Monthly Archives: October 2004

Fixing the Church Starts with Me

Over the past year, I have visited what seems like an endless number of Web sites covering post modernism and the emerging church. Many of these sites make great points about what is wrong with mainstream, institutional Christianity. But I am starting to wonder if the whole emergent church thing is becoming a distraction, a hindrance more than a revolution.

People gather together and debate the best methods to reach those outside of the church. They can talk about what is wrong with the “system.” While the dialogue is inspiring and refreshing, it can also paralyze Christians in a constant state of looking for the next best thing.

While “cutting edge thinkers” are talking, who is out there living among the people, sharing Christ and meeting needs as guided by the Spirit? Innovation must move beyond the concept stage to real life implementation if it is going to make a difference. Will our quest for answers make us irrelevant?

Sure, there are people living out innovation as real life pioneers. But there are also many people who have been burned by church as usual and are hiding out in the postmodern/emergent church movement. They are bitter. And they use the quest to be relevant as a smokescreen for expressing their personal gripes with the current church system. Some of this discussion may take place with proper motives. Some of it does not. Where is the line between sour grapes and real, constructive discussion?

If people are not careful, online communities of “emergent thinkers” can become a great breading ground for the next generation of Pharisees. In the past, you could tell a Pharisee by his position within the system. In the future, you may be able to spot a Pharisee by his position outside of the system. Sometimes it doesn’t take long for the revolution to become the institution.

Some might say, “Well, I’ve found my new community with a group of people who think like me, and they don’t attend church. They are the church.” That’s great. But what happens to real enlightenment when all you hear are people who think like you? If everyone is leaving the institutional church to find the real church, who is carrying the discoveries of emerging Christian thought back into the system? Or have the pioneers left the homestead never to return? Who will share their discoveries?

With all of these thoughts swirling around in my head, I have come to the conclusion that emergent thinking is just one place for me to go for insight. I must be careful to take the good and leave the bad – no matter where I find it.

From the home church movement to the institutional church to cutting edge ministry seeking to reach the lost in relevant ways, there is something to learn from the many different expressions of Christianity. Truth is truth regardless of where I find it. I must be careful to resist the temptation to give allegiance to any one ministry or movement. My allegiance belongs to God not anything else.

Isn’t it hard to love other Christians when your mind is full of rhetoric against the system? Can someone really be driven by love when they always seem to criticize the institutional church? Yet we see Jesus frequently doing His best to tear down idolatry even to religious things.

Jesus spoke about the temple coming down and often violated the traditions of the Pharisees. He was certainly not sold out to the system. And He never seemed shy about sharing what was on His mind. What does it really look like to speak the truth in love?

My heart motive appears to be the key to ministering within and without the system. Reform starts one person at a time. We the revolutionaries must be willing to be the first to undergo the change of revolution. Then we can lead by example. Truly, fixing the Church starts with me.

If the Shoe Fits…

According to what I have always heard and read, many people do not walk correctly. I’m not talking about how they swagger. It’s all about posture and how people use their feet when they walk. Many people, including myself, have poor posture. I have had people tell me in the past that I stoop sometimes.

The other day while reading a major news magazine, I came across an article about shoes designed to force correct posture. Called the Masai Barefoot Technology (mBT), the shoes have thick, curved soles. This design encourages a rocking and rolling motion from the heel to the toe. Poor posture in these shoes might cause you to fall. mBT shoes are very expensive and can be difficult to get accustomed to wearing at first.

The mBT sneakers are gaining in popularity, awkward looking and definitely cool. Many of the mBT designs have goofy looking souls. Some people report feeling like they are walking on stilts when they first put on a pair of mBT sneakers. Strolling in a pair of these puppies can be serious exercise and work for the newbie.

How important is our walk? Some researchers indicate that poor posture can cause a number of long-term health problems. By encouraging a more natural gait, the mBT shoes can ease back and joint pain and improve proper muscle use according to published reports. With a price tag around $234 per pair, you have to be willing to pay a high price for these shoes.

But do they work? Well, there is nothing like a few well timed falls on your face to correct years of bad posture. This may seem like tough love. But it is probably effective.

Is there a deep life lesson here? I think so. The mBT design corrects how someone walks in order to improve health. Walking can be something that we take for granted. We have done it so long, we just assume that we do it right. The same thing can happen with a Christian when it comes to spiritual things. We don’t stop to see if we are getting the basics right. Consequently, there are many Christians walking around with bad spiritual posture and poor habits in their daily walk with God.

