Thursday, December 04, 2008
KEYWORDS: stewardship, temporary, city of God,
Last month, I included a quote about biblical stewardship sent to me by Rev. Wayne Knolhoff, director of Stewardship Ministry with the Board for District and Congregational Services. Wayne also sent me a quote from Martin Luther's Commentary on Peter and Jude, edited and translated by John Nichols Lenker (Kregel Classics, 1990).
Luther writes: "Therefore we must use all these things upon earth in no other way than as a guest who travels through the land and comes to a hotel where he must lodge overnight. He takes only food and lodging from the host, and he says not that the property of the host belongs to him. Just so should we also treat our temporal possessions, as if they were not ours, and enjoy only so much of them as we need to nourish the body and then help our neighbors with the balance. Thus the life of the Christian is only a lodging for the night, since we have here no continuing city, but must journey on to heaven, where the Father is."
Wayne offers this vision for stewardship in the Synod: "The stewardship culture in every congregation would be one where all professional church workers as well as every man, woman, and child would know that they are God's steward by His grace, live as His disciples, and manage the gifts He entrusts to them with joy and generosity-all so His purposes would be accomplished and His mission enhanced."
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Saturday, September 06, 2008
The praise of God which constitutes the community and its assemblies seeks to bind and commit and therefore to be expressed, to well up and be sung in concert. The Christian community sings. It is not a choral society. Its singing is not a concert. But from inner, material necessity it sings. Singing is the highest form of human expression. It is to such supreme expression that the vox humana is devoted in the ministry of the Christian community. It is for this that it is liberated in this ministry.
Karl Barth. Church Dogmatics. Ed. G. W. Bromiley, T. F. Torrance. Four volumes, in twelve parts. Edinburgh : T & T. Clark, 1936-1977. Volume 4, part 3, second half, page 866. (quoted by Dr. James Goodloe IV)
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
KEYWORDS: Grace, temper, anger, hatred, suffering
Recently, I watched as two drivers on an interstate nearly collided and proceed to yell angrily at each other. There was no grace between them. I backed away!
Markrothumia is an interesting word from the Greek New Testament. The makros part of makrothumia may be translated “long” and the thumia part as “temper.” So makrothumia is literally a “long temper” – the exact opposite of a short temper.
It is translated with words such as patience, long-suffering, and forbearance.
“And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.” Hebrews 6:15* Another way to think of makrothumia is the God-given “grace of getting along.”
In our society today, we tend not to practice “long-temper,” the grace of getting along. Instead, we often react quickly, sometimes explosively, when we don’t like someone or something that is going on. We express ourselves to our buddies and to anyone who will listen in private and public settings.
The grace of getting along is the quality of God-inspired self-restraint, in the face of provocation, that treats people with dignity and respect. “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Psalm 145:8.
The grace of getting along will always cost you something, because grace is always expensive for the grace-giver. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ cost him his life, yet in the most profound way, his death and resurrection opened the door to the practice of genuine mutual forgiveness, reconciliation, and the grace of getting along that brings joy to our life together.
May you practice makrothumia, the grace of getting along, today!
Friday, July 18, 2008
KEYWORDS: evil, nameless, faceless, victimless
Frederica Matthews Green speaks about sin using a Garrison Keillor monologue. Although I do not have time to transcribe the entire monologue, I did find a summary by Jason Zahariades in his blog, Journeying Home.
The title of the podcast was “Sin As Pollution.” In the podcast, Frederica was describing the effects of sin by reading part of a monologue by Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame.
The monologue was in the form of a letter written by Jim, a man who was waiting on his front yard to be picked up by a woman from work with whom he was going to attend a conference and with whom he was tempted to begin an affair.
As Jim is waiting to be picked up by this woman, he waxes reflective about the repercussion of his potential affair. As he looks down the street at his neighbors’ homes, Jim realizes that his infidelity will pollute many lives. He states, “Although I thought my sins would be secret, they would be no more secret than an earthquake.” His reflections climax with this powerful and moving image, “When my wife and I scream in senseless anger, blocks away, a little girl we do not know, spills a bowl of gravy all over a white tablecloth.”
