Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Two teachings of Jesus that are extremely relevant to the Church today:

Mt 5:43-48
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.   46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Luke 14:12-14
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Are we to destroy our enemies?   No.  Rather we are to love them.   It is counter cultural and counter intuitive.  This is part of Jesus’ Kingdom Jujitsu, you keep evil off balance by not “resisting” but by loving.  The answer to violence isn’t violence, it’s love.  The answer to hate isn’t more hate, it’s love.  

When you’re persecuted or beat up - pray.  When they strike you on one cheek, offer them the other.  When they rob you for your coat, give them your shirt as well.  

Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies isn’t abstract, it is concrete.  For Jesus love isn’t ever abstract.  We might think that loving our enemies can be done in the abstract.  “Let’s think nice thoughts about them.”  But it can’t.  Jesus’ kind of love is physical and concrete and requires us to actually touch our enemies.  

John 13:  On the night he was betrayed, Jesus washed Judas’s feet, knowing full well what was to happen.  But he did it anyway and then Jesus said that he had set an example and that his followers should follow his example.  He told us that he gave us a new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.”  That is, wash feet.  Don’t love abstractly, love concretely.  People will know you are my followers, he said, when you love this way.  

The love of Jesus requires us to go beyond the normal.  Normal is loving those who love you.  Friends and family.  Or to love people who can do something in return for you, like a rich neighbor or even simply make you feel good about yourself.  Jesus says that we are to intentionally love people who don’t love us.  Intentionally means on purpose.   We are to greet or welcome those whom we wouldn’t normally greet or welcome.  

When we hold a banquet, we don’t invite friends and families and rich neighbors.  Why?  They can pay us back.  Instead, we are told to invite those who can never pay us back.  It’s counter cultural.  It’s counter intuitive.  It’s Jesus.  

I have a very great concern.  There is a lot of circling the wagons around our family going on these days.   People are staying home more than ever and in the face of great darkness and uncertainty in our world, they are clinging to their own families.  Families are good.  We understand them to be the building blocks of society.  But when your family is more important than all the other families and your family’s welfare is more important than all other families, we call that Mafia.  

Now apply it to the Church.  In North America we’ve been taking care of our own.  We’ve been having banquets for ourselves and our “church family.”  We’ve welcomed and greeted those who could benefit us by joining our church and paying our bills.  We’ve forgotten to go out to the highways and byways and alleyways and country roads and invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, the widowed, the orphaned, the hopeless.  

As a nation I worry that we’ve made family into a kind of idol.  Please don’t misunderstand me, family is good.  It’s the fundamental building block of society according to the Bible.  But when family becomes the first and only priority in our lives something terrible happens.  We start to see the success of our family in opposition to other families.  Our family must triumph, even at the expense of other families.  This is what the Mafia is.  A type of family that exults itself at the expense of other families.  That is not what God had in mind.  

Community is groups of families working together.   They work together to overcome shared obstacles and obtain shared success.  In community, what happens to your family matters to my family and so we’re all watching out and helping each other.  As Christians we also understand ourselves to be part of a greater family - the family of God.  We call it church.  

The trend I’m worried about in the church that is that you quit working with kids because yours have grown up.  “I helped out at church until my kids were grown.  Now it’s someone else’s turn.”  But what about everybody else’s kids?  We live in an age when, demographically, the traditional family is decreasing in churches.  How will we be able to minister to all the kids who need to be at church if we only rely on people with kids in the system?  We have to be concerned about everyone’s kids.  We have to pull together and minister to them.  It’s counter-intuitive.  It’s counter cultural.  It’s Jesus.

Our congregation has a unique situation:  other people’s kids love to come here.  We have a magnificent opportunity to influence those kids.  By investing in them we may see them succeed, prosper and ultimately, be saved.  When I look behind us I don’t see anyone else willing to commit to these kids.  So I think we have to commit to them.  For the sake of the kids and for the sake of our community, and ultimately, for the sake of our families.  

Two and a half years ago we began a journey together, a journey that was counter-intuitive and counter cultural.  A journey that has shaped us and given us a new identity.  A journey framed around Luke 14 and characterized by the phrases, “Jesus says go!” and “Let’s do something beautiful for Jesus.”  

We began with a question:  Would anyone in our community miss us if we closed?  At the time, the answer was “not really.”   What about today?   Today, I believe the neighborhood would really miss us.  How did this turn around happen so quickly?  Because we made a conscious choice to bless those who couldn’t bless us back and found ways to intentionally love those who were not our friends, families or rich neighbors.  This approach has fundamentally changed who we are as a church.

Here are some of the things I think we’ve learned together:

  • We’re learning that radical dependance upon Jesus to get things done is the best way to run a church.   Simply put into action what he taught us and trust him to handle the bills and the details.  We should have crashed or gone broke by now  but we haven’t.  God provides.  

  • We’ve learned that worship is more than singing, surviving the sermon and taking the sacraments.  

Romans 12:1  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

James 1:27  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

If worship doesn’t lead to intentional acts motivated by the love of Christ, what has it accomplished?  

Worship leads to service and devotion which, in turn, lead to worship.  And if that isn’t happening, perhaps we’re doing it wrong.  

