Strengthen the Family, Church, and Association

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago (April 10-13) of attending a conference and while much of the information didn’t come as much of a surprise to me, it did stick with me and solidified a few ideological convictions that I have. One ideological conviction that was renewed is this, spiritually healthy individuals and families make a spiritually healthy church, spiritually healthy churches make a spiritually healthy association or network of churches. It is the idea of what is the basic building block and for the church the basic building block is the individual and/or the individual family. So here is the question I want you to pray about and think on, how can the church encourage, support, and resource individuals and/or families to be spiritually healthy? Here is the working assumed answer that must be fleshed out:

1) Healthy and Vibrant Sunday School or Small Group Teachers and Sunday School Classes or Small Groups, that not only teaches the foundations and principles of the faith but also shares life together. Within this is also a system of care for both the individual and the family.

2) With healthy and vibrant Sunday School or Small Group Teachers and Sunday School Classes or Small Groups, is a process to recruit, train, and mentor new Sunday School leaders/teachers.

3) A growing foundation of one-on-one or small group discipleship groups (D-Groups). It is foundational for a more mature believer to pour their life into one that is newer in the faith. Let’s be honest the Christian faith is a generational faith, in that it is passed from one generation to the next. This can be seen in an older generation passing the faith to a younger generation, and this can also be seen in a more mature believer pouring their life into the life of one that is not as mature. My emphasis for now is on new believers (believer for 5 years or less). This process of D-Groups is to be one where those who go through the process are also challenged to pour their life into another.

4) A process to train, encourage, support, and resource parents to be the primary spiritual leaders and teachers in their family. The range of parents will be for children from preschool to high school.

What do you think of the general premise? Are there things that you would add or subtract?

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World: Part 3

All day today I have been dragging, something has been off. I suspect it is all because of a ball game. You see I’m a big Duke fan and well the men’s basketball team just didn’t play up to Duke standards and to be frank just didn’t play like they really wanted the win last night for the UNC game. All day today I have been just off key. Yet, one thing I know with the UNC win over Duke last night, we live in a broken and fallen world (well maybe that is a stretch, but it makes me feel better about life). Either way all we have to do is watch the news or simply look around and know that we live in a fallen world that is far from the Lord.

A weeks ago we began the series on how we can respond to this fallen world. The first post we discussed the great need for us as believers to stay engaged with the world around us. It would be easy for us to look around and say we don’t want any part it, yet the Bible tells us that we are ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) for Christ and that as we are living and going that we should make disciples from new believers to maturing believers (Matt 28:19-20).

The second post we discussed that we as believers must live and stand by conviction. Our faith isn’t some sort of suggestion but our lives are to become more Christ-like in our words, actions, attitudes, and in our thoughts. When the Bible says that one thing and the world around us says something else what will we do? How will we live? Will we do what is easy and compromise or will we do what is oftentimes difficult and live by our convictions?

In this third post we are going to discuss that as a believer you must know that when you live by conviction, you will feel increasingly less comfortable. What creates this discomfort?  I believe the key to this discomfort that we see the two world: the world we live in and the world of eternal life seeing the Lord face to face. If you have been in the church very long you have probably heard the slogan “In the world, but not of the world.” This is a true statement, with just one revision. The Bible puts it like this in John 17:14-18, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Clearly from this verse we as believers are not of the world, yet we are sent into the world. Therefore, we are sent into the world, but not of the world. It is this sense and with this growing awareness of the Kingdom that we will grow more and more uncomfortable.

This is especially true in certain circumstances we find ourselves. Maybe you are watching a TV show like this past Grammy Awards show or having a movie go in a direction you didn’t expect. Maybe you find yourself uncomfortable at the office around the water cooler as one co-worker is talking negatively about another, it may be that colorful and course joke, or it may be just the general topic of discussion. As we go through life and as we live more and more by conviction we will find ourselves in situations of discomfort.

What do we do with this discomfort? In many situations we as believers must continue to actively be salt and light. Several weeks ago I was sitting around a table when one person said something that completely went against my convictions. To this is was very quick speak and stand my ground, to be that salt and light.

Yet, there are some situations we must follow Joseph’s example and simply get out. You remember Joseph that young fellow with the special coat, some of us may have learned about him as the coat of many colors. You remember in Genesis 39, Joseph was serving in Potiphar’s house, “One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She (Potiphar’s wife) caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” During the Grammy’s Christian singer Natalie Grant, nominated twice, walked out of the show.  You ask what is the situation that you should simply get out? I think there is a few questions that will help us answer this question.

1) Are you in a position to influence the situation? If you are not in a position to influence then get out.

2) Where you at in your walk with Christ? Are you fairly young in the faith or strong and mature in the faith? The less mature you are in your walk the more likely you may find yourself in a situation that you simply need to get out.

