Saturday, September 13, 2008
John Romita Jr.
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Friday, September 12, 2008
Religion, like marketing, has its funnel. And many evangelical megachurches have spent the past quarter-century focusing on the rim, attempting to get spiritual "seekers" just to sample a service -- and hoping that they will at some point join the faith. These churches have grown by staying away from hard-core biblical teaching and instead have lured the curious with slick multimedia presentations and skits, sermons with the cultural relevance of "Saturday Night Live," and maybe an iced cappuccino for the trip home.What strikes me most in seeing this conversation whittled down this way is what a limited vision this is for the church.
But now the leading exponent of this approach, Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, has plunged its Sunday-morning services much deeper into the faith funnel. More music is provided for worship, not just ambience; and more messages target "mature" believers, not just new ones. One recent sermon challenged listeners to publicly show their commitment as Christians, an appeal that would have seemed strange a year ago. For a business owner, that might mean talking about Christ with employees, it was suggested; for a teenager, it might involve risking status with peers.
To continue with the marketing analogy, a church does not pick a depth on the funnel, the church IS THE FUNNEL! - ALL OF IT! The churches mission is to bring in seekers, take them deeper and then meet them at that depth. There is another key graph:
And the surveys -- designed pro bono by a McKinsey partner -- showed that believers who reported themselves "close to Christ" or "Christ-centered" were actually better evangelists than the often enthusiastic, but thinly prepared, new faithful.The church is an organism with many, many functions - hence Paul's repeated "body" analogy.
This kind of thinking is, I believe the result of two fundamental mistakes. The first is confusing evangelism with the church's true and whole function. The second is coming to view the church as an extension of one person's, or a staff's, ministry. The church is the place where ALL have a ministry. For some that is evangelism, for others that is training evangelists, for others it is studying scripture, and the list goes on. This has been written numerous times before - try I Corinthians 12 for starters.
Having been to Rome this summer, I have gained a certain appreciation for the Roman Catholic church. They have their problems, to be sure, but they do have an understanding of the complexity and breadth of what the church should be. Mainstream denominations have tried to hold this vision, but are largely sacrificing it to the idol of filling the pews.
We need to relearn what the church really is.
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middle. When it came down, however, it hit a sprinkler and the ball
went sideways into the woods. He was angry, but he went into the
woods and hit a very hard 2 iron which hit a tree and bounced back
straight at him, striking him in the temple and killing him.
At the Pearly Gates St. Peter looked in the big book and said...
"I see you were a golfer, is that correct?"
"Yes, I am," he , replied.
St Peter then said, "Can you drive the ball a long distance?"
The golfer replied, "You bet. After all, I got here in 2, didn't I?"
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Thursday, September 11, 2008
YES, IT"S THAT DAY
Churches Of Our Travels
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Are You Discouraged?
It's another Sunday afternoon in the pastor's house. He lives for Sunday mornings but dies by Sunday night. Like Elijah, he slinks from Carmel to cave in a few short hours. He wakes up eagerly with glorious expectations only to lay down fitfully with questions. Does anybody care about the things of God? Is there a bud on any of the trees? Is anyone hungry for something, anything resembling godliness? Does anyone like talking about the Bible? Do matters of the soul matter to anyone?As it begins to respond to this lament, taking it very seriously, the post says:
Inevitably these questions drift from "them" to "me." Maybe it's me. After some years we should expect some quantifiable growth, right? Even a pruned tree comes back in the Spring. Am I right for this church? Maybe we just want different things from each other. Am I even right for ministry? Maybe I misunderstood the yearning I thought God was giving me. Maybe folks were just tickling my ears when I asked them about pastoral ministry. Maybe I'm doing more harm than good. There are fewer people doing fewer things on a slimmer budget. Is the ship sinking or did I run it aground? I love what I do, but hate what I've done. Am I crazy? Have I preached the right gospel? Where are the classifieds?
