Sunday, January 27, 2008

The End?

Internet monk has an interesting post concerning evangelicalism here

What do you think? Is the end of evangelicalism as we know it near?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Commitment

In The New Christians: Dispatches From the Emergent Frontier, Tony Jones writes:
"Just ten percent of Americans are not affiliated with a church or synagogue, and another five percent hold a faith other than Judaism or Christianity. That leaves eighty-five percent of Americans who can write down the name and address of the congregation with which they are affiliated. Yes, that bears repeating: eighty-five percent. There are about 255 million church-affiliated Americans.What can be questioned is the level of commitment that Americans have to their churches. They may know the address, but do they know the doctrinal statement? Or the denominational affiliation? Do they care? The answer to the last question is most decidedly no. American Christians care less and less about the denominational divides that are so important to their seminary-trained pastors."

He is answering the notion that America is becoming more and more secularized by stating that the majority of Americans are spiritual, but without the concern with denominational teachings that divide. I think to some degree that is true, especially with those who consider themselves emerging. The emerging conversation definitely cuts across denominational lines.
The statement, "What can be questioned is the level of commitment that Americans have to their churches", raises a different issue. Looking at the fact that eighty-five percent of Americans are associated with a church (or synagogue), I question the level of commitment that American Christians have to Jesus.
We are called to be salt and light. Salt flavors and preserves, and light allows us to see. When a great deal of what passes as the "Christian" arts is nothing more than cheap knock-offs of what is already out there, and when much of the preaching is really self-help philosophy wrapped in Scripture - where is the flavoring? When we are more concerned with beginning more programs and building bigger buildings than we are with the homeless, the poor, and the hurting in the neighborhoods surrounding those buildings - where is the preservation?
We say we have the light, but instead of going and shining that light into the darkness, we want people to somehow stumble out of the darkness into the light inside the walls we have put up to protect the light.
We have become so afraid that somehow the corruption in society will overcome the salt, or that the darkness will overcome the light that we have put ourselves in a ghetto where we are safe within its walls and from which we lob scud missiles at those outside - with the same effect.
We say we believe that God has called us out of darkness into the light, that he has saved us by his grace, that grace gives us the power to follow Jesus and that God is forming us into Christ's likeness. We say that Jesus told us to go and make disciples. We claim to follow the King of Kings. Yet we live in fear. Fear of the culture capturing and corrupting us, fear of screwing up, fear of somehow not quite measuring up.
We are loved by the Creator of the universe! His word tells us that this love is perfect and that perfect love drives fear out! If we belong to Jesus, our day-to-day life, not just our salvation, is by God's grace and not our feeble effort! Our Father loves us and accepts us just as we are, and will change us and make us grow. He will not leave us in our current state. Yes, there are commands in Scripture for us to follow. We are not absolved of all responsibility. But the power is from the Holy Spirit.
As we focus on Jesus Christ and the amazing grace that God has given us, we will desire to follow Jesus closer and closer. We will, as the Jewish rabbis used to say, be "covered in the dust" of our Rabbi. As we become more like Christ we will truly be salt and light. We will mess up from time to time. We will fall. When we do, we just pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, agree with God that we screwed up, and turn away from it and move on. I believe it was Martin Luther who said, "Sin boldly, trust God more boldly still." Walk with Jesus and trust him to guide your steps.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

March of the Unqualified

For those of us who have a hard time believing that God can use us, John Armstrong, on his blog, posts a link to this youtube clip

It's a good reminder that God can use any of us.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

VBS and Church

My sister-in-law's church held Vacation Bible School last June and she was in charge of refreshments. In the past, people brought brownies and stuff, and the adults stood around in the kitchen, talking and drinking coffee. When it was time, someone took the food to the classrooms.

This time, the kids came down to the kitchen to make their own snacks. The snacks corresponded to the lesson, so they were a teachable moment. The adults, however, were upset because they didn't get to continue their tradition of being together and drinking coffee in the kitchen. They had forgotten that VBS is supposed to be about ministering to the kids, not the desires of the adults.

I thought that is a perfect picture of many churches today. They continue in the same ways of "doing church" that they had in the middle of the last century. As the culture around them has changed, they have remained stuck in the past and either been unable or unwilling to change.

