Friday, May 30, 2014

Church Photo Directory

Our church is about to take pictures for a new photo directory. The last one came out years ago so we are all excited to have something that represents our current community. And in scheduling the photos we have discovered two interesting groups:

1. Those who are not "members" but still want to be in our directory.

Several of these individuals have approached us cautiously to say, "I'm not really an official member. But I feel connected to the people of this church and I have enjoyed my time here. May I be in the photo directory?" For example, a person may come to our Saturday night worship service but then go to a different church on Sunday morning. Or they may join a midweek small group and begin to build meaningful friendships there.

We actually have quite a few people that fall into this category because our church cares more about spiritual encouragement than institutional loyalty. And truly, when I think of Algona UMC, many of these "non-members" are the first to come to mind because they are seeking and building the kingdom of God. They are the ones who want to grow in their faith, who share their victories and struggles, and are seeking God's will no matter where it may take them.

Should we allow them to join our directory? Absolutely! It makes no sense to say these individuals are not part of our church family. They are with us week in and week out, blessing and challenging us (and hopefully vice-versa). Including them in the directory is just common sense.

2. Those "members" who are M.I.A.

I had someone approach me today and ask, "What about our church members who have not heard that we are scheduling photos to be taken?"

I misunderstood the heart of the question so I answered, "Oh, good question! We have been encouraging the church family to share with other members about the photo directory. We also have been announcing it in church service for a couple of months. Plus, we have been e-mailing the announcement weekly and have included it in our monthly newsletters that are sent out."

This individual responded, "Some people don't come to church activities and don't read those announcements. How are they going to hear?"

Hmm. So let me get this straight -- we are talking about a group of people who, at least for the last several months, have not wanted to come to church activities or be involved with the church community?

Not only would I question if these individuals are part of our church in any real sense of the word... but I would also question, "Why!?" Why in the world would a person want to be in our church directory if they do not want to be involved with our church community or in any of our church activities? That makes no sense. It's absurd. Yet, I've recently been having this kind of conversation with a handful of different persons.

I want to end on a positive note by saying that if they are lapsed members, who are not active, M.I.A., those who have cut themselves off... then certainly our desire should be to reach out with truth and love. I encourage every member of our church to invite their friends and neighbors to come experience Christ-centered community. That's not just the job of church staff: If you are motivated by God's love then sharing an invite like that is just common sense.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Healthy Church: 1 Thessalonians 1:5


"Our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."

 What made the church in Thessalonica so healthy and successful? Paul describes the reasons in the sentence above. Let's go through them one at a time:

1. Power

A healthy church has power. Paul was the first to admit he had no power of his own. The only way a ministry can have power is if it points to, and draws from, the ultimate source of power, which is God. In this context, ‘power’ means things that happen which are impossible without God in the equation. Miracles. I think that’s why God uses such imperfect people. A healthy church knows the true source of their power.

2. Holy Spirit

When Jesus ascended to Heaven, his disciples were freaked out. They didn’t know how they would grow the church without the physical presence of their Lord.   But Jesus told them that something even better was about to happen. After Jesus left, every believer would be filled with the Holy Spirit.  So at any moment of the day, in any place, you could have an immediate and up-close communion with God. If the believers in the Old Testament had any idea then I think they would have been jealous of the opportunity we have to be indwelt by God's presence. So really, for a healthy church to have the Holy Spirit means that a healthy church is aware of this up-close presence of God in their lives.

3. Full Conviction

What "full conviction" means is being sure of your beliefs. And how do you become sure? Well, over time you see the solid and lasting changes that following Jesus has made in your life. You become convinced that God has transformed you into a new person. And you know that nothing in this world could ever undo the love that God has for you.

When you think of this on the level of community, it has some really powerful implications.   One implication that pops into my mind is that genuine faith will outlast inauthentic faith, every time. All those bitter people who have taken their eyes off of Jesus, can’t outlast the love and hope that is being built up between followers of Jesus. Just can’t be done.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Rage against God

Christopher Hitchens was the charismatic and witty leader of a movement called the New Atheists. His debates are fascinating to watch and it only takes a few moments to see why he was the poster boy for militant anti-theism. For example, just watch the 4-minute opening statements of these panelists (Christopher was pitted against 4 esteemed theologians/professors).

I've recently been thinking about Christopher's struggles because I just finished a book by his famous brother, Peter Hitchens. Peter is an accomplished journalist who is just as articulate and brilliant as his sibling. What makes the story of these two brothers so interesting is that Peter was also an anti-theist until, in his adult life, he came to a powerful realization that Jesus is indeed the risen Christ.

Am I intrigued by these brothers because I also have a brother who seems the polar opposite of me? Just consider how my brother runs a successful fashion blog and is an incredible visual artist. I, on the other hand, wear clothes until they fall apart (though my wife is quickly changing that bad habit) and can barely draw stick figures. It's almost comical how evenly split we seem in life's pursuits, each being the complement of the other.

Regardless of how different brothers are, they love each other. At least I know I love my brother, and I believe Peter and Christopher (though their relationship was at many times rocky) still cared for one another.

The way I love is defined and motivated by one thing more than any other: the more I love someone, the more I want to tell them about Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is the redeemer.

Just like the panelists share in the above video, Jesus reveals the meaning of life. He is historically proven to be a man who resurrected from the dead, which he claimed is proof of his divinity. And following Jesus leads to an endless series of fun, fulfilling discoveries.

So today I've going to lift up a prayer for every pair of siblings who have differences. And as Mother's Day approaches, I pray for all families who will discuss matters of faith around the kitchen table or family room. May their conversations bring them deeper into relationship. Amen.