Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Are there wrinkles on my face that I'm not seeing?

Yesterday was my first taste of being seen as old. It is so fun to be young. When you hit a golf ball 300 yards right down the middle of the fairway as a 12-year old, people seem to notice and think you're the next Tiger Woods. Actually come to think of it, I guess it was Jack Nicklaus at that time. But when you're 21, people don't proclaim you as the next golf champion. Many things are this way.

Yesterday, I was looking at several of my friend's blogs and there was a young girl up at the office who said to me, and I quote, "I didn't know OLD PEOPLE had blogs." I couldn't believe what she said. Am I really considered old?

Then last night, I went skating with Holly at a kids' skating event with the church. As we were skating the Macarena, the theme song of 1993, came on. Holly, Ashley (the other children's intern), and I were excited, but all of the other kids had never heard the song. In fact after thinking about it, they were not even born when the Macarena was in its prime. As I skated, I had a flashback to when I once skated as a young lad. I remembered skating around many old people and wondering why they were so slow and awkward. Well, last night I felt like the old man wondering why these kids were skating so well and so fast around me.

I'm not sure how I feel about all of this. Kind of old I guess. Things move and you get older. My question is when do you stop with the spiked hair and T-shirts. There comes a time when this all must change. Hopefully yesterday was not the first sign that these things must change. We shall see!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Church Built For More Than Itself

Lately in my thoughts about unity, I have thought a lot about what the church is for. What is the purpose of the church? What should its impact be?

I am looking forward to Thursday night because at the FC college devo we are going to talk about the church. Some of the questions I hope to pose to the college students are: Is the church relevant today?, Why do your friends not continue to go to church?, Why do you continue to go to church?, In a post-denominational age, do you find any significance in your background in Churches of Christ or would you be excited to worship anywhere?, What is the purpose of the church?, and How is our generation of Christians going to make an impact in our post-modern world? These are questions that I think of often that I am excited to discuss with others my age who may not think so often of these things.

There are many purposes of the church. Many today find successful churches to be those in which their numbers are growing and budgets skyrocketing. I guess this is a way of judging things. Others have tried to chart their growth by the spiritual transformation of their membership. This has to be one goal of the church to make disciples of all who are regular attenders.

However, I believe there is a significant problem with many ideas of the church's purpose. Most churches are trying to further the name on the sign in front of their building than the kingdom of God. This aim is subtle, yet real. No one verbally states their purpose as this, but the actions prove otherwise at times. There is no sin in wanting to grow, but the purpose is not to further a certain church or denomination. The purpose is to lead more people on the journey of the Christian life. The purpose of a church is not to gain numbers or notoriety, it is to partner with God and others in adding people to the kingdom.

Worship is all about re-envisioning the world as it should, and as it truly can be. Then, worship must lead to a mission led by the ambassadors who have been apart of the worship experience. Worship leads us to action wherever we are whether it be our jobs, at the supermarket, or at our kids' ballgames. The church is not sent out for the sake of the church. The church is sent out of church for the sake of the world. We don't share our message in a selfish effort to have more members. We share our message to make an impact in the corner of the world God has placed us.

This is why partnering with other faith communities is so important. Every community should have a group of churches, despite their background, working together in the name of Christ not in order to boost attendance at their particular location, but in order to further God's kingdom. This is the subtle difference. Do we evangelize under the name of Christ or under the name "Anywhere USA Church of Christ?" Is this about a numbers game in our churches or is it about a real desire to be sent out as Christ has called us for the sake of the world? This means we are not in competition with other churches to the point of not talking and working with them. We are partners with others who share the name Christian because it's about more than bringing others to our church.

I hope I have communicated this clearly. Simply put, are we looking to bring people to saving relationship with Christ even if they don't attend our church or denomination? Even if it doesn't benefit the numbers of our buildings, any real missional church will work for God, not for its own name.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Is Jesus' Prayer a Possibility?

