Saturday, May 22, 2010

Be graceful: Invite those who can’t pay you back.

It’s my quiet time on Monday, May 3, 2010. Even though it’s my day off, it’s been a hard day, with lots of church matters ruining the day. I’m crying out to the Lord for deliverance. “Please, we just could use some encouragement,” I pray. And there is an answer: “Banquet.” Banquet? Like don’t take the best seat at the banquet? No. “Banquet. Go out to the highways and byways and compel them to come.” In a flash, I’m in Luke 14. And there it is. The Jesus evangelism by grace plan.

Oh, I know, as a church, we’re crippled financially just now. So what. Jesus says, “Go! Go out to the highways and byways and compel them to come in.” And, I might add, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, don’t invite your friends and those who can pay you back.” Oh my. It’s all there. Luke 14:12-24. Let’s make Jesus’ parable real. Let’s be graceful enough to have such a banquet.

Now some will jump on the bandwagon that says this is about First Century Jews and how Jesus was offering the kingdom now to Gentiles and those who had previously been excluded. Uh-huh. But it’s God’s Word. It’s timeless. It’s for us. And it’s clear: Go. Invite. Have a banquet for Jesus and invite those who can’t pay you back.

We talk about how important it is to “go.” Mt 28:19 and following: “Go ye therefore into all the world and make disciples of every ethnicity...”

Yet, as a churches, we mostly “wait.” Wait for what? For people like us to find us and decide our worship is cool and our sermons are deep and clever and they want to join the fun? I don’t think that is what Jesus is asking us to do.

I think Jesus is asking us to go find the ones who won’t find there way to Zion Church on their own and give them a compelling reason why they should become our brothers and sisters in submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ. We should show them his grace in whatever way we can.

Then another flash: A park. A Sunday (?) afternoon, or was it morning? A group of Zion folks. Some singing, a brief Jesus message. Some home-made sides, some fried chicken, and a whole bunch of immigrant kids playing soccer with us. Just so you know, Travis will be there to lead the kids in the songs.

Right down the street, less than 5 minutes away from church, there are apartment complexes filled with immigrants and their children. They love soccer. They love good food. Jesus loves them and wants them to love him. What are we waiting for? Consider this your invitation to support something that just might be crazy or just might be Jesus. We need you to pray. We need some dollars for fried chicken (I think it’s easier of the church springs for that and organizes it). We need some people to bring a lot of sides. We need kids to show up from churches, sing Jesus songs, say “amen!” during the Jesus message and then play their hearts out with other kids from Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and all over Asia and kick the soccer ball around. Are you with me?

The date is June 27th at Beaverdale Park - 3301 or 3333 Adams (depending upon which city site you trust). The time is 12:00 noon.

Thanks for reading. See you at the banquet. Which happens to be at a park. God bless. PJ

Monday, May 17, 2010

I am working hard not to be grumpy and to let Jesus be in control (really!)

Here is an insight into my self talk: I think, “Gee, the Son of God became flesh and blood for me so that he could show me the face of God, die on a cross on the third day, rise again so that I might live and reign with him in eternity. Isn’t that the best news ever? Doesn’t that just make you want to dance and sing and smile and tell everyone how happy you are and how much you love them and, more importantly, how much Jesus loves them?”

And sometimes I say to myself: “I’d be a whole lot happier if I felt like the people at church ‘got it.’ I’d be a whole lot happier if they showed up more frequently, gave more generously, volunteered more freely. I’m not even sure what value many of them put on their faith.”

Welcome to the twisted mind of a pastor. As a pastor, you know you’ve got what everybody needs: Jesus. But it’s often frustrating how hard it is to give Jesus away for free. It’s hard to even get people to show up sometimes.

There are 10,000 reasons not to go to church: “I have to work; we’ve been running and running, and we just need to rest, we need family time; we have a soccer game, a swim meet, a track meet, a golf tournament, a baseball game, an out of town game, a show-choir competition, a spelling bee; we have to go home and be with our parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins (whatever) for their (insert) birthday, anniversary, graduation, wedding shower, baby shower, etc.” My favorite excuse for not coming to church is when people have out of town company. After all, we wouldn’t want to make our guests uncomfortable by inviting them to come to church with us. Neither would we want to excuse ourselves for an hour to go on our own.

In the Midwest, winter is a problem. Faced with a driveway full of snow, people often times are too tired these days to snow blow themselves out on a Sunday morning. I’d be OK with this spontaneous family time around the fire and an extended family breakfast if it wasn’t for the fact that when the spring and summer comes, the weather is apparently too nice for people to come to church.

