Thursday, November 29, 2007

What Makes a Great Church?

A very good friend (Robin Dugall) asked a very good question, “what makes a great church?” on his blog. I enjoyed commenting to his question that I have posted my response below. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Robin I have been thinking through this a bit as I was considering what church I would seek employment from. What does the local church offer that I would want to work for them? How would my gifts and talents be utilized? How can I grow in the local church? What do they offer? I hate this next question, how are they marketable? Maybe a better question is what do they do well and what is their niche?

I think that we run into some interesting questions when we try to figure out what evangelism and discipleship are to us and to others. Is evangelism filling a church building with people from all walks of life and accepting them as they are? Is evangelism building incarnational relationships with others in the community we live in? I think for some there is a sense of comfort that just filling a building is enough. We do not want to be accountable to where they might have come from, i.e. the church down the street. And how does the church respond to someone “different” coming in and are we going out to invite “them” in (Matthew 22:1-10). I think it is becomes like the old model of doing youth ministry: fill it with cool events and programs and they will come and reach the popular kids and they will bring their friends.

And where does discipleship fit into this? What really is discipleship? Is it just learning to be like Jesus? Or is there something deeper here? Where does discipline come in? Are we teaching a body how to be disciplined in their study of God and His Word? Are we teaching a body how to be disciplined in the way we live with all of creation, especially one another—believer or not? And if Jesus only had 12 disciples should we only have a church of 12? And wasn’t His small group 3 or 4 guys?

We can also look at church as a family. There becomes a sense of belonging and acceptance. There are times of discipline in a family and there can be times of discipline in a church (is that why Catholic Churches call their priests “Father”). Safety, trust and love are the accepted norm in a family and this should be reflective in the church (churches are called sanctuaries). In our culture, a family is protective of who it allows in. Has this happened in our churches? An entire topic can be written on what happened to hospitality.

Success is the drive that each individual measures themselves. It is not what the collective calls successful. Rather it is what a group of people, gathered together deciding how they will measure success. For some this will be just about being big. Others will measure success by how many prayed the prayer. Many will consider success the size of their youth programs. For some it will have nothing to do about being big but may be measured just by relationships.

So what then is success? Is it achieving a goal? “I succeeded in losing 30 pounds.” Is success then just an end result? Albert Einstein said, “Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” Imagine a church of values instead of a church of successes.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Why Ministry?

Have you ever considered why someone would be in ministry? I mean what are the rewards? Ministry is filled with many hardships. There are times we must do things, hear things and see things that we would rather not. I have watched marriages and families crumble and fall apart. I have attempted to help steer young adults away from drugs or other destructive behaviors only to watch them fall away. I have seen people die and I have done many funerals.

Do we do ministry because the money is good? If you consider the hours that many pastors put in the money is next to nothing. To be honest with you, even if a pastor only worked 40 hours a week the pay is not that great, especially when you consider the education that many pastors have acquired.

So how do we handle difficulties of ministry? The times when we are misunderstood? Maybe even the times when we stumble?

2 Corinthians 6:4-10 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul speaks of reconciliation and of restored relationships. His desire is to be reunited in Christ with the people of Corinth. And there are times we ask to be reconciled, to be restored and forgiven. But through these difficult times we do not stumbling blocks (6:3) for others to get tripped up on. No as ambassadors for Christ (5:20) we suffer the hardships because we are loyal to our homeland. But as ambassadors we also try to negotiate a treaty with those separated from us. We speak in behalf of the One that sent us.

Ministry gives us the opportunity to serve and protect, not as a policeman, but in ways that allow us to be available to our church family. We protect as a father protects a child. We love as a parent loves their children. We hold nothing back, especially our love. May we never have to ask for our church family’s affects in return.

2 Corinthians 6:11-13 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange--I speak as to my children--open wide your hearts also.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Good Shepherd

Consider these three Bible passages as we look at our relationship with one another and with Jesus. Have a blessed Sunday!