In John 17, Jesus prays that we may be one as he is one with the Father and Holy Spirit. I believe this prayer is an essential part of a missional church. Is this prayer for us to be one a possibility and how do we go about it? And what does it really mean to be one?

In our age of denominations, it is hard to imagine the body of Christ as one. Some people, including some from our tradition, have claimed unity by naming all denominations as lost and separate from "the true church." I specifically remember reading a document written by Moses Lard in which he said "the true church" cannot divide. He claimed that every other group did not divide from the church but were never a part of the church. This seems a bit insane.

Is the unity Christ calls for an organizational unity or just a loose unity in Christ? What does it mean to be one? Some ecumenical organizations have aimed at bringing denominations into fellowship with one another. Other groups have tried to have unity without having to formally unite in any way.

All I know is that Christ calls us to unity. Unity does not mean uniformity. Unity can be done amid the diversity of many religious backgrounds. I believe our fundamental questions are the reason for our division in the past. We have always asked what we have to do to in order to be united, but a better question might be how can we work with other faith communities in our area to bring the good news of God to the city we find ourselves in?

Our focus should not be to help our churches be in better unity. It should be to further God's kingdom and bring him glory through our mission of the gospel to the lost. If we can work together on that, we can be in unity. A missional church must be about bringing the message of God to the lost community surrounding its building, not furthering its own name. We must unite with as many other churches as we can to make a greater impact in the world. A cord of one strand will break, but a cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Evangelism is not always easy amongst many denominations. We have many different ideas about being saved and being right with God. It's not easy to evangelize with other churches when you can't come to an agreement on how to evangelize, but working together even in our diversity can bring a great harvest. When people come together amongst great differences, that in itself is great evangelism. We cannot drop our understandings of what we believe for the sake of unity, but if the core of our message, Jesus Christ, is held up, then God will be pleased. Let us be about the sake of bringing people to Christ among others who are different than us.

Is Jesus' prayer a possibility in our day? With optimism, I say yes, but it will take some work. The best I can hope to do is make unity happen wherever I find myself. To partner with others despite their religious banner under the banner of Christ. Let Christ be our head, not the name Churches of Christ.

Friday, July 22, 2005

To my beautiful bride of one year...

This Sunday is my first anniversary so I thought I would take some time to write some special notes to the woman of my dreams.


What a year it has been! It's hard to believe that it was eight years ago that I first saw you and were struck by your beauty. And now, a year into our marriage, I get to share life with you daily. God has placed such a blessing in my life through you. Your smile penetrates every room you walk into and your love has pierced my heart. I am the luckiest man in the world. And though I can never know what is ahead, I pledge my love again to you a year after making the same vow that I will be faithful to you in whatever circumstances we find each other.

It seems Scripture desribes you better than I can in Proverbs 31:

10"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12She bring him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 17She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. 20She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 23Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders. 25She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26She speaks wisdom, and faithful instuction is on her tongue. 27She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28Her children (will) arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29'Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.' 30Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."

What a legacy you will leave and have already left with me. If God gives us kids in the future, they will be blessed to have a mother who loves them like you will. You are the love of my life. You are beautiful, but mostly you are a Godly woman who is loyal to me like few people in my life have been. That is what I find so attractive and lovely about you.

Holly, I look forward to this weekend of celebration, but even more I look forward to every day in our future, however many that may be, that God will bless me with through your love, laughter and joy. I love you Holly!!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

How's the lock on your door?

John 20:19-23 recounts the story of the disciples encountering Jesus for the first time since the crucifixion. The disciples are huddled behind a locked door fearful of the Jews when Jesus comes to greet them and bless them with words of peace. After Jesus grants them peace, he gives them an apostolic or missional calling. Jesus says (paraphrased), "Be at peace and unlock the doors. God has sent me and now you are to continue this mission." Then, Jesus breathed on them and gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It seems that we are due for such an encounter. We, who lock our doors and huddle on the inside of our buildings, need an encounter with Jesus and words that implore us to unlock the doors once again and be at peace. We are good at locking the doors. In fact, our lock is beginning to wear out from its continual use.

