Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Community Part 2

From the being of time, humanity has been trying to fix itself.   Humans are trying to make things right in the different communities that they have destroyed. Environmentalists try desperately to reconcile the environment. Animal rights activists try to reconcile the animal kingdom to the human kingdom.  Psychologists try to reconcile man to each other. Ultimately, humankind is on a quest to reconcile itself to God.
What we don’t realize is that God is the only one who can reconcile man to Himself.  If you read the New Testament, you will quickly see that the early church believed that God did reconcile the world to himself in the person of Jesus.  The narrative goes something like this: God sends his son Jesus to earth as a man, fully man and fully God, to die on the cross for our sins; to make right what was made wrong. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead and he went home to prepare a place for us.   One of the interesting things about this narrative is that Jesus doesn’t choose Rambo to pass on his story and its reconciling power.  He passes the baton to the disciples - these 12 men who followed him for at least three years. He passes it on to a community, and he entrusts this group of men to move the gospel forward.
If you look at the gospel of John, the last of the four gospels in the New Testament, in particular John 13:34, you get this small indication of what Jesus thought about how this gospel was going to go forward. In verse 34 he says “A new command I give unto you, love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this shall all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
How are people going to know Jesu? They are going to know Jesus and know you as followers of Him by the way you interact with each other and the way you interact in community. Community is an interesting word. If God is entrusting us the church, the ecclesia, the community, with the gospel, with this reconciliation, this offering of Jesus’ victories to the world so they can be reconciled to God so they can be made right, so they can have perfect relationships with God. What is this word community because community is not in the bible? There idea of community is prevalent within the New Testament and the Old Testament but the word itself does not exist, so what is community?
To have community, you have to have something in common. Think about it in basketball terms. There are a bunch of guys who like basketball so they have the game of basketball in common.  Most likely, they will play basketball together, or at least they will watch basketball. There are two parts to community. First, what we have in common, and second, the response to what we have in common.
It might sound kind of silly to ask, what does the church have in common? What does the community of faith - followers of Jesus - have in common with itself? That should be obvious in the name - Jesus is who we have in common, but do we truly grasp the depth of this statement?
If we have Jesus in common, how should we respond to him?  Acts chapter two verses 38 through 47 offer us a look into how the early church responded to Jesus as a community. Leading up to verse 38, Jesus has given his disciples the command to go preach the gospel to all nations. He has handed off the baton to 120 people who are his close followers. They are waiting, in an upper room of some unnamed building, for the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised he would send them - the one who was going to help them talk about the gospel.
The Spirit of God shows up in the upper room.  Everyone who was gathered together began to speak many different languages, and they probably didn’t have soundproof walls!  So everybody outside heard it, and they think. “Man, there is a big gigantic party going on in there and everybody’s drunk.” Peter realizes this. He dashes out onto the balcony and he says, “No, we are not drunk” and he preaches the gospel. At the end of his talk, it says, with many other words he warned them and he pleaded with them save yourself from this corrupt generation. Those who have accepted this message were baptized and about 3000 were added to their number that day, so the first church was planted.
Acts is about the being of the early church. Peter oversees the first church being planted after Jesus ascends into heaven - 3000 members.  Peter is the forerunner to Billy Graham.
If you continue to read chapter two, you discover how the early church responded to Jesus. Starting at Verse 42 it states, they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship and to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Stowing their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone as they had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Lord added to their number daily those who are being saved.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Community Part 1

Community is a natural thing for all of us. We all exist in some form of community somewhere in some way. Most of us have attended high school.  I, of course, have a hard time remembering high school, but high school is often our first adult experience of community.
                        What kind of communities do we have in high school? We’ve got the nerds, the dorks, the geeks, and the goths, the list goes on and really these are just groups of people – clicks.  All of these groups have, at the bare minimum, shared interests.  These shared interests link them together.  For the most part, everyone has this innate desire within themselves to gather with people who have something in common with them. I think this is demonstrated in our culture, in a broken way, through reality TV.  In particular, the television show Survivor. I know a lot of people say they don’t like the show, but really, I think most of us secretly do. It’s not hip to like it, so most people say they are not a fan, but then they go home watch Survivor or go to the bars to watch the show.
                        Why is Survivor so popular? Well, because it fits nicely into our post-modern world, in the sense that, to win the game, you have to form alliances? To win the game you have to have some sense of community. You have to work together to make progress in this game but ultimately there is only one winner - so betrayal is an intricate part of the game, and that’s what our culture resonates with.  Survivor touches on our longing to be part of a community, but it also touches on the reality that we cannot truly trust anyone, because if we do, they will ultimately stab us in the back.  
                        This longing for community is woven into the very fabric of who we are.  In the very first pages of world history in the book of Genesis, God speaks the world into existence. He speaks mountains and oceans and animals, tigers, lions, and elephants into reality. He speaks life into existence. In chapter one verse 26 of Genesis God creates human beings.  God said let us make man in our image and in our likeness. Let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.
                        The story continues in verse 27 - God created man in his own image and the image of God he created him male and female he created them. Two things should be noted here. God created man and woman in his image, but there is an interesting thing about God’s image. What does he say in verse 26? He says let us make man in our image, in our likeness. In the beginning of the page, the first page of Genesis, at least in my book of the university edition of the bible, we find God saying - Let us create man in our image. We see the trinity, a picture of God the father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit, creating man in their image which means that you and I are created by a community.
                        At our core, we find, that we are created for community. We were created to be with like kind. If you move to chapter two in Genesis, there is a more detailed account of this creation story. God has created all the animals and everything. He is going to place man into the garden and man does not have any needs. The reason the is important is because God is says something very dramatic in verse 18. The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
It is not good for man to be alone. Man has everything, perfect relationship with God. No need for food, shelter everything is just there for him. Yet it is not good for him to be alone. Now a lot of young men will take this and say, “See that just means it is not good for man not to have a wife.” This is not to hard to agree with, but I think this statement goes far beyond a wife because everything is right. Everything is perfect. No sin has entered the garden at this point and something is not good - being without like kind. That is important. It shows that we are created for each other.  I believe this transcends just the man and the woman. It is about the human race.  We need each other.
The Genesis story continues - Adam gets Eve and Adam and Eve sin. They disobey God. They eat from the tree that they are not supposed to eat from. They are removed from the garden and everything is impacted.  The community of the environment, the community of animals, and the community of man are all thrown into chaos, and all those communities are damaged because of sin. No longer can the community of man and the community of God have any kind of meaningful relationship. It is now a broken relationship.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

