Archive for August, 2010

The church is a living, breathing organism and like all organisms, there’s a life cycle. Sometimes, the church is growing rapidly, sometimes it is in decline.  Sometimes churches are born and sometimes churches completely die.

For the past few months, I’ve been exploring thoughts on growth and death in spiritual terms.  Today, I’m just going to publish some thoughts from two sources — One on the characteristics of a growing church and others on sins of the dying church.

Perry Noble of Newspring published this list of characteristics of a living and growing church.

#1 – They have leaders that lead!

“For God so loved the world that He did not send a committee!” Not sure where I heard that…but its true!

#2 – A desperation for God’s power!

Prayer isn’t a good luck charm that is attached at the beginning or at the end of something…people are legitimately desperate for the power of God. They pray Habakkuk 3:2 prayers every day and…

#3 – They believe that greater things are in store.

They don’t just pray big prayers…but they have a sense of anticipation that is contagious! They don’t read Acts 2 and think “those were the good ‘ole days” but rather they think, “that’s where God STARTED this thing…we should be WAY ahead of this!!!”

#4 – They are full of ordinary people.

God always uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. Jesus didn’t choose one scribe or Pharisee when He launched the church…and Acts 4:13 talks about how He used ordinary people to absolutely turn the world upside down. The staff LOVE the church…so much so that they would actually attend there even if they were not on staff!

#5 – They leverage technology.

They don’t view technology as of the devil but rather as a tool given by God to reach as many people as possible for Jesus. (Btw…isn’t it funny that some churches are against the use of technology yet all of them rode to their church in a car and their church building has air conditioner?)

#6 – The church is full of passion.

People in the church actually LOVE the church and do not attend because they feel like they have to! (The only reason people get angry with the fact that you love your church is probably because they have no idea what it is like to actually love their church!)

#7 – They take ownership of the great commission.

They REFUSE to be “keepers of the aquarium” and instead embrace the COMMAND of Jesus to reach the world for HIM! (BTW NewSpring Church…it has been SO encouraging to see so many of you come to our evangelism seminar this week! We have one more live one tonight at our Anderson campus – you can sign up here – and, if you cannot join us live for some reason this event will be available online just like our Sunday services…so you can join us tonight at http://www.newspring.cc from 7-9, can’t wait!)

#8 – There is a willingness to change and adapt, even when it means they have to go against the very “innovative” ideas that they themselves once established!

Anyone can change the traditions of the past…but true innovation occurs when we’re willing to change the ideas that we once thought were innovative and ground breaking!

#9 – Generosity is embraced.

The world has never been impacted in a positive way by people that were greedy.

#10 – The people in the church are OWNERS, not merely “members.”

Members have rights, owners have responsibilities. The people in these churches understand that it is not the pastors job to minister to the people but rather the bodies job to minister to the body! And as a result people serve Jesus by serving others instead of sitting on their “blessed assurance” and expecting to be waited on hand and foot.

But what about the other side?  What does it look like to be a dying church?  Well, it’s another list of ten.  This time, the source is Church Central Leadership Forum and the writer seems to be Stephen Gray.

Ten Deadly Sins Of A Dying Church

Just finishing up essential Church? by Thom and Sam Rainer. I highly recommend you take the time to read this book.Why are our young people leaving the Church and how can we regain their attention? Can we, as Christ followers, help the younger generation rediscover an essential quality to the Church? Those pressing questions were the catalyst behind the research revealed in this book. According to the authors, more than two-thirds of young adults drop out of church between the ages of 18 and 22. The church is only retaining one-third of our young adults. Most simply leave, lose contact and relegate the church to ineffective and non-essential.

Why does this happen? Rainer offers seven primary reasons the church is losing the battle for the hearts and souls of our youth. He calls them the “Seven Deadly Sins”. I have added three of my own to his seven. Each of these sins, to varying degrees, can be seen in stagnant and dying churches.

1. Doctrinal Drift
In a desire to reach more people, churches have often watered-down doctrinal truths believing that they are creating a more inviting environment for seekers. I dislike the term “Seeker Sensitive” the scripture isn’t very sensitive in many ways. Rather, we should think in terms of “seeker intelligibility”. The Word of God may not be very sensitive to an unbeliever, but it should be intelligible. Make o mistake, the younger generation likes straight-talk. They are tired of the mush.

2. Evangelism Atrophy
Most churches in America aspire to have evangelism as a driving force but they have lost their passion. Ask every one of them, however, and they will proclaim it as a core value. Yet, a quick look at their checkbook, annual budget and programs will tell the truth. For most churches in America evangelism is a great thought and desire, but in all actuality very little in the way of evangelism is done.

