Friday, February 29, 2008

The middle men

I watched American Gangster the other night. The storyline was unbelievable. It was a great American business story of success, of course it was an illegal business and the illegal parts came out in the movie. The reason this man became rich was he cut out the middle man and bought drugs straight from Asia. I think there is a lesson about being the middle man that the church needs to understand.
With the advent of the internet many professions are dropping by the way side, who still goes into a physical vidoe store? Does anyone still use a travel agent? We use the internet as much as a real estate agents advice in our quest to find a house? Many professions are changing because the middle man is not needed anymore. We can find and do things for ourselves that only 10 years ago we paid "professionals" to do it for us.
Has the church been the middle man in normal peoples knowledge and quest for God? In the old testemant the high priest was the middle man, when Jesus came he broke down this barrier. In the early Christian period scribes would be the most educated in reading the scripture and people would listen to them. In our current society the pastor has been the one with the most knowledge and we have listened to his educated opinions and interpretations on scriptures each and every sunday morning. Now whatever passage the pastor talks about we can do a quick internet search and find more about the subject than what the pastor could possibly cover in a 45 minute talk. So if the church's main purpose is for educating about God and how to have a relationship with God, it may be that people are going elsewhere because they can find more information.
Of course there is always going to be the need to educate but the in this current culture we live in this need isn't as high as in the past. Why would someone want to be involved in a church that preaching isn't as good as someone he can download? Why would I get out of bed to dialogue with people I can do the same with online? Why would I listen to music that I can to listen to to the same praise and worship chorus 50 different ways other places?
The problem may be that we have tried to market church in a way with resources they can get anywhere else. I drove by a billboard that church was using to promote their newest message series. It said sick of the same old bull try our church. I think the whole church clothes thing is overplayed. Who are these ads trying to reach.People who have tried some other church and had to dress up and listen to some sermon that they have heard before. Why in the world are we are encouraging church shoppers? Are these the real reasons people pick churches and if it is no wonder American Christianty is so shallow.
What is so appealling of other faiths or religons? Lets just imagine a mosque promoting themselves with a great music, casual dress, and 5 ways to improveyour sex life. Why have we dumbed ourselves down so much that Christianity is a laughing stock.
I don't think churches are the middle man, but I think that we need to get back to being on that passionate mission that Jesus told his disciples to be on.
I am in the midst of Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. A indepth look at traditions of the church and it is a very challenging read. It justs seems that we as humans don't seem to break our cycles. just one quick little tidbit from the book. It asked the question why do churches have steeples? A greeat research question, and I will just say that the book draws parrellels between steeples and the tower of babel and we know how much God loved the people at Babel.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Does Memorization = Maturity?

In Going Big by Bill Easum he makes a couple of statements that provoked thought in me over the last 24 hours. He said something along the lines of "for so long Christians have thought that memorization equaled spiritual maturity but the reality is that action is the final result.
How do we define some one who is Spiritually mature? Do we put on pedistals those who have great knowledge and can quote many Bible verses?
Bible knowledge is important and memorization is also a good ting but these are not the end. These are a means to help us get to the end of action. Doing whatever God has called us to.
Is ushering or serving coffee on a sunday morning what God calls us to? These are important or a church service to function but is this what action is? Yes there needs to be people that are willing to serve anywhere for anything but is this the end results? Is this is what we are striving to make out of people? What are our stories that we are able to tell? What is going to last after we are gone? Is there anything about God working through us that is going to last even a couple of weeks? Are there stories of God working that can last generations? Are there stories of people who decided they wanted to put this Christianity into action and amazing things happened? I love stories of friends of mine who moved to las vegas to plant a church, or one of my other youth pastor friends is moving to England to go to seminary and work in a local church there. People that God is leading that want to be a part of it.
If you would like to be a part of an ongoing dialogue of reading thought provoking books and dialoging about them. Put your email address in a post comment and I will send you a link to a discussion group we have started. There are many of us who sick of what is going on in the American church. I have tried to leave it but I think there is too much potential to stay away from it. I think that we can begin to install some of this passion and excitement that Jesus gave those in the book of acts. With the resources at our disposal we can bring vision that can change both the country and our world.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Building the Church of our dreams

