Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Missional vs. Commissional

I have observed that many times the greatest change that comes in an individual's life, comes from the slight adjustment in attitude. To illustrate I must relate a story that I heard from a friend a few years ago, a modern parable if you will. This friend worked for a local manufacturing firm, that builds wonderful machines and systems that utilize reconstituted and recycled plastic, and remolds that plastic into useable bottles for other household cleaning products and such. These machines look like giant wheels with various pipes and tubes, for the injection of the plastic and air into the mold to form the bottles. It was an involved process taking other machines to convey the reconstituted plastic, now in bead form, to the "wheel", compressed air to inject the material into the molds, as well as other contraptions to move the finished product to be packed for shipping. The idea with these machines is that they are to be sold to other manufacturers of different household products, i.e. dishwashing liquid, etc. to use recycled plastic and fill the bottles and market them again. I was privileged to see on of these machines in operation, and it was a lot of fun to watch it take reconstituted plastic on one end of the process, and turn out useable plastic bottles on the other. It was almost like watching a magician do sleight of hand; "see the small plastic pellets, presto-chango, now it's a bottle". It was really cool. Anyway, my friend described to me how one of these "systems" was sold to a "household product" manufacturer in Germany. It seems though that there was a problem. When the "wheel" was forming the bottles, something was not working correctly. The "finished" products had holes in them. Actually, the bottoms of the bottles were either missing or just partially there. Being that the German company had purchased this multi-million dollar system, had it shipped to Germany, installed and setup and trained personnel, at great expense; the results were a little disconcerting to say the least. The company here in the U.S. bundled up their best engineer, one of the creators of this wonderful machine, and sent him to Germany, with instructions to "do whatever it takes to keep this customer happy". He was charged with the responsibility to find out what was wrong and to fix it, at all costs. This was to be an open ended repair job, in other words, the engineer was to stay on Germany until the problem was resolved. The engineer was intrigued, of course as one of the creators of the machine. He displayed great diligence and preceded directly to the factory as soon as his flight had landed, he was not interested in checking into his hotel. He immediately went to the manufacturing floor upon arrival at the factory, and requested a demonstration of the machine in operation. The operators obliged, started it up, and showed their displeasure when the machine began to produce bottomless bottles! The engineer obliged them, apologized and asked them to be quiet. He listened to the machine. He paused and took a small screwdriver from his front shirt pocket, inserted it into an adjustment screw for airflow. He turned the screw a quarter of a turn, and an amazing thing happened the machine started to form perfect plastic bottles! A simple adjustment = great outcome. The engineer left the factory a hero in the eye of both companies and returned to the U. S. that day. This story really can be likened to our Christian walk; we often think that it takes the greatest effort on our parts to serve a gracious loving Father-God. When in reality it takes the small adjustment from the Holy Spirit to our thinking or our attitude to make the greatest change. I have tried to apply this story to my perception of how I serve God and how I serve others. In Matthew 22, Jesus answers a pointed question concerning the greatest commandment. Jesus answers that, paraphrased; to love God is the greatest commandment. Then He adds that the second is just like it, to love others. In a post-modern church culture, we have put an emphasis on serving our communities, on being "missional"; this was a long needed change to move the established churches outside of their own walls. I am concerned that what was started as an adjustment to help the church see those, and reach those outside their cloistered environments, has in reality in some ways "turned the screw too far". In our efforts to more effectively address the second command we have turned from the first. By this I mean, in our efforts, (key on effort), to serve our communities we are displaying that salvation can be earned. "If you "DO" this, you will be good enough". I've personally heard churches and people derided because they don't "work" enough. I guess the adjustment that needs to be done is this; we need to serve and reach out to our communities as an expression of our love for God. We need not be missional for the sake of doing something to serve. But we do need to be missional as an act of worship and love for God, and to truly reach the lost, with the grace and truth of God. As an expression of God's love for them not as the target of our merit badges.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Well I said that the the last post had been a long time since posting anything, this one may have it topped. Life sure has a way taking it's twists and turns, and as it turns out it makes circles too. Right now at this writing we are several months into the church planting process. We are planting a church in the Manchester PA area as part of the Eastern Regional Conference of the Churches of God. The name of the church is "Visionpointe". There for a while I thought that the opportunity to Pastor another church was gone, that is why in fact I started the former radio ministry and this blog of the same name. But like one of my "life verses" God has plans, different plans than I know of. So here we are planting a church. Today I am reflecting on why would someone want to undertake something like this, tonight I am speaking at a denominational church planting dinner here in the area. Seriously why would someone want to plant a church? It has got to be one of the most humilating, humbling and exhausting experiences there is. You have to raise funds to survive,which is something that I hate to do by the way, (pride is a hateful thing, perhaps another blog post there). You have to meet people that you do not know, (cold call),and some that you do know, and wonder about what God is doing through all of this. And talk about rejection, you pour your heart out to someone thinking that they are coming along and then semmingly at the "last" moment they essentially say "no thanks" leaving you in the dust. You must do "marketing" in the community, which sometimes looks like door-to-door sales, seriously who likes someone you don't know at the front door that wants to talk about their "product". Leadership developement, both your own and the others who do actually say, "yes we are with you", which really is relationship developement, ("let's walk together") really is not that bad I guess. Well there is the excitement of getting to meet new people to hear and feel their life experiences. There is the joy of watching someone have the "light go on" when they "learn" that God loves them and He wants to help them with life. There are also the eternal rewards that come with all this, for God is watching over church planters. After all He "called" us to do this and watches and prepares our way leading, teaching, guiding and providing. Simply knowing that we are carrying on where others have gone before and then "pushing" the church to those who are looking for love in the wrong places, is to know that the love of God is always reaching and searching for the lost. I think I figured out why we would want to plant a church.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Well, it has been a while since I have written, mostly because of how life sometimes distracts us and time seems to get away. Perhaps even more interesting is that it is life that awakens us from this distraction. Hmmm. Maybe that could be something to talk about at a later time.
Anyway, I have again been made aware, just by conversations with others, how much of a need there is for us to know who we are. As Christians living in this pluralistic society it is of a certain import for us to "know who we are" and "who we are to be". Now I am really talking about every type of searching there is to find a "self-awareness". However most of the methods employed to find this "self-awareness" results in exactly what it says it is "self-awareness", which doesn't sound bad, but then again neither did eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Read it again, "self-awareness", why do we strive to become more aware of our own self when that is the process that got us into trouble in the first place. To truly know who we are we need to become aware of who God has made us to be.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent Reflection #4

