Friday, January 30, 2009

God's Picture of the Church

I was going through old pictures this week reminiscing on where the time has gone with my girls. I had not realized how much they had grown until I looked back at some of the pictures. I admit I was having a "College Road Trip" moment. I have three girls under 8 so forgive me for knowing and watching Disney movies but I love my girls.

Pictures are snapshots of time in time to give you a representation of what something looked like at that time. Luke did this in his writing of Luke/Acts with what theologians call "Summary statements", a brief set of words designed to show a segment in the church's life over a period of time.

Something funny as well as puzzling happens when we look at old pictures, we start to ask ourselves, "What happened? Who is that? I don't look anything like that anymore? Well when anyone looks at the first snapshot that Luke gives us of the church in Acts 2:42-47 a keen eye will realize that the Church God founded and the church that exists now don't look the same.

The church today is known more for our divisions, our diversions, our defilement's and even for some our disagreements. We sometimes major on minor issues instead of spotlighting what brings us together, Jesus Christ. Maybe what I just typed is the problem. ALL OF THE LIGHT OUGHT TO BE ON JESUS.

However, we give him a spotlight over here a couple of hours on one day of the week and every other day we are putting the light elsewhere. However, this is not the snapshot left for us to look at of the church God founded.

This church was a community, no lone-ranger Christians, no Big I's or little "you's" but all had everything in common. How is that possible? It is possible when Jesus is the common denominator. I didn't get far in the noonday Bible study with these verses in 42-47 because the idea of community just struck me as amazing.

I type too much as it is so I will end this note by saying what Henri Nouwen says, "We are unified by our common weaknesses, our common failures, our common disappointments, and our common inconsistencies". This is community!

I learn better through object lessons so for me community is like the great redwood trees found in California. Some are 300 feet high and over 2,500 years old. I have always wondered how they have stood so long and so tall over the test of time? How did the storms of this world not knock them down and stunt their growth? I always assumed(wrongly so) that they must have had a deep root system reaching down hundreds of miles in the ground, after all this is what I have heard said, "The higher you want to go up, the deeper you must dig down", but this is not the case with the redwood.

The roots of these trees are intertwined, TOGETHER. They are tied into each other so they intertwine and interlock. Thus when the storms come and the winds blow, the trees stand because they are a community. Therefore Community is the place where we receive: Support from the Elements; Survive the attacks of the enemy and Sustenance from the environment.

The Church God founded is the place where the community came together to learn how to: Worship together, Work together, Walk together and Witness together.

As usually, I have written too much, time to run,


Monday, January 26, 2009

The Trouble with Tradition

It was a great day in the Lord all day yesterday starting with the Voices of Faith Gospel Choir, which consists of college students from St. Mary's and Notre Dame who shared with us in our church service Sunday and did a wonderful job, It went higher with a great text, tenor and testimony from Pastor Staples who preached from Luke 22:31-32(Check his blog for the outline) and ended with the legend, preaching machine and my state president, Dr. Issac Culver Jr., who preached from Esther 4:14 and told us "Its My Time". The man laid me out dead.

Mondays are days of review for me and as I review, I realize that Sunday service was hard on some of my members because it was something new and although we didn't do anything that Pastor Pettus or Pastor F.D. Johnson hadn't done as far as outreach to the colleges in this town, it still has been almost 5 years since they have seen that and in that place, a lot of man-made tradition has set in.

I laugh as I look at us. We embrace President Obama as our president. We herald him for his view to change Washington. We wear change on our shirts, ride it as bumper stickers on our cars and use it as jargon in our speech, but as a whole church people are the most resistant people there will ever be to change.

We are quick to tell you how things were, how they have been, what the former Pastor....did or back in our day....and let me quickly say, I embrace the stones that have been left us for to show us where we have been and what God has done and those stones should never be moved. However, everything we do in church is not based on Biblical standards, some of it is based on tradition.

