Sunday, September 30, 2012

Using Church Buildings as Outreach Tools – Part One

Many churches do not have all the space they desire, but they often have an advantageous physical location, such as at the center of the community or at a major crossroads. Such locations would be hard to acquire now but were often made available to churches in the past. Churches that find themselves in such a choice location should use that location as an advantage. God put churches in specific locations for a reason. While some churches may be forced to relocate or close because they are in locations that are no longer near population centers, most churches should consider their locations to be their primary mission field.

But it is not just the location of the church that should be considered, the facilities themselves should also be looked at as a major outreach too. God’s plan for world redemption includes using both the location and the facilities of a church to reach those outside the church, not just as a clubhouse for the current members. Churches that fail to take advantage of their location and facilities as an outreach tool will struggle. Churches that learn to use their location and facilities to their advantage will find it easier to reach newcomers to the community, as well as long-term residents.

If churches hope to use their buildings for outreach, the buildings should have curb appeal. People have become used to living and working in a nice environment; therefore, if the church facilities look unkempt, then people will drive right by. The church sign should be easy to read and have the main service times prominently displayed. Knowing what time the main services are scheduled is much more important than denominational aliations, descriptive phrases about the church, or even the pastor’s name.  Though that information is important to church members, it is not very important to the next generation. Some churches may struggle with this reality. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is the former president of Chicago Theological Seminary and currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Thistlethwaite reported in the Washington Post, “The religious landscape in the U.S. is best described these days as post-denominational. Post-denominational means that it is far less important whether you are Methodist or Baptist …” than in finding a church that works for you. She goes on to say, “When people move from one aliation to another, they are choosing a better cultural fit” more than a new denomination to relate to.

 When people notice a church building exists in their community, they often see it as a place for more than just worship services. They see the church building as the perfect place for all kinds of community meetings that may have little to do with the formal ministries of the church. Churches have large rooms, such as the sanctuary or fellowship hall, for big group meetings, and they have multiple Sunday school rooms that can be used for small-group meetings. In many smaller communities, churches often have the best facilities in town for hosting community meetings.

Small churches across the nation often allow groups like the Boy Scouts or Alcoholics Anonymous to meet in their buildings. Many of these groups are often willing to make small donations to help oset the cost of utilities. Each of these groups brings in a subset of people the church might never engage otherwise.

Obviously, just having these groups meet in a church’s building will not result in church growth if the members of the church do not interact with those using the facilities. But when church members make it a point to connect with these groups in a relational way, allowing community groups to use the church facility can become a powerful outreach eort. Churches willing to let community groups use their building for various events will increase the likelihood of new people coming to their worship services.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Using Religious Ceremonies as Outreach Tools – Part Five

This week on the blog we have been discussing how churches can use religious experiences to reach out to young adults. In today’s post, we take a slightly difference perspective by discussing what happens when young people respond positively to the church’s efforts to engage them in spiritual experiences. Where many churches make the mistake is that once they get them involved in some initial way, they then just want young adults to sit and wait until they are older before they can become leaders. But that is just now that way today’s young adults think. Once members of the next generation come to a committed faith in Christ, they are no longer content to sit and watch others lead religious ceremonies. They want to be involved in leading themselves. We are entering a time in church life when young adults desire to be leaders in the church, not just attendees.

The elders and deacons at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT, fondly recall one Sunday when the church was only about five years old. At that time, the youth had just begun to lead worship once a month. They were still growing in their abilities and their music was much edgier than the congregation was used to, but the leadership team wanted them to be involved, so the youth were allowed to lead. On that particular Sunday, three rows of young adults were present in their customary section near the back. Halfway through the service, the youth praise team was singing a very upbeat song called, “I Am Free,” by Jon Egan, who is the leader of a group called Desperation Band.  The song was supposed to be what the church refers to as special music. That basically means the praise team was supposed to sing it on their own while the congregation listened. During the chorus of the song, suddenly those three rows of young people spontaneously rose to their feet and joined in singing the song with an enthusiasm they had never shown in church before. A wave of the Spirit flowed across the room, and the whole nature of the worship experience changed. For the first time, the youth band was actually leading worship and not just going through the motions. That particular group of young people has never been the same since. On that day, the congregation realized that God could use young adults in a powerful way even though it was different than the way worship was done previously.

