Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Some great thoughts from Scott McNight

Yesterday I listened to an emergent podcast with Scott McNight of Jesus Creed. He was talking about how we've attacked the gospel with an extreme reductionism. We've reduced the gospel to "Jesus died for your sins so you can go to heaven when you die." Our American gospel has nothing to do with this life and is only for individuals.
Here's his quote, "We are preaching a gospel that is so highly individualistic that we're producing highly individualistic Christians who voluntarily happen to participate on Sunday morning in a highly individualistic church."
I'd add that the gospel isn't about getting into heaven when you die, it's about connecting with a community of Christ followers that are transforming their world; bringing heaven to this life, right now. Eternal life is the wonderful coninuation of a life of bringing God's kingdom to this life. We're bringing in God's kingdom by living out the five!
McNight added, "the gospel is more like a piece of music that is to be performed and listened to than a group of propositions that we are supposed to confess."
Couldn't have said it better myself. Which is probably why I'm not a bestselling author!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Gospel According to Harry Potter

In November of 2005, when our church was a mere 2 months old, I preached a 5 week sermon series entitled The Gospel According to Harry Potter. I had a lot of fun with the series. On the first Sunday, I came out from behind our curtains through a smoke machine, while the Harry Potter theme music was playing, dressed in a Hogwarts robe. I explained to the kids that I was the chaplain at Hogwarts and at TF on special assignment from Albus Dumbledore. I realize this sounds incredibly cheesy, but I was trying to ham it up for the kids, or I was letting out my inner geek... let's go with the former.

Let's just say I caught some flak for this series. We sent out mailers to publicize it and I had several people calling to yell at me. Of course, they blocked their numbers and didn't give their names. We also had several families leave our church because of the series.

But looking back, I think that sermon series was a defining moment for our young church. It was a sermon series that defined they type of church we're going to be. As one of the families was leaving our church, they told me they wanted a place "where our kids will be safe from pop culture." I told that family that we aren't that type of church. We don't put up walls between "church culture and pop culture." I believe that God's grace is at work in every area of our culture and I want our worship to reflect that. We are going to celebrate and point out all the different places God is working. God is not found only in the christian subculture.

We see this all the time in scripture. Biblical authors are constantly pulling from the pagan culture around them. This morning I preached on Revelation 12 and 13 and explained how John's telling of the story "the woman and the dragon" was actually a reshaping of the mythological story of the birth of Apollo. John pulled a story from pagan culture and used it to point toward Christ's victory over evil.

As a side note, the conflict with that family was the healthiest and most Christ-honoring conflict I've ever experienced. Although it's been over a year, I'm still sad that they left. But I am proud of them for coming directly to me with their concerns and initiating a difficult conversation.

And now that the final Harry Potter book has been released I wish I could revisit that sermon series. There were a lot of Christian symbols in the first 6 book, but Deathly Hallows was a Christian (in not even more so) than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Spoiler Alert If you have not yet read the book and don't what to know how it ends, stop now!

Toward the end of the book, Harry realizes that his destiny is to die. He realizes that the only way to free the world of the tyranny of the the dark lord is to die a sacrificial death. That his own blood has the power to overcome the evil one, but he must willingly lay down his life. It seems like I've heard a story like this before...In a scene mirroring Aslan's death at the hands of the White Witch, Harry walks into Voldemort's camp and gives up his life.

But a funny thing happened, Harry didn't remain dead. He came back to life. Again, borrowing from Lion..., Harry knew of a deeper magic that Voldemort couldn't comprehend. Once Harry came back to the world of the living, he had complete power over Voldemort. Harry marched right back into the midst of the battle, proclaimed his victory (even gave Voldemort one last chance to repent) and then destroyed the dark lord. Harry's triumph seemed very Pauline to me, marching triumphantly over the powers of evil. It was beautiful!

To use literary language, Harry was a Christ-figure in this book. This book was not an allegory. Harry certainly doesn't warrant a direct comparison to Christ in every aspect of his character, but Rowling clearly laid out for us her faith in the resurrection. Several years ago, JK Rowling mentioned she didn't want to talk much about her faith because if she did, even a 10 year old would be able to figure out how her story would end.

Finally, Erin and I picked up the book at Border's book party the night it was released. Yep, we even dressed up for the occasion. I'm "Won-Won" and Erin is Lavender Brown. We ran into the Beechners at the party and gave the boys my orange hairspray so they could do their best imitation of the Weasley twins. Derin told me I'm the coolest pastor he knows, but a lot of you reading this might disagree with his criteria!