3) What is the level of celebration of non-biblical viewpoints? To put this another way, there is no need to knowingly be in a lion’s den. If the celebration of a non-biblical viewpoint is high, then the ability to affectively influence is low.

The reality is that as we live more and more by our convictions the more and more we will be uncomfortable.

 

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World: Part 2

This past week in Greenville, NC there were two very unusual and scary armed robberies. One on Monday at a Zaxby’s and the other on Tuesday at a Food Lion. An armed robbery is scary but what made this more scary and unusual was the time: late afternoon or early night. These weren’t robberies that took place late at night but an armed robbery right as patrons were enjoying their meal or as people were stoping by the grocery store after work to grab a few items for dinner. One only has to look around to know that we live in a fallen world, and a world I would say is moving further away from the Lord or to be more intellectual, moving further away from our Judeo-Christian roots.

While we live in a fallen world that is filled with all kinds of evil, we must confront a question: How do we as Christians respond? How do we as Christians respond in a manner that will allow us to be salt and light in the world and culture in which live?

Last week we said that we must first respond by not giving up on those far from the Lord. It is easy to give up on the world and say the world is lost and without hope, yet we as believers must stay engaged. We must be salt and light!

The second way we are to respond is we must live and stand by conviction. Our faith some sort of suggestion but our lives are to become more Christ-like in our words, actions, attitudes, and in our thoughts. When the Bible says that one thing and the world around us says something else what will we do? How will we live? Will we do what is easy and compromise or will we do what is oftentimes difficult and live by our convictions? When there is conflict between the Bible and the world will we become ‘undercover’ Christians, who are so ‘undercover’ that no one can tell the difference between how you live as a Christian and how a non-believer lives? As a side note and sadly, when one looks at recent studies that compare a Christians thoughts and lifestyle and a non-believers thoughts and lifestyle, there is little difference. Sadly, too many of us as believers have already decided to live as ‘undercover’ Christians.

1 Corintians 16:13 tells us, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (NASB)(emphasis mine).” In like manner Galatians 5:1 tells us, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (emphasis mine).” This standing firm is to be firmly rooted, to be firmly established, and to stand your ground no matter what.

So here are my questions for you:

1) What are your convictions? How do they line up with the Bible?

2) Are you living and standing by those convictions or do you easily compromise? If find that you easily compromise, why?

3) Do those around you see you as a person who stands and lives by your convictions?

Community

 

I love to “People Watch”. It is an experiment of observation for me. A way to see people and watch their behaviors, their demeanors, and their reactions. I’ve noticed several things, one is people love relationships with other people or to put it another way people love to be in community. People love to talk and spend time with others. They love to meet and spend time around a lunch table or for a coffee. They love to spend time in community.

I catch people sitting alone at a table and their whole demeanor is unremarkable, if not a little downcast, yet when they see someone they recognize or their friend arrives for lunch their whole demeanor changes. You can see they lift their head higher, their shoulders become more open, their feet become more active, there appears a smile on their face, and their attitude become more bubbly.

Think about it this way with all the different social medias such as Facebook or how people are constantly checking, talking, and typing away at their iPhones. Relationships. Community.

I don’t think the need or the desire for these relationships/community with others can be over stated. We as human beings are relational. It doesn’t matter the time or the place or the circumstances, people are relational and love to be in relationship.

What about community in the church? We talk about community in the church often, we see articles and books written about community in the church, yet for some reason so often we miss the boat. Making this sad and shocking is that the church should be a natural place for community not Starbucks or the local diner. I’m not saying that community or those relationships have to always be in the church, but that the church should be the significant place where people connect. It is from these relationships or these connections that people encourage, challenge, and support one another. Where is the down fall for churches? Obviously, intentionality has to be mentioned. The church and church leaders must be intentional about setting up environments where people connect and those relationship are established. I believe also that the church has focused too much on perfection in programs or polish in the services or pious professionalism in it’s leaders. People are looking for the real. Real problems and real people. A place where leaders and the people are willing to admit they don’t have it all together. A place where people can be flawed.

People are looking for community and as the church we must position ourselves to be the place where community happens and where community starts.

Is it the End of the World?

As we all know the Mayan long calendar has created a lot of brouhaha with people thinking it is the end of the world. Is it the end of the world? Will tomorrow bring the apocalypse? Should I pay my house mortgage this month? Should my local school be closed two days earlier for Christmas break, like 33 Michigan schools?

My short answer to this question, don’t hold your breath because I’m confident that mankind will see the sunset on December 21, 2012 (and yes you do need to pay that mortgage bill). I am confident because of verses like: Matthew 24:36-44-“’But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.'”