This was the fourth Sunday in Advent, which means ... wait ... nnnnoooo!.... Christmas is this coming Friday ... I am not ready yet ... aaahhh! So much to do, so much to get ready, still some shopping, parties to go to, presents to wrap, family to avoid or fight with, etc. etc. Did this sound familiar? Let me help a little. Let me sing a little song for you, it is an old Simon and Garfunkel song, if you know it sing along;
"Slow down you move too fast,
ya' got to make the morning last,
just trippin' down the cobblestones,
doodit an doodoo
feelin' groovy!"

There how is that? Did it help? No? Okay, let's do something else, the song had it partly right, slow down, and now let's add "pray"; and believe it or not I do not accept the lame excuse that you are too busy to pray, that is just a cop out for a lack of faith that prayer does any good. There how does that feel? Merry Christmas!!

This week's Scriptures, (Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 1:47-55, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45), (I combined the readings from Luke to provide some continuity), all point to the impending birth of Jesus, Of course they also, (the Gospel lesson and the prophetic), refer to the virgin birth. The Prophet Micah was not the first to prophesy about the virgin birth, neither was Isaiah, or any other of the prophets, minor or major.

In Genesis, when God is expounding on the consequences to mankind, from Adam and Eve's fall to sin, God pronounces that it would be "the seed of a woman that will crush the head of the serpent", (my paraphrase), seeing as how Women do not have the "seed", God was prophesying the virgin birth.

In Bible times the young girls were considered of age to be married when they were 13or 14. So let's say that, because Mary was betrothed to Joseph, she was about 14 years old. In walks the angel Gabriel and announces God's plan to save the world, through you a 14 year old girl. Phew, heavy duty! Mary could not have understood everything that Gabriel told her, I mean how does she get pregnant without being with a man? What will everybody say? Seriously how is this going to happen? These questions and probably a few more had to be bouncing around inside of her. Well, maybe later they were, because Mary responded with the most amazing words that a human being, has ever said to God. In Luke 1:38, she says "...may it be done to me according to your word." Absolutely amazing, her simple acceptance of the Lord's Word. Obedience, simple obedience. The open heart of obedience is all the Lord ever looks for. Because of Mary's simple obedience to the Lord's word she literally carried the presence of the Lord in her body. Except for the obvious physical difference we are just like Mary, in that, due to our obedience we also carry the presence of the Lord.

