Friday, September 23, 2011

We are Battlestar Galactica

One of my colleagues got the combination “eye roll” and “tsk, tsk” today from someone who attends our church and was visiting our offices. Why, you might very well ask, would anyone give a colleague of mine, who has offered his/her life as a living sacrifice to God, and who, by the way, along with most of our staff, is at least $10,000 underpaid annually according to a survey of other churches in our region and of our size and budget, get the combination “eye roll” and “tsk, tsk”?

Because our offices were messy and full of donations. Donations of school supplies requested by our local public elementary. Donations of food requested by the same school for students who have no food on the weekend. And donations of clothing for the clothes closet we have that I didn’t have time to take to the room where it is housed.

Why do I bring this up? Because such incidents serve as a reminder that we can’t forget who we are or, more likely, subscribe to the great lie about who we are. What is the great lie? That we, the church, are like a cruise ship. The great lie says that our job is to serve our passengers: to give them the music they like, the food they like, the entertainment they like, the activities they like. If they, the passenger/members aren’t happy, we need to fix what is broken immediately.

But we aren’t a cruise ship.

Incidentally, isn’t it interesting that most church people will pay more for a cruise than they give the church in offerings during the same year?

But that isn’t the reason we’re not a cruise ship. The reason that we are not a cruise ship is because we are, in fact, a warship. We are under the flag of our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us a mission and he is at war with the powers and principalities and spiritual powers of this world. And because our Lord is at war, we are also at war. The church does not exist to make our attenders comfortable or to serve them: we exist to serve our Lord Christ himself, to be his ambassadors, his representatives, his soldiers, and his servants. Scripture is clear on this point, there can simply be no argument.

The church is not the Love Boat. We are, instead, more like the Battlestar Galactica. We have the holy remnant of a fallen humanity on board and we must all make sacrifices for the common good. We are a “rag tag fleet” of survivors who have been saved for a purpose. We need to have quantities of clothes to clothe the naked, quantities of food to feed the hungry, quantities of whatever is needed to meet whatever need we encounter. Because that is the mission.

Mission is messy. Our Lord has sent us on a mission. We are his partners in redeeming a fallen race. If our mission is messy there are times when we, or our offices, will be messy too.

Let’s remember who we are called to be. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

Friday, September 9, 2011

I’m Going Back to the Phone

OK, it’s hard for a guy who likes technology like I do to admit it, but I’ve noticed a trend lately. For things that need a response about a week away, e-mail or FB works great. But when I need things NOW!, it has to be the phone.

I’d abandoned the phone in favor of e-mail, FaceBook and Twitter. And for a couple of years, that seemed to work. But now I’ve noticed a trend: people are way to busy to answer e-mail or check e-mail, but they’ll answer their phone.

I know, I know, people respond to text messages. Texting is cool. Hey, I did it all the time in Europe before it was cool here. I get it. But the fact is that a text still isn’t as urgent for the people I need to talk to as a phone. And, remarkably, I find the people I need to talk to actually answer their phone....

Now I realize that at 44 years old I’m a fuddy duddy. And my primary contacts are with people 28 years old and above. But who knew? They answer the phone and they actually return voicemail when they don’t. Go figure. As more and more things come into my life and I become more and more last minute because of the volume, the phone really works.

So thank you, everyone, who answers your phone. Thank you for bailing me out, time and time again. Oh, I’ll still use FaceBook and Twitter and texting and e-mail, but, by golly, I just upped my minutes for real voice to voice communication, too.

God bless. Thanks for reading. PJ

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Start with empathy

If you spoke no English, had less than $100 in your pocket and no credit cards or credit history, had left anything you couldn’t carry behind, and were transported to our country, how long do you think it would take you to get established?

Imagine trying to figure out how to enroll your children in school, where the buses went, how to find a job, where to get furniture and basic needs. Imagine if your child became ill in the night, what would you do? Where would you go? Who would help you?

It’s almost unimaginable, isn’t it?

And yet, over 100 people arrive in our community every year and experience this very thing. Yes, it’s true, there are non-governmental agencies tasked with assisting them, but the agencies themselves are stretched to the breaking point and can’t even begin to answer all the questions people have or serve the full needs of each family.

That’s where the church has to step up. The Bible repeatedly tells us that we are to welcome the stranger in our midst. We must, by Divine decree, help our new neighbors in need. Shouldn’t our hearts desire be to help these new Americans because the love of Christ compels us to show mercy as we have been shown mercy?

Many of the refugees are moving into our neighborhood, just east of Zion. Why? Because of many of the apartment complexes in this neighborhood are owned by privately and the owners and managers are willing to work with the refugees and with their assisting agencies. Our neighborhood also has a vacancy rate high enough to allow people to move here.

You can imagine the effect on the local school? According to the principal, whom I met with last week, our local elementary has 100 new families this school year. 37% of the student body is now “English Language Learner” - meaning that English is not their native language and they need special help in learning English. Unfortunately, funds for assisting the school are not available from the district. We could just shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh, well. Another cut back.” Or, we could see this as an opportunity for the church to be the church and represent Jesus and come and redeem the whole situation by helping in any way we can.

How would we help? In whatever way we could. We’ll be publishing a list shortly of needed supplies. The school is also in desperate need of volunteers. Stay tuned.

We need you to continue doing what you’re doing. We need you to continue volunteering to drive the van and keep moving “at risk” children to school and back. We need you to keep donating your furniture and clothing to the clothes closet and furniture ministry.

We need beds. It’s a strange ask, I know, but we are currently in need of about 40 single beds. Entire families are sleeping on the floor and while it isn’t a life or death issue, it is an issue of dignity. I’m working with Slumberland to try and see if we could purchase new beds at a discount as our supply of “recycled beds” just can’t keep pace with our needs.

We are happy to announce that the garden plots we intend to be used by refugee families are moving closer to completion and should be ready next spring for cultivation.

We need families in the church to volunteer to be “mentor families” for new arriving refugee families. We know this is a big ask, but it needs to happen. Imagine getting together with another family who has learned English enough to communicate and sharing meals and faith and life together, and helping each other through all the ups and downs of life. We have member refugee families at Zion right now waiting for this opportunity. Please, prayerfully consider this opportunity and talk to Pastor John.

So which will it be? Will we step up and model for the world the love of Christ? Or will we be the priest or the Levite in the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan, and just say we are too busy and walk on? I am confident in this church’s ability to respond to needs in our community.

Did you notice? I haven't even mentioned the incredible opportunity to share Christ with people? If you're into evangelism, you need to be getting behind this.

Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