1 Thess. 5:1-3- “‘Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.'”

This Mayan calendar apocalypse is definitely not creating the same level of fear as the infamous and greatly exaggerated Y2K, it still elicits many question from a number of people.  What is interesting to me is where people are seeking or not seeking the answers from.  They are seeking answers from NASA. NASA has received so many emails and phone calls, that it has established a f.a.q. totally devoted to this topic. At the risk of ruining your hopes that you don’t have to pay you mortgage this month, NASA totally debunks the whole idea that the world will end tomorrow. My question is why is the church not receiving many of these calls and emails?

1) The church is not receiving these calls and emails because the church is not speaking up.

Many believe the church has been forced into a corner by society. This may be partially correct but I believe the issue is more the church has put it self in a corner. In today’s world you and I hear little to noting from the faith community in relation to such issues and the little that we do hear is oftentimes secondary and soft. Take for instance the “War on Christmas” discussion, if I am completely honest I hear more about it from Bill O’Reilly on this issue that Christian leaders. Let’s be honest the church has fallen silent and no longer speaks out.

2) The church is not receiving these calls and emails because it is not seen as essential and credible in society.

In recent history the church is losing influence as it is not seen as essential and a credible source of information within society. This can’t be stated any clearer than the fact that people go to NASA about questions on the end of the world far more than they do the church in this situation. Why is this? The church isn’t seen as either an essential or credible provider of answers to the questions such as the Mayan scare. You don’t see me going to The National Enquirer for news on current events, because I don’t see them as an essential, viable, or credible source of information. In the same way the world doesn’t see the church as an essential, viable, or credible source of information.

3) The church is not receiving these calls and emails because of the increase in secularist thought and tendency.

While it is reported that 92% of Americans believe in a God, it is also evident that there is a continual regression in faith compared to secularism. With this rise in secularism, there is little doubt why questions like the Mayan question are not brought to the church. Further, why would someone who is influenced very little by the church come to the church to ask a question. That individual is going to go to the source they most identify with.

4) The church is not receiving these calls and emails because it is seen as not open to these questions.

Let’s be honest here, I am a Christian pastor and most of you the readers are coming from more of a faith background than the general population, but the church really isn’t open for people to ask these questions. We say that we are but when the questions are asked we respond with scathing self-righteousness and judgement. From where I come from this is seen as not being open to a question.

5) The church is not receiving these calls and emails because the church is no longer actively engaged in the communities in which they reside.

Generally the church is becoming more and more about ‘us four and no more’ mentality and very internal focused. Because of this mentality and focus we as a church are not engaged with the communities that surround the church and the world at large. In fact  in Transformational Church Stetzer and Rainer state, “We have churches filled with knowledgeable religious people not living on mission, wasting their time criticizing those who are.” We as a church must engage and be the sent church who is on mission for God.

If we as a church are not engaged with the community, why would they engage with us?

6) The church is not receiving these calls and emails because of the perceived loss in the faith verses science debate.

I don’t think it has to be argued that there is a debate of faith verses science or science verse faith. My argument is why does it have to be a verses? Do they have to be mutually exclusive?

The underlying question is which is trusted more, science or faith. From events such as this it is evident that science is winning.

How will you proceed with tomorrow? Will it be different from any other day? While I don’t believe that the Mayan calendar scare will amount to anything, I do see a visible illustrative issue for the church. The question is how should the church respond?

What do you think? How should the church respond in the wake of an event that gives undeniable evidence that the influence of the church is greatly diminished?

 

 

 

Welcome????

Who should be welcome at church? Does one have to have the ‘right’ clothes? Does one have to have the ‘right’ look and that includes tattoos or piercings? Does one have to have the ‘right’ Bible? Does one have to have the ‘right’ beliefs? Does one have to live the ‘right’ life? I wonder who should be welcome at church?

I’ve been thinking about such questions as I have been contemplating the traditional church. Yes there are some traditional churches that are making some great strides in being relevant both in method and culture in today’s world. I applaud these churches for seeing people as individuals who are desperately need the love and salvation of Christ. I applaud these churches for seeing that the world is changing in relation to customs, dress level, and cultural taboos and being sensitive to these culture changes. Now, I am in no way advocating for being footloose and fancy free with the gospel message, yet what I am advocating for is being sensitive to the culture in relation to the methods we as the church uses in order to be the salt and light to the community and world in which it ministers.

So who should be welcome at church? The Bible answers this questions in this way, “Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?’ Jesus, overhearing, shot back, ‘Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders (Matthew 9:10-13 The Message).’” In other words everyone should be welcome, whether this be the three piece suit guys with the hair that is just perfect, the person in the blue jeans, the person with body piercings, or the person with the million tattoos. Further this also includes those who are black, yellow, white, or even polka-dotted. All are welcome!

Think about this verse whenever someone different shows up at your church, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts (James 2:1-4 NIV)?”

So here is my question for you. Who is welcome at your church? While no one may voice it but who isn’t welcome at your church? Why? Is this Biblical?