KEYWORDS: necessity, invention, meaning, technology
Today, we meet the mother of invention, and she's not the lady we expected. The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
Simple pan balances go back to antiquity. Yet they're the basis for modern scales that make the most exacting measurements. An engineering colleague, Jim Casey, tells a remarkable thing about this important practical device. It seems that its inventors did not care a fig about weights and measures. They were trying to express the concept of balance, and that concept is really quite subtle.
Think about blind-folded Lady Justice. She holds the law in one hand and the scales of judgment in the other. She shows us the scales -- the balance -- in quite abstract terms. Good and evil weigh against each other, not in kilograms or ounces, but in the common wisdom of society.
That theme is found in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, where souls are weighed against a feather. A soul strikes its balance in life, and that balance is felt on the scales of judgment. In other societies, leaders weigh their bodies against the tribute of their people.
It's a mistake to look at these transactions as weighing and measuring. The concept of balance reaches far beyond that. The scale originated as an expression of that concept. It was created in the laboratory of ritual observance. It found no role as an instrument of commerce and science until much later in human history.
The same thing is true of so many older technologies. Long before power-generating windmills arose in the medieval world, Buddhist monks were using sails to spin their prayer wheels. It's hard for us to understand why the wind was used in this way, before it was used to grind grain. But then we learn that ancients in every land saw the wind as the Breath of God and as a manifestation of the human soul. In that context we can better see how ritual came before, and led to, the windmill.
There's no end to examples like this. The great structures of the ancient world weren't built to satisfy functional ends. No one ever lived in the colossal Egyptian burial constructions. They were born of ritual, and so too were the great Gothic cathedrals of the 13th century.
Or consider the inverse of this: For thousands of years, Chinese pharmacologists have done enormously complex development of herbal cures. But, when they describe them, they use the language of metaphor. When, for example, they extracted estrogen millennia ago, the named it, the autumn mineral.
Technology and metaphor thus travel a two-way street. We begin to understand that when we realize that invention flows from something much more abstract than a wish to fulfill practical needs. The people who've actually created the great material artifacts of our world have been propelled by far deeper forces. They've been driven by the need to express a primal understanding that quite outreaches objective explanation.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.
KEYWORDS: mission, principles, purpose, end, telos
In a blog article and a podcast for Harvard Business Review, Bill Taylor makes the case that companies in this day and age are volunteer organizations. Leaders must make the case for why working for them should be compelling. This does not have anything to do with money.
Bill Taylor states...
"When I go visit a company or talk with a leader for the first time, even though I am there to talk about strategy or marketing, one of the first questions that I ask: 'Why would really great people want to be part of what you are doing?' I am often struck of how inarticulate many leaders and CEOs are when I ask them that question."Taylor then gives the example of Google and their "Top 10 Reasons to Work at Google". Netflix has the "8 Great Reasons to Work at Neflix". I also recently heard an interview with the founder of Intuit, the maker of Quicken and QuickBooks. He referenced Intuit's operating values which serve a similar function. Taylor suggests that a useful exercise would be to think about and to write down those compelling reasons to work for a company or even a project within a company.
No, the church is not a business, and the church should not be narcissistic--"What is in it for me?" Still if church leadership cannot articulate its mission and end, it's highly unlikely that the church will move to meet it.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
SOURCE: "The 'Churched' and the 'Un-Churched'". The Pastor's Weekly Briefing. July 18, 2008. Focus on the Family.
KEYWORDS: attendance, worship, commitment, generation
New Ellison Research asked 1,007 American adults to report on their attendance at worship services. Results of the study showed that the traditional definitions of "churched" — people who attend services monthly or more often — and "un-churched" — people who do not typically attend frequently enough to be considered "churched" — often doesn't tell a complete story about how often people actually attend religious worship services. If adults in America are placed in more realistic categories based on their normal behavior, attendance stats at religious services would look like this:
- Attend more than once a week (11%)
- Attend once a week (22%)
- Attend two to three times a month (14%)
- Attend once a month (5%)
- Attend occasionally, not on a regular basis (9%)
- Attend only on religious holidays (10%)
- Do not attend at all (29%)
When someone grows up in a home where both a mother and father occasionally attend religious services, there is a 62 percent chance that individual is now regularly attending services as an adult. If only one parent attends services occasionally, there is a 50 percent chance that grown adult is now regularly attending worship. But when an individual grows up with neither parent regularly attending worship services, the chances that person is now regularly attending is only at 33 percent.
Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, noted, "There's often an assumption that people either do attend worship services or they don't. But what we find in this study is that up to one out of every five Americans is attending worship services at least occasionally during the year, even though they are not regularly involved. That has huge implications for local congregations who are trying to attract new people." Sellers said, "We estimate that up to 43 million adults who do not regularly attend worship services will visit a church or place of worship at some point during the year." [Ellison Research]
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Little children, for you, Jesus Christ came into the world; for you he lived among us and showed God's love; for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried at the last 'it is accomplished'; for you he triumphed over death and rose in newness of life; for you he ascended to reign at God's right hand. All this he did for you, little children, though you do not know it yet. And so the word of Scripture is fulfilled: We love God because God first loved us.
Keywords: museum, tradition, vitality, life
A member of our church has an acquaintance in Quanah who happens to be a Russian immigrant. A few months ago, her Russian friend was in Vernon on business, so she decided to show the woman around our church building. Upon completing the tour, the Russian remarked, "Your church looks like a museum."
I'm glad she noticed how beautiful our building is. But think about it: A museum is a repository of the past. Is that what a church is called to be--a repository of the past?
A few years ago, I had an opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in England. During my trip, I visited church after church that had been converted into museums (repositories of the past), while the neighborhoods around were teaming with scores of lost people who don't know Christ.
While there, I worshipped in a Methodist Church that rented space in a community building. The dwindling and aging membership could no longer afford to maintain its beautiful old edifice built in the 19th Century. The old building had been sold and turned into an art gallery. That same story is being repeated all across America too.
Church memberships dwindle and become repositories of the past when congregations lose sight of who Christ calls them to be.
So what will we be? I don't intend to see our church become a repository of the past but a mission station for the future. I invite you to join me in making certain that we continue to be a mission station.
Saturday, July 05, 2008
KEYWORDS: arrogant, context, culture, missional,
Leonard Sweet tells the story of youth on a mission trip to
Friday, July 04, 2008
KEYWORDS: Abide, vine, branches, communion.
At the 218th General Assembly, Rev. Diane Givens Moffett gave the following illustration in a sermon.
It takes courage to walk humbly with our God — just as it took courage for daredevil Charles Blondin to walk across Niagara Falls almost 150 years ago.
Blondin...was the tightrope walker who would stop across the falls midway to cook and eat an omelet.
The crowds of the day loved his act.
But when Blondin would offer to take a spectator across the raging waters on his shoulders, no one volunteered — except his manager, whom Blondin had to tell, as Moffett told the story, “You will feel like turning around when you don’t need to turn. If you trust your feelings, we will both
fall. You must become part of me.”
To the relief and delight of the crowd, the two men made a successful crossing.
Blondin’s advice to his manager applies to our walk with God, Moffett said.
“Walking humbly with God means we have to be one with God,” she said. “Looking at us is about the closest thing people will see when they think of Jesus.”
That courage to walk humbly with God, she said, is “borne of a deep-seated commitment to Jesus Christ.” What Moffett called “cosmetic Christianity” cannot “change our character or heal our spirit or make our world whole.”
KEYWORDS: evangelism, gospel
Paul D. Borden is executive minister of Growing Healthy Churches of San Ramon, CA. During a luncheon at the 218th General Assembly, he spoke about how to build what he called “a Great Commission congregation” (ref. Matthew 28:19-20).
“Evangelism is the key,” he said. “People automatically think that means tactics or strategies, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”
A Great Commission congregation — which can also be called a missional congregation — continually presents the good news of the gospel in a variety of formats, he explained. It is a congregation focused outward, not inward, always seeking to reach the unchurched. “Great Commission congregations work to change their communities and to advance God’s kingdom,” said Borden.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
KEYWORDS: change, small church, vibrant
Rev. Steve Whitney, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in West Sacramento, spoke at the Small Church Luncheon at the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
“There are lots of mega-churches here in California,” said the [Rev. Whitney], “and for them changing is like steering an ocean-liner — a long, slow process.”
But small churches, he said, “are like speedboats, able to change fast and adapt quickly.” And in transitional communities like his, Whitney added, “‘speedboat ministry’ is much closer to the biblical model of immediately responding to immediate needs of individuals.”