Tradition is not wrong in and of itself but where the Bible is silent we must be careful we are not substituting our will in the place of God's. We are commanded to worship but the time we worship is tradition. We are commanded to partake of the Lord's supper as our sign of remembrance of Him but when we do it and what we wear when we do it( Black in some churches, white in others) is tradition.

It was this problem with tradition that made Luke write his great letter of Luke/Acts to tell Theophilus he could be certain in what he was being taught although it flew directly in the face of thousands of years of tradition. For 2,000 years if God spoke, He said it in Hebrew, for 2,000 years the Jews were a specially chosen and a privileged people but Luke writes his letter to say Gentiles matter too.

Luke/Acts is an apologetic defense of the gentile movement. That is the seminary answer what it means for us is, God can use ANYBODY, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE, ANYHOW and in ANYWAY and he does not need our APPROVAL our ACCEPTANCE or our AGREEMENT.

Our churches have to embrace what Luke was trying to suggest, God welcomes everyone at the table. Men and Women! Black and White! Young and Old! He is not a Black God or a God just for women or a God for the Educated but He is a "Who so ever will let them come God".

God has called us to proclaim the truth and anytime tradition surpasses or contradicts the Truth, it has become a bad thing. Our Message should NEVER change but our Methods must change as we do all we can to be relevant in this present age even if that rubs the "traditionalists" the wrong way.

I may need to run now,


Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Connected Church for a Community in Chaos

I pray that all my fellow bloggers had a great time in the Lord on Sunday as the Lord certainly blessed us at Macedonia. I was apprehensive in preaching as I knew I needed to set the vision for 2009 which entailed a Pastoral emphasis but the Lord blessed.

"We are Macedonia and We are called to help somebody" is the motto at our church. This developed not as a gimmick but rather out of a careful study of who and what Macedonia was in the Bible. I believe that if a church has a Biblical name the people who represent that name ought to at the very least know something about the name they carry. A motto that is not attached to a mission is nothing more than a memorized mantra without meaning.

After much frustration, Paul discovered an open door of opportunity with the call to help from a man in Macedonia. Upon arrival he found a woman that needed to be made a disciple, a girl who had a demon and a jailer who needed to be delivered from himself.

God presents opportunities of service to us that some people view as a challenge but others see as their calling revealed. I wonder what we are doing with the opportunities God gives us.

Matthew 25:31-46 helps me open my 2009 Church theme at Macedonia, "A Connected Church for a Community in Chaos". God gave me this theme but it is not an indictment on South Bend but a real look at where we all live and Pastor. Most of us do not Pastor in the country home but rather in communities that are in chaos and in crisis. God doesn't need another church on a corner who shouts and sings but does not serve. God needs a church that is connected to the hearts of people that our communities might be transformed by the Power of God. How can this happen:?

CONTACT- suggests that we as churches cannot be isolated from the communities that we serve in but we should have communication that forms a bond.

I developed an appreciation for contact when I was young. I had a 1967 SS Camaro with a 327 engine( I must type quickly before I glory in sin). It was shiny, fast and it had all the bells and whistles. One day when I went to start it, it would not start. I looked at the battery and the eye was green, the starter and alternator was fine and everything looked perfect but when I put the key in, it would not start.

I called my Dad and when he looked at it, he said let's go to the store; however we didn't go to the parts store we went to 7/11. He bought 3 sodas, one for him, one for me and one for the car. He poured the soda on the battery cables and I watched the acid eat away at the corrosion that had taken place. He cleaned around the posts and the car started up. It was connected in theory but wasn't making contact in application and without contact, the car can't go.

When we look at our churches, many of us have corroded cables that inhibit our abilities to make contact with our communities. Corroded minds concerning the neighborhood, corroded hearts concerning spending money on ministry, corroded spirits hell bent on judgemental living on why someone needs helps instead of remembering we all have needed help at one time or another. We need God to clean us up so we can make CONTACT.