Many churches may think they need to allow young people to take part in religious ceremonies only so that they can build “the church of tomorrow.” While church leaders mean well when they say things like this, what they are actually communicating to the next generation is that young people have no current value to the church. Young adults hear that message and decide that if they are not valued at church, they will go somewhere that does value them. Churches that do not value young people as the church of today should not be surprised when young people are not around tomorrow. If churches want to attract younger generations, they have to begin to value them the way God does. Young adults need a real connection to Christ. They are often looking for a deeper spirituality than their parents have. When we help them prepare for religious ceremonies, they can discover the faith in Christ they need. Once they discover faith, we must let them lead. When we let them lead, they will set an exciting example for others to follow and draw their postmodern peers into the church as well. Churches must begin to recognize that young people are gifted by God and can be used by Him in powerful ways. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy readily applies to young adults today: “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12 NIV). Churches that can help the next generation live out that admonition will have no problem reaching people with a postmodern worldview.

The above article is adapted from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Using Religious Ceremonies as Outreach Tools – Part Four

This week I have been writing a series of posts about how churches can use religious ceremonies as a bridge to reaching young people. (You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here.) It is important to point out that young adults are looking for spiritual experiences that will actually help them find a meaningful relationship with God. They are not interested in taking part in religious rituals that are empty or meaningless.

Many young people are filled with despair and are confused about what direction their lives should take. This despair and confusion can only be overcome by the power of Jesus Christ. As young adults experience Christ’s love, He cleanses, restores, renews, and sets them on the right path. Preparing young adults to take part in various religious ceremonies is a perfect way to help them think deeply about these issues and contemplate how spirituality can help them becomes victors instead of victims. It is only through such deep thinking and inward reflection that they will find the spiritual strength they need to survive the harsh world that is now their constant reality.
Though some young adults may take advantage of the church by using it’s ceremonies without making a real commitment, this new generation of young people seems more willing to think and reflect on a deeper level than the previous generation. While many members of the Great Generation were thinkers, the Baby Boomers were not nearly as deep. However, the grandchildren of the Baby Boomers are rediscovering the value of contemplation. The next generation is surrounded by difficulties and calamities at every turn. Family problems, financial difficulties, political turmoil, addictions, pornography, climate change, terrorism, and physical and sexual abuse are all issues that today’s young adults deal with intellectually and emotionally on a regular basis.  The difficulties they face may explain why so many young adults are filled with despair and confusion. It also explains their desire to develop a spiritual dimension through meaningful religious ceremonies.

When church leaders do suspect a particular individual is only looking for a place for his or her ceremony, such as a wedding, but is not really interested in furthering his or her spiritual walk, those leaders must not be afraid to point out the fine line between spiritual exploration and simply taking advantage of a church. Nothing is wrong with holding people accountable who are trying to gain access to spiritual benefits without accepting personal responsibility. More and more young adults are willing to engage in enough contemplation to make a decision about spiritual things, especially if they grew up in even a nominally religious home. Therefore, instead of making religious ceremonies the barrier that keeps young adults out of church, we can make it the bridge that draws them in.

The above article is adapted from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Using Religious Ceremonies as Outreach Tools – Part Three

Young adults have an incredible desire to “belong.” Many churches have been effective in tapping into that desire as part of their efforts to help young adults discover faith. This desire to belong does not necessarily mean that young adults want to join the church organizationally; it means they want to feel they are part of the group relationally. Henry Zonio, who is a staff member at Redwood Park Church in  Thunder Bay, Ontario, explains it this way: “We turn church into a club with membership requirements, which if not met means exclusion from the benefits of being part of the club.” Zonio goes on to say: “It is our job as citizens of the Kingdom to welcome people from all walks of life and at all points of their spiritual journeys into our communities. Doing that, though, takes risk. It takes willingness to struggle through the mess. It takes an unconditional love for people that goes beyond our preconceived ideas of what it means to be a part of a faith community.” Zonio is saying that we must find ways to help young adults feel like they belong to the group.

Though there are a many ways to create a sense of belonging, one way is to allow young adults to take part the various religious activities of the church. Obviously, they will not be able to take part in all the activities of the church, as some are reserved for genuine believers, but the more they can take part in, the better. The decisions churches make about what types of religious ceremonies to allow outsiders to participate in often say more about the churches’ commitment to evangelism than it does their theological positions. Finding that balance between theological integrity and intentional outreach can be a challenge, but it is a challenge worth engaging in.