Ezekiel 34:1-6 The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

11-16 'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As shepherds look after their scattered flocks when they are with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

Psalm 23 1-2 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters…

Matthew 18:12-14 "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Message of Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: [19] that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. [20] We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. [21] God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The other day I wrote that as a Christian my worldview has changed. I should not be looking at others in a judgmental way. Rather I should look at others as individuals created in the image of God. Since we know that God created us as a craftsman would create a work of art, all of creation is valuable, we have worth.

We live in a fallen world separated from God. Thankfully Jesus came to bridge that gap and He brought heaven to earth. Unfortunately many have not experienced this heaven on earth. Many are still looking for answers: “what is my purpose;” “is this all there is;” “why do bad things happen to good people.” There are people who are hurting physically, mentally and spiritually. No matter how hard they try to please God it doesn’t appear they have done enough.

To reconcile is to restore something or someone to its former condition. For a checkbook we reconcile it back to a balanced condition.

Jesus died on a cross as a sacrifice to restore our relationship with God; it has never been about what we did. God’s plan was for us to be in communion with Him from the beginning. We can not sacrifice enough of ourselves or our possessions to restore that relationship, no matter how hard we try.

As God’s ambassadors, or spokesmen, we have been given a ministry of reconciliation. Our job, as Christ followers, is to restore others’ relationship with God. The message of reconciliation is the Gospel of Jesus. To me, the message of the Gospel of Jesus is love. We need to allow that message to be heard by our actions. People will know we are Christ followers by the way we love one another. Without love, we cannot experience joy and peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers. I pray that we may show others the love of Christ and that they will be reconciled and restored and made right again. May we all enjoy our relationship with one another and with Christ who loves us.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Proverb for today

I love the Proverbs! Today's reading:

Proverbs 27:15-16

A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping
of a leaky roof in a rainstorm;

restraining her is like restraining the wind
or grasping oil with the hand.

Rob Bell: The gods aren't angry

Last night was amazing. Rob Bell hit us with some amazing thoughts about our relationship with God. The night started with mankind discovering the forces around them and crediting it to a god or gods. They felt that as they offered or sacrificed something to the gods they would be pleased. If the crops are large should the offering to the crop god be large? If it isn’t raining should be the offering to the rain god be increased? How do we please these gods? Are the gods angry?

Today, are we trying to please our gods? I am excited to go even deeper and look into sacrificial systems. Imagine a gathering of men dancing around an altar in a religious, drunken or drug induced frenzy willingly castrate themselves to please their god. OUCH!

We would think that we have gotten beyond trying to please these false gods. But have we really? Rob talks about the ways that people are hurting and the pain that they inflict upon themselves. Consider the cutter and compare them to the Baal worshipers on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:27-28). Consider that many of us are carrying guilt from past offenses and as hard as we try we can never get rid of the guilt. For some this becomes their identity.

The sacrificial system was set up to clear our conscience. The system was not set up to please God. Does God need our slaughtered bulls and goats? Psalm 50: 9-10 I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.

Are we working so hard to please others (in-laws) that we are good enough? Have we been told by people, who should love us, that they hate us?

So what is the bottom line of the night? “Do we have the same old gods and we’ve just given them different names?” We do not have to keep approaching an altar of sacrifice to please God. We do not need to live in guilt and shame.

Jesus came and changed the system. We can freely approach God. Rob used a Brennan Manning story explaining that Jesus doesn’t remember your sins. You don’t have to live like this!

So much more to process!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

kata sarka, “according to the flesh”

2 Corinthians 5:16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. [17] Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Do we really think that our fellow Christians are a new creation? What about people outside the church: those not in community with us? Do we judge them? Do we look at them as people created in God’s image? We are all on a journey of being recreated to resemble Christ.

Consider that Paul says the old ways are gone: the worldly point of view (kata sarka, “according to the flesh”) is gone. We know longer are viewing things the way the world does but rather we see things through the lenses of God. We do not view people or culture with prejudice as we once did. All people have value and worth because they were created in the image of God. We are not trapped with a limited existence because we know there is more than this and we want all of mankind to experience this mindset.