I need to paraphrase a statement from St. Francis, he said that "we give birth to Jesus when we do any act of kindness to another in obedience to what the Lord has commanded us." We are like Mary, we "carry" Jesus, the presence of the Lord through the Holy Spirit indwelling us. So when we turn our attention to Him and we rely on Him in our struggles we give birth to Him. When we pray for someone else, we give birth to Him. When we pass on an encouraging word we give birth to Him. I think you get the idea.

So as you rush around "to get everything done", remember who you are carrying, and the opportunity you have to give birth.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent Reflection #3

Sorry folks I thought I had posted this and I only had it saved, so here it is.

So the third Sunday of Advent has come and gone, that means that three candles were lit, and this week's was the pink one. In the more strict liturgical settings, the time of Advent is also a time of fasting, as well as the time of introspection, examination, confession and repentance. So on the third week, celebrated as the week for joy, the candle was/is pink to signify the end of the fast.
That's why it was joyful, it's time to eat.
In some churches this week is marked by a fellowship meal after the worship service.

The Scriptures this week,(Zephaniah 3:14-20, Isaiah 12:2-6, Philippians 4:4-7,
Luke 3:7-18) all had the thread of "joy" in them. What I focused on was the Philippians passage, and the other thread that shows up.

"The Lord is near."
There is actually a lot that can be said about this passage, but I want to try to restrict my comments to this phrase, "The Lord is near.". What a comforting thought to know that the Lord is near. Jesus Himself promised that He would be with us always, (Matthew 28:20). Scholars of course toss this around, trying to figure out what was meant here. whether it was about the second coming, or rather it was about the fact that the Lord is in and around us. Which truth be told, they are both correct, for my use I chose to focus on the Lord being in/with us now and a "very present help in trouble".

The prophetic passage in Zephaniah 3:14-20 brings this thought out too, twice in the passaage these words appear, "...(Lord/God) is in your midst..." "midst" here is from a Hebrew word meaning "your inward parts, your inner most being", it is interesting to note that the prophet was refering to something that we would experience now because of Christ, the Lord living in us.

Back to Philippians; this tells us to let our "gentle spirit be known to all men", to "rejoice in he Lord always", to "be anxious for nothing", this can only be accomplished by having the Lord in our midst. What joy to know that as Christians we are not looking forward to some unknown phenomenon. This is our life our experience, or it should be. To know that the very Creator of all life lives in us, here is a mystery that we live in every day, we are the mystery.

To add to this, in my Bible next to the Phillippians passage I have written, "I am the only Bible some people will read." What a sobering thought, how am I representing the Lord who lives in me?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Reflections #2

Well here we are just past the second Sunday of Advent, and I wanted again to share what I shared at church yesterday concerning Advent. I thought about giving this post the subtitle; "And the beat goes on". Here is why.

First a little background for the "atmosphere". Imagine yourself seated in the service and you look at the Advent wreath, which consists of an evergreen wreath and four candles three purple and one pink, and now the first and then the second Advent Candles,(both purple),have been lit. You now say to yourself; "you know, I used to know what all this stuff was about but now after all these years I can't quite remember what it all is." We have just read the scriptures for today according to the Revised Common Lectionary,(RCL): Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11 and the Gospel lesson Luke 3:1-6; (I encourage you to look these up),

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,

in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.

And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;

as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, 'MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.



Now I stand up and say; "to start out today I want to talk about the meaning of this symbol of the advent wreath specifically the candles." Advent has been called "Lent with sugar on top", because like the Season of Lent, which actually is a season of brooding almost oppressive in nature as we consider our sin before the Lord and our participation in the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior. The liturgical churches mark Lent with the 40 days of introspection, confession, repentance and of course fasting.