The Power of "The 5"

I've been struck this week by the power of Trinity Family's 5 disciplines. I'm been realizing what incredible things can happen when a community of believers commit themselves to worshipping God, connecting with believers, serving others, giving sacrificially and investing in unbelievers.

We haven't gotten any feedback from the recipients of our "Love Wins" bags, but I've seen God doing some great stuff in the lives of those who have helped the ministry get up and running.

Last weekend, our teens went on an Urban Immersion experience. While at the plaza, they met a homeless family that had just been kicked out of their HUD housing and weren't sure what to do. 7 kids in that family! Because they were out serving others, Ben, Andy and Michelle were able to connect with this family. Ben has been helping them find a place to stay and has been helping the dad look for a job. I sent out an email to the church, explaining the situation and a lot of people have responded by getting clothes, food, job leads, etc. One family told me they were going to write a huge check to help this family. Enough money to cover rent a groceries for about 6 months! That's the power of sacrificial giving.

It's been about 7 months since our Advisory Council started asking God, "what is TF to be all about?" We believe the answer was the 5. I'm now seeing God's guidance in that decision.

I truly believe that a group of people living out the 5 can transform their part of the world! That living these 5 disciplines will pave the way for the breaking in of God's kingdom in the Gardner area!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Love Wins - Night One

During the difficult process of breaking my pride and reshaping me into the type of pastor he wants, God has been showing me the difference between being an attractional/ "if you build it they will come" church to a sent-out/ John 17:18 church. In the midst of thinking and praying about this idea of being sent-out, my wife got the idea of starting an outreach ministry to the ladies who dance at the two local 'gentlemen's' clubs. That sounded like a great idea to me, a great way to love people whether or not they're ever a part of our church. Erin reminded me the other day that she'd shared an idea like this with me two years ago (just before our church launched) but at that time I was still so focused just on getting people into our Sunday morning worship, that I didn't give the idea much thought. Have I mentioned God has been breaking and reshaping me?

Well, after a couple months of planning, praying and recruiting, we set last night as the date for our first trip to the two local clubs. Our plan was for a few ladies from the church to go to the clubs and hand out gift bags to the dancers, while a couple of us guys watched over them from the parking lot. God sent us some great help to prepare for last night. First of all, a bunch of ladies pitched in (along with some money from TF's budget) to put together some great gift bags. Last night's bags had a "movie night" theme; an AMC movie ticket, popcorn, pop, candy, and some other girly stuff I didn't pay much attention too, but I know it must've been good because Erin was very excited. Next month's theme will be "spa night" (whatever that means...)

The second serious help that God sent us was Harmony Dust and the Treasures ministry. I found Harmony's myspace page from the xxxchurch myspace. Ashley Vance had already shown us Harmony's Glamour article and I recognized the picture on her myspace.
Anyway, we contacted Harmony and she gave us some great guidelines and procedures for launching this ministry. And two nights ago, when Erin was getting some cold feet; due to the fact that several TF ladies who are helping with the the ministry had other commitments Friday night and all the unknowns from the bouncers being skeptical to what she'd do if she actually got in the club. But she called Harmony who encouraged her and gave her a solid plan of action.

But late Friday afternoon, it looked like we might have to postpone the trip to the clubs another week. Jaymie Beal was the only lady who was going to be able to go to the clubs with Erin and Jayme was really nervous about it, even more so than Erin. Taylor Johnson and I would be watching from the parking lot, but we wouldn't be following them into the clubs (obviously). As we were praying in my living room about 6:00 on Friday night, Jaymie shared how scared she was but also talked about how those who followed God in the OT put themselves into some dangerous positions, too, but they knew they were following God. Which fit with something I'd thought about during my prayer time Friday morning. I'd imagined (don't know if you could call it a vision) Erin walking into the clubs surrounded by God's presence. Not necessarily God's protection, but a comfort in knowing she's in the center of God's will - which is not always the safest place. We weren't sure how everything was going to turn out, but we knew we were following Jesus' example by going to the clubs.

And after we committed to go, just the four of us, we ended up getting some more help. Sarah Holmes, who had met us for prayer, decided to at least walk up to the door of the club, for some extra support. Jaymie's husband, Jason, showed up to provide some more parking lot security. And, as you can see here, Jason's a big guy. And them Amy Bottcher was able to meet us at the clubs at 7:00.

We also knew we would be supported by the prayers of our church, Harmony's group and those on the TF intercessor team.