God has designed ministry to kill you. It killed Jesus and it will kill us. Paul spoke of his ministry perhaps more in terms of dying than living (2 Cor 4.11-12; Gal 6.17; Phil 2.17). The pangs of discouragement are the sounds of a man giving his life away for God's people. It's the sound of man making his home in a cemetery, hoping that today will be the day life springs eternal. God will make sure Jesus is the only one left standing in the battle royal for souls.Dude, seriously - welcome to life. Everybody gets discouraged with what they do from time-to-time. There is nothing special about this lament, it is just described in a different package because of what you try to do. Everyone, and I mean everyone, no matter what the job, from factory worker to President of the United States, wonders at some point if anybody cares about what they are doing and if it matters. If this is the right job for me, and so forth and so on.
And I have some news for you. It is a sinful world, we are all dying from the moment we are born. If you are being drained by your job it is not because your job is so special, it is because you are not plugged into the power source sufficiently. (Hint, Hint)
Which brings me to my second point. Being a pastor DOES NOT make you better than the rest of us. Way too many people get into ministry thinking it will afford them the opportunity to be a better Christian than the rest of us - NOPE! - just different. Besides I am EQUALLY AS CALLED TO WHAT I DO IN LIFE AS A PASTOR IS TO THE PULPIT. I want you to think about that really hard. Pastoral ministry is not a "calling," and everything else just "settling." We are each called to what we do, because it is all part of God's plan.
I realize there is a lack of graciousness to this post, and I am being entirely unsympathetic. I understand the frustration because I SHARE IT - which is the real point of this. Such discouragement can be viewed as a ministry opportunity - a place to connect with the congregation because of the similarity of experience.
All of us get up some days and have to force one foot in front of the other. USE THAT TO BUILD A RELATIONSHIP. Then watch Christ flourish in your life and in your congregation's life.
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Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Molly rightly points out that the problem with fundamentalist fundamentalism is idolatry. FF assumes that if you question it, then you are questioning Truth-with-a-capital-T, and doubting God Himself. It assumes that if you are questioning -- even questioning God -- you are sinning. But questioning and doubt need not signal either sin or a lack of faith -- indeed, you cannot truly question a God you have no faith in.Good stuff that! It is indeed idolatry when we put our understanding of truth ahead of the discovery of actual truth. It is even self-idolatry to think that we can grasp all of the truth.
Don't get me wrong; every believer worth his salt (pun intended) should have a good bit of fundamentalism in him. He should be eager to uphold Truth (or truth) for the glory of God and the good of mankind. Yet he must also recognize that God is quite capable of defending Himself and has no need for any bogus defense which is really a cover for self-defense. Nor does right living require a defense; it is it's own defense.
And we are confronted, yet again, with the need for humility, for selflessness. Bonnie said:
There's a saying, a cliche -- "Let go, and let God." Not that every situation requires that we do this; sometimes, it's necessary to persist. But when it comes to relinquishing control to God, that is a fundamental we must adhere to.How rare that is in the church. Which makes it unsurprising that the church so often fails to bring in new people - we simply have not appropriated the wonder, glory and beauty that our Lord offers us. It's not about our attractiveness, but His.
I spent the first couple of decades of my walk with Christ in pursuit of an intellectual understanding of my faith, and I still read a lot - but now I pursue Christ, not knowledge of Christ. My current pursuit involves much more than mere learning and understanding - it is consumptive of my entire being. It is also humbling.
At the risk of sounding less-than-humble, my intellectual capabilities are better than most, but I am a sinner. My intellectual pursuits are, in a fashion, avoiding the issue. Have you ever thought about that? God calls us to work on what we are worst at, not best.
Food for thought.