It's so easy for us to stick with what is comfortable, what has worked in the past. I have heard many times, "Why can't we just go back to what we did when the church was growing back in the 1980s?" The problem is that what worked in the past does not work today. Yes, there are pockets around the country where some of the old things work, but for the most part, it is a new world. What worked in a culture that had at least a memory of Christianity will not work in a culture that has no idea.

We need to fulfill Jesus' command to go out and make disciples in the twenty first century. To do this, we need ways that fit today, not yesterday. As missionaries study the culture they are going into, we need to study this culture and give the gospel in a way that is relevant.

Like the VBS adults, we need to remember that we are to be about ministering to others, not ensuring our comfort and benefit.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Putting Holes in the Darkness

A while back I read a story about Robert Louis Stevenson. One night when he was a little boy, his nanny called for him to come to bed. He didn't hear her since he was intently staring out the window. When his nanny asked him what he was looking at, he pointed at the lamplighter lighting the street lights and said, "Look Nanny! That man is putting holes in the darkness!"

I got to thinking that that 's a large part of what being a follower of Jesus is. We're to put holes in the darkness. We may not be able to save the world, but we can at least shine the love of Christ in the darkness around us. As Jesus said, "Let your light shine among men, so they can see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I had lost my hero, my adviser, my example. That next Christmas was hard. The biggest thing about the celebration of Christmas for me had always been family, and now I was an orphan.

At the same time a group of us in our church had decided that things needed to change or we could no longer continue there. A few months before this, we had gone to two Sunday morning worship services. One was a traditional service and the other was a more contemporary service. The church was losing people and it was thought that if we provided opportunity for people to worship as they preferred, it would strengthen and grow the church. The contemporary service quickly became just like the traditional service, only with cooler music.

Our group of "revolutionaries" believed that we needed to approach "church" from a fresh angle. We agreed that the church needed to reach into the community around us. We began to meet weekly to set out a course of action and to plan the weekly gatherings. At first, things were moving in a direction that really encouraged me. I was an elder, and had agreed to become an elder in order to try and influence the church in a direction that was more "emerging". Someone accused us trying to break away and start a new church. I said that I had no interest in planting a new church. (Famous last words)

As time went on I realized that the only way we were going to do what we believed God wanted us to do was to actually begin a new church under the auspices of the original church, with our own leadership. Unfortunately, there were a number of people in leadership, as well as other influential members, who wanted to have a say in what we were doing. We were accused of dividing the church and conditions were put on what we were doing. The conditions were probably good but they essentially put brakes on our efforts. As time went on, the enthusiasm for "doing church" differently waned and the worship service reverted to same old same old with cooler music. At the same time, there were positive signs, so I still planned to stay around and minister where I could.

Toward the end of the summer, I heard about a possible church plant here in Rock Hill. I was immediately intrigued. Some of you know Frank Hamrick. I contacted him and as we talked and got to know each other a little bit, God began to nudge me in the direction of helping in the plant. As time went on and I began to read and study, I became increasingly convinced of the need for a new church in Rock Hill. God continued to work on me, and by the end of December I decided to leave the current church and help Frank.

So now, I'm about to set off on another leg of my journey. Where this one will lead only God knows. If there's on thing I've learned through the years it's that no matter how much the road twists and turns, and no matter how dark things get, my Father is with me and is leading me exactly where he wants me to go. That makes the trip an adventure rather than a chore.

Should be fun.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Check This Out

John Fonville has a great post on the difference between a Gospel-driven life and a resolution-driven life. Those of you who, like me, can't begin to keep resolutions should check it out. http://gospeldriven.wordpress.com

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Still more

When we last left our hero, he was wondering what was going to happen next.

I was without work. I thought I was going to realize the fulfillment of a long held dream of coaching college basketball. So, I sent out resumes and waited. I talked to every coach I knew. And I waited. The summer came and went and still no coaching job. In fact, there were no jobs at all on the horizon. We didn't feel free to move to another area because my parents and my wife's parents had moved here to be near us and they were in declining health and needed our help. The search continued. As all this was going on, we had to give our cocker spaniel to the pound because he was old and had too much wrong with him for us to afford to have him treated. It was not a fun summer. About a week after we gave our dog away, I was out on yet another job search. As I drove past the animal shelter, I lost it. I began to pray, cry, and yell at God. I even cussed (I know that shocks some of you, but that's the way it is). I told God that if I had anywhere else to go, I'd chuck this whole Christian thing. I realized that, like the disciples, I had nowhere else to go, that Jesus was the only one worth following.