(Most other denominational churches and independents don't even notice the "bump in the road". Yet they are the one's who raise the most fuss about how commercialized the holiday is and want to sell us "Jesus is the Reason for the Season", buttons, bumperstickers, etc,etc. blah, blah, blah)

Well as a matter of fact Advent is to be also marked by introspection, reflection, confession, repentance and also fasting. However Advent is looking for the promise to be fulfilled so is not as "heavy". We mark this passing of time with the lighting of the candles. We light the two purple candles to mark the time of reflection, examination and fasting. The third candle is the pink one and is known as the "candle of Joy", because it marks the end of the fasting, not the examination, watching and preparing.

Much like the Life of John the Baptist,(who the Scripture trail is about by the way), whose life was given to pointing to the coming Savior, is what Advent is all about.

Watching, waiting anticipating.

John the Baptist from the time that he was an infant in his mother's womb until his unusual death spent his life leading and guiding those who would come to him to the Savior. Remember it was John who said; "He must increase and I must decrease", John3:30. Essentially John's message was one of encouraging the seekers of the day, to not stop looking, don't stop looking for Him, don't stop preparing. The Kingdom is near! The Lord is coming! Now we look back at the Advent wreath with it's two candles burning encouraging us in it's own way to not stop, keep going, keep looking for Him, keep watching don't stop. That is what Advent is all about.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Reflections #1

Greetings everyone! It has been a little while since my last posting, I thought that I would write about what I shared in Church about it being the first Sunday of Advent. Simply put, Advent is the time of year, that the Christian church marks as the "new year". It is the time of new beginnings. Yes it is also marking the coming of Christmas, but it is also more than that. It is a time of reflection, examination, expectation, anticipation and repentance. A time of preparing a place for Christ in our hearts. So much more than "counting down the days 'til Christmas".

As someone who has spent the last twenty-some years in a Charismatic setting for my church experience, it has been interesting to say the least, that I now find myself serving as Chaplain at a retirement community. This community is owned by a secular company, but the owners believe in the spiritual aspect of life being as important as the physical and emotional, so hence full-time Chaplains, but I digress. Again, coming from the Charismatic realm into the Ecumenical has been an interesting journey. Part of my job description here is that I must accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of the residents, so I have had to take a more liturgical look at the way I perceive church. The predominate denominational background here is; Lutheran followed by Roman Catholic and then Methodist, (an interesting microcosm of the area itself by the way). Because of my recent, (20+ years), church experience I think that I bring a slightly different perspective to the table when it comes to these liturgical happenings. I know, I know I can hear some of you saying right now, "That stuff is just empty tradition of men" or "That just waters down the Gospel" etc., etc. They would have been my exact words just a few years ago, but all I can say now is, as a friend used to put it, "don't throw the baby out with the bath water".

What is really interesting is that none of this is what I shared at church about Advent, that is yet to come.
Maybe we can dialogue more about this at a later time, I would love to hear from you about this.

Anyway, the first Sunday of Advent the Revised Common Lectionary usually calls for a Scripture passage from the Gospels, (Luke 21:25-37), that at first glance, has nothing to do with the Christmas story. Purposefully we are drawn to look for it's message and so we enter the Advent mystery.
Initially we are struck by the apparent oddity that at the time we are preparing for celebrating His arrival that first we are looking at His return. I reflect that when Jesus was born in that manger, the people had been looking, praying and anticipating their Messiah to come and rescue them, redeem them from their physical bondage. However they waited with "baited breath" as it were, they were desperate for their Messiah to show up. In being struck by the oddity of the passage that calls for His return, I wondered how many of us now are waiting for His return with the same need.

The accepted definition of the word "advent" is; arrival or appearing. So are we now waiting for His advent or are we caught up in something else. The Advent season is a time of reflection and examination, of where you stand in your relationship with the Christ. It is also a time of preparation for His coming to the world, to you again, anew. What are you anticipating for the Christmas holiday?

In the Bible the Church is called the bride of Christ. We are betrothed to our beloved Christ. To the lady readers I would ask; "when you were awaiting your "betrothed", to come for a date, what was your frame of mind as you waited? Did you wait with expectation and excitement, anticipating your time with him. Well how are we the "bride" waiting?
Prepare ye the way of the Lord and wait for Him.
Come Lord Jesus!