So we loaded up the gift bags and headed to the clubs, everyone's stomach still in knots. We pulled into the first parking lot, the girl's took the bags and went right to the front door. Taylor and I were shocked to see our ladies allowing right through the front door. A minute or two later, the ladies came out empty handed and with big smiles.
The security guy at the front door seemed to appreciate the gesture and put the bags in a place where the dancers would later find them. First club was a success!

We knew the second club would be tougher though, since it had a much rougher reputation. Our ladies took all the bags to the front door and this security guy was a bit more skeptical. He said he didn't want the distraction that night and then asked "are you a bunch of Christians or something?" There aren't a bunch of paint bombs in here that will go off or something?"
Erin's response was beautiful and set the guy at ease. He took the bags and said he'd make sure to get them to the ladies.

So, last night couldn't have gone any better. We were able to get the bags to the ladies without having to go into the clubs. Erin was ready to go inside the clubs but was hoping she'd be able to leave the bags with security. We've made a first contact with the ladies and have established some rapport with security at both clubs. It was all over in less than 20 minutes and we were shocked at how easy and smooth the whole thing had been. I guess that's one more confirmation that we're following God's lead.

The goal of this ministry is to love these ladies. To let them know that there are some ladies in Gardner willing to pray for and encourage them. I'm not sure what will come out of this, but we're committed to showing up and bringing the bags for an extended period of time. We're committed to consistency. And we know that God will do as much or more in our lives as in the lives of those we're hoping to serve.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Elizabeth Messamer's year in Switzerland

Some of you remember sending Elizabeth Messamer off to Switzerland last summer to spend a year serving at the European Nazarene College. She's back home now, spending some time with her family in God's country (Eastern Iowa). I'm proud of how TFC supported Elizabeth through prayer and finances and you've been asking me how she's doing. Elizabeth sent a summary of her year in Europe.

After experiencing such a desire to serve during my semester of studying at the European Nazarene Bible College I was excited to return this past year as a Mission Corps volunteer. For the past year I was an assistant to the Home Economics Manager which included preparing the noon meals and coffee breaks, guest housing preparations, cleaning, event coordinating, office duties, and much more.
The duties were not appealing to most, but this is how I desired to serve ever since I was a student the year before. The work was constant and demanding, though, so I often lacked time and/or energy to spend with the people I was serving. This was very hard for me since the main thing that drew me back to EuNC was the community. As a foodservice provider I was always behind the scenes during the main events, chapels, and meals that were significant community building times. I often felt invisible and unappreciated. Such feelings caused me to continuously question my motives and what servanthood really is. My service was not for recognition, so why was it so difficult for me in this case? As I wrestled with this a friend offered me the following quote:
When God chose to connect with humans, he did so as a servant. It was a most unlikely way to connect, for servants are usually invisible. They wear white uniforms, perform lowly tasks, remain largely silent and, if effective, seem not to be there. People look past them and rarely acknowledge them until needed for a chore. Their rights are few, their power negligible and their status as the dust. Why would Jesus choose to come as a servant? All of the image of a servant seem so counter-human. I can think of only one reason Jesus came as a servant: it is the very nature of God to serve. (Cross Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer)
When I arrived at the college, I felt prepared to serve because it is what my passion was, but I had no idea that recognizing and questioning feelings that made me feel like I was failing as a servant would allow me to understand servanthood more deeply. Not only did God teach me through these things, but He taught others. When I left EuNC I received many notes similar to the following from a student:
Dear Friend, Elizabeth,
Thank you so much for spending your year at EuNC. It meant so much more than "giving and taking away." Your being here was a blessing to me, which cannot be taken away. You stretched my mind towards being a servant - with just being one, but also through talking about it. You said something like, "I feel only right when I can do something for people." You and I are very different, but this showed me where I am at and where I want to be. Your influence can never be taken from me. Elizabeth, thank you for just being Elizabeth; for being authentic, for all your love through words and deeds. Thank you for responding to the "pull back" to Busingen, you changed lives! Thank you for your friendship to me.
The letter is not to boast of anything I did, because I could not have done anything by my own strength, but Christ is glorified in this because His power was at work.

Washington DC on the 4th

Erin and I were on vacation July 1st through 8th. Our trip started and ended quite dramatically. When we arrived at the KC airport, Airtran informed us that they'd cancelled the flight to DC and we wouldn't be able to make it to DC until 3:00 the next day. This was going to cost us a full day of our trip and we already had tickets for the Holocaust museum that day. Not to mention our non-refundable hotel reservations (I'd used Priceline). They told us we should've been prepared because they'd called an hour ago (we'd left before they'd even called). They also told us there were no openings on other flights. I wanted to check for myself, so I went down to the next ticket counter and found out there were plenty of seats on a direct flight to DC on Midwest, which is a much nicer airline. So, we got to DC earlier and in better style.