Some churches may wonder if the next generation will just enjoy the benefits of religious ceremonies (such as using the church for a wedding) but never actually make a commitment to Christ or to the church. This is a valid concern. It is logical to conclude that some people will take advantage of the church. But the church has always had those in her midst who abused the care and compassion of the church for their own benefit. Why should we expect anything different from the next generation? Churches cannot allow the poor behavior of a few to keep them from attempting to reach an entire generation.

The above article is adapted from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks.

Read part one.

Read part two.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Using Religious Ceremonies as Outreach Tools – Part Two

Jimmy Long, a campus minister with InterVarstiy for over twenty years, has extensive experience working with young adults, especially those from a postmodern perspective. In his book, Generating Hope: A Strategy for Reaching the Postmodern Generation, Long writes about the need for churches to help young people feel like they belong even before they become Christians. Long points out:

People today are more open than ever to hear God’s Story because of the emptiness and brokenness of postmodern life. The Gospel story intersects with this generation’s experience in a number of ways [including that] they feel unwanted and unneeded, [and] God’s story offers them a place of belonging, a place for involvement, and a place where their lives can be used in service of a purpose that is larger than themselves.
Churches that fail to help young people feel like they belong will eventually die. Referring to how important it is for churches to make young people feel like they belong, Ed Stetzer says that some churches are “dead for lack of friends.”  

Long and Stetzer join a growing number of voices calling for the church to throw open its doors and welcome nonbelievers to participate in various activities in the church. Churches will not always be able to say yes to postmodern people’s desire to take part in religious ceremonies, but the more often churches can allow it, the more positively postmodern people will respond.
Church leaders might legitimately ask how allowing the next generation to take part in certain religious ceremonies is connected to helping postmodernists feel like they belong and thereby discover genuine faith in Christ. Dr. Wayne Oppel, who holds a doctorate in strategic leadership and has over thirty years of experience in leadership development, conducts workshops around the nation to help Christian leaders learn how to reach the next generation. He teaches workshop attendees:

The new theological thrust will be a return to the tradition of faith, especially the faith of classical Christianity expressed by the fathers of the church, the ancient ecumenical creeds and the practices of worship and spirituality found in the great traditions of the faith community.
He goes on to elaborate that churches that want to reach the next generation will have to give “greater attention to the ritual as symbol, more attention to [religious] ceremony … and more frequent celebration of the Eucharist.”

People with a postmodern worldview are looking for experiences and for a sense of belonging. Religious ceremonies can provide both of those. As church leaders spend time with young people helping them prepare for these ceremonies, they also build relationships. Real relationships combined with the experience of partaking in the ancient ceremonies of the church create powerful connections in the minds and hearts of the next generation. During those times they are more open to the Gospel than ever. Church leaders must seize those opportunities and share the Gospel with the next generation and watch how God calls those young adults to Himself.

The above article is adapted from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Using Religious Ceremonies as Outreach Tools – Part One

Historically, church buildings have often been the center for religious ceremonies in the communities they served. Religious ceremonies include weddings, funerals, child dedications, baptisms, baccalaureate programs, Christmas Eve services, and other similar events. Small churches have historically hosted such events for the entire community, not just for the members of the church. There might have been limits to the types of ceremonies that each church was willing to sponsor, but in general, most community religious ceremonies occurred inside a church building.

As communities have become more secular, fewer people are coming to church than in the past. Some churches inadvertently contribute to the trend of people falling away from the church by enacting strict rules about who can participate in religious ceremonies that are held in their buildings. Such churches often fail to realize that many secular people, especially those from a postmodern perspective, still desire to take part in religious ceremonies even though they seem more distant from God than ever before. 

Though this may seem strange from an anthropological perspective, from a spiritual perspective, it makes perfect sense if we look at it from a theological perspective. God has designed us as spiritual beings made in His image. Romans 8:29-30 says: For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified (NIV). This passage indicates that God knew who would respond to the gospel, and He has called those people to Himself.  Therefore, it makes sense that even though some people may have a secular worldview, if God is calling them to salvation, there will be a God-initiated desire in them for a relationship with God even though they are not yet Christians. Their interest in religious ceremonies is one piece of evidence that God is calling them to Himself.