Would it help if we built an outdoor amphitheater for good weather services? I’m game, but ya’ll have to start writing some pretty impressive checks.

Most churches try to make church-going as easy as possible. We currently have three services, for instance, starting at 8:00 in the morning. But 8:00 is too early or it’s too traditional or too inconvenient. We try to make church relevant: we try to make it the best hour of people’s week. But that doesn’t cut it either. We're asking for feedback on other service times now on the website. Feel free to click your thoughts. I know that our flock can be witnesses to Jesus on the soccer field. I know discipleship can happen outside the church building. But if you don't get fueled up, how can you minister?

We even try to make church fun. Fun? Isn’t that a strange value for a church to have? Maybe, but Paul said it best: “I have become all things to all men in order that I might by all means save some.” But apparently we aren’t always fun enough.

Sometimes, in my Andy Rooney moments, I wonder if we should make church more competitive. Competitive? Well, isn’t that what’s going on at the tournaments and meets and games that everyone is going to on Sunday mornings? Maybe we could find a way to make church into a team sport, charge fees, and then have a trophy or other award at the end of the season. Oh, but that’s right, the God season never ends, He's a year round sport.

Someone out there is saying, “Tough talk, Pastor John. Way to encourage the flock. NOT.” Why should I even be bothered by this stuff? I ask myself that a lot. The trouble is that I’m haunted, as a shepherd responsible for presenting my flock before the Lord, by this very troubling thought: If they can’t figure out how to work their schedules so that they can go to the tournament and still go to church, how am I to believe that they will be able to work their lives so that when a moment of decision arrives, they will follow Jesus and not just go along with the crowd? The simple fact is, I’ve got a point. Talk is cheap. People say they believe a lot of things. But if you want to know what someone really believes, look at what they do. Our actions always betray what we really believe.

I’d feel better about people not being in church every week if I knew that they were praying together as families, reading their Bibles, sharing their faith with the other parents or kids on the soccer field. But honestly, I have yet to be told anything like this by anyone ever. The scary truth is that in the North American church we are light on prayer and Bible reading and light on private and public worship. And that’s why I get grumpy. Because I want more for my flock. I want them to know Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection. I want them to be equipped for the living of these days. I want them to be able to stand on the day of temptation. I want them to give themselves fully and with reckless abandonment to God.

So now we come to my control issues. Turns out, only Jesus can save people. Turns out, unless the Holy Spirit enables people to believe, they can’t. Wow. So I have all this passion and frustration because I so desperately want my flock to know and believe Jesus and the whole time, Jesus has the power to do just that. So then guilt overtakes me: I’ve wasted all this time on people. Instead, I ought to flee for refuge and help to the only One who can make what I want a reality: Jesus himself. Jesus, I beg you, help me, my family, my church family, my neighborhood, my doctor, my dentist, my barista, my city, my county, my country, my world; Lord! Help them to get you! Help them to find you irresistible.

May all the time I spend trying to make church acceptable to my congregation, may it all be better spent with You, Jesus, pleading, interceding, begging you on their behalf. Because You can change people, I can’t.

Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

Monday, May 10, 2010

If You Believe in Your Product, Sell It!

So I had this a interesting experience. We’ve been looking at different school possibilities for our kids. So we’ve been booking tours of facilities and meeting with teachers and administrators. Recently, we toured a very impressive edifice. It had everything going for it except one thing: excitement. The kids we saw seemed happy enough, but they weren't really part of the tour and they didn't express to us a desire that our kids should join them in the classroom. What I’m talking about is the staff. We sensed no excitement from them. And what was really interesting: no one tried to convince us that this was the best place in the world for our priceless children.

I can’t say whether they just expected that we’d be awed by the edifice and the place would sell itself. Maybe they felt their excellent reputation in education spoke for itself. Maybe they thought their curriculum and teaching methods would grab hold of us and so captivate our imaginations that we'd have no choice but to sign up. Or, maybe they thought we weren’t a good match for their school. All I know is that all the people I talked to at this place made me feel as if they didn’t care whether or not my kids attended there. Frankly speaking, it wasn't that I expected to be fawned over, I just expected some passion for their school and the impact it was making in the lives of their kids.

As we were leaving, my wife said, “My, they were very laid back about things.” Then she said, “I hope we don’t come across that laid back to our guests at church.” And that got me thinking not just about church but about Christian life in general.

Christians, isn't Jesus Christ the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to us? Isn't new life in him the best product, vacation, experience, or thrill you've ever had? Doesn't it just make you want to go out into the highways and byways and invite people to come to church with you and experience Jesus? Ummm.... Well.... Errrrr..... Ahhhhmmm....