6 Reasons Why Most Churches shouldn't push past the 200 person Attendance Mark

1. Pastoral Care is important. 
Being a pastor is a lost art.  No, pastors don't need to be at every party, at every hospital stay, every birthday or funeral, but they do need to be knee deep in the manure of their community.  Life is messy and it takes time.  The point of being a pastor is not to free up your time so you can manage and administrate better - healing happens one person at a time.

2. Strategic Planning is not the point
The larger you get, the more strategic you become.  People's stories become a means to an end instead of the point.   Yes, the church is an organization, and it should be organized and the mission should be clear and the question of how something is going to be a accomplished is important.  But, Holiness is much more substantial than a few more buts in the seats.

3. Developing leaders is a tricky art that takes a long time, and it is prone to failure
Jesus took 3 years to develop his leaders, and I suspect he spent time with them before the three years we have recorded in the Gospels. 

4. Volunteers need the opportunity to mess things up
Excellence is not what the church is about.  Yes, we need to do things well, but if we are hindered by quality control, we will never give people the opportunity to learn through practice.

5. A church ruled by small groups is dangerous!
Yes, small groups are important in the life of the church, but they are not the answer to all the church's problems.  They are not a substitute for pastoral care, and they are not what gives you church a better sense of community.  Discipleship, life on life irritation, is best served over coffee over many weeks.

6. Your analytics change for the worse 
The way you understand success changes as you get bigger.  There is a point when people take a back seat to a hyper focus on the implementation of the mission for each event.


Friday, 23 December 2016

The Beginning

It all started long ago.  Cold, wet, busy, and rushed - the world swam with moving objects next to large machines.  Somewhere in the grey city - the Sanctuary stood - beautiful and full of flickering lights.   I'm not sure what happened that day, but it happen.  Mercy poured out over my soul.  It stood, and it cried for me.  My heart lived in my throat, and my mind found a measure of peace that could only be described a true taste of heaven.

A short Irish bulldog, leather jacket, bearded face - claimed the ancient text spoke secret magic of soul crushing simplicity.  The whispering singer - with Bono like power - called for renewal, and constructed a short story of refuge.  I know nothing!  Learned men wield Postmodern - Modern reduction as a wicked history, but in relief, wove the rebellion's story into a complex and unforgettable hope laid like a blanket over wounded soldiers.

A some point, I tasted magic.  A dark deep hot magic.  The artisans created - with masterful hands - white and brown joy.  In those small little sanctuaries I found my home.  But other voices called me out from the misty hills, and voices like that carry an authority that should never be left unheeded.  The Queen told us of her delicious, but secret, elixir that, when consumed in the wet orange world of her realm, would produce a head to toe healing.  Oh, we mined the well of joy she spoke of, and it was of the highest quality.  No man would dare tell us otherwise; for we would reduce their small uncomprehending minds into mush made for the beggars of Federal Way.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Being Sent

In Mark 16:14 we find our selves smack dab in the middle of the Great commission. Jesus has appeared to a few people, but as a collective the disciples are doubtful of his Resurrection. In verse 14, Jesus appears to the eleven

14Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."