Healthy churches are careful not to stand in the way of what God may be doing. Church leaders would be wise to think carefully and pray earnestly about how they can engage the next generation in as many religious ceremonies as possible.

There will be limits on which religious ceremonies nonbelievers can take part in, but allowing them to take part in some ceremonies inside the church building is important. For example, an evangelical church would not allow non-Christians to be baptized, but they might allow them to have a wedding or a funeral in the church building. Likewise, an evangelical church would not want non-Christians to take communion but might allow them to dedicate their children to the Lord if they understand what they are doing. Church leaders should consider the theological implications of allowing people who are not yet Christians to participate in various ceremonies. However, leaders should keep in mind that many people will not choose to become Christians until they feel they are accepted by the group. Allowing them to take part in as many religious ceremonies as possible, without violating the church’s theological foundation, is an important aspect of helping them learn about the Lord and feel part of the group.

The above article is adapted from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching
the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How Baptism Proclaims the Triune Nature of God

As I prepared to baptize nine new believers this morning, I spent time contemplating the baptism of Jesus. We find that story in all four of the Gospels, but the passage I happen to be studying this week was:
Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?” 15 Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him to be baptized. 16 After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17 And there came a voice from heaven: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!

This passage has a lot to say about the importance of baptism. But what many people miss is that it also has a lot to teach us about the importance of the Trinity. Take a moment to look at each verse and meditate on what they say.

Verse 13 - Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.
               Jesus and John were cousins. John was a powerful preacher who called people to repentance.
               Repentance means turning from our way and towards God’s way of living. Repentance begins in the heart, as we realize the depth of our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. Once we repent, our outward actions begin to change.
               We also become more spiritual and often want to express our spirituality in public ways. One of those ways is baptism.
               Baptism was actually an important part of the spiritual life of many Jews. Before Christ came, baptism was used by various Jewish sects as part of their spiritual journey toward holiness. John the Baptist borrowed this ancient Jewish practice during the early days of the Christian era to help people outwardly demonstrate the inner repentance they had already had.
               Imagine how John felt when Jesus showed up to be baptized.

Verse 14 - But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”
               When Jesus came to be baptized, John tried to stop Jesus. The reason John tried to stop Jesus was because Jesus had no sin to repent from ( read 2 Corinthians 5:21, I Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5). John rightly realized that Jesus was more righteous than John himself.

Verse 15 - Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him to be baptized.
               Jesus was fully aware that He did not need to be baptized as a sign of His repentance from sin. But He also knew that baptism was the way that Christians were to declare their faith publicly. Therefore, Jesus wanted to set an example by being baptized Himself.
               If Jesus, who did not need to be baptized, was willing to take part in this spiritual experience, why would those of us who need our sins washed away refuse to be baptized? Like Jesus, we should be happy to be baptized.

Verse 16 - After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him.
               This is a powerful moment in the history of the world. In verses 16-17 we see the entire Holy Trinity manifested at one time. God the Son was present in the form of Jesus. God the Spirit was present in the form of a dove. God the Father was present through speaking words of affirmation to Jesus.
               Though the Trinity can be a hard concept to understand, it is important for us to grasp it. The Doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that there is ONE GOD who manifests Himself in three different people. Though there is no perfect illustration that can help our limited human minds understand the complexities of how one God can appear as three different people, the best illustration is that of a man who is a father to his children, a husband to his wife and a manager in his business. In this illustration, there is just one man, but that man relates to different people in very different ways depending on the role he is in at any particular moment.
               In the Old Testament, God demonstrated Himself as a Father to teach us the rules of how to have healthy lives. In the Gospels, God demonstrated Himself as the Son, born of Mary, who walked among us so that we could relate to His life. In the current era, God demonstrates Himself as the Spirit, moving in our hearts, convicting us of sin, giving us His gifts and helping us live productive lives with meaning and purpose. Throughout the Bible there is just one God working in the world. That God gives us a clear set of rules to follow in our lives and then, when we break them, helps us understand forgiveness and grace, and then empowers us to live rightly.

Verse 17 - And there came a voice from heaven: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!
God the Father was pleased with the baptism of Jesus. God is also pleased when we are baptized. He takes delight in us when we publicly proclaim our faith in Him.