I think what I'm saying is that we don't act like it. We act as if there are other options. We act surprised, even, when people WANT to worship Jesus with us. What happened to us?

I think the answer is we have forgotten our first love. We've learned to put other things in front of Jesus. I'm sure those things are good, but nothing gets to go in the Jesus place except Jesus.

Revelation 2:4 Jesus says to the church (at Ephesus but maybe to us, too?): "Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand." For 200 plus years, the North American church has dominated the Christian landscape. Now, it seems, instead of being the largest sending country for missionaries, we are the largest receiving country for missionaries. And we don't seem to be alarmed by this at all. Our so called main-line churches seem to have abandoned the teaching of the apostles. And I'm not sure that most congregations, regardless of affiliation, aren't rather luke-warm to experience on a Sunday morning. Have we lost our passion to the point where we no longer believe that Jesus is the absolute best thing for people?

You are entitled to your own opinion. I happen to think it's true. I think we've left our first love. And I thank God that he revealed the way back: repentance. Apparently that's where it all begins. Repentance.

The big question in my mind: how does the church repent? I'm open to your feedback. Stay tuned. This will be an on-going conversation. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

Monday, May 3, 2010

What I Learned in Omaha

Why Omaha? Because that was where the LCMC ( ) leadership conference was held on April 25-27, 2010.

I love Omaha. They have truly awesome food in Omaha. Svickova and dumplings at the Bohemian Cafe ( ), melt in your mouth prime rib at Johnny’s Cafe ( ), and while the food is definitely food service, you can’t beat the relaxing atmosphere while having lunch in the Durham Cafe at the amazing Joslyn Art Museum ( ).

The conference was amazing, too. Over 300 in attendance, which is a lot for an association with 400 churches. Listening to friends who have been in the LCMC since it’s birth, it’s amazing to think that a few years ago, 50 people was a lot for one these leadership deals. I asked one guy what it was like, watching this gathering of church leaders blossom and grow. He said it was weird considering that now few people new who he was. I couldn’t help but think that’s how people feel when congregations grow also.

There were many wonderful presentations. But one that really struck me was by my long time colleague, David Housholder ( ). There were a number of points he brought forward which I think are pertinent to our life and ministry at Zion and I want to share them with you now:

Lutheranism in America is about to have a demographic catastrophe. This isn’t new information, but for a denominational group that stopped growing and begin the slide toward extinction in the mid 60s, we are now much closer to the end game. Housholder was bold enough to equate the precipitous fall in Lutheran numbers with the advent of the birth control pill in 1965 and the facts bare him out. He correctly identified three major waves in American Lutheranism: the growth that came through immigration in the later part of the 19th century and early 20th; growth from the early 1900s until 1965 from having lots of kids; and now, the third wave, the real possibility of extinction. See my earlier blogs for the stats and the links to websites that prove this statistical analysis. This means that in order to survive, we must grow through conversion. In fact, according to Housholder, we must grow our congregations by 10% each year purely through adult conversions and baptisms in order to stay alive. Wow. That’s exciting. It means we have to get back to our first love, proclaiming the real Gospel of Jesus. Finally, all the excuses are gone. We HAVE to do mission! Praise the Lord!
For my part, I wonder how well prepared we are to undertake such an enterprise. But I’m so excited to be part of the generation of pastors who must completely change the way we have been doing things for the sake of reaching a world around us that does not know Jesus or understand its need for him. Bring it on, God!
Dave talked about how he was present in Ethiopia at a meeting of evangelists from the Makene Yesus Church (Lutheran/ ). They had charts and graphs and were emphatic that they must baptize 163,000 people this year. Why? Because they baptized 163,000 people last year. And they believe they must baptize 163,000 more every year in order that the line on the graph showing the growth of Christians will meet the line symbolizing the growth of their population on their charts. They want nothing less than an Ethiopia where everyone is a believer in Jesus Christ. What boldness. What an amazing, refreshingly honest, kingdom attitude they have. Wouldn’t be great to desire the same thing? The only time I’ve seen charts and graphs in the American church is when we’re talking about money. Now is the time that we must learn from our Ethiopian brothers and be bold and dream big dreams. Because Jesus wants to reach everyone through us. Can you imagine if every one of our churches had the lofty goal of the total conversion of our states, cities, towns, and neighborhoods? Let the charting and graphing begin! Wow, these are exciting times.

So, while the challenges we face are daunting, they are real kingdom work to which our Lord and Master has called us to. Time to get out there really work the vineyard. Maybe it took the real possibility of the loss of everything to make us do it, but at least we’re beginning. May we be as bold as the Ethiopians in following Jesus into the lives of others. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