reaching its fullness until Jesus returns.  The future has already invaded the present, but not yet completely.

This is the tension that we live in today.  This is the challenge that we face.  How do we live in a world as people who have already been changed by God, but who have not yet been completely changed by God?  How do we live in a world that is in the process of being changed by God, but which has not yet been completely changed by God?  How can we be used by God to help advance His love and truth, to a world and to people who don’t always want to hear it?  It can be hard to live in a world with so many problems, but it can also be meaningful and rewarding to know that what we do matters, what we do counts, and what we do is important.  Every little thing that we do has the potential to make a difference in the world.  Even the smallest of words and the tiniest of actions can lodge in a person’s heart or mind and cause them to re-think what they believe and how they act.  Life can be hard, but life can be good at the same time.  Our labor is not in vain.  God can multiply what we do in ways we may not realize.  Life can be frustrating and rewarding at the same time.  This is the paradox of living between the now and the not yet.

 

The Tipping Point

March 31, 2016

In the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, he tells a story about how a new hybrid corn seed spread through Greene County, Iowa, in the 1930s.  The new corn seed was introduced in Iowa in 1928, and it was superior in every respect to the seed that had been used by farmers there for decades before.  But, it wasn’t adopted right away.  Of the 259 farmers in the county, only a handful of them had started planting the new seed by 1932 and 1933.  In 1934, 16 took the plunge.  In 1935, 21 tried it.  In 1936, 36 more tried it.  In 1937, 61 used it.  By 1941, all but 2 of the 259 farmers were using the new hybrid seed.

The first farmers to try the new seed were the Innovators, the adventurous ones.  The slightly larger group who followed shortly after them were the Early Adopters.  They were the opinion leaders in the community, the respected and thoughtful people who watched and analyzed what those wild Innovators were doing, and then followed suit.  Then, came the big bulge of farmers who got on board from 1936-1938.  This group was called the Early Majority and the Late Majority.  They were the deliberate and skeptical mass, who would never try anything until the most respected of farmers had tried it first.  They caught the seed virus and passed it on, finally to the Laggards, the most traditional of all, who saw no urgent reason to change.

Gladwell’s point is that when new ideas are introduced, or when you are trying to spread your good ideas throughout the community, it always starts slow.  It starts with some Innovators and Early Adopters who are willing to give it a shot.  If they like it, and respond favorably, the message will spread throughout the community by word of mouth – from person to person, neighbor to neighbor, and friend to friend.  But, you need a small number who are willing to try something new, experiment with the new idea, and accept it into their lives.  The new idea has to be contagious enough, and sticky enough, to “infect” people with the idea that this is better than what they have been doing before.  Once about 25% of the people in the community adopt a new idea, the Tipping Point has been reached.  The majority will follow and its spread will not be stopped.

As Christians, we have good news that we are trying to spread throughout our community.  We want to persuade people who are not going to church, and/or who don’t believe in God, that what we believe will be better for them than what they have been believing.  We want to convince them that the way the Bible directs us to live will be better for them than the way they have been living.  But, a lot of churches are stuck.  We feel like what we are doing never quite seems to “take off” and get adopted by others in the community.  What is going on?

The research behind the Tipping Point gives us some clues.  If we want to make a difference in our community, if we want the good news of Christ to spread to people outside the church, we need to begin with the people in our community who are Innovators.  We need to persuade them to give our message a try, or give our church a try.  Then, we need to convince the Early Adopters to give it a shot.  If we can convince some the key leaders and opinion makers of our mission and purpose, we will hit the Tipping Point.  The idea will take off, people will follow, and the message will spread by word of mouth from person to person, from friend to friend, and from neighbor to neighbor.  It won’t happen overnight, but if we build it organically, it will eventually take off on its own.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Easter story ends by Jesus giving the disciples the Great Commission – to go and make disciples of all nations.  Jesus wants us to go out into our community and into the the world.  How can we spread the good news of Jesus and make a difference in our community?  Who are the people we know?  Who are the Innovators and the Early Adopters?  Who are the people who will “take it and run with it”?

Churches don’t have to be stuck in a rut.  We don’t have to be caught in the mud.  We can start to gain some traction, re-gain our footing, and begin to impact some people who haven’t been reached before.  We always want to pray about this and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit.  But, if we understand how to get to the Tipping Point, it will not be impossible.  God can guide us and direct us in the ways he wants us to go.  And like the new hybrid corn seed introduced in Iowa in the 1930s, we can see new people begin to come on board every year.  If we get the ball rolling, it will begin to spread – person to person, friend to friend, and neighbor to neighbor.