Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More than one lost sheep...

Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” ... (LK 15: 3-5)

Some churches pray intentionally, and with fervor, for the lost. We’re learning at Zion but we aren’t there yet. We need to learn. But in addition to that, we need to pray together for the lost ones of our own families.

Sure, we need to pray for the lost of the world. We need to pray for the 10-40 Window. We need to pray that Jesus will convert the nations. But what about our own friends and folks, kin and kids, and cousins?

I thank God that my wife is a believer. It’s a wonderful thing and adds so much to our marriage. But what if she weren’t? And I’m conscious of so many people in church with us who worship without husbands or wives because their spouses don’t believe.

And what about our kids? More than anything else, I want my kids to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and be saved. I want to spend eternity with them and their kids, and their kids - you get the picture. But I know of many whose kids are far from Christ at this moment and are worried sick about what will happen to their precious children.

I have cousins and uncles and aunts who don’t believe that Jesus alone saves. I want them to know the truth. But conversation can only go so far.

What if we prayed for each other’s families? What if we joined in asking God to bring to faith in Jesus Christ our kids, our spouses, our cousins, our friends, our aunts and our uncles?

What if we were able to offer to each other our intentions, our joys and sorrows, our fears, our sorrows, our joys, our victories and our fears? What if we prayed together for the salvation of those who are close to us who have wandered far afield from Christ our Shepherd?

Would you like to join a Lost Sheep Group? Lost Sheep Groups will pray together for family and friends who do not know the Lord. They will either gather together in flesh and blood or over the internet and they will get to know each other and their loved ones who need to know the Lord and they will pray heaven down upon the lost ones in each other’s lives.

I think Jesus wants us to know that the object of the parables is himself. But I also think Jesus wants us to live out the parables. And what better way to seek the lost, than to pray for them by name. He is, after all, the one who said, “Ask, seek, knock and it will given to you.” And again, “Whatsoever you ask for in my name will be given to you.” Let’s take the Lord at his word. Sign up in church or for those of you on the internet, go to the Zion website at http://www.ziondsm.org and give us your contact info via the “feedback” button on the home page. God bless you. Thanks for reading. PJ.

Monday, June 21, 2010

After the Banquet

So this Sunday Zion went to the Douglas Terrace Apartments (DTA) and put on a picnic banquet of fried chicken, fruit, assorted sides and good things to eat.

For us, this was an exercise in trust and obedience: would we trust the Holy Spirit and go; and in obedience to the Word, Lk 14, “when you give a banquet, invite those who can’t pay you back.”

Thanks to all who showed up to help and especially to those who worked behind the scenes to see to it that we had soccer balls to give away, gift bags with Jesus stuff for the kids, provided live music, and all the stuff we needed to put on the banquet.

Here are my thoughts on the experience and how it impacts the way we do church:

a.) We went in obedience, trusting God and without any expectations about what success looked it, except that He would meet us there.

That makes the evaluation stage on Monday morning difficult. Going without expectations means we had no clearly defined goals except to put on a banquet. Which we did. We have no facts or figures about how many people we served. We don’t know how many people came from our own church, either. I’d estimate we served between 50-60 people who lived in the area. No one was baptized, no one was saved, but we did try hard to embody the grace of God while we played games with the kids and dished out chicken. Perhaps we should be less concerned with statistical evaluation and more concerned with obedience and learn to adjust our expectations appropriately.

b.) “Preach the Gospel always, sometimes use words.”

At DTA, almost everyone is a recent immigrant. Many of the adults don’t speak or understand English. This makes the kids key in communication. It makes it hard to do a mailing, put up understandable fliers or even have a conversation. In this case, the only things we could communicate were via our expressions and body language and actions. Seems to me that in the modern church we’ve put more and more emphasis upon the spoken word. Certainly can’t argue with the centrality of the word. But you’ve got to be it, act it, and live it, too. The words that give eternal life may be less effective from snarly lips.

c.) Sometimes you can’t even give it away.

We estimated that there were perhaps 200-220 residents at DTA. We had a team knock on every single door in the complex. Partly because of language difficulties, partly because we were outsiders, some people would just not come down and eat or play. We played some games of “peek-a-boo” with kids who were fascinated by what was going on below their windows, but we couldn’t go them to come down. Free lunch! “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” It reminds me on a macro-scale of how hard it is to get people to accept salvation in Christ. It’s free. It’s here. It’s the best thing ever. But sometimes, it feels like we can’t even give it away.

d.) Pray over everything, then believe God.

One thing for sure, this event was covered in prayer. It was inspired during prayer, was developed in prayer, was put on in prayer. We prayed and trusted God that people would accept our invitation and come and eat. We prayed and trusted that somehow people would be blessed by God through what we were doing. We prayed and trusted God that on a weekend when we were to get 5 inches of rain, he would somehow provide for the banquet to happen. We prayed and trusted that all the logistics would come together. And everything did come together and people did come and eat on more or less dry ground (because there wasn’t any where else to sit or play). We wound up placing ourselves in a situation this time where there could be no plan B, God had to come through and do it all. And He did.