3. Failure To Be Relevant
I know, many in the church hate this word. But don’t forget, the Gospel was not written in a cultural vacuum. The words we read today were written thousands of years ago. They still apply today, but we must learn to understand them in their cultural context and then find ways to help 21st century people understand.
Church is no different. We have to do church in a way that connects with this culture otherwise the church simply becomes a huddled mass of cloistered believers hiding from a sin-sick world.

4. Inwardly Focused
The new2, unspoken mantra of the modern American church is; “It’s all about me.” While no one will readily admit it, all one has to do is look at the ministries and programs. What can be quickly discovered is that most churches build ministries to satisfy the already fed. These programs are good to keep the flock happy. Not necessarily a bad thing, but too much of a good thing ends up being a bad thing.

5. Personal Conflict
Not sure I need to explain this too much. Church people have found a way to make an argument out of almost anything. Political power struggles rule the day.

6. A Priority Of Comfort
Dying churches refuse to reach out beyond their own comfort-zones. When any real ministry does happen and dirty, sinful people walk in among the righteous, it upsets the apple cart. It simply isn’t comfortable.

7. Biblical Illiteracy
The latest research by Gallup and other pollsters reveal that most long time members of churches don’t really know what they Bible says. Phrases like; “God helps those who help themselves” are regularly quoted as scripture.

8. Hording
It amazes me the amount of money many dying churches have in their saving accounts. The thought is that they are saving it for a rainy day, but I wonder what God thinks about this? Will he be happy if we, like the man with one talent, have not invested his Kingdom resources in the Great co-mission work when returns. Which would be best; Die rich, having saved our resources and done as little as we can get by with, or Die broke with the knowledge that we have done all we can.

9. Failure to Follow
Too many cooks in the kitchen. Too often pastors are treated like hirelings and not called, anointed people of God. The pastor is forced to walk on eggshells to avoid losing their job. Those who are in positions of authority are unwilling to let go of the reigns and follow the leader called to serve them.

10. Idolatry
You may think this is absent from today’s Church, but it is very alive. Beloved programs, versions of the Bible, furniture, paintings on the wall and the placement of objects have caused more quarrels than I care to mention. We have taken these items to god-like levels in the church and forgotten the main thing.

So what are the characteristics of your church, how do you see growing versus dying?  What are your thoughts?

The Compassion of the Christ

Posted: August 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

Scripture: Luke 13:10-17

They’re just normal every day folks who attend their church and devote themselves to serving God.
During the day, they work to support themselves and their families. At night, they spend their time with fellow believers, studying the Scriptures and talking about the new discoveries they find.

They might have one of the strongest senses of morality that you’ll ever experience. They know right and wrong and the traditions of the church.

Everything they do is filled with good intentions.

And when they are presented with what they perceive to be a challenge to what they know and believe, they react with vigor to combat it.

Unfortunately, the Pharisees just don’t get that the one they are so opposed to has come to restore the Law of God, the Law of Moses, back to it’s original intention.  The purpose of the law was to bring us into a closer relationship with God.  It was to show us how to love and to live more fully.

The rules and the laws have been interpreted and reinterpreted over the centuries to the point that they now serve to separate those who are “holy” from those who are “unholy.”

And so when the Pharisees see a young, 30-something teacher from the hick town of Nazareth violate the rules designed to keep the Sabbath holy for God, they have no choice but to respond.

And maybe Jesus seems caviler in his approach to the situation.

He stops his teaching in the synagogue to address a woman who is plagued by a “spirit” issue.  It’s a woman who has had an illness for years.  Honestly, it’s been 18 years, what’s a few more hours of waiting?

Then, it won‘t be the Sabbath anymore — it will be one of those other six perfectly good days on which to heal.

But Jesus just can’t wait.  He never seems to be able to wait.  He calls her over, in the middle of the sermon.  He looks at her with the love of God and then he does something that might seem strange.

Before he heals her, he says, he’s going to free her.

Why would she need to be freed?

When we deal with a long-term illness or medical complication, it can become the lens through which we see the world.  Life is measured in terms of good and bad days. In many ways, in long-term illnesses, we become chained to it and we drag it around with us wherever we go. This woman has been held hostage for 18 years.  She’s in bondage, a captive.

And the only response of a loving Jesus is to fulfill the mission he stated back in his first sermon.  That’s when he stood up in front of the hometown crowd in Nazareth and laid out his mission.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus is only doing what he promised to do — he’s freeing a captive!

Once he has freed her from the spirit issue (and notice it is called a spirit issue), he deals with the physical problem.

Here’s something else that would have upset the Pharisees.  With an illness such as this, this woman is considered unclean, even unholy. Jesus shocks them by reaching out his hand — and touching her!

And then, he heals her.  Immediately, she straightens back up.

Try to imagine for a moment what that would be like.  After 18 years of being bent over, after 18 years of pain and difficulty walking, doing anything, even living.  After 18 years in which you’ve probably thought and decided that there is no way that you could ever stand up again.  After all of that — in a single moment, muscles fire that haven’t fired in a long time, bones and joints move that haven’t been moving.  There’s sensation, there’s feeling.