But is it just us that have been changed? Could it be that through the resurrection of Christ all of creation has changed? I like to think of Jesus bringing heaven to earth. He gave us that glimpse through His life here on earth. I do not think Jesus took heaven with Him when He ascended. Heaven is not just a destination but it something that can be experienced here and now. We do not live lives kata sarka(according to the flesh/world) rather we now live lives kata pneuma (according to the Spirit).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Jim and Casper go to Church

Many of you know that I think very highly of the book "Jim and Casper go to Church." I encourage all in church leadership read it. It will challenge your thoughts on how we think church should be done. Matt Casper, co-author of the book came and spoke at Saddleback Church about his journey and friendship with Jason, a house pastor. Jason also shared his experiences with Matt. Follow this link to listen.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Day 41

I have been thinking more about what I wrote previously, “40 Days and 40 Nights.” In those 40 days we seeing a testing in some cases, in other cases we see God’s provision. But what happened after the 40 days? What happened on Day 41?

For Noah, the rain stopped on Day 41 and there was sunlight and a rainbow. God recreated (read Genesis 8 and compare to the creation story in Genesis 1).

For Moses, he came down from the mountain, twice, and presented what God had spoken to him. Moses had received the Ten Commandments. On one Day 41, Moses had to literally throw down the law at the Israelites. During those 40 days Moses did not eat or drink, I am sure he was hungry, and on Day 41 he ate and drank.

In the Book of Jonah, the people of Nineveh repented. The warning of God’s wrath that Jonah gave the people did not happen. On Day 41, God relented and showed compassion on these people, even though Jonah could not.

Having being fed by an angel for 40 days, Elijah was told to get up and move. On Day 41, Elijah goes to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God and seeks shelter in a cave. Elijah experiences a mighty wind, an earthquake, and a fire but Elijah hears God in a quiet whisper.

After 40 days of being taunted by a giant named Goliath, the Israelite army sends a young boy to battle him on Day 41. David demonstrates that God protects and God uses the small things for greatness. And through David, God saves a kingdom against a bitter enemy.

Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert and on Day 41 He met with the devil. We see courage and strength. We see the ability to confront lies. We see a man lowered to the point of breaking standing firm. After 40 days of not eating and a day of temptation by the devil, Jesus is attended by angels. I am sure they set up quite a feast for Him!

Jesus appeared to many witnesses after His resurrection from death. On Day 41, Jesus ascended into heaven. I am reminded of what Jesus told Thomas in John, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

God works in some mysterious ways. We are reminded of these mysteries throughout the Bible. Nothing sounds more mysterious and marvelous than the way He guides us through our 40 days and strengthens us on Day 41.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

40 Days and 40 Nights

When we need to take a nap we say that we are going to get 40 winks. I never understood where the term came from but I did discover an explanation on the internet (I have not determined if this is true or not). A wink was an old Roman measurement of time, equal to 30 seconds, 40 winks = 20 minute nap. But we do know that the number 40 represents a period of time. 40 days is a long period of time, such as a month. 40 years can represent a generation.

Throughout the Bible periods of time are described as 40 days and 40 nights or 40 years. While Noah was in the ark, God made it rain for 40 days and 40 nights. Once the rain stopped Noah waited an additional 40 days before he opened a window in the ark.

Moses had his times of 40. It is said that Moses was 40 years old when he left Egypt after killing an Egyptian. Moses then spent 40 years in the desert of Midian where he married and was a shepherd for his father-in-law. Moses speaks to God through a burning bush and receives orders to confront Pharaoh. Once the Israelites are set free they spend 40 years traveling towards the Promised Land. During their desert journey, Moses spent time, 40 days and 40 nights, on a mountain with God. He did this twice. On one of these trips up the mountain Moses received the Ten Commandments. Moses died at 120 years old.