I am included in this. I love church. I love Christians. I love fellowship. I love Bible studies. I love small groups. I love accountability groups. I love staff meetings. I love all of these things, but I rarely love to unlock the doors. I've got the inreach and upreach, but the outreach side of my spiritual life is malnourished and unused. I think we've had enough of throwing money at the problem and stiff arming the lost by hiring missionaries and community outreach ministers to ease our worn consciences. Short term mission trips are good, but do they really help people or do they make us feel better about ourselves. All of these things are good, but if they are the focus of our outreach our locks are still on the doors. We need to build relationships with the lost more than help them on a short term basis.

The church is meant for more. The church is meant to be a bridge to the community. The church meets as a means to an end. The assembly is not the end of the Christian faith. Eternal assurance through baptism is not the end to faith. The end to faith is furthering God's kingdom in whatever way allows us to enter into his reign. We go to church in order to be commissioned again with the rest of the body to make an impact outside of the locked doors.

In your church, are you more comfortable sitting with Peter and the rest of the disciples in fear? God is telling you to be at peace, to receive his Spirit, and to be sent out as he was sent out. This is what it's all about. So go ahead, unlock that worn lock. Give it a rest from protecting you from whatever fears you have and step into a life on mission for God.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Lesson Learned

God has taught me a lesson this past week I thought I would share with you.

Let's face it. I'm a control freak. I want to know everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in the future whether it deals with school, family, the church, or life in general. I also have a tough time giving up control to God. So, I guess God thought it was time to teach me a lesson. I generally think God is not as involved in the world as many believe. For instance, I don't believe God answers prayers for parking spots, etc., but this week he had his hand in my life.

Holly and I are house sitting for a family in Houston and last week I lost the key to the house. Then, as I was looking for a CD, I found out that 24 of my CD's were gone from my car. I never lose things, but this week I was losing everything. Then, my car got sick and wouldn't turn on. Everything was going wrong and I began to get angry with myself about my lack of control in these areas. Finally, my mom and Holly talked some sense into me and got me to see that I need to give up control and ask God to help me in these areas.

And, of course, in God's perfect timing, a week later I found out the key was left at a house where I had been at a Bible study the previous week. Then yesterday, I had to use our host family's car because mine wasn't working and guess what I found. My CD's. I would have never found them had it not been for my car not working. Do you think God was trying to tell me something? I came home hoping God had fixed my car too, but so far that has not been the case. I guess he has to punish me sometimes for my lack of submission.

God, thanks for the lesson I hope to have grown from. You have done your part. May your Spirit work in me to give up the control I so desperately want to hang onto. Thanks for putting people in my life who are willing to tell me when I mess up. Thank you for your provision. In Jesus' Name I pray, Amen!

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Booming Church?

I sense a growing restlessness with the status quo in churches. We hear that our numbers are decreasing even though many of our larger churches do not sense this decline yet. Just this past week here in Houston, Joel Osteen moved Lakewood Church into a former basketball arena. They probably had about 50,000 people attend in one weekend.

We also hear that the evangelical America is influencing the political scene in numerous ways. Many in the "religious right" demand that George Bush push a religious agenda because it is them who put him in office.

Are we really losing our influence in culture? Is the church dying or thriving?

I think the answer has to be some of both. This is a moment of crisis. In fact, the church is always in a moment of crisis. Every generation is another chance at losing the faith forever. I think it is obvious that though we have influence in some areas, non-Christians have never been more turned off to Christianity than now. Why do we continue to build walls between "us" and "them?"