Taking the gospel “to the ends of the earth” can be a daunting challenge for small churches — defined as having weekly worship attendance of 100 or less — Whitney said. “But Acts 2 talks of a small community of believers experiencing the rush of the Holy Spirit and then extraordinary power. Our God is not a God of numbers but of individualized care of God’s children and we’re very good at that,” he said.
Trinity Church, a congregation forced into major transition when a freeway rerouted traffic that used to flow through the community, has in the last several years reached out into its rapidly changing neighborhood with programs for children, transients and local public schools. The result
has been renewed vitality and growth.
“Our ministry is a person-by-person, life-by-life ‘speedboat ministry’ powered by the Holy Spirit,” Whitney said. “Obviously this is a God thing — when we open up to God, the Holy Spirit shows up and amazing things happen,” he said.
Heard a great idea for raising funds for a mission trip from a Methodist church in town. The team members sold stock certificates in order to raise money for the trip. Certificates are sold in denominations of five, ten, twenty, fifty, and one hundred dollars. Those who purchased stock certificates will be entitled to attend a Stockholders Dinner later.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Keywords: board, session, elder, leader
The majority of chief executives say commitment to mission is one of the top criteria they use when selecting board members. In BoardSource's Nonprofit Governance Index 2007, they listed commitment to mission among their top three criteria 62% of the time--more than any other factor...The Index surveyed, 1,126 chief executives and 1,026 board members.
The results were somewhat similar when board members were asked for their top three considerations in their decision to join a board. Their top pick was "fit of the organization's mission with personal interests/beliefs" at 80 percent.
But commitment to the mission by itself is not enough to make a board member truly valuable to an organization:
Board members must be so passionate in the mission that they are comfortable taking part in fundraising, and look foward to acting as an ambassador that promotes the organization to friends, colleagues, and other contacts.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
KEYWORDS: faith, creed, profess,
In an interview dating back to 2003, Jaroslav Pelikan told this story about his friend Stephen Jay Gould.
My late friend Stephen Jay Gould would insist with dogmatic fervor that he wasn’t a believer. In addition to being a distinguished paleontologist and a terrific communicator, Steve Gould was a member of the Handel and Haydn Society in
. He sang all this ancient music. In an interview several years ago, that we were both involved in, he was asked about communication with other planets and other worlds. How should we try to reach people who do not know our language or anything else? And he said, we should play the Bach B-Minor Mass, and we should say in as many languages as we can, “This is the best that we have ever done. And we would like you to hear it. And we would like to hear the best that you have ever done.” He would want broadcast systems blaring across our solar system and beyond it with the B-Minor Mass including “Credo in Deo Patre” (I believe in God the Father). Boston
KEYWORDS: faith, belief, mission, context, global
THE MAASAI CREED
The Maasai Creed is a creed composed in about 1960 by Western Christian missionaries for the Maasai, an indigenous African tribe of semi-nomadic people located primarily in Kenya and northern Tanzania. The creed attempts to express the essentials of the Christian faith within the Maasai culture.
We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in the darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the Bible, that he would save the world and all nations and tribes.
We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He was buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from that grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.
We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love, and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Keywords: Evangelism, faith, sharing, missional
SAN ANTONIO, TX — Churches practicing good evangelism are like aging adults working hard to stay physically fit, according to author and researcher the Rev. Martha Grace Reese.
It’s about practicing good habits and patterns and sticking with it, said the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister who recently directed a four-year evangelism research project funded by the Lilly Endowment.
Reese discussed her findings in a keynote speech at the 2008 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Multicultural Conference April 12.
In order to live a stronger, healthier and more productive life, people age 50 and over need to exercise six or seven days a week — for the rest of their lives — with a workout regimen filled with serious commitment and serious weightlifting, Reese said.
Churches must perform some heavy lifting, too.
After all, maintaining a healthy evangelistic lifestyle takes years of prayer and practice. And a congregation has to keep at it, keep doing the prayer and the small-group work over and over, and keep the focus on evangelism.
“That’s what the weightlifting is about, it’s prayer,” Reese told 460 conference goers here. “It’s doing relational work in congregations, and it’s really learning to allow Christ to teach us to love people outside the church.”
Churches that refuse to break a sweat when it comes to evangelism will eventually resemble a fragile old woman who develops osteoporoses because she didn’t work at staying fit “and you’re going to break hips and you’re going to die,” Reese said.