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Monday, September 08, 2008
Humans have always been celebrity-worshipers, have always demanded "perfection" from their celebrities, and have always worshiped whatever it was that they thought brought them happiness and prosperity, i.e., gave them life. This is nothing new. And vanity is nothing new. Neither is power, beauty, image, nor captivation. These things of themselves are not bad; they are in many ways basic to life. It's just a matter of what is allowed to have power in our lives. What power do we choose to use and how, and why; what do we deem beautiful, and why? Do we keep the different kinds in their proper places, allowing them their powers appropriately?Bonnie has excellently diagnosed a cultural issue in this post, but I am far less concerned about the cultural decline she evidences than I am the fact that the church mirrors the same issues and rather than provides alternatives, capitalizes on the forces created. Mega-church pastors become celebrities and Joel Osteen writes books about "Better Life," church boards worry obsessively about the congregations image in the community, and we remodel the physical plant when we should be transforming lives.
May we be captivated (and captivating) by what truly will bring us good and not evil. Appeal must have its proper use, and its proper place.
As Bonnie says - attractiveness has its place, but when the church holds up as attractive the same false idea of attractive that our culture paints, we have a problem. But, always comes the refrain, nobody comes if we don't do that. Which brings me to G.K. Chesterton:
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried.If the church is not attractive it is not because we have an image problem, it is because we have not allowed ourselves to be sufficiently transformed as to allow the true glory of God to shine in and through us. Said again, slightly differently, God offers to make us into beings so attractive that people cannot stay away, but it is an attractiveness radically different from anything the world has seen save when Christ walked among us.
Changing our image is easy, being transformed is hard work.
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Sunday, September 07, 2008
Sermons and Lessons
WASHINGTON GLADDEN, Congregational divine, was born at Pottsgrove, Pa., in 1836. After graduating at Williams College he was ordained pastor, and occupied pulpits in Brooklyn, Morrisania, N. Y., and Springfield, Mass., until 1882, when he assumed charge of the First Congregational Church of Columbus, Ohio. He has also occupied editorial positions, and has published many books on social and civil reform and the practical application of Christian truth to popular and com¬mon life. His style, whether he was writing or speaking, combined vigor with grace.
And killed the prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead. - Acts 3:15.
This is the phrase with which Peter, in his great speech in the temple porch, describes the Master whose disciple he had been for three years, whose death he had witnessed on Calvary, and to whose resurrection from the dead he is now bearing witness. “The prince of life!” It is one of the many great titles conferred upon the Lord by those who loved Him. Reverence and de¬votion fell from their lips in lyrical cadences whenever they spoke of Him, and they wreathed for Him garlands of words with which they loved to deck His memory. He was “the Prophet of the Highest”; He was “the Great High Priest”; He was “the Shepherd of the Sheep”; He was “the Captain of Salvation”; He was “the First Born of Many Brethren”; He was “Redeemer,” “Reconciler,” “Savior.” Gratitude and affection shaped many a tender phrase in which to describe Him, but there is none, perhaps, more luminous or more comprehensive than this with which the impulsive Peter, facing the men who had put Him to death, gave utterance to his loyalty. Its pertinence is confirmed by the word 0 Jesus Himself, in one of the sayings in which He described His mission: “I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it abundantly.” Author and Giver of life He was, and what He gave He gave with princely munificence - freely, unstintedly.
The phrase seems to be one on which we may fitly dwell today, since the day of the year which commemorates His birth occurs on the day of the week which celebrates His resurrection. Both events proclaim Him the Prince of Life. In the one He is the Bringer of new life, in the other He is the Victor over death; and thus He becomes, in the impassioned confessions of the apostle, the Alpha and the Omega, the Author and the Finisher of Faith, the First and the Last and the Living One.