Have we delighted God through baptism yet our lives?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

DO YOUR FINGERS STINK FOR JESUS? 3 Principles For Missional Living! - A Guest Post by Jay Moore

Many years ago I was attending a church growth conference and listening to one of the speakers talk about evangelism and the need for pastors to lead their churches to reach the unchurched of their communities. During his session he made a statement that really caught my attention! Actually he used two metaphors in one sentence that totally grabbed my imagination and intrigued me. He said,
"God has not called us to be KEEPERS OF AN AQUARIUM but to be FISHERS OF MEN!"
The Bible verse that inspired this saying was taken from Matthew 4:18-21 where Jesus was calling Peter, Andrew, James and John to be his disciples. Read what the Bible says:
"As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him." (NIV)

Like I said the statement from that speaker really caught my attention and I couldn't stop thinking about it. Truthfully I can't remember anything else he said that night but I really didn't need to because through that one statement God taught me three important principles and more about what it means to live a missional life. When I compared those two metaphors a stark contrast began to form creating a North Star that would guide me and help keep me on track as I intentionally pursued living a missional lifestyle. Here are some of the contrasts between those two metaphors:

Keepers Of Aquariums Like To Display Fish But Fishermen Love To Catch Fish: The purpose and goal in having an aquarium is to create a beautiful underwater exhibit that can be enjoyed and shown to family and friends. People who have aquariums go to great pains and expense to get just the right color of rocks, landscape, decorations and fish to create this underwater world. They have to pump in air, provide and feed the fish daily and make sure the algae is cleaned off. But it's not a natural environment for the fish! Those fish were not originally created to live in an aquarium isolated from the natural design of God. It is for our own pleasure and purpose that we create this alternative world and then place the fish in it to live.

Fishermen on the other hand don't care about making things look pretty or showing off pretty little fish. The only goal of a fisherman is to catch fish! I have seen guys out fishing who catch fish after fish and then just throw them right back in the water. I asked a man once why he did that and he said, "I just like to catch them." It's the thrill of the hunt and the joy that comes from being able to outwit another animal.

The Missional Living Principle: The call to follow Jesus is not a call to create a religious bubble to isolate Christians away from the world but instead to enter into the world of those who are still lost in sin in this spiritually dark world.

For too long now the church in North America has created a church life that more resembles an aquarium where we've built beautiful buildings, with stained glass windows, cushioned seats, with fancy lighting and sound equipment. These building are filled with members who appear to have their lives all together with their picture-perfect families and their successful jobs.

The church of North America has created a Christian alternative to just about everything that society has to offer. From music festivals, dating services, radio programs; TV programs, schools. Just about anything you can think of we have a Christian alternative. It's almost as if we are intentionally trying to keep Christians away from those who are lost in the world.

But that's not what we are called to do! Christ never commanded us to create an alternative Christian culture that appears perfect and uninfected by the world! No! His command and call to Peter and the other three were to come follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Our call is to reach people for Jesus! Period! I don't care what you're doing, whether it be singing in the choir, politically protesting for some Christian agenda, or serving on the building and grounds committee of your church, IF YOU'RE NOT REACHING PEOPLE FOR JESUS YOU'RE NOT DOING YOUR JOB! PERIOD!
Keepers Of Aquariums Don't Get Into The Aquarium With Their Fish However Fishermen Love To Get Into The Water With The Fish: When it comes to the home variety of aquariums the most that any person will get into the aquarium is the putting of their hands into it and that's just for the purpose of cleaning the aquarium, readjusting the decorations or to catch one of the fish. For the most part the only interaction with the fish is the admiration of how pretty they are.

Fishermen on the other hand will do whatever it takes to catch the fish which includes getting into the water where the fish are. Once while I was in Texas I met a guy who loved going fishing for catfish. However, his particular method was completely different from anything that I had ever heard of before. This guy would actually squat down into the water and then reach his hands down deep into the mud where the catfish had burrowed themselves, grab them by the gills and pull them out. He said there were times when the fish fought so hard that he would fall down into the water face first. Now I've heard of guys who really get into fishing but this guy took it to a whole new level and literally got all of himself into the act of fishing. NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL A FISHERMEN!

The Missional Living Principle: In order to be an effective Fisher of Men you have to be willing to go where the lost people are and hang out with them. You can't isolate yourself from them and expect to reach them for Jesus. Some of the people that Christ is calling us to reach are not swimming near the shore where you can reach them with a rod and reel. If we are to effectively reach many of these people we will have to get into their world, go where they hangout, and show them unconditional love and acceptance.