Our church leadership has been dialoguing about how we can become the church of our dreams. Is this a concept that many of us have thought about? Are there too many problems and issues that we don't even think this is a possibility? As I have been thinking and dreaming about what the church of my dreams would consist of I have been thinking about people and their spare time.
How do people spend their spare time? relaxing, doing something meaningful, or doing something to escape reality. There may be the thought who has spare time. Being involved in and with the church in our spare time is probably not going to enter into most people's mind when we think of ways to spend our spare time.
In the church of my dreams it is not about the facilities or the great preaching or the music but rather it is a change in the mindset of people.
I have had the priviledge in youth ministry to see kids who think church is a viable place to spend their free time. What would happen if the people of the church were worried that if they missed a gathering that God may show up and do something special? Have we ever been a part of that?
That is the church of my dreams. A place were people get so excited about following Jesus that there are stories every week of amazing proportions. I am sure I can go to churches I have visited 5 years ago who have the exact same people sitting in the exact same rows. What does this say about God and us as followers?
I love the show the office.One of the reasons I love the show so much is the bonding that takes place in each and every one of the episodes through some strange and bizarre situation. How bonded is our churches? Maybe it is time to do something as a group to bond together. I talked to a friend of mine yesterday and her dad leads groups through Michigan City Prison. Imagine how much of a bonding experience it would be to take a group of people from your church through a tour of a maximum security prision meet and talk to an inmate about life.
So those are some of the mindsets that would be involved in the church of my dreams.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What vision are we giving people?

I am in the midst of reading "Banker to the Poor" by Muhammad Yunus. Incredible story and I would highly recommend reading it. It also has a component that makes me extremely sad. Yunus had a great desire to change the culture in Bangladesh, and in thinking about what he could do, so he started a bank and lended money to the poor. He was the one who started the micro-lending craze. The sad part about this book is that one person can change the world. Yunus has done just this with his concepts that many mainstream people dismissed, his ideas has turned around not only Bangladesh but also many other places in the world.
So as Christians and people that are involved in church what message are we giving people? Are we giving them the same message Yunus has given people? He not only came up with a way a plan he acted on it. Yunus was a economics professor at a college. He used many of his former students to help with his bank.
Why is the church largely void of late teens- twenty somethings? Maybe our churches here in America are not very compelling. Maybe the radical visionarries are more intriqued by what can happen outside of the walls of the church. Is it a compliment to say the church is a safe place to be at and go to? If there was a visionary from that twnetysomething age group how would our churches treat them? If someone came into our church that wanted to become a missionary not to the foreign mission field but to the churches neighborhood how would the church respond?
What exactly makes a church healthy? Is it great attendence on sunday? Is it people joining a small group? Is it people giving up addictions? Those are all part of health. But is our life really the process of elimanting things from our lives and not adding anything in return? I am under the presupposition that we are all created to do something in life, and if our churches are just here to make sure we are safe and pure than I don't think we will be successful. If we don't give people a vision that we can change the world and are going to, then why would we be following Christ? Was Christ's vision for the church one of safety? I haven't read anywhere in the New Testament the desire for our churches to be full of people to warm seats. If we are not going to give people a vision to give their lives for then why are we suprised that the church in America is declining?

Friday, February 15, 2008

God sized dreams

Are we underestimating what can be accomplished through us in this life? Are we playing it safe and taking the same path that many others have taken? Are we expecting different results yet we continually take the same actions?
I am in the midst of reading "Go Big" By Bill Easum. It is a thought provoking read in some senses because we have abilities and power given by God for us to make a difference. The reality of it is many times we don't have the guts or courage to do it.
What should be normal Christian behaivor? If we just safely go to church or serve in a church without creating waves or pushing people to follow God fully is this obedience? Is what people like Jim Elliot and Nate Saint are those extraordinary followers of Christ or were they just people who were willing to obey God?
I love when the question is asked does God still preform miracles? One side of this question may be how often do we even do anything that even puts God in a position to perform a miracle. I am not suggesting testing God but yet at the same time if the Bible is full of stories of "normal" Christians then most of us myself included way below the "normal" mark.
We have not because we ask not. Can this Bible verse be interpreted in the context of vision and does God want us to ask for more vision and to be greater influencers in the world?
Does God bless us when we do ask? I don't know if this is true 100% of the time. I have an interesting story that happened to me while on the plane back from Florida last week. I arrived at the airport in Orlando at 1:30 in the afternoon. My flight was suppose to leave at 4 and I was to be in South Bend at 12 pm. It was going to be a long day but because of weather it became crazy. My plane was delayed but I was able to get assigned to an earlier flight. I ended up flying out of Orlando at 4:30 while in the air over Muncie Indiana we recieved word that we couldn't land at O'Hare after circling Indiana for 3 hours we finally had to land in Indianapolis to refuel. We were not allowed to get off the plane and had to sit on the tarmac until we recieved word we could land. I was joking with some of the guys around me that we should call and order a pizza. It would be pretty entertaining for a pizza guy to try and come through security. I mentioned my idea to a steward and he stopped and asked me if I was hungry? I was and he told me he had something for me. In a minute he brought me this huge salad with blackened chicken on it. I have no idea where it came from but I do know that there were many people around me not happy. This guy passed by my seat and said how come you got first class service? I asked for pizza and ended up with a salad. Are we not accomplishing as much for God as we could because we do not ask?
I preached this week on Nehemiah and the concept was that incrementally we can make a difference and a change. Sometimes it happens slow but it is through these small steps we can make change happen. The subject came for a thought of act like an ant. An Ant builds an anthill through hundreds of ants carrying one piece of sand at a time to build an anthill.
A verse occured to me in the study that I thought a lot about. It is in Matt 17: The verse says if we have the faith of a mustard seed we can move a mountain. I had always thought of this passage meaning change would happen instantanous, and the mountain would just disappear. But what if this change that happens piece of sand by piece of sand. What if this change happens because God gives us a shovel and the mountain moves one shovel full at a time?
Maybe the reason we don't dream God sized dreams is because the change that happens too slowly for us.
The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and the others illustrate this, we have no idea the impact our lives are going to have long after we are gone. When we are willing to go forward God is going to give us some kind of assignment that may change the course of history. The problem may be that God doesn't have enough volunteers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who are we really tithing to?