Those who are familiar with the New Testament narration do not need to have their attention called to the constant ministry of this Son of Man to the vital needs of men. The impartation of life seems to have been His main business. Somehow it came to be believed by the multitude, at the very beginning of His public ministry, that He possest some power of communicating life. The wonderful works ascribed to Him are nearly all of this character. The healing of the sick, the cleansing of the lepers, all resulted from the reinforcement of the vital energies of the sufferers. When He laid His hand upon men, new life seemed to speed through their veins. We have known some who seemed to have, in some imperfect way, this quickening touch. It is a physiological fact that warm blood from the veins of a thoroughly healthy person, transfused through the veins of one who is emaciated or exhausted, quickens the wavering pulse and brings life to the dying. It may be that through the nerve tissues, as well as through the veins, the same vitalizing force may be communicated, and that those who are in perfect health, both of body and of mind, may have the power of imparting life to those who are in need of it. The miracles of healing ascribed to Jesus must have been miracles in the literal sense; they were wonders, marvels - for that is what the word miracle means; that they were interruptions or violations of natural law is never intimated in the New Testament; they may have been purely natural occurrences, taking place under the operation of natural laws with which we are not familiar. We are far from knowing all the secrets of this wonderful universe; the time may come when these words of Jesus will have larger meaning than we have ever given them: “If ye abide in me, the works that I do shall ye do also, and greater works than these shall ye do, because I go unto my Father.”
The fact to be noted is, however, that the people with whom Jesus was brought into con¬tact were made aware in many ways of the impartation of His Life to them. “Of His fullness,” said John, “we all received, and grace for grace.” There seemed to be in. Him a plenitude of vitality, from which health and vigor flowed into the lives of those who came near to Him. Nor does this seem to have been any mere physical magnetism; there is no intimation that His physical endowments were exceptional; the restoring and invigorating influence oftener flowed from a deeper source. The physical renewal came as the result of a spiritual quickening. He reached the body through the soul. The order was, first, “Thy sins be forgiven thee”; then, “Arise and walk.” If the spirit is thoroughly alive, the body more quickly recovers its lost vigor. And it was mainly in giving peace to troubled consciences and rest to weary souls that He conferred upon those who received Him the great boon of life.
Thus Jesus proved Himself “the Prince of Life.” In the early ages of the Church the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, came to be described as “the Lord and Giver of Life”; but that was because He was believed to be the Continuator of the work of Jesus - the spiritual Christ.
There seems to be in this conception a great and beautiful revelation of the essential nature of Christianity. There are many ways of conceiving of this, but I am not sure that any one of them is more significant than that which we are now considering. Those words of Jesus to which I have before referred are wonderful words when we come to think upon them. They occur in that discourse in which He describes Himself first as the Good Shepherd, and contrasts Himself with the thieves and robbers who have been ravaging the flock. “The thief cometh not,” He says, “but that he may steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” Have we not here the great fundamental distinction between men - the line that separates the evil from the good, the just from the unjust, the sheep from the goats - that distinction which Jesus marks so clearly in His parable of judgment, and which must never, in our interpretations or philosophizings, be blotted or blurred? Some are life-givers; some are life-destroyers. “The thief cometh not but that he may steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.”
I do not suppose that Jesus meant in this to declare that there is a large class of persons whose entire purpose it is to steal and kill and destroy; probably there are none so malevolent that they do not cherish some kindly impulses and perform some generous deeds. It is a distinction between acts, or perhaps between tendencies of character, that He is making. He speaks in the concrete, as He always does; but He expects us to make the proper application of His words. The fact to which He guides our thought is this - that there are ways of living, forms of conduct, which are predatory and destructive of life, and other ways that tend to make life increase and abound. When Jesus contrasts His own conduct, as one who gives life and gives it abundantly, with the thieves and robbers who kill and destroy, we must interpret the conduct of those whom He describes as destructive of life - as tending to the diminution of life. Indeed, it is a very deep and awful truth that all our social action tends in one or other of these directions. Life, in its proper relation, is the one supreme and central good; the life of the body is the supreme good of the body; the life of the spirit is the supreme good of the spirit. And you can rightly estimate any act or habit or tendency of human conduct only by determining whether it increases and invigorates the life of men, body and spirit, or whether it reduces or diminishes their life. Good men are adding to the life of those with whom they have to do; evil men are debilitating and depleting the life of those with whom they have to do.