Liturgy (liturgia) is “the work of the people.”  Worship is our work.  We worship him by serving others.
So we switched our focus as a church.  Instead of focusing our attention every week on a worship service that lasts 60 minutes, we focused on the results of that worship - the other 167 hours of the week. 

  • Turns out, serving people in the love of Jesus is an amazing avenue for spiritual growth.  We see this particularly among the young.  Putting their faith into action, making connections with others, many of whom are less fortunate than themselves, dealing with cross cultural issues, needing to make sacrifices for others.  This is making faith real, not abstract.  This summer, a couple young people are going to do some camps for the neighborhood kids.  It was their idea.  They’ll do the work.  They are motivated to put their faith into action and serve.  I’m looking forward to it. 

We’ve developed some philosophies:
  • About donations:  Clothes and furniture specifically:  Take it all.  Don’t make too many rules.  The more rules their are about drop offs and what we’ll take, the harder it is for people to give.  The harder it is to give, the less likely people are to give and the more people without clothes and furniture there will be.  

  • Err on the side of grace.  Don’t make too many rules.  Having many groups use our space challenges us to grow spiritually:  to be patient, kind, loving, and forces us to work through conflict - and grow because of it - rather than avoid conflict.  We want to bring that church wide - no more church politics, no more factions, no more passive aggressive behavior - bring your issues into the open to staff or boards or let them go. 

  • That even though some ministries are rather larger - collect more money, take up more calendar time and space, (like STAR kids, Street Outreach, Mhezi, for example) we don’t want to define our entire ministry as just one ministry.  We don’t want to be known as the church that does “this or that.”  We want to go out of business in all our ministries because we met the need and their are no more hungry people or people who need furniture or clothing or anything else.  Rather, we want to be known as the church that does whatever Jesus shows us needs doing.  We want to be able to re-calibrate ourselves at a moment’s notice to please Him.  

  • That everything we do would be open to everyone - regardless of age, race, creed or color or membership.   If you’re in need, you’re in need.   

  • Publicity.  Jesus says that when you do your acts of charity or give alms, don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.  Hard to balance that as a non-profit looking for ways to market ourselves so we can get more donations.  Why does money always dictate what we can and cannot do?  If they notice, we’ll talk to them.  If not, no, we won’t seek it. In the meantime, Jesus has provided and we trust he will continue to do so.  

  • We can do a lot of things without money, space and equipment.  But we can’t do anything without leaders (volunteers).

  • The job of the staff is to empower people to serve.  Sometimes by backing them up and sometimes by creating opportunities for them to serve.  The job of boards is to provide accountability.  

  • Fairness is not a biblical concept.  Who do we help?  The one who needs it.  We don’t help everyone the same way.  

  • Care.  It used to be only pastors went and visited the sick and home-bound.  Now, more people involved.  Pastors are still trying to be regular in visiting. The greatest challenge is time.  Some will say it’s not fair.  Most of our shut ins, though, make it to doctor, grocery store, have really good family systems.  But we have wonderful volunteers who are filling in many of the gaps.  Thank you!

  • The Church in general needs a new scorecard.  Not numbers and money.  What would that score card look like?  
    • Are lives being changed?  How many people did you feed this week, serve this week, clothe this week?   
      • Has Zion inspired you to become more involved in your community/neighborhood?
      • How many volunteer hours do you give per week?
      • Has your marriage improved?
      • Has your relationship with your kids, teenagers improved?  

What can we look forward to in 2013?
  • Pastor Ringa, the Mizo speaking pastor we’ve called will arrive and bring closer collaboration with the 1:00 service. 
  • Community Gardens Expansion.  So many want to garden.  
  • Baptisms.  We’ve spent years building relationships.  I think this might be the year we see kids and parents want to be baptized.  
  • Muslims.  Continued expansion of Arabic Sunday School.  
  • Summer - VBS, Art Camp, Swimming lessons, sports camps,  Bible Camp.
  • New relationships:  EMBARC, Transformation Group, Hoover and Meredith.   
  • Emphases:  Kids.  Growing cross cultural friendships.  Parenting and marriage.  Prayer.  

  • We really need 3 vans for transportation.  
  • We need a growing dependance upon prayer
  • We need to step it up.  When holidays or summer come around we end our programming.  The people we normally bring to church don’t come.  We don’t send the vans.  Why do we stop on holidays?  We also need to add transport to 15th Street.  

Analyzing long term trends:  in ten years every church is going to be doing what we are.    

We’ve had our share of upheaval.  Some of the changes we’ve made haven’t been easy.  But each challenged we’ve faced we’ve done so with a radical dependance upon Jesus.  We must stay the course.  It isn’t what we do that defines us.  It’s who we are.  People bought for a price.  Redeemed to be useful to God.  

Perhaps you’re worried we’ll get a big head and get puffed up.  Christmas helps to keep us humble.  

One of the lessons of Christmas to me is simply this:
“If my God and king became a baby and a carpenter, what must I become to serve him?”  Thinking like that won’t give you a big head.  It will make you just the right size for God to use you.  

Oswald Chambers puts it this way:  “Beware of becoming a profound person.  God became a baby.” 

Thanks for reading.  God bless.

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