I think the answer to this post-Christian world is not to build bigger arenas and continue to invite "them" to come to "us." Rather, the church must change its language and direction. It is no longer "we" versus "them." It has to be us. The church is not to be set up against the world, but set up for the world. The church cannot be a city with a wall and a moat. It has to be a light among the world, a bridge to the world. People are not going to continue to come to church, the church is going to have to go to the lost. We cannot keep up our Constantinian model with the church at the center of culture because our world will not allow it. Disestablishment is not pretty but it is needed. We must become the church that seeks not power and prestige, but a marginal existence. Our steeples in the town square must not turn into arenas in the suburbs. We must become a growing influence in our city wherever we find ourselves.

I dream of a church moving in this direction and I sense a church ready for the task ahead. It's a church not so concerned about numbers and budgets, but a church focused on the mission of bringing the gospel to a broken and hurting world. A church that seeks the stranger and doesn't accept a homogeneous body. A church that accepts its position at the margin of importance and making a difference among the disenfranchised. That is a booming church!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Strange World of Proverbs

I've spent the last month working through Proverbs one chapter a day and it has been interesting to hear these tidbits of wisdom. As wisdom literature, these are not foolproof promises but general truths about how the world works. But I struggle with differentiating these with other parts of Scripture because they are a part of God's living Word.

As I've been reading I've found four main themes throughout Proverbs:

1) True wisdom accepts discipline from our earthly parents and heavenly father rather than choosing to ignore it.

2) The wise man or woman keeps their steps far from sexual immorality or even the appearance of it. The world celebrates impurity, but the wise man keeps his steps far from the house of the wayward, seductive woman.

3) The wise man keeps his tongue from any trouble. Many gossip, slander, and say all kinds of harmful things, but the wise man keeps his tongue secure.

4) The righteous prosper and the wicked perish.

The first three seem like wise words. It's good to listen to parents, sexual impurity brings down great people (especially in the church it seems), and our tongues our powerful tools for good or bad as James points out.

But I'm having a hard time with the fourth theme. Do the righteous prosper and wicked perish, because all around me I see signs that say otherwise? Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. That seems like better logic and wisdom. Wouldn't the writer of Proverbs be better off putting a disclaimer on this proverb? He could say this is generally true, but the opposite is true at times. But the writer refuses to say it. I shy away from and condemn a prosperity gospel many times, but does Scripture teach some of this? I don't know. This is just another question in my seemingly endless bag of questions I am writing for God to answer when I enter the pearly gates. We shall see.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I sense that people are starting to get it!

Last night I was at a young married men's Bible study. We are studying If You Want to Walk On Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg. The book focuses on Peter's willingness to walk on the water with Jesus. And last night I sensed people starting to understand what I have been hoping for in my dreams for the church in the future: a missional church. I want to see a missional church, but I have never been sure if others are willing to get on board and get out of their comfortable consumeristic chairs. Last night I saw a glimpse of it.

We were talking about our fears and how evangelism is hard for us and all of a sudden the conversation turned towards mission. One guy asked, "Have you ever wondered if we should continue to do this study on Monday nights? We go to church to focus ourselves on Sunday and Wednesday and we spend time creating community on Monday nights? We are so inwardly focused. Maybe this time weekly should become a time for outreach." That is what I am talking about. That is the message that I couldn't have stated better myself. We continued on for several minutes and it excited me to know there are people wanting more for the church than just letting it be a fortress set apart from the world.

What is the church truly working for? Are we trying to bring others to Christ? Sometimes we think we need to get ourselves better with God before we can really reach others, but we are never going to be right enough to evangelize with that attitude. God calls imperfect, sinful people to get his gospel out. We are called to mission where we are. May this kingdom not just be one of powerful talk but of powerful action.

Monday, July 11, 2005

I Keep Finding Myself in Prisons

Last night, once again, I was in a prison. I went with a group from First Colony to the Carol Vance Unit. This unit is an all-Christian unit that came into existence because of George Bush's faith based initiative while he was governor. What an experience it was!