Just like health conscious consumers, many within the Body of Christ may need to put on new shoes (spiritual disciplines) to force proper posture and walking techniques. Lace up, we have a long way to go until the end of the road. Boy, these new shoes sure feel weird.

mBT Web site: http://www.mbt-uk.com

The Divided States of America

Last weekend, I went to a regional Scottish festival with my family. I thought it was a great event to build a greater sense of community until I saw two booths. One was passing out Bush stickers and encouraging people to vote. The other was doing the same thing for John Kerry. I thought to myself, “Why are these guys here?” Then as I walked around and noticed people wearing different stickers, I suddenly felt weird being around people with stickers supporting the other guy. I had taken a sticker from the lady, and I guess that made me feel compelled to wear it. Why did I suddenly look at people wearing the “wrong” sticker and feel anger toward them? I saw a few older men wearing the “wrong” sticker and though, “Well, I guess grey hair is not always a sign of wisdom.”

As I stopped and noticed my sinful thoughts and feelings, I repented right there on the spot. I asked God to fill me with love even for those who advocate policies and candidates that I strongly oppose. I looked at one of the men and said to myself, “I love that man because God does.” Why do feelings seem to run so strong this election year? At the end, aren’t we all living in the same country? Or maybe that’s the problem.

When talking about politics, I have begun to tell people that I am a registered Theocrat. I tell them that I would love to write in Jesus on my ballot. Every election, I end up voting for the worse of multiple evils. My King is not of this world. I wait for Him to establish His Kingdom. Until then, I am just a steward learning how to get ready for His government. I can honestly say that no matter how righteous a candidate may seem, he or she is evil. The Bible is clear that there is none good, no not one. All men and women have fallen short of God’s glory. Now that doesn’t make my vote for a man wrong. I make the best of bad situation.

My position as a theocratic keeps me from getting too worried about the outcome of any one election. Sure, I vote and participate as a good citizen. I pray for leaders and ask for God to guide the U.S.A. But why should I worry? If satan could not destroy God’s plans after trying non-stop for thousands of years, what makes me think that one bureaucrat can thwart God’s plan or timetable? If the devil himself is a pawn in God’s grand plan, why couldn’t a misguided politician be one too?

No matter how someone votes or thinks, God loves them. We should treat everyone with love. We do not have to all agree to live in peace with each other.

Jesus lived during politically charged times. There were partisan groups, political compromise and intense debate over how best to deal with Roman rule. There were those who called for moral purity. There were those who focused on being pragmatic and lining their pockets. There were those who tried to walk the center of the road. People were persecuted and divided.

One of the great sources of unity in Israel at that time was the temple, and Jesus directly attacked it. He introduced the concept of a living temple and even predicted that the existing temple would be destroyed. Jesus’ words about the temple were treasonous and divisive to many in the crowd.

Jesus spoke about being united with God. But division on the earth did not seem to really concern him. He came to ignite division if it brought people into alignment with divine purposes and the glory of God. Interestingly, the only time Jesus met political leaders was when he was in chains before Pilate and Herod. During his earthly ministry, Jesus never sought to curry favor with religious or political leaders. He seemed content to focus on those people abandoned by everyone else.

How do you be a good Theocrat? Simple – love God first and your neighbor as yourself.

Let’s Meet

Christians love to get together for meeting. If I am not careful, my calendar can get chocked full of meetings while “real” ministry goes undone. Sure, meetings can be good. But why do we have to have so many meetings? Sometimes I think ministries have meetings because people think that is just what ministries are supposed to do. Sure, there are times to meet. There are seasons and times for everything. Leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. But many of the Christian meetings that I attend seem like a waste of time. Why is that?

One big reason seems to be how much time we spend talking and strategizing instead of praying. I don’t see Jesus having lots of strategy sessions. He relies on the Spirit to coordinate things. He teaches through teachable moments that pop up as He ministers with His disciples. Jesus holds impromptu teaching sessions when they get away from the crowds.

Sure, Jesus lived life daily with His disciples. This is not possible for most people today. Or at least, it is a life we are not willing to live. Maybe the key is to be involved in only a few ministries and commit very deeply to them. But even amidst one ministry there can be competing interests for your time. What happens if worship band practice and small group conflict? What if a leadership meeting or prayer team meeting are scheduled at the same time? Choices have to be made. I am convinced that Jesus did not die so that we could spend life in meetings. But then the “practical” realities of ministry come and bring me back down to earth.

I seem to be caught between two worlds sometimes. And I have a hard time living well in either one. Jesus, save me from my own private twilight zone!

The Spirit has been convicting me lately about my pursuit of “more” ministry. I believe that God wants deeper ministry not just more of it. More can really be less if resources are spread too thin and none of my efforts go beyond the surface.

What are the necessary ingredients for a productive meeting? While there is no correct model, these elements can make all the difference.