And in a moment like that, what is the only thing one could possibly do?

You praise the God that made this miracle happen.

But this is where the situation starts to take a turn.

Jesus did it again!

He’s built a reputation as one of the biggest breakers of what Jews called the Mishneh.  God gave the law to Moses and that included the 10 commandments and other rules for living life in the wilderness and even in the promised land of Canaan.   If you read the 10 commandments, for example, you start to realize that some of them are not very specific.

For example, honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.  What does it really mean to do that?  Over the years, Jewish religious leaders tried to answer by interpreting rules and laws to keep the Sabbath Holy.  Now you had the commandment from God and a lot of rules based on that commandment. And the theory is, if you keep these new rules, you’ll never come close to breaking the commandments that God has given to us.

And did I forget to mention that all of these rules in the mishneh weren’t written down anywhere?  It was all here, in the heads of the rabbis and the teachers of the law.  And in the heads of the Pharisees.  As a rabbi, Jesus is expected to know these laws and obey them.  And in his actions, in his healing on the Sabbath, in his touching of this woman with the illness, Jesus ignores the Jewish law.

The synagogue leader, a Pharisee, has no choice but to respond.

He turns to the crowd and he tries to rebuke Jesus for breaking the law.  The leader is making his case to build support for his view.

What Jesus is doing is violating our rules — we need to address this.

After all, Jesus has built a reputation as a rule breaker.  He’s one of the single biggest breakers in the New Testament of the rules of the Sabbath.  He has broken the rules and had contact with lepers, the sick, the demon-possessed and even Samaritans.  He has broken the rules and laws by lifting women up to places they’ve never been before in society.

What an outrage!   Jesus is doing it again.

And so how does Jesus respond?

Notice that he’s direct, he addresses the issue, he points out the inconsistencies, the problems.  Jesus isn’t quite the peace-sign making, flower-child that he’s sometimes portrayed to be.

He calls them, “Hypocrites!”   What‘s he mean by hypocrites?  He’s calling them actors, pretenders to faith and the things of God.

Then, he goes to where they are and he works from something they understand.  Jesus talks about farm animals. Under the law, you could untie your livestock and take them to get food or water.  Jesus asks the question, “Don’t you go out to the stalls and untie your own livestock on the Sabbath and lead them to water?”
The answer would be, “yes,” because for people living in a farming society — that‘s what you do.

Then he makes the connection.

“What about this daughter of Abraham?  In other words, this is one of your own people?”

What about her?  Satan has kept her tied up for 18 years.  Shouldn’t she also be afforded at least the same treatment as livestock?  Shouldn’t we also be able to free her from her stall, her prison cell, even on the Sabbath?”

An interesting word is used here. These Pharisees, this synagogue leader, are described as adversaries.

These folks who have devoted their lives to being Godly.  These ones who have worked to preserve the church and its traditions, are described as being the very opposite of Jesus.

The Pharisees appear as the opponents of Jesus throughout the Gospel. In the days and hours leading up to what we call Good Friday, it is the Pharisees who ultimately turn the crowd against Jesus.  In the course of a week, they are able to turn the triumph of Palm Sunday into the heartbreak and pain of Calvary.

But ultimately, their way loses.

Why? Because with all of their focus on following God, on doing the right things, on good intentions, they failed to see the Law of Moses for what it was.  The ones who knew the scriptures better than others couldn’t see Jesus in them.

The 10 commandments and the laws that followed are not “life’s instruction book.”  They are a compass that points us to a relationship with a loving God and ultimately to the mercy and grace we find in Christ.

There’s something telling, even about the name Pharisee itself.  Pharisee means “the separated ones.”  When they saw the world, the Pharisees saw a divide.

They stood on one side and thought they were the ones chosen by God, favored by God and set apart.  Then, there was everyone else — the unclean and the unholy.
For that line to be crossed, those in that unclean group had to make themselves better, they had to make themselves holy so that they could come to the level of the Pharisees.

But remember, they are the adversaries of Jesus.  They are the polar opposite of Christ.

In scripture, Jesus isn’t described as the “better way,” “the best way,” “the way when it’s comfortable for us,” or even the “easy way.” He’s simply described as “the way.”
And what is the way of Jesus?

For Jesus, there are two groups — those who know him and love him and those who haven’t met him.  And, for Jesus, it isn’t just a job, it’s an imperative, an absolute understanding, that those who know and love Jesus are going to be the ones to cross the line and to find those who are lost wherever they are.

Jesus tells us that when we see him, we have seen God.  In Jesus, we see a savior who is willing to stop what he’s doing, to reach out to a woman in need, someone who didn’t even ask for help, to free her, to heal her and to show her love, mercy and compassion that she had not be shown anywhere else.

