Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcome, 2010

The end of the year is a natural time to reflect upon one’s life and, in the case of a pastor, one’s ministry. One thing I can say about 2009, it was never dull. There were times when I longed to be bored. Times when I prayed for quiet. But God had a plan and although that plan was not easy and required the loss of many things in order to remain faithful, we stand now poised to enter into the new year with optimism and hope because God is on the move and we are following him.

The words of Paul (Romans 8:31 and following) come to mind:
“If God is for us, who can be against us? ... For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will separate us from the love of God that in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Goodbye, 2009.  Your job is done and you have brought us to where we need to be in time.  I hated much of the bumpy ride but we are here, where God wills us to be.  With each bump in the road, I was brought closer to the Lord.  Nothing is wasted in his economy. No experience is without some value. He uses everything to build us and shape us for the future which is of his design and always to equip us for ministry to others. Transitioning to the new year, I pray that Almighty God will grant each of you grace and patience and wisdom and courage and strength for the living of these days.  We live in a unique and challenging time full of colliding ideological forces and an on-going technological revolution which is reshaping our society in yet to be comprehended ways. But for such a time as this were all of us placed upon the earth.  We may not always be comfortable, but let us strive to be faithful to our high calling as followers of Christ to be his witnesses even and especially when we feel that we are living in the end of time.  

Welcome, 2010. You bring us a fresh start, a turn of the calendar page and new seasons of opportunities to sow the gospel seeds as we advance into the future our God has prepared for us. Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas and Here’s the Real Meaning of the Great Commission

It’s Christmas time. Time to consider once again the second most amazing event in human history: that God became flesh and pitched his tent among us. It’s a sign of God’s amazing and unfathomable love and grace that the Son, Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be selfishly held on to, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

The second most amazing event in human history is that Jesus died, a sacrificial death, in our place and was raised again at Easter. Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Some will feel differently, of course, but for me, this is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the time when we can’t help but focus on the fact that the light has come into the darkness. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Then he said, “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.”

We are invited by the light of the world to become light so that the darkness can be overcome. We are also commanded to take this light and let it shine into all the world that others, too, may be in the light. We are followers of Jesus and also his fellow follower (disciple) makers. Jesus asks us to be his followers and also to make more Christ followers. Truly, this is a great commission!

The Son’s commission to us, ”Go and make disciples of all nations…” reminds me of the Father’s commission to mankind: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.”

Have you noticed how we are recently reticent to fulfill either of these commissions? A diminishing number of people have large families any more. We seem to prefer 2 or 3 children to 12. I grew up in a selfish generation. My friends and I grew up believing that we should first “do something important” and then save up money, in order to have children (and only a few) later in life. In other words, the meaning of life was to be found in doing something for yourself, and only secondarily in having a family. My grandparents came from a mindset that family was the most important thing and that children were a blessing from the Lord.

People far smarter than I have been watching this trend for a long time. It has something to do with prosperity: for some reason, the richer we get the fewer kids we have. Maybe there is something to be said about large families having to struggle together, but being stronger for it. I suppose the more prosperous we become, the more we think we have to provide for our children (ipods, cell phones, flat screens, etc) so children become less and less cost effective. Frankly, I like the space we have at our house, more kids would mean there would be less space for me and what I want. But you see, I’m selfish.

God isn’t selfish. He’s magnanimous. He is bounteous. He specializes in abundance. That’s one of the reasons or signs that point to Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of God. Wherever Jesus went there was suddenly abundance: water became wine, five loaves and 2 fish suddenly multiplied to fill a multitude and there was still enough left for 12 baskets; fish filled the nets, the dead came back to life. “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”

I remember story time in elementary school. We read a lot of science fiction about the end of the world. On Saturday mornings there were cartoons and dramas (like Ark 2) about how overpopulation and the consequent pollution was destroying the earth. We’d all freeze to death in the dark. Alas, the science has changed and now we’re getting too hot and we now have over 50,000,000 million abortions in this country alone. Apparently we don’t think much as a world about God’s command: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it.” When it comes to not doing what God commands, just about any excuse will do.