Goliath taunted the Israelite army for 40 days, twice a day. Elijah was given food by an angel of God as he hid from Jezebel. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. Jonah came into Nineveh stating that God was going to overturn the city in 40 days. But God saw their acts of repentance and had compassion on them.

After Jesus was baptized, he went into the desert to confront the devil: Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1). After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights Jesus was hungry. It is here at Jesus’ weakest that the devil attacks and tempts our Lord. Jesus also appeared to the disciples and a group of witnesses after the Resurrection for 40 days before He ascended to Heaven.

Tomorrow marks a period of 40 days in my life. A period time when I have left one way of life as I head into a new journey with God. I wish it was pleasant. My former way of life was predicable. It was a time when I knew what was expected and I was comfortable. During these past 40 days there have been times of loneliness. There have been times of doubt and even despair. But through these 40 days, I have grown closer to God and His purpose and plan for my life is becoming clearer. I am looking forward to day 41.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Jars of Clay

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Earthen vessels are found at most every archaeological dig. These vessels can be pots, vases and many other forms of pottery. Many of these vessels are broken and must be put back together like a jigsaw puzzle. But from these vessels we learn much about ancient peoples and their community and the ways they lived.

Decorated on some vessels would be scenes from daily life. We learn what was eaten by what is found stored in these containers. Think of some of these vessels as ancient Tupperware where for centuries wheat, corn or some other grain or liquid was stored.

Many times these vessels contained important artifacts. They were a way of hiding valuables in an unlikely place. A thief would not look for something valuable in something as ordinary as a water jug. The problem with these vessels are they are very fragile and once broken they are good for nothing.

I love talking about the creation of mankind. In Genesis 2:7 we see God getting into the dirt and shaping and forming mankind. God did this as a craftsman. He created us as a work of art. Adam literally means dirt man. Like earthen vessels we are weak and easily broken. But inside each of us is a treasure. As Christians we carry the death of Christ in us so that we can reveal to others the life of Christ.

Realize that we, earthen vessels, do not equal the value of our contents. Regardless of how well we decorate ourselves. The more we decorate ourselves the less attention on the real value stored in the vessel.

As pastors it is not about me to present a message in a way that out shines the Gospel. I do not want to be a messenger that people flock to hear, rather I want people to hear The Message. Lord help me to get out of the way! I am just a weak and fragile vessel that is sometimes broken, cracked and flawed. But this broken, cracked and flawed vessel contains a message that is rich and valuable.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

What is our standard?

From my Bible reading today:

Ezekiel 5:5-7 "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees.

"Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.

Time for a morality check.

What is our standard? How well are we at influencing the world, or is the world doing a better job at influencing us?

Let's pray that we can first align ourselves with God and follow His commands, love God and love neighbor. And may our influence come from a lifestyle, not by pressure, but through love.

Have a blessed Sunday!

No water

As twilight falls over this town, Mayor Tony drives up a dusty dirt road to the community’s towering water tank and begins his nightly ritual in front of a rusty metal valve.

With a twist of the wrist, he releases the tank’s meager water supply, and suddenly this sleepy town is alive with activity. Washing machines whir, kitchen sinks fill and showers run.

About three hours later, Mayor Tony will return and reverse the process, cutting off water to the town’s 145 residents.

This is not an African community, this is happening in the United States. I remember when restaurants would not bring water to a table because of a drought we were facing in California. Washing driveways, sidewalks and patios were frowned upon. Lawns started to brown as people cut back watering their yards. Drought is ugly!

We are facing a time of crisis. Some areas are being flooded, other areas are facing drought. The fires we just experienced could be blamed on drought. I am not sure of the how’s and the why’s, but all of this happening. The questions becomes, “What do we do?”

News article taken from “Worst-case scenario in the South: Tennessee town has run out of water and has to truck it in” By Greg Bluestein, Associated Press Writer

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Biblical Thought

From my Bible readings today:

Hebrews 3:12-13

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

Any thoughts?