I do wonder whether or not the church of Jesus Christ has stopped taking risks. Perhaps we’re afraid of looking like amateurs, perhaps we’re afraid of looking like fools, perhaps we realize that people can get hurt easily in situations we haven’t completely planned through. Do high degrees of planning lead to lack of trust?

e.) Don’t be afraid not to be in control of everything.

I tried something new with this event. I tried not to control things or even know about the details. Everyone had their tasks and there was a general vision that was cast and at the right time, the body came together, the supplies appeared and people ate and children played. Sure we had a couple of coordinators. But the overall effect of letting it just “be” was magnificent. When we started to serve food, Zion people just found their places and served. Ditto games. Ditto just being present. It was beautiful.

f.) Let God lead.

God will lead. I think we get program happy and have to “do something.” Why do we do this? Is it to attract people to come to church? Sometimes. Is it to prove our own value? Sometimes. Is it to keep people busy and engaged? Sometimes. What if we just sat around and prayed until God spoke and then we did what he said? It might be maddening from time to time, but it would stop the current trend of loading up people with more and more to do. It would also insure that we were doing what God wanted to bless instead of asking God to bless what we’re doing. Obedience to God requires that we listen to God first so that we know what he wants. I think the church in the west has become too program centric and less effective.

Of course, this leads to another discussion. One about discerning the voice of God. It also leads to another discussion, do you trust the people to whom God is speaking? I think these are the reasons we like to go programmatic. We can do things in general without ever having to deal with the specifics of our own obedience and submission. You can have input into a program. You don’t have so much input when God speaks to someone and you’re asked to come along.
Maybe not everything we do as a church really needs to be done. Maybe there are things the Lord wants to do that we aren’t doing. Maybe we need to let him lead more.

g.) When the body of Christ submits to God’s greater vision, we work together in harmony and there are fewer of the “usual” issues.

The beauty of this event was that nobody wanted to “own” it. It was God’s. We simply followed him. No one argued about where to put up the tables. No one thought the gift bags could’ve been better, no one argued about how much chicken we bought, no one wanted to change venues. No one said we could have had more people if we’d done it differently. It was what it was and it was beautiful. We simply did it. No authority issues because we were all submitting to God and letting the body do its work.

Those who participated and saw it will have their own opinions. I do believe it was a success simply because we were led to do it and we did. People came and were fed. People who live in comparative isolation to the greater culture were visited. People were prayed for whom we hadn’t ever met before. And perhaps a relationship was begun.

Is there a plan to do something else? We’ll see what God says. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Follow Me as I Follow Christ

This is completely raw thought, keep that in mind as you read it, don’t judge me too harshly and if you’ve got thoughts, share them. Thanks.

What is the relationship between an individual church and the pastor’s personality?

I remember one day, many years ago, sitting in a restaurant with a visiting seminary professor who had just completed some lectures at our church. He said that the congregation is shaped by the personality of the senior pastor. If the pastor was frantic, the church would vibe frantic. If he was laid back and easy going, so would the church be laid back. If he was loud and gregarious, so would the church be. If he was a people pleaser and passive aggressive, well, er, you get the picture.

At a conference a few months ago, I heard a pastor with a national following talk about the relationship between his own actions and his church. He was frustrated with what he felt was a lack of generosity in his church and then realized that he wasn’t very generous either. So he changed his own life first. The more generous he became, the more the church started to open up and show generosity. He then began to wonder why his people weren’t motivated to share the gospel. So he looked at his own life. He realized that he had no significant relationships in his life with anyone who wasn’t a church going Christian. So he went out and began to develop relationships with unchurched people and he began to lead them to Christ. His church then began to develop a real heart for the lost.

Now, did these two things happen “all by themselves?” No. I’m certain of two things: 1.) The pastor talked about what he was doing and the impact it was having on his own life. The pastor’s life, after all, is a constant testimonial. So, through preaching, the church itself was challenged to change. 2.) The Holy Spirit had a lot to do with it. He is he great shaper and preparer both of churches and pastors.

This leads me to wonder: Does God use pastors to shape churches or churches to shape pastors? I assume the answer is both somehow. But isn’t that amazing? I’m not just talking about two things being impacted because they are in relationship together, I’m talking about a divine intentionality at work for the benefit of both.

Could it mean that God would allow the pastor to go broke so that he might be prepared to preach to the church about priorities and God’s provision during a recession?

I think it was the anchorite, Julian of Norwich, who asked the Lord to give her a terrible disease so she could be a witness in her suffering.

1 Cor 11:1 “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”

Does this mean that in order to preach, the preacher must have to have experienced what he’s preaching about first? I don’t think it’s a rule, after all, God gave us an imagination. But there is no doubt that the best sermons are preached out of one’s own experiences and that one’s own experiences help enormously in developing empathy.

And there is no doubt that the trials and joys of the congregation shape the expectations and experiences of the pastor as well.

So God’s school of discipleship continues.

What I wonder about is whether there is a way we can participate better with the Holy Ghost in finding the right churches for the right pastors and vice versa.

Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

Sunday, June 6, 2010

We have to go so we can went

From Luke 14: Jesus says, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed...” And later, Jesus said, “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.’”

Picking up from my blog of May 22:
The Mission: to invite the residents of the Douglas Terrace Apartments to have a picnic banquet at Beaverdale Park with our church and to bless them with food, fun and music.

Update: This week I finally got my courage up, said my prayers, and went to go and try and find the manager of the apartment complex we intend to bless on June 20th. I suppose I could’ve called, but I’m not very good on the phone and half the time people can’t hear me and things just seem to get confused. Besides, I figured it would be harder for them to tell me I’m crazy if I were standing right in front of them.

Now some of you will pick up right away on the fact that I was nervous about going to see the manager. Why wasn’t I confident and faithful that God would work out all the details? I was. It’s just that for the last seven years of my life, first as a missionary teacher in Latvia and then coming back to pastor a church, two rules have seemed to dominate my life: 1.) Everything is harder than it is. 2.) Everything takes longer than it does. So I anticipated difficulty.

Please don’t think I’m pessimistic. I know God wins in the end and it all works out. And please understand I’m not asking for pity. It’s just that I’ve gotten used to resistance even in simple things. It seems like if there is a way for something to go wrong, it will. My friends tell me that’s how you know you’re doing the things God wants you to do: the resistance is considerable.

So you can understand that I was praying for fortitude in spiritual combat for myself and that the Holy Spirit would move mountains.

Now you can imagine my surprise when I pulled into the tiny, crowded, lot, got out of the car and crazy good things started to happen. Every tenant I met greeted me with a smile and a hello. I saw one of the security doors propped open, so I just went in and wandered the halls. Wow. My knees buckled, I got goose-bumps. You could feel the Holy Ghost. It was amazing.

So I wandered over to the office. Closed. “Figures,” I said, still expecting resistance. I pulled out my phone and dialed the 24 hour number with a Minnesota prefix. A male voice answered. I meekly explained who I was, managed to stumble through a rambling explanation of what we wanted to do, and then, there was silence. “Oh boy, I thought, here it comes.” Ain’t it sad when the preacher has so little confidence in the power of God to bring about good things?

“I’ve always wanted to do something like that for the tenants,” the voice said. “Please, do whatever you want. In fact, why don’t you have the picnic on the property instead of making people walk to the park?” My eyes misted over. The answer to every question was “yes.” Yes, we can hang fliers. Yes, we can hand out fliers. Yes, we can bring games. Yes. The manager then told me where to find the duty manager who at that very moment appeared by my side. I explained it all again. “Yes,” he said. Yes to everything. Wow. Praise the Lord!

So the parable Jesus told is pretty clear. The Master says to his servants, “Go.” Makes me wonder if the church hasn’t been to passive. We’ve been sitting around waiting for people to come. Maybe we’re supposed to go out and compel them to come to the banquet.

Don’t get me wrong: working on the banquet hall and training the servers is important. If you’re going to have guests, you need to make them feel welcome so that heart of the Master is reflected in all you do. But at the end of the day we are still left with his instructions: “Go.”

I’m just finishing up the Sunday sermon as I write this. One thing that I discovered this week was that the word “love” in the present tense is used 61 times in the Gospels and not at all in the book of Acts. But the word “went” is used over 150 times in the Gospels and almost always in reference to Jesus. In the Book of Acts, 80 times they “went.” I think the meaning is clear. It’s about Jesus on the move. It’s about the church on the move. Jesus went. The early church went. We have to go so we can went, too.

God bless you. Thanks for reading. PJ

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Part of what I’m thinking about for fall...

What I’m thinking about for Fall is parents and their kids. Especially, how can Christian parents help to build faith into their children? So I asked my Wednesday night class to come up with a list of things that, they believed, helped to “build faith.” (Let the reader be aware, I know the Holy Spirit creates/gives faith. My question was really about what kinds of things might encourage the transaction between the Holy Ghost and our children and other, non-believing people who need to trust Jesus). Here is what they come up with:

Trails and tribulations
Observe – others – responses- behaviors
Bible – stories of faith
Step off the cliff
Small groups (see observe)
Memorizing Scripture
Claim the promises of God
“Being” still
Surrender – Turn It Over to Jesus
Train like a green beret

To this great list, I added the spiritual disciplines as described by Dallas Willard:

Traditional Spiritual Disciplines:



This Fall, I’m hoping we can open new fronts in the fight for faith. I’d like to see us offer a class for the parents of elementary children that is based on the question, “How can I bring my child to faith?” I imagine it to be a class filled with testimonies by others who have grown children who believe.

Then I’d like to see a class for junior high parents about the unique challenges they face and how they might implement new strategies in order to create an environment where faith can flourish. This includes, in my thinking, special emphasis on the on-line lives of their children and how to establish fact from fiction in the lives of their kids.

I know for sure that Brent and I will be working very hard to continue to improve our junior high confirmation ministry.

We’ll also begin new ventures into the faith lives of the post-high school/college students.

Please pray for us. We all pray for these kids and we want them to know Jesus. But we have miles to go before we can sleep... Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