So to the church Jesus gives the great commission, “Go and make disciples.” The great commission is simply God reminding us that as far as he is concerned, more is better. “Fill the earth with my disciples because I want abundant children.” “Let there be more light.”

The church is therefore commanded to grow the family. But we’re big enough, surely? Aren't we cozy as we are? More will get messy! Not for the magnanimous, over abundant, bounteous, grace beyond all measure attitude of God. We need to make room. Oh sure, there will be issues like “what about me and mine?” but hopefully, the joy of seeing new life will overcome those if our hearts are in the right place.

But the house is too small! But the budget is too small! But we haven’t prepared! Doesn’t matter. The fields are white with the harvest. God commands: “Go, make disciples, fill the earth and subdue it. Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify me, your Father in heaven.” The most joyous times in ministry and in my personal life were'nt when there was plenty and everyone had their own space. They were when we were together, bunched up, falling over eachother and there wasn't enough to go around. That made community, it made memories, it made love. In a room crowded with disciples, the light is very, very bright.

It’s not a Christmas hymn but it bespeaks the meaning of season: that God became man so that men might become sons of God, and now asks us to increase the family.
"Going forth with laughter, sowing for the Master,
Though the loss sustained, The child often grieves;
 When our weeping’s over, He will tell us gently, 
We shall come rejoicing to heaven, bringing in the sheaves.
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, 
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves, 
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
 We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
Merry Christmas and thanks for reading. PJ

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Everything Must Change

One of the most exciting things I believe was summed up best by Bill Hybels: “The local church is the hope of the world.” I know some people will jump on that and say, “Gee, PJ, I thought Jesus was the hope of the world.” The answer is, of course, that Jesus is the hope of the world and that people best get connected to him in their local church. Jesus is the local church after all, it is his body.

I don’t really care what that church body looks like: high church or low church, cathedral or store front or living room. What’s important is that the local church understands it stands as Christ’s representative. All those wonderful words in 2 Corinthians 5 about being the ambassadors of Christ are written to the local church, to “ya’ll” in the church. If people are going to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord they will somehow need to be connected to his body. That’s why the local church is the hope of the world. Because the local church can bring the hope and transformation that only Jesus has.

This is an awesome mission. What would it be like if we really lived this out together? What if we actually believed and acted like we believed that our local congregation was the hope of the entire world? I think a lot of the petty arguments would stop. I think our priorities would be re-arranged. It would have to stop being about us. I think everything would change for the sake of the mission. And I think that’s what needs to happen. Now.

Why are we slow to adopt this vision that we, the church, are the hope of the world? Because I think we worry too much about our institutional survival. We can’t afford to lose any members, especially in these tough economic times, so we accommodate people who aren’t mission minded and try to keep everyone happy. This mindset can be held by pastors, boards, and members in general. If the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll lose a member, you probably will never gain any. And you certainly won’t add people who didn’t know Christ before because you won’t be being the hope of the world. You’ll be being the customer service department.

Sometimes, as preachers, we’re tempted to preach nice sermons full of empty platitudes that don’t rock the boat. But if we don’t preach for life change and transformation, if people don’t go away challenged to know Christ or know him better and equipped to do so, what’s the point?

I think we’ve been focused on meeting the felt needs of our members for too long. We’ve become insular, unable to identify and therefore to relate to the outside world. We’ve lost our edge, too. We are no longer expected to be imaginative or creative or innovative in the ways we make our witness or engage the world. I suppose it’s too risky to be too innovative, it might make someone uncomfortable or leave them longing for the way things used to be.

I’m speculating here but what if we in the local church have come to believe that if people want to meet Jesus they must first conform to the culture of the church? I think the early church dealt with that problem in Acts 15. Nothing is required before you meet Jesus. If we were missionaries we wouldn’t expect the people of the land we were evangelizing to learn our language or adapt our culture first. We’d learn theirs with joy so we could share Jesus. That’s the right attitude. We’re supposed to be the missionaries, not the consumers.