We flew home from Salisbury, MD on US Airways. When we got to the airport, we volunteered to be bumped until the next morning, which would've gotten us two free roundtrip tickets. I was all excited, thinking about where we could fly, but there ended up being enough room on the flight. I really don't understand why airlines overbook flights?

Ocean City, MD
Erin's sister's family lives in Ocean City, MD, where our brother-in-law is the head chef of a seafood restaurant, Mackey's, that is right on the bay. The picture with the sun set behind us is sitting on the sand, eating some Maryland crab at Mackey's. It was the best food we had on our trip and the most expensive, so thankfully Mike comped us.

Our niece and nephew are about the two cutest kids you'd ever meet. When we were walking along the boardwalk, we had people stopping us to tell us how beautiful our kids were. I even had one guy say to me "I can tell he's yours, he's a dead ringer." When I explained he's my nephew, the guy told me "you must look exactly like your brother", so I tried to explain again and jokingly told the guy not to insult my poor nephew. We went to the beach in Ocean City and a state park a few miles away. The beach on the state park (which is an island) was beautiful. As you can see, horses roam all across the island. Erin was supposed to be in that picture of the horse, but the horse spooked her, so she's jumping out of the shot. The small island has 3 major ecosystems, beach, wetlands and forest. It's really interesting to see how all three surround each other.

Washington DC
We stood on the steps of the National Archives museum (where the constitution is housed) and listened to John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson read the declaration of Independence. It was really moving. I got my picture with some of these old dudes in the National Archives museum. We're in the same room as the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Articles of Confederation, and even the Louisiana Purchase, so we can't use flash.
Erin thinks I look like that huge statue from the Canary islands. Man, what a compliment from the woman who's supposed to find you attractive!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Modern Day Holocaust

"When they came for the communists, I was silent, because I was not a communist; When they came for the socialists, I was silent, because I was not a socialist; When they came for the trade unionists, I did not protest, because I was not a trade unionist; When they came for the Jews, I did not protest, because I was not a Jew; When they came for me, there was no one left to protest on my behalf."
- Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984)

I'm back in the office after being on vacation from Monday the 2nd to Monday the 9th. The first day of our vacation in Washington, DC, we visited the US Holocaust Museum. I've read enough and watched enough movies about the Holocaust that I wasn't shocked by anything I saw, although it was very moving to see actual bunks from a camp and to stand in a railcar that had been used to transport "prisoners."

But the thought that kept haunting me was "what would I have done if I'd been living in Nazi Germany? Would I have had the courage to stand up to the sins being committed in the name of 'German interest?'" It scared me to realize how many Germans truly believed that whatever was best for Germany was really the right thing to do. Other than a few members of the confesssing church, lead by Deitrich Bonheoffer, no christians or churches stood up to the Nazi government, everyone just looked the other way. They took the attitude "it's not hurting me or my family." The Nazis controlled Germany and the occupied countries by punishing entire families or even entire villages for subversive actions. Only a brave few dared oppose the Nazis.
Would I have had the courage to stand up to the Nazis, though it would've cost my life and the life of my family?A pastor in southern France did exactly that, his family and church hid a group of Jews in their church and eventually helped them escape occupied France. This guy had a wife and 4 kids and some of his family members were arrested.

This question kept bothering me, especially since it doesn't matter anymore. But there are two things I took away from those 4 hours in the musuem.

1) Our partiotism and love of country must never take precedence over our commitment to honoring Christ. If we believe (as did many Germans) that our country's interests or the lives of US citizens take precedence over the lives of those in other countries, we've fallen into serious sin. If we ever excuse the sins of our nation (as did many Germans) because of some belief that our country is Christian and thus we have a right to kill others to inflict our will in the world, then we're living in sin. Singing the Star Spangled Banner must never take away the ability to speak to with a prophetic voice!

2) A modern day Holocaust is happening right now. After wondering what I'd do had I lived then, I remembered that massive genocide is happening right now in Africa. And as soon as I made this connection, I saw that the museum had an exhibit on the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. It doesn't matter what I would've done in the 1940's, but it does matter how I respond to the genocide in Darfur. For more info, check out http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/alert/darfur/contents/01-overview/. Or just google "Darfur" to find out more.