Jesus shows us the God we love is so willing to reach out to us.  God doesn’t just bring us up to his level, he comes down to where we are, puts himself into the middle of the situation, and helps to show us “the way” of the cross and resurrection.

Two ways stand before us.

One way focuses on devotion to God, on the issues of right and wrong, on devotion and zeal to the traditions and rules of the church.  And the opposite way shows us that love, compassion and mercy are the way of the savior, the way of God.  It’s not an issue of law versus love. In Jesus, we see the Law of Love.

Don’t choose a way, your way, the easy way, the convenient way.

Choose “the way” because people matter.


The power of a vacation

Posted: August 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

So it seems as if it has been awhile since I’ve taken the time to record some thoughts.  So, why not tonight?

I’ve been away on a family vacation and had the chance to spend some time with my wife and daughter.  It’s great when vacations can come at times when they are most needed.  And in many ways, this has been one of the most spiritually refreshing times I’ve experience.

As we left for the vacation, I realized I didn’t have any books to carry to the beach.  As a result, I just threw some books from my shelf into the bag and took a gamble.  I reread Jesus Manifesto and greatly enjoyed it a second time.  It has really helped me in thinking through this coming Sunday’s sermon on rules versus compassion.  There are still way too many pharisee moments in churches today when people are thrown under the bus because of adherence to rules and the “way we’ve always done it.”

I read through Resident Aliens and it was another of those books in the same vein.  In it is the tell of a pastor at a small church referred to as Shady Grove.  After his retirement, he is invited back for a homecoming service and he tells the narrative of his time there.  It was during the height of the sixtys and the church was ready to send him on his way after his first couple of years because of his strong stance on racial equality and his opposition to the war in Vietnam.  As he walked into that church, he noticed that it was 20 percent African American — a change of epic proportions from where it had been.

And then the third, and most important of my readings for the week came in a re-read of the Gospels.  A number of new images appeared to me this time as I reread the words of Jesus and thought about how central Christ is to who we are and what we do.

But the most beneficial moments for me came on a day when I just stood with my feet in the water and I looked out into the waves and prayed.  In that prayer, I was asking God’s help for some of the burdens I’ve had to carry over the past couple of months.  Sometimes doing the right things come with a tough price. 

Just in the middle of this prayer, my daughter walked up behind me, hugged my legs and gave me a small ball of sand she had made.  “Daddy, I think you need this.”

And as it happened I started to smile.  It was a small reminder of perspective.  My problems seemed so big as I was in them, but in the spaciousness of creation, in the beauty of God’s world, in the scope of human history, it all seems to pale in comparison.  Sometimes, it does seem that as a pastor, I have to carry so many burdens that I just can’t share with others.  In that moment, they didn’t all seem that big anymore.

And I walked away with a new sense of who I am in God.

I don’t want to be like Jesus. I want Jesus to work through me.

Praise God… and a time away at the beach.

Can I hear you now?

Posted: August 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

A few days ago, I didn’t have a clue what Meineire’s disease is all about.

But when the doctor says, that’s what you have, you start to do a little investigating.  And the doctor’s office was nice enough to give me a little booklet about it.  It looked like one of those public service announcement things from the 1970s and I wondered if it came with stickers and coloring pages.

But all kidding aside, it’s good to have an answer as to what has been going on for the past year.  And it’s good to know that there are things I can do to help with the problem.

Meineire’s is associated with some inner ear issues and it leads to such fun things as trouble hearing (that’s my excuse for not listening to Denise), to ringing in my ears, to balance issues and to bouts of vertigo.  Vertigo has been, by far, the worst of the issues.  It’s no fun feeling like you’re riding waves when you aren’t at the beach.  Part of the diagnosis including a second hearing test (the first one came about a little over a year ago when I was having ongoing ear infections).  And, I have had some drop in hearing  — in the left ear especially.

And so now I have medicines to help treat the symptoms of Meineire’s including the vertigo.  And in September, I’ll go on a medication for it. 

But the most fun will come from the sudden changes that I need to make in regard to my diet.  Sometimes diet and nutrition ears can impact the onset of Meineire’s episodes.  So the first thing to go is the salt shaker.  (Actually that’s what the info from the doctor says — throw it out!).  There are many challenges apparently in eating a low sodium diet because you just can’t find a lot of things that are produced that don’t have sodium in them.  The goal is 2000 mgs a day, which is the equivalent of about a spoonful of salt each day. 

The other big change for me is the elimination of caffeine in my diet.  For someone who loves my Starbucks and my Pepsi Max, this is the greatest of the hits.  So for the next few days (Week or more?), I’m going to get to experience caffeine withdrawal.

And in the end, my prayer in moving forward is that this starts to bring an end to the pain in the ear and the vertigo and that my hearing, especially in my left ear, remains steady.