In September of 2005, I was hired by a tour bus company to drive. I was glad because it would give me a chance to travel. As it turned out, the majority of the job consisted of leaving the house at 4:00 AM, driving to a National Guard camp eighty miles away, and shuttling troops back and forth from the camp to a nearby army base so they could be processed for active duty in Iraq. Most of the day was spent sitting on the bus and waiting for the soldiers to get their paperwork in order. I would usually arrive back home sometime after 10:00 PM. Because of this schedule, I usually only worked three days a week, so the income wasn't real good. The company also had no health insurance for their employees.

At first, I wondered what I had done wrong, wondered why God had "put me on the sidelines". I felt like I was in a desert. Sitting on the bus gave me plenty of opportunity to read, think, and pray. God began to teach me about trust and patience. He reminded me that he was the most important one in my life, and that my identity was in Jesus, not in being a teacher or coach. I began to rethink even more of my assumptions about God, church, and life. At the same time, God was teaching me increasingly to trust him. Jan and I saw God provide for us again and again.

In January 2006, I walked out of the desert. I was hired as a teacher's assistant in a self-contained special education class at a public middle school. The kids I work with all have learning disabilities, some more severe than others. Many of them are from low income families. Quite a change from the Christian schools previously worked in, although not as much as I would have thought. Kids are kids wherever you go.

Also in January, both my mom and my mother-in-law went into a nursing home. Jan's mom suffered a stroke, and my mom was suffering from advanced Alzhiemer's. Our ministry to our parents changed somewhat, as we were visiting our moms and essentially being there for our dads. It was hard to go into a place full of people who were essentially waiting to die and visit Mom, knowing that she would never leave in this life.

I'll give your eyes a rest and write more later.

Friday, January 4, 2008

More

It's another day, so I'll continue my story.

About three years ago, God started doing some things in me that would change the way I saw life and ministry. Through a "chance" look at a magazine, I discovered TheOoze.com and immediately began to read the articles and enter into the discussions. I became aware that there were a lot of others out there that just didn't quite fit in the cubbyholes that "church" tried to put us in. I began to read authors outside of what I knew as mainstream Christianity people like Brian McLaren, Leonard Sweet, Phillip Yancey, Mike Yaconelli, John Fischer, Rob Bell, N.T. Wright, and others.

God began to show me that at least part of what I had been taught and believed was not Biblical, but was simply a part of the culture of mid to late twentieth century America. So, now my rebellious spirit had a legitimate focus. Now, I saw myself as sort of a "missionary to the fundamentalists". I began to teach some of these things to my middle school Bible classes. I tried to convey to them that Christianity is more than just mentally assenting to certain propositions and following certain rules. Hopefully some of them got it and will spread the subversiveness.

Unfortunately, this chapter in my life was to come to a rather abrupt end. The school decided to basically eliminate all the middle school teaching positions and give those classes to the high school teachers. They also decided to eliminate the athletic director position, and since I was both a middle school teacher and the athletic director, my contract was not removed.

More to come...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Little Bit About Me

I started my journey as a follower of Jesus when I was four years old. I know that may seem young, but I distinctly remember asking God to forgive my sins and save me, and I believe that's when I became his child. Obviously, at that age, I didn't have a clue about how this was going to work out in my life. I grew up as a pretty good kid, started a period of rebellion as a teenager, went to a conservative Bible college where the rebellion continued, actually graduated and began a few years of ministry in Christian schools.

My rebellion continued, but changed from a general fighting against "authority" to a realization that a lot of the things I was taught in fundamentalism were not only not sensible, but were not even Biblical. For awhile I tried to still minister in fundamental schools, while growing increasingly frustrated with the legalism and lack of grace and love that I saw around me and sometimes experienced. I know that I was seen as a "black sheep" by many.

About three years ago, God began to take me on a part of the journey that would change my life.

But, that's a story for another day.

Third Week of Advent: Anticipation

This was first published on December 12, 2012. Jesus, as Israel waited in anticipation for you to come, so we wait. We anticipate your ret...