October 29, 2004

Learn From The Pros. . .

There is a constant flow of Christian junk mail that goes across my desk. Everyone seems to have their own conference or convention that will give you the best advice for growing your church into what it should be--or so that is what they are trying to tell me. One piece of mail caught my attention today, partly because of the cool sliding paper window on the front and because one of their speakers is Rob Bell (a minister of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI)

As I was perusing the flyer, I was struck by a line on the fundraising page. It reads in bold letters, "Learn from the pros that have experienced enormous success." It probably wouldn't have caught my attention had I not just put down the book, Praying Like Jesus, by James Mulholland, that I am reading through. (Mulholland's book was written as a response or alternative to The Prayer of Jabez.)

The section of Muhlolland's book I was reading questions the validity of megachurches and where the focus of the present day church is. His suggestion to his readers is that we focus on the things that Jesus focused on--like helping the sick and poor, and getting those who have means to do the same thing. His words really have my mind in motion today.

I guess I question whether Jesus would ever have used such a flyer if he were alive today. Would he have a giant convention where everyone can come and learn how his success has come about? Would he have an award winning, best seller book? Would he be the pastor of a megachurch? What would it be focused on? I don't think he would.

Even more, if one were to be making a flyer for him to promote his ministry back then, I don't think they would say, "Learn from the pro that has experienced enormous success." I don't think one could look back at his ministry and say there was much success. Many questioned him. Only a few really followed and devoted their lives to him, and they deserted him at the end. He wasn't flashy. He did not have a giant support staff and a magnanamous building to minister out of. What few possessions he had were gambled for by some soldiers.

Why is the church trying to be such a glorious and large thing? Why do we strive to out do the world at their own game with "church business" and "marketing"? Why after all these years are we struggling with the simple?

Even more painful are my reflections on my ministry. What have I done to further the kingdom? How have the ministries that I oversee done good for the Body of Christ, and more importantly for those who are in need and hard to love?

It is a somber, reflective day in my mind. . .I'm glad it's raining outside.

October 20, 2004

He Did What?

It’s a funny thing. I’m sitting here at the computer at home trying to figure out what to write about for my Light article (church newsletter). At the same time, I’m watching the Yankees and the Red Sox battling it out in game 6 of the American League Championship Series. The only time I watch baseball is in October, and only then if it is teams I know or if it is interesting. As I sit here and stare at the screen, a runner from the Yankees bunted and ran to first base. As he neared the base, he knocked the ball out of the Red Sox pitcher’s hand as he tried to tag him. That is not allowed in baseball—otherwise known as cheating. After some confusion, arguing from both the coaches, and the fans throwing things onto the field, the Yankees’ runner was called out for interference. It gets better—as the game continues on, there are police in riot gear lining the field to control the fans and protect the players because the fans keep throwing things onto the field. All I can think about is Dorothy telling Toto, “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

I would guess that some of you are like me, shaking your head in disgust for the actions and reactions being seen throughout the world of sports. Players are cheating the game by taking drugs to enhance their performance. Players are letting their anger show during the game and sometimes causing grave harm to those they are competing against. Even the fans are getting into the action—fans fighting fans, parents beating up umpires in little league games, and tonight, fans throwing things on the field.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking, remembering back to a time when sports had respect and etiquette. Some of you are probably even letting our little discussion here of sports spread outward to the rest of everything in our society right now and you are saying, “I remember days when there was respect and good within our country.” In today’s world, those times and actions seem so far away and forgotten. The world is getting better and better every day of being the world. I think all of you would agree.

Where we would come to a slight disagreement would be in how we as the church, or better put, the body of Christ, reacts to that statement. Some of you would push for us to all get in a time machine and go back this many or that many years. (If it could be done, I would love to go back to the late 1800s and live. Life seemed so much simpler and better organized back then.) But we can’t do that, so we must look to other things. Some of you might want to push Christian morals back into the world for the world’s sake. Yet, when the world pushes its values at the church, we despise it. The world reacts to our morals in the same way. What then shall we do?

In the scads and scads of reading I have done for my master’s thesis, I came across the following idea by Stanley Hauerwas: the first task of the church is not to make the world more just, but to make the world the world. For the world can only know it is the world through its contrast with the church that rightly knows the joy of worshipping the true God (“The Liturgical Shape of the Christian Life”, from Essentials of Christian Community, T. & T. Clark Publishers, Ltd., 1996, p.39). As the world gets better and better at being the world, are we as the church, the body of Christ getting better at being the Body of Christ? That is a hard question that calls for much prayer, humility, and honesty to answer.How are you growing as a Christian? How are you helping the church to be better at being the church? How are we being the example? Or, is the world taking our attention away and causing us to just sit and watch, like the baseball game that is now over.

In Matthew 13, Jesus shares a parable about the wheat and the weeds. Take some time right now and read the parable. Notice that the owner of the field, God, allows the wheat and the weeds to grow side by side until the harvest, when Jesus comes again. It’s not our job to pull out the weeds. It’s our job to live the best that we can being wheat—the body of Christ.