Archive for January, 2016

Jan
07

Lighting the Way to Life! (part 2)

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Yesterday I posted three observations about the Magi’s visit to the Christ child that reminded me of Jesus’ mission and subsequently our mission on Earth. But there’s a fourth reality in the story. This is the part we seldom discuss. It’s a good news/bad news reality. Because the gospel is good news, I’ll begin with the bad.

Darkness will always work to oppose light (Matthew 2:16-18).

In an unanticipated turn of events, Herod becomes enraged that he has been deceived, resulting in his murder of all male children under the age of two in the region in order to eliminate the potential threat of a rival king. It was an evil act of brutality. He didn’t want light, so he sought to extinguish it.

Here’s the bad news. The “spirit of Herod” will always be at work in our world to oppose light. It’s a unilateral reality that dates back to the beginning of time.
From Cain and Abel, to Daniel in the Lion’s Den, to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, to Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other, to The Apostles in the book of Acts, to the year 2016.

Anytime a person or a congregation begins to have Great Commission conversations, Satan will take notice and flex his muscles. Anytime we have a renewed commitment to reaching our community and serving our world, all hell, literally, will break loose. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that we can be affirmed that we are being guided on the right path! I believe Satan could care less about much of what goes on in today’s American Church. But when the Church begins to discuss mission and vision and start having Great Commission conversations, that church can plan on a counter attack. His attacks are a sign that we are pursuing worthy goals.

So what are we to do with this fourth reality? We can shrink from it, opting for quiet co-existence in the world, or we can work in the midst of satanic oppression and shine the light by centering people on Christ.

Who are you lighting the way to life and centering on Christ in 2016?
Who do you know living in darkness that needs help finding the way to life?

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16, NLT).

Categories : Mission
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Jan
06

Lighting the Way to Life!

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The church I serve just finished up an extensive vision process with Auxano last year. Part of the project involved the painstaking task of developing a new mission statement. After hours of meetings spanning two months we settled on “lighting the way to life by centering people on Christ.” There’s a lot of backstory as to why we settled on the imagery of light and centering which is related to our particular context. But one can’t deny the metaphor of light as a key element of any church’s mission.

Today is Epiphany, when Christians around the world celebrate the visitation of the Christ child by the Magi. That story is familiar, and I must confess that I never thought of the story in the framework of mission until this past week.

Here are three of the observations from the story that I related to our congregation this past week.

First, the purpose of the star (the light) was to reveal God (Matthew 2:1-2)
. Light is an important image in the Bible. It was the first thing God created in the creation story. It’s important to us, too! When you walk into a room, chances are the first thing you do is turn on a light. We also use it metaphorically, as in “let me shed some light on the subject.” Light is important because it reveals. It clarifies. In the Bible, light reveals God. It provides guidance so we can see God. Light guides our steps to Him.

God did not hide himself at advent. Angels announced his arrival to shepherds, and a star guided the magi from the east to see him as well. The light of the star was for everyone. Pagan kings and ceremonially unclean shepherds alike were welcome to Christ. Light is also important because it reveals something about us. It is to those of us walking in darkness that we discover God through his light.

Second, the star revealed God so the Wise Men could worship Him (Matthew 2:1-2, 9).
Light reveals God so we too, may worship Jesus. Everyone is a worshiper. Christ alone is the valid object of our worship. Every lesser object of worship is an idol. In the Bible those idols are clearly identified. Strange gods such as Ba’al, Asherah and Molech existed in the Old Testament. The New Testament is filled with gods from the Greek pantheon. Our idols today are a bit more sophisticated and subtle. But their threat is equally real.

The light that reveals God is designed to draw all people to Christ in worship. John Piper said it best, “Missions exists because worship does not.” The responsibility of any Church is not to create more attendees, but more worshipers of Christ.

Third, when the Wise Men worshiped Jesus, he changed the direction of their lives (Matthew 2:12)

Genuine worship will be a transformative experience. Last week we celebrated the start of a New Year. Resolutions were made and goals were set with the idea that through will power we can accomplish the things we need to accomplish on our way to self-improvement. There are habits to break as well as habits to begin. But we don’t need reformation. We need transformation. Reformation works from the outside in, while transformation is an inside job. Transformation doesn’t come by setting our jaw and looking in the mirror. Transformation comes by looking into the face of Christ. It comes when we see God.

Tomorrow I’ll post the final observation from the darker, lesser discussed part of the story. Happy Epiphany!

Categories : Mission
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Jan
05

Breaking Even

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Giving USA recently released their report on Philanthropy for the year 2014. Among the items reported was a disturbing trend regarding giving to churches and religious organizations. While religious organizations still lead the way with receiving 32% of all charitable donations, giving in 2014 was static compared to the previous year. Numbers can be deceiving and we can read what we wish into any statistic. Giving to churches and religious organizations in 2014 increased 2.5% from 2013. However, when you adjust for inflation, that number diminishes to 0.9%.

Churches usually think of contributions in two ways. One, of course is to encourage committed members to increase their contributions. The second is to create additional giving units through new members. Somehow we are barely holding our own.

One of the challenges pastor’s face is preaching stewardship sermons. There is a fear that people will accuse the pastor in specific and the church as a whole as “only talking about money.” I believe stewardship sermons are important and usually preach two or three a year. But we need to rethink our education and broaden it beyond the reach of the pulpit. Last year we incorporated a letter to the congregation, Sunday School lessons for children, youth and adults, testimonies from members and more. Sharing the load in stewardship education will ease the tension and the pressure from the pulpit. And among the many positive messages about stewardship we need to acknowledge that yes, even the church needs a cost of living raise.

Categories : Stewardship
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