19So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.]] –Mark 16.14 -20

In verse 15 Jesus says Go – when someone says go they are sending you somewhere. Jesus is sending his disciples out, but he is not just sending them, he is also sending us. This go statement is obviously in the context of the Great Commission. He is not just sending the eleven disciples, and then when they die no one has to go anymore. He is sending the Church. And, so God himself is a missionary God. God sends the Church. Now, if you look at John 20.21, Jesus indicates to his disciples that God sent him and now he is sending them. So God sends Jesus into the world to redeem. God and Jesus send the Holy Spirit to help us continue the redeeming process that Christ began. And the Trinity sends us into the world to be missionaries. So Jesus sending us is not just Him sending us, but it really is the Trinity sending us into the world. One of the mistakes the church makes in western culture is to believe that mission is an activity of the church and not it’s “mission” or identity of the church. So we as the western church see ourselves sending people to a foreign land, but we do think of ourselves as being in a foreign land. We don’t see ourselves as missionaries in a foreign land.
So, where are we supposed to go? Jesus says that we are to go into the entire world. The place that the church is sent is into the world. The other problem with the western church is that we have created two cultures – a Christian Culture and a secular culture. We have Christian music, Christian fiction, Christian schools, etc. They are setup against the Secular culture.

We are sent into the world. What are we supposed to do when we are sent into the world? We are supposed to preach the Gospel. The Greek word for gospel is evangelon. It means victories. Literally, the Gospel is the Victories of Jesus. This is what we are to preach. What has happen to the Gospel in the Church today? I think the church has claimed it as its own. We possess it. It is ours. The church defines how it is preached and how it is communicated. But that is wrong. The church should be possessed by the Gospel. The church belongs to the Gospel, not the other way around. The Gospel defines what the church looks like. When we talk about the Gospel it seems abstract. What does it mean? Does the Gospel just mean that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and rose on the third day defeating death, or is there something more? Yes, that is it, but there is more. It is the story of the Old and New Testaments. This is the Gospel fleshed out. (more on the Gospel later.)

So, who are we to tell this gospel to? Jesus, in Mark, says that we are to tell it to all creation, which means that it, goes out not just to people, but also to creation. Jesus seems to be saying that the Gospel is not just about you and me, it is the story of redemption, but that story also includes the redemption of creation.

I think the question the Church in America needs to ask – is why does the Gospel seem powerless in our churches? Why is it not our identity? Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel has explosive power for salvation of all people.

I think we have watered the gospel down. Think for a moment about what 1 Corinthians 2.1-5 says:
1And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
We as a church look at the gospel through eyes of human wisdom. If you have come to Christ later in life, then you know how silly the Gospel sounds. It’s strange. Think about it. This God, who you have never seen, created this world. And, then humans brought sin into the world, and God had to send his son to save the world from death. His son, it turns out, God incarnate – is a backwater hick from Galilee who never travels farther that 30 miles from his town. He never writes any books. He dies on a Roman cross as a failed Messiah, and then his crazy disciples say that he rose 3 days later and if we believe we will be saved. It’s foolish.

The church, especially the modern one, has tried to rationalize the gospel and turn it into a set of propositions that lead to the ultimate truth. It seems not to have impact on the church. The gospel as truth statements seems not to change people’s lives. I think if the church wants to understand its mission and the identity of the Gospel it needs to look to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Paul is simply saying that since we are in Christ we no longer see him through the eyes of worldly wisdom, but through our identity in him. He goes on to say that because we are in Christ, we are new creations. The old is gone and is going and the new has come and is coming. Being in Christ means that you and I are Justified before God, but we are in the process at the same time. (more thoughts later). There is an assumption that to be a new creation, you have to be in Christ. The Gospel then begins with a living encounter with Christ. Why did the disciples run away and deny Christ during the Crucifixion. They had to face the cross. They had to make a decision - would they believe that this dying messiah was the future King of Israel and of the world. The Gospel then begins with a decision to embrace a wounded servant King, or the raw brutal power of Satan. If we embrace Christ, the process of living in our new creation and walking away from the old begins.

18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

So once you are in Christ you have a job. What’s happened? You have been reconciled to God and now you have a ministry. And this word in the Greek for ministry is where we get deacon from. But, we all hold the office of deacon. We are all ministers of the Gospel . . . of reconciliation. So, when Christ says go preach the Gospel to creation. We are to reconcile man and creation to God. We are sent to call both man and creation back to God.
19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

So God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, and now you and I are given the message of reconciliation. The logos of reconciliation. The church is given the message of Jesus. The Gospel.

20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5.16-21

What do ambassadors do? They don’t have a lot of power. They don’t very often get to step into a country wield a whole bunch power. No, they are trying to establish a friendship with a particular country. Improve communication and cultural understanding.
The way our ministry plays out in the world happens in the context of being ambassadors to the world. That is the Gospel. That is what God sends us to do. The church gets to offer the world an encounter with Christ and an opportunity to be reconciled to God.

What happens when you go into the world? If you look at John 17 you get a little clue as to what Jesus thought would happen. He prays that we would have his Joy. Missionary work is hard and you don’t often see great results right away. Jesus knows this and prays that his joy would be ours. Jesus also asks that we would not be taken out of the world or protected from it, but that we would be protected from Satan. Because when the church decides that it is a mission and that the ministry of reconciliation is their identity, then Satan attacks. You are invading his territory. You are reclaiming what was never his in the first place, and this does not make him happy.