Thursday, September 29, 2016

Three Choices

In 2 Samuel 24 we read about the Prophet Gad who came to David at the height of his reign in Israel. Although Israel was enjoying prosperity, and were probably their most religious, the people of God behaved badly, and God used David to chasten the nation, at which point David let his anger override his better judgment, and soon both David and Israel were under judgment. Gad told David that he had three choices (verse 13): three years of famine, three months of being pursued by his (David's) enemies, or three days of pestilence. None of the options were very palatable. That's why it is called judgment. 
The goal of judgment is not punishment but repentance; to turn back to the Lord and seek his face. David's very wise answer, after a great deal of prayer was, verse 14, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” The three days of pestilence that followed was very severe, but when the three days ended so did the pestilence. Then David built an altar and offered up sacrifice and plead for himself and for his people to be forgiven, and the plague was averted. There was a great deal of loss over those three days but David knew that if they landed in the hands of men they may never recover, but if they landed in the hands of God and repented that they would recover, when they turned to God, and he would give them mercy.  

In this election cycle (2016) I have seen and heard many express their dismay at our choices for President. They fear the bombastic behavior of Trump and his reality show campaign. They distrust Hillary and believe that everything will be up for sale to the highest bidder. And when they look at Johnson, not only do they not believe he has a chance, but they question his ability, his policies, and feel that there is no significant difference in his policies from the other two. He equally lacks credibility, and moral authority, as much as the other two. What is an American to do? Do we vote on party lines? Do we vote for the lesser of two evils? Do we lodge a protest vote? Do we stay home and refuse to participate in a system that seems to be rigged, and that increasingly does not represent the people? 

Or does it? 

In this chapter of our society, as we rail against our political fiasco, and question how, out of 330 Million people, we could end up with this handful of people to choose from, maybe its time to take stock of how we got here? Look at what a mess our society seems to be in: The racial strife, the political climate is hateful, and we must guard our every word for fear that someone MIGHT be offended, not because they actually care about each other, but out of fear of becoming the next target on social media. Our society has become so ready to vilify anyone and everyone. So then, our reflection needs to be, have we reaped what we have sown? Who would want to lead this mess? It looks like some kind of disturbing reality show. 

Enter our three choices for President: One doesn't even really have a chance, the other two, well one of them will be our next president. I have heard all the arguments about what each one will do. I'll be honest, I don't believe either of them. Today, my prayer is like that of King David in 2 Samuel 24.14 “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”    

If you're not a Christian than this post is probably of little value to you, but to every Christian, my plea is to consider that we are under judgment, reaping what we have sown as a nation. It is time for us to lay down our agendas, our political ideologies, and pray. Pray for mercy, and to fall into the hands of God, rather than the hands of men. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Advent and Lent in a Modern Church

I am not a very traditional kind of church person. The church I lead is not formal. Most people call me by my first name, we drink coffee in our auditorium (I usually call it an auditorium rather than a sanctuary). I wear jeans, or slacks, but I never wear a tie, or a robe. Most people wear shorts when it is warm outside, and this is Florida, so that is most of the time. We have guitars and drums and I really do not like hymns, even when they are played on a guitar. So then people are always surprised about the role of Advent and Lent in our church (although we don't even do them in a traditional way). It's not because I dislike the pageantry or the liturgy of tradition, I am just not very formal personally.

For me, Advent and Lent are not about tradition, but about discipleship.  My doctorate degree is actually in Christian Education. So while my dissertation was about the role of biblical literacy in relationship to discipleship and transformation, I spent a lot of hours reading studying about education and learning. I am convinced that the reason things like liturgy and spiritual disciplines resurface again and again, is because they work. These practices of fasting, the lighting of candles and the keeping of church calendars, reading of prayers and so forth year after year, all reinforce what we believe with doing, smelling, and seeing, and sharing. It is the shared practice, and the sight, sound, doing combination that burns these things deep into our minds and evoke emotional responses within us. Nothing in modern education has been able to replace these simple practices.

The intent of Advent and Lent at the Vineyard isn't about time honored traditions, it isn't about being avant-garde or trendy, it is about repurposing and reinvigorating things that really work, so that they do not become routine and empty but instead create a great experience that deeply imbeds our hearts and our minds with truth.

As we make our way into this Advent season, my prayer is that you will use the tools of this great tradition to make room for Christ and the message of peace to those who know and do his good will.

Friday, July 17, 2015

I Felt Like an Angel From Heaven in Their Midst

 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. -Hebrews 13.2

Did you know that the average person makes up there mind about a church between their car door and their seat? Before a song is sung, before the pastor speaks, most people have already made up their mind about a church. Those first impressions mean more than we imagine.
Over the years as a church planter I have visited more churches than most people, doing research. As a pastor I know the drill of finding my way around a church and I am usually looking to be “off-the-radar” as I try to learn from that church without getting any special attention because of being a pastor. A few churches I have visited were down-right unfriendly, but most were reasonably polite. Still even the friendliest of them were a little awkward at first, simply because I didn't know where things were, or what the expectations were.  That is why a hospitality team is honestly the most important ministry in the body. Those greeters, ushers, and security people make the church seem not only more welcoming but they determine if a person will stick around.
Recently I visited a church that broke the mold on hospitality. I have never been so impressed by any church’s first impression in all my life. To top it off, I was only at a satellite campus, not even the main campus of this fast growing church. What was so radical? Well, they had a huge team of hospitality people. Out of the 300 people at least 50 of them were involved in hospitality, but I was never mobbed. Instead every guest was greeted individually. A host walked every guest around so they could find everything they needed, including their seat, and they gave us s small packet of information, including a CD. Once we were settled they invited us to come back to the welcome center for a gift. A real gift! When I returned to the Welcome Center they answered all of my questions, and helped me fill out a connect card, had I lived in the area they would have also helped me sign-up for anything I wanted to get involved in. Then the host did one more thing after I left, while my name was still fresh on her mind, Sarah wrote me a brief postcard thanking me for my visit, and invited me back. That postcard went out the same day, and got to my house 800 miles away in two days. If I am ever back there I already know Sarah by name, because she greeted me and escorted me around the church so I didn’t feel lost, and her note reminded me of her name too. Moreover, Sarah answered all of my questions because she had been to a briefing that morning to give her all the info she needed and to remind her of that church's core values.
I was stunned by what I experienced. I thought I knew what good hospitality was all about, but then I got taken to school. I quickly figures out I have a lot to learn.  My teenage children talked about their experience for nearly two hours after church. (It takes a lot to impress a couple of PK’s.) After I visited the church I posted about my experience and several people asked to explain what was so powerful about my experience. To be honest, reading this post does not even begin to do it justice. I must also add that I sensed the presence of God, and I heard a Southern Baptist talk about healing and the power of the Spirit in a very meaningful way. Yet, I also have to say that the church wasn’t perfect. The music was so loud one of my kids said she wished she had taken the earplugs. Even my son who loves it loud said, it would be hard to do that every week. The music and the preaching were good but not awesome. Yet this church has grown from handful of people in 2006 to over 20,000 people in 2015. So they have done a great job in making people want to stay. All I know, is that I am planning on going back to visit that church and learn more.

My take-away? Well, People ask me all the time, "How can I serve? What can I do to make a difference?" My first response has always been hospitality because I can't think of any more impacting role than to be part of the hospitality team. Too often people look at that role as beneath them, they take that role for granted, but the truth is, that's why most churches don't make much of an impact. I would love for everyone to feel what I felt when I visited that church. They made me feel like I was an angel from heaven that had landed in their midst.  So I am going to spend the next several weeks with my team learning and growing in the ministry of hospitality.