COMMON- VS. 35-36 Nothing special or earth shattering, no running into burning buildings, standing in front of bullets to save someone or giving away all of our money. Just common things, help the Hungry, Thirsty, Strangers who need a welcome, Naked who needs clothes, the sick and those bound in prison and everyone who is bound in prison is not in jail.

God uses common people who have common things but in the hands of God, he can do the extraordinary with it. There are witness in the Bible for this. Moses had a rod, David had a slingshot, Sampson had a jawbone, The little lad had 2 fish and 5 loaves, Jesus had 2 pieces of wood formed into a cross but when we give our common to God, he can do the uncommon with us and through us.

CAPABLE- God never expects us to do anything that he has not given us the ability or the resources to do. However, God will hold us accountable for what he has entrusted us with. James 2:15-17 speaks to this as in effect it says its not enough to say to someone who is naked and hungry, be warmed and filled and send them on their way without helping them when it is within your power to do so, for faith without works is dead.

COMPENSATION- "Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you". There is a reward for people who do things God's way and there is punishment for people who go contrary.
"If I can help somebody as I pass along, If I can cheer somebody with a word or song, If I show somebody that they are travelling wrong, then my living shall not be in vain"

Monday, January 5, 2009

False Advertising

I pray that God blessed you and your church the way he blessed us at Macedonia on Sunday. We had a "sho-nuff", Hallelujah good time in worship, the Lord blessed us with three additions, two candidates for baptism and one by Christian experience and we are humbled that God allowed them to come our way.

I was very excited about the preaching moment and God honored our obedience to him as I had planned to start our church theme for 2009 in Matthew 25 but God told me to go to the fig tree in Luke 13 and I obeyed. That might not sound like much to you but I am a control freak and for me to just obey without question or conversation is a major step for me.

My girls went back home over the holidays to see their mother. When I came to retrieve them, we enjoyed our drive back to Indiana. On our way, we stopped to get something to eat and I wanted some chicken. I went into one of my favorite establishments only to be sadly disappointed. As I went to order my food, I was told they were all out of chicken.

Not truly comprehending what was being said to me, I asked how long of a wait will it be before the chicken will be ready? I was informed TOMORROW. Because of the ice storm in this area, the truck that delivers the chicken was way behind schedule and because of the holidays they had exhausted their inventory.

I was crushed. I mean, if they had told me they were all out of red beans and rice, I would have understood. If they had said, we are all out of biscuits, catfish nuggets or popcorn shrimp, I would have understood because after all those are merely SIDE ITEMS but chicken? Your specialty is chicken, your reputation is based on chicken, it's on your sign and your sign says you are open for business, therefore, I expected some chicken. How can a chicken house be out of chicken? What's next, will McDonald's be out of "Big Macs", Krispy Kreme out of doughnuts, Pizza hut out of Pizza?

I wonder what God thinks when he looks at some of our "churches" that bear his name but don't produce the fruit that the name symbolizes? Greater Trinity that has Greater division or Peace that has confusion or Agape that shows more hate than love. What is more alarming is a church that has the outside appearance of productivity, the "leaves of ministry" only to discover upon closer examination, it bears no fruit.

The owner has the right to say "Cut it Down" but thank God for the Vinedresser who in effect says, "Let me work with it". My intent was to talk about the tree's: Place, Purpose, Position, Performance, Punishment and its Probation. That was the intent but I got happy after "Cut it down" because I thought about my life and my fruit or lack thereof at times. I should have been cut down but the Vinedresser said, Let me work with him.

The Vinedresser Digs, and uses the Dirt and the Dung to Develop us until we produce Drupe. Drupe is more than just a "D" word that also means fruit but it is any fruit consisting of an outer skin with a succulent or pulpy middle layer and a hard inner shell that usually has a seed. We have this treasure..........Not sure what this was for anyone else in the church, but God gave me what I needed to keep going and I stand:

Still ready to run,