While at the conference in Orlando last week I heard a pretty sobering statistics. 90% of money used in the average church is used for administration costs. Administration costs include payment of and on the building, staff, and office supplies.
Let us think about this for a minute. 90% of money tithed is used to maintain what is currently happening in the American church. If we were being greatly successful than this wouldn’t be a bad thing, but is this where the church in America is at? Are we seeing great successes and seeing things change? Maybe individual churches but as a whole denominations have been seeing the decrease in both attendance and giving go steadily down. Overall the church in America is marinating at best.
If the church was a company that we were going to invest in would it be a smart investment? How can a church be successful? If the definition is the passage is in Acts 2 then probably not. One of the important aspects of this passage it says that more were added to their numbers daily. How many churches are growing to their numbers daily? I think if the church had a growth than a 100 people from last year to this it would be extraordinary.
Another aspect of the Acts 2 church was that no one had need. If the church is successful what are the needy around us saying about us? There is something I have wanted to say since reading Freakonimcs but I am not that political but I am going to say it anyways. If the church is not going to go out of its way and help the poor and needy around vote democratic because at least the government will help the people out.
Are the changes we make in the church and the money that is spent really going to help add to the numbers of the people in the church and helping the poor? If it is just maintaining I think we may be in some trouble.
I have thought about this a lot and the best analogy I have heard used is that a church service is like a business meeting where we get motivated, informed, and equipped to do our work the rest of the week. This is a very important part of our faith and week. Is this all the church is good for? Churches spend so much time and money on the business meeting that we don’t spend any time on the business itself.
I am saddened when I see the needs all around us, both the spiritual and the physical. I believe that the church is the change agent for God to use on the earth.Would we give to a mission organization that used 90% of its money for administration?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I am kinda of in awe

I am kinda in awe
I haven't written in awhile. It is isn't because nothing is going on rather it is because I feel part of an out of control movement.
This out of control movement has begun taking over my life. This desire that I have shared about in the past to be part of helping the world and the community I live in has begun to get more supporters.
In sharing my ebay vision dream with others dreams are becoming realities. I have begun to assemble like minded people to form a board. I am meeting with a group on monday to continue to flesh out the legalities in the mean time let me share some of the parts I am excited about.
1. I met with the head of the boys and girls club of goshen last week. I asked them what this organization loosly named HOPE Corp. could do for them? He responded with on half days because of their funding from the government they dont get any financial support to serve lunches at their clubs. For $500 we are going to buy lunch for 300 kids on good friday.
2. Pastor Phil of the love church and I had a good conversation last thursday. I spent a couple of hours with him and he shared how he has just finished writing a book that is coming out April 18. It is titled something along the lines of "God loves the poor." He is so excited about. If you would like to read it I will buy it for you.
3. In suffering for Jesus in florida this week I am attending a conference that Shane Claiborne is at and I had the priviledge to talk with him this morning. He gave me contact information for the head of his financial department and we are going to see if we can colaberate on some projects.
4. Ok this is my best moment of the week and possibly the year. I sold this women in Hollywood Ca some glass doves on ebay. She sent me an email and asked if I could keep down the plastic peanuts and other non plastic material. She wanted to make sure she could recycle. I wrote her back and thanked her for caring about others and that the money she spent to buy the birds was being used to help people in our community and the world out. We got a notification this morning that she gave a $10 donation to our paypal account. I am not so much amazed at the but rather that she gave at all.
I am excited and if you would like to be involved in helping us make a difference please join us.