Even with proper exercise there are no quick fixes when you’re talking about transforming lives and transforming churches, said Reese, author of the Real Life Evangelism Series of books that encourages and guides churches on how to face evangelism head on.
Her first book, Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism, was published in January 2007 by Chalice Press. Since then she has released Unbinding Your Heart: 40 Days of Prayer and Faith Sharing, and Unbinding Your Church, the Pastor’s Guide to the Real Life Evangelism Series.
Reese interviewed more than 1,000 people in many of the nation’s most successful mainline churches in an effort to find the motivations and practices of the most effective evangelism.
In churches where real evangelism is taking place the motivation is members who have a love for their church and have a living relationship with God, said Reese, who studied churches varying in size from 50 to 10,000. There is a sense of being on an adventure with God and they want to share that, she said.
“They love Jesus. It’s not rocket science,” Reese said. “They are churches that the people have a relationship with Christ and it’s real and it’s vibrant and they talk about it. It’s wonderful.”
These are congregations that exist all along the theological spectrum, whose members believe that other people’s lives would be enriched if they were also in a relationship with God.
“There are churches all along the line that are doing a beautiful job of helping people come to faith, of being responsive to the Spirit,” Reese said. “And they’re growing. And not just growing, they’re healthy, they’re alive. You walk in and you feel the Spirit. And it’s powerful. It’s like stepping into an electric current. It’s really amazing.”
They also range in size. “They looked like everything. There’s no way I can described how different these churches are,” the minister and author said.
Reese, who has been a lawyer, a pastor, and a middle governing body executive, has spent the last decade coaching pastors in spiritual leadership for church transformation, serving as president of GraceNet, a non-profit corporation that specializes in church consulting and coaching.
Despite being baptized Presbyterian, Reese never participated in the faith, growing up in a prominent Ohio family of high achieving lawyers and bankers completely unchurched — until she became a Christian in college.
“I had a conversion experience that just rocked me to my socks,” she said.
Reese said doing evangelism right is about community and people talking about their faith.
“They start learning to say, ‘I love my church. I love what God’s doing with us,’” she said. “And they absolutely boil over. It is a fire. It’s a movement of the Sprit in these churches that people start learning to unfreeze and the ice melts and they get very brave and learn to talk about their faith and the churches help them do it in lots of different ways.”
Reese said congregations that are bringing new people to faith are befriending people. Evangelism is relational, she said. It’s between people. It’s people telling their friends. It’s faith sharing.
So how well are mainline churches helping new people become Christians?
Reese said a majority of the fastest-growing congregations in each denomination are in the South or are predominately racial-ethnic. “This room is one [of the bright spots], multicultural, racial-ethnic. This group is it,” Reese told the diverse audience, which included people of Asian, Hispanic, African and Middle Eastern descent.
Each denomination in the study was asked to provide a list of every primarily Caucasian, non-Southern congregation that had baptized an average of five or more adults a year for a three-year period. The pool of churches contained about 30,000 congregations from six denominations. Findings revealed that fewer than one-half of one percent of these 30,000 mostly white, non-Southern congregations are baptizing an average of five or more adults a year over a three-year period.
Statistically, one-half of 1 percent of congregations are doing a good job of reaching unchurched adults, Reese said. That translates in numerical terms to fewer than 150 congregations out of a possible 30,000 mainline churches.
“You look at all these numbers and statistics and we are on a bobsled run,” she said. “There’s no exercise going on and there are a lot of churches just sitting there sort of moldering and getting frail and weak with osteoporoses. One of these days a lot of them are going to break a hip and it’s going to be bad, and it’s already bad.”
As much as anything, Reese emphasized the importance of prayer, which she says is important in faith sharing to give others a sense of what it’s like to have a relationship with God. She dedicates many pages in her first book to prayer as well as in the companion guide, Unbinding Your Heart.
Reese, who interviewed 600-700 pastors, said key leaders in churches doing good evangelism are holding their members to a sharp focus on their growing relationships with Christ and sharing their faith with others.
Reese said pastors must “turn themselves inside out and surrender and say, ‘God use us, please use us. Use me.’”
The Holy Spirit is the one who gives faith, but churches where evangelism flourishes cooperate with the Spirit, Reese said. These churches focus on helping new people begin a life with God.
“We need to keep doing the heavy lifting, prayer, so that the Holy Spirit can turn up on a dime and open our eyes and open our ears,” she said.