Even in our economic relations the final effect of all our conduct upon those with whom we deal is to replenish or diminish their life. The wage question is at bottom a question of more or less life for the wage-worker. Starvation wages are wages by which the hold upon life of the wage-earner and his wife and children is weakened. Systems of industry are good in proportion as they enlarge and invigorate the life of the whole population; evil in proportion as they lessen and weaken its life. So all industrial and national policies ere to be judged by the amount of life which they produce and maintain - life of the body and of the spirit. Those strong words of John Ruskin are the everlasting truth:
“There is no wealth but life - life including all its powers of love, of joy and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal and by means of his pos¬sessions, over the lives of others.”
We have here, as you see, the Christian conception - the very word of the Prince of Life, of Him who came that we might have life, and that we might have it abundantly. And when His kingdom has come, this will be the end for which wealth is sought and used in every nation.
It is possible to use wealth so that it shall be productive of life; so that the entire administration of it shall tend to the enlarge¬ment and enrichment of the life of men; so that the labor which it employs shall obtain an increasing share of the goods which it produces; so that all the conditions under which that labor is performed shall be favorable to health and life and happiness; so that the spiritual life, also, of all who are employed shall be nourished by inspiring them with good-will and kindness, with the confidence in man which helps us to have faith in God. Such an administration of wealth is perhaps the very best testimony to the reality of the truth of the Christian religion which it is possible to bear in this day and generation. One who handles capital with this clear pur¬pose can do more to establish in the earth the kingdom of heaven than any minister or missionary can do.
But it is possible to use wealth in the opposite way, so that it shall be destructive rather than productive of life. A man may manage his industry in such a way that the last possible penny shall be taken from wages and added to profit; in such a way that the health of his employees shall be impaired and their happiness blighted and their hope taken away. He may do this while maintaining an outwardly religious behavior and giving large sums to philanthropy. But such a handling of wealth does more to make infidels than any heretical teacher or lecturer ever did or can do.
The fact needs to be noted that all the predatory schemes by which capital is successfully inflated and nefariously manipulated, and the community is thus burdened, are deadly attacks upon the life of the people. They filch away the earnings of the laboring classes. They increase the cost of rent and transportation and all the necessaries of life. They extort from the people contributions for which no equivalent has been given, of commodity or service. Thus the burden of toil is increased and the reward of industry is lessened for all who work; the surplus out of which life would be replenished is consumed, arid the amount of life in the nation at large is lessened. Every one of those schemes of frenzied finance about which we are reading in these days is a gigantic bloodsucker, with ten million minute tentacles which it stealthily fastens upon the people who do the world’s work, and each one of the victims must give up a little of his life for the aggrandizement of our financial Titans. When such schemes flourish, by which men’s gains are suddenly swollen to enormous proportions, somebody must be paying for it, and life is always the final payment. It all comes out of the life of the people who are producing the world’s wealth. The plethora of the few is the depletion of the millions. In every great aggregation of workers, the faces of the underfed are a little paler and the pulses of the children beat a little less joyously, and the feet are hastened on that journey to the tomb - all because of those who come to steal and to kill and to destroy.
Such is the contrast between beneficent business and maleficent business. The good business employs men, feeds them, clothes them, shelters them, generously distributes among them the goods that nourish life; the bad business contrives to levy tribute on the resources out of which they are fed and clad and nourished, and thus enriches itself by impoverishing the life of the multitude.
And I suppose that we should all find, whether we are engaged in what is called business or not, that the work which we are doing, the way in which we are spending our time and gaining our income, is tending either to the enlargement and increase of the life of those with whom we have to do or to the impoverishment and destruction of their life; and that this is the final test by which we must be judged - are we producers of life or destroyers of life? Is there more of life in the world - more of physical and spiritual life - because of what we are and what we do, or is the physical and spiritual vitality of men lessened by what we are and what we do? Are we helping men to be stronger and sounder in body and mind and soul for the work of life, or are we making them feebler in muscle and will and moral stamina?