-Listening prayer (Silence can be exactly what we need to hear from God)

-Praying for each member of the community by name

-Fellowship around a meal or activity

-Communion

-Discuss a few key questions about where the community is and where God wants to take us

-Brainstorm innovative ways to explore more of God and encourage more community building

-Ask each person to share why they are there and what they believe God wants to do through them

-Pray for another ministry

-Worship through music or some other form of expression

-Exchange gifts or words of encouragement

-Discuss problems and challenges in ministry with a focus on finding solutions

The above are just some ideas. The real key seems to following God’s plan as the Spirit guides. No matter how skilled we are. Man can do nothing meaningful apart from God’s power.

Do We Really Want Community?

God has increasingly revealed to me a main problem with many efforts within the modern church to establish community. While people say they want community, most are not willing to pay the price. They mistakenly underestimate the cost. When they see the price tag, they run away frightened by sticker shock.

What is the price of true community? The simple answer is sacrificial love and death to self. People come for the gourmet coffee and casual chit-chat about sports or politics. But they tend to leave when life gets tough or simple the community thing is no longer new. Efforts to start community tend to begin with a big bang. But they will quickly die out with commitment.

Where does this commitment come from? What makes someone stay around when times get tough? I believe a genuine call from God is a must. People need to get a revelation of Hebrews 10:24-25. They must hear from God the importance of real fellowship, openness and exhortation.

Many people want to avoid the dreaded “C” word. Yes, there is nothing that will make people run for the doors than to make them think they will have to commit to something. Marriage, children, work and church on Sundays is enough thank you. Many people think, “I don’t need more commitment.” So to keep from exciting their fears, we try to create easy entry, light on the commitment opportunities for fellowship and community. Sure, these may be necessary for those on the fringe. What about those looking to grow deeper in Christ and harmony with the Body?

By soft selling the underlining purpose aren’t we actually reinforcing the exact opposite of what we want people to take away from community building campaigns? Aren’t we really saying that commitment is not that important? Doesn’t community take time and effort? How can we expect to have community when there are so many people looking at their watches wondering when they can leave?

Can there really be community without commitment? I don’t think so. But how do we define commitment without being legalistic? Then we just end up jumping into the ditch on the other side of the road. I guess that there is no one right answer. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Our correct course can only be found through Him.

I really believe that lack of commitment, especially among men, has hampered many modern church fellowships. People view church just like everything else – it is a product to be consumed. When it no longer works, people discard it or go on to the next one.

Commitment is necessary to keep going when problems and trials come our way. But then again you can’t really force anyone to be committed to something. That is kind of like saying that you have to like somebody. If you are a parent, you have probably noticed that we can’t even force our kids to like each other. Although we can keep them from hurting each other, they have to decide to let God change their heart. Likewise, community cannot be structured by a committee. It must start with a call from God.

The big question is, “Are we listening?”

Virtual Life

While playing with my nephew recently, I discovered just how much the culture has changed since when I was a child. My nephew, Scott Jr., wanted to show me a computer game where he built things using “virtual” Lego building blocks. Now when I built amazing structures with legos, we used real blocks. Sure, Scott has those too. But it is building things in the virtual world that captures his attention. If given the choice, he would build using virtual legos and not real blocks.

As I sat there watching Scott work away on the computer, I saw how great the technological divide is between my generation and that of my nephew who is eight years old. My family first had a computer when I was in middle school. I had an Atari as a kid. We got a Nintendo when I was in eight grade, and I thought it was high tech gaming. Now everything is almost obsolete by the time you pull it out of the box. Regardless of increases in technology, truth remains truth. How we interact and communicate that truth may change.

Video games are attractive because they are a safe way to escape real life. Nobody really gets killed in them. You can always turn the machine off or start over when things go wrong. You don’t have to really interact with other people to play. So if you’re shy or have a hard time in social settings, the virtual world gives you the opportunity for interaction without the jeopardy of the real world. Virtual reality provides a way for people to become part of the movie, to do things they could never do in real life. People used to get their kicks by watching movies or TV. Now entertainment has gone one step further. Video games allow people to take on alternate personalities.

What does the trend toward virtual experiences and entertainment mean for our society and culture? How will it impact how we learn and communicate in the future? What does it mean for ministry and interacting with God? Can the virtual world be a stumbling block for those desiring to draw closer to God?

While the answers to the above questions are not clear, one thing is for sure, if there is a way the enemy will try to use them to separate people from God. The church must discover how to harness the power of technology to connect people to God and other Christians.

While I don’t think that the world needs a Jesus Freak video game, we should develop ways to translate God’s truth so that a more wired generation can understand and receive it.

You Are My Friends If…

What did Jesus say are the requirements to be His friend? Jesus made it clear that many would come seeking an audience with Him at the end of the age. But many of them would not be accepted by Jesus. The Scriptures say that friendship with God is reserved for those who fear Him. Jesus went even further saying, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14).

We can say whatever we want. But how we live our lives reveals the true condition of our heart. Are we like Jesus?

What about me? Does my life reflect the character of Christ? Would people listen to me speak and see God’s power manifest in my life and think, “This man was with Jesus?”