I met Robert. Robert was a man like any other who just happened to be serving a 30 year sentence for some kind of crime. He was a college grad and a well-spoken man who knew Christ personally as his Savior. It was amazing to hear about the change that had been made in his life. He said that his time at Carol Vance had been given him a chance to study God's word daily around men who had become his brothers. This church he had been apart of in the prison had been a place where many had come to God and flourished. He said there were several who faked their faith to get out early, but most of the men truly were seeking God. No longer do I see prisoners as people who cannot be touched. When I think of a criminal, I think of Robert E. Lee. (Yes that was his name.)

And I met Gerald who had been shot in his leg and God had miraculously healed him. God is at work even in the prisons, but his hands and feet in the world, the church, are lagging behind. Why are there so few prison ministries? Why are we so scared of this population? I think it's because we don't have faces to put with this label. I grew up, as many did in Churches of Christ, unsure about Baptists until I married one and put a face with someone different from me. I grew up unsure of criminals until this summer as I have put faces with this label. We all fear the unknown until we are able to put a face with whatever label our society leaves us with. Our job as Christians is to get to know every unknown and break down the labels our society uses to separate us.

Get to know a prisoner. Get to know people different from you because you might just find out there is more in common than you once believed. There are differences between everyone but if we can agree on the core of our faith, Jesus Christ, then we can overcome many of the labels society brands us with. Instead of man, woman, black, white, poor, wealthy, prisoner, free man, republican, democrat, old, young, we can all be called Christians. Isn't that a vision for the church?

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Church of Irresistible Influence

I am halfway through The Church of Irresistible Influence and I really like it. I have read about 5 missional church books that are very strong on the sociological dimension of what the church needs to be about in our changing context, but this book gives a more concrete example of how a church in Little Rock, AR is becoming an influence in their community.

I think we all sense there is something changing about our world. We have heard about our shift to a postmodern, postchristian, postdenominational, and every other post you could imagine kinds of world, but the true question we must ask is, "How can we be faithful to God in the church's new place in society?" I don't care what you call the next great thing in the church, but I certainly don't want to be a part of any fad or movement without it being God's real plan for the world. However, I don't see the missional church as a fad because I believe it is a call for all churches to make God's mission our mission. It doesn't call us to growth, it calls us to faithfulness. It doesn't call us to power, it calls us to the wisdom of the cross that beckons us to come and die to our desire for power. The church has always needed to take this as its call.

Sometimes I am too accepting of books and don't read them with a critical enough eye, but I believe the missional literature and The Church of Irresistible Influence to be books that are calling to the church to faithful living beyond itself. That is good news and a good direction for any church.

Father, we know you want people to be saved. That is your character. Help the church to be a community that doesn't become a fortress against the world, but becomes a bridge for the wrold. Some people might come to the church, but so many more need to the church to come to them because of a variety of factors. Let us become a seeking people who receive your kingdom and help to further it as you allow us to. Amen!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Aftermath of a tragedy

The sermon seems to have gone well. It was great to have my parents in and to hear so many encouraging comments afterwards. I cannot see myself doing anything other than preaching. God has put a passion for preaching his word in my bones that cannot be shut up. It's strange to already be finished with the highlight of the summer already.

As I awoke this morning to the news of a bombing in New York I thought, what would Paul write to the church in London after today's events? What does the wisdom of the cross say to the victims of senseless violence? The wisdom of the world would be resolute in its assurance that those who brought this destruction would receive due punishment for their actions. As many were outraged after 9/11 and wanted to bring war on the terrorists, so many today would like to pay these people back.

But, I think it is good to ask the question, "What does the wisdom of the cross tell us to in this situation?" I haven't fully concluded where I am on the subject to war. I lean towards pacifism, but I'm not sure yet. But as I think through the lens of the cross, I can only think Jesus would have prayed for these people and not fought back. What do we do when faced with such a situation? How do we respond to people with such hate and animosity? The answer surely cannot be to fight hate with hate. Is there such a thing as a just war? Is self-defense even justified by Jesus? What is the answer?