When Jesus Christ came into the world the civilization prevailing - if such it could be called - was under the dominion of those who came to steal and to kill and to destroy. Rome was the world, and the civilization of Rome, with all its splendor, was at bottom a predatory civilization. It overran all its neighbors that it might subjugate and despoil them; its whole social system was based on a slavery in which the enslaved were merely chattels; the life of its ruling class was fed by the literal devouring of the lives of subject classes. Of course, this civilization was decadent. That terrible decline and fall which Gibbon has pictured was in full progress. It was in the midst of this awful scene that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Can anyone doubt that His heart was full of divine compassion for those who were trampled on and preyed upon by the cruel and the strong, for those whose lives were consumed by the avarice and greed of their fellows? What did He mean when, at the beginning of His ministry in the synagogue where He had always worshiped, He took in his hand the roll of the prophet Isaiah and read therefrom: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because be hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord “ - adding as He sat down, under the gaze of the congregation, “To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears”? What could He have meant but this, that it was His mission to change the entire current and tendency of human life; to put an end to the plunderers and devourers; to chain the wolfish passion in human hearts which prompts men to steal and to kill and to destroy; to inspire them with His own divine compassion; to give life and to give it abundantly? And is it not true that so far as men do receive of His fullness, so far as they are brought under the control of His spirit, they do cease to be destroyers and devourers of the bodies and souls of their fellows, and become helpers, saviors, life-bringers? And is not this included in His meaning when He says: “I am come that they may have life, and that they may have it abundantly”?
To-day, then, we hail Him as Prince of Life, the glorious Giver to men of the one supreme and crowning good. And the manner of the giving is not hard to understand. He gives life by kindling in our hearts the flame of sacred love. Love is life. Love to God and man brings the soul into unity with itself; it is obeying its own organic law, and obedience to its law brings to any organism life and health and peace. If the spirit of Christ has become the ruling principle of our conduct, then we have entered into life, and it is a life that knows no term; it is the immortal life. If the spirit of Christ has entered into our lives, then in all our relations with others life is increased; we are by nature givers of good; out of our lives are forever flowing healing, restoring, saving, vitalizing influences; and when all the members of the society in which we move have received this spirit and manifest it, there are none to bite and devour, to hurt and destroy; the predatory creatures have ceased their ravages, and the world rejoices in the plenitude of life which He came to bring.
We hail Him, then, to-day, as the Lord and Giver of life. We desire to share with Him the unspeakable gift, and to share it, as best we may, with all our fellow men. What we. freely receive from Him, we would freely give. What the whole world needs to-day is life, more life, fuller life, larger life. We spend all our energies in heaping up. the means of life, and never really begin to live; our strength is wasted, our health is broken, our intellects are impoverished, our affections are withered, our peace is destroyed in our mad devotion to that which is only an adjunct or appendage of life. Oh, if we could only understand how good a thing it is to live, just to live, truly and freely and largely and nobly, to live the life that is life indeed!
Shall we not draw to this Prince of Life and take from Him the gift that He came to bring? Is not this the one thing needful? We are reading and bearing much in these days of the simple life. What is it but the life into which they are led who take the yoke of this Master upon them and learn of Him? It is a most cheering omen that this little book of Pastor Wagner’s is falling into so many hands and uttering its ingenuous and persuasive plea before so many minds and in so many homes. If we heed it, it must bring us back to the simplicity of Christ. Pastor Wagner is only preaching over again the Sermon on the Mount; it is nothing but the teaching of Jesus brought down to this day and applied to the conditions of our complex civilization. It is the true teaching; none of us can doubt it. And I wish that we could all begin the new year with the earnest purpose to put ourselves under the leadership of the Prince of Life. I know that we should find His yoke easy and His burden light, and that there would be rest for our souls in the paths into which He would lead us. We should know, if we shared His life, that we were really living; and we should know also that we were helping others to live; that we were doing what we could to put an end to the ravages of the destroyers and the devourers, and to fill the earth with the abundance of peace.
Is not this, fellow men, the right way to live? Does not all that is deepest and divinest in you consent to this way of life into which Jesus Christ is calling us, as the right way, the royal way, the blessed way? Choose it, then, with all the energy of your volition, and walk in it with a glad heart and a hope that maketh not ashamed.
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