God grant us peace in this world of violence. Grant peace to the families of the victims and guide us in the wisdom of the cross.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Here I raise my Ebenezer

As I read this morning, I think I figured out what an ebenezer is. We sing about raising it in church, but what does it mean to raise my ebenezer?

This has become an issue in modern worship. How do make relevant songs that have become outdated not so much because their language is archaic, but because biblical literacy is at an all-time low in churches?

As I read 1 Samuel 7 today I read, "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far has the Lord helped us.' Israel has experienced God's victory and Samuel raised this ebenezer as a monument to mark a restoration in the heart of Israel.'" The ebenezer is a reminder to all who pass by it of God's mercy and covenant. What a message of hope!

We must not move on to new worship music just because people, like myself, lack Biblical literacy because many of our old hymns are wonderful if their significance can be explained in a new and helpful way. Let us continue the ministry of Jerry Rushford. We must keep our history of hymns alive for a new generation. There are many wonderful songs being written today, but let us not write off the hymns of the past. As I have found today, the symbols of our past continue to speak volumes today.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Family: one of God's greatest gifts

This weekend has been a wonderful weekend mostly because of the time Holly and I have had with our families. Holly's whole family came in Friday through Monday and traded places with my family who came in Monday and are staying through Thursday. What a blessing it is to see and have fun with familiar faces.

As I reflect on times with family, it reminds me how the years go by so quickly. It's hard to imagine that I will never live at home in Dallas in my house again. Life goes on and things change for the better most of the time. It seems that in my race to grow up (that probably began as I sat listening to the adults during lunches after church rather than coloring with the kids at the other end of the table) my early years passed so quickly. The memories are ingrained in my head and will remain there tempting me to want to go back to what was, but I know that great memories are still to be made. Good times are ahead and that is worth looking forward to.

Mom, dad, Greg, Cathy, Clark, Heather, Morgan, PJ, thanks for all of the memories and Holly and I look forward to the many things that are ahead. The future is bright and full of great experiences so let us trek on together and not apart for our memories are most special when we are all together. And let us not forget that we strive forward for a time when we will be together with those of us who have already passed on. Let us not forget this.

God thank you for families that have passed on faith to us. May we be faithful to tell your stories to generations in the future. This is exciting and scary. Help us, O God. We love you and thank you for putting us in families that have loved us. And remind me to sit with the kids and forget about the adult table at times. Amen!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Doing Church

This summer I am a part of my third internship in a church and I've found there to be a big difference between many churches and the world of academia. In university, we are dreaming dreams for the church, studying all about God, and trying to develop a healthy theology as well as a healthy look at the church. As I read more about how God wants to develop churches of mission, it consumes me often. I want to step into a church some day and create an environment where mission is the lifeblood of the church. I feel called to bring churches through this transition from consumer orientation to becoming a missional church.

As I think about this often and come into churches for summers, I find that many churches are not even thinking about how they can be more faithful to God's call and dreaming about the possibilities for renewal and mission. Instead, they are just "doing church." There are no staff meetings with a conversation for vision or conversations over staff lunches about whether we are faithful to the call of God in our corner of the world. Somehow, the mundane things of church have crowded out this important part of receiving God's call for a church. At first glance, I am critical of this situation, but as I think more about it, I wonder if this is all a church can do to stay alive. If you forget the mundane, though important things, the church will fall apart. However, without a vision the church will never become what it can be. I wonder what it will be like 10 years into my ministry. Will I still dream dreams? Will I still seek exciting visions with the staff and leadership of a church? Or am I just an overexcited university student whose hopeful dreams about the church need to be tamed down through day-to-day grind of ministry? I hope this is not the case.

God grant us all visions for your church that are bigger than tomorrow and in line with your will. As we seek your calling in our churches, give us hopes and futures that you promise and desire. We love you and we want to see things as you do. Praise you for all of the good you bring.