Isn't that what Jesus did for us? Didn't he leave his home in Glory, humble himself taking on the form of a man, born to poor parents and live among us as one of us but yet without sin or condemnation to those who were in sin? When Jesus called Matthew to follow him what did Matthew immediately do? He left his job and followed Jesus. The next thing he did was to throw a party for all of his friends to come over and meet Jesus. And guess what? Jesus attended the party and everyone at the party, except the religious hypocrites, had a great time. Jesus loved hanging out with sinners! Why? Because that's why he came! Jesus own words to Zacchaeus, another tax collecting sinner, verifies it. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost". Why did Jesus come? To seek and to save! Jesus also said to his disciples at a different time, "As the Father has sent me so send I you." It can't be any plainer than that! We have been sent to carry on the same mission that Jesus began of seeking and saving those are lost. But in order to do that we have to be willing to get into the world where sinners live and not pass judgment on others who do.

Keepers Of Aquariums Like To Keep Things Nice And Clean But Fishermen Love To Get Dirty And Smelly: People who own aquariums want to keep things looking nice and neat. They don't want the algae to grow and overtake the aquarium, they don't want their decorations to be uprooted and they surely don't want dead fish floating around. The goal of an aquarium is to create a perfect underwater world that everyone can marvel at.

Fishermen on the other hand could care less if everything was nice and clean. As a matter of fact they would prefer it not to be that way. They know that where fish live it is neither nice nor clean and that's the reason why fishermen like it. Fishermen love to get dirty and smelly. They know that if they are going to go where the fish live and catch them they will stink of fish. They know that if they come home and don't stink of fish they haven't done their job. The two go hand in hand. If you are going to go catch fish you're going to get dirty and you're going to stink of fish. You can't help it. It's part of fishing.

The Missional Living Principle: If you're going to get into the water where fish live you are going to get a little smelly. That doesn't mean you are backsliding or becoming worldly. What it means is that your outlook and perspective of what it means to live as a Christian changes. You understand the need to be in the real world and not in an artificial environment. It means that your speech and vocabulary, though not cursing, sound more like the world than it does in the religious bubble we've created. It means that the style of dress you have will look more like those who live in the real world.

Personally I love it when unchurched people who meet me for the first time are completely surprised to find out that I am a Baptist preacher. The looks on their faces are priceless. Many of them say they would never have thought that they would be talking to a preacher like he was just an ordinary guy. I also enjoy meeting Christians for the first time who hold to a certain stereotype of how Christians should dress or talk. I often encounter confused looks and many times judgmental attitudes.

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore made a movie together a few years ago called 50 FIRST DATES. It was a movie about a girl who had been in an accident where she suffered a brain injury and no longer had short-term memory, as a matter of fact every morning she woke up she forgot everything that happened the day before. As a result everyday Sandler's character would have to get the girl to fall in love with him again. In one particular scene where the boy was trying to once again get the girl to fall in love with him she said that his hands smelled like fish. He quickly began to apologize and said that his job required him to handle fish. The girl told him not to apologize because she liked the smell because it reminded her of her father who was a fishermen and that the fish smell always brought back fond memories. At that point she grabbed his hands and brought them close to her nose and starting smelling. I think Jesus is like that! I think Jesus loves the smell of his disciple's hands that stink of the sinners whom they have rescued and caught for him!

Jesus loves the smell of his disciple's hands that stink of the sinners whom they have rescued and caught for him.

So let me ask you: How stinky are your fingers? When was the last time you actually got into the world to seek and lead others to salvation in Christ? Do you thing the church should be a place to show off pretty little christians who live in a prefabricated spiritual bubble away from the rest of the world?



So I Say,
"Let's Get Our Hands Stinky For Jesus!"

To find this post in its original form, go to: Missional Meditations

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Do We Have Too Much Stuff?

After 19 years of starting churches in rural areas in Vermont, my wife and I are preparing to relocate to Connecticut to plant churches around the urban areas in that state. As part of the preparations for this move, we are selling our home. Our home is an old Vermont farmhouse built around 1860. It has large rooms and lots of nooks and crannies to put stuff. We have spent countless hours cleaning out closets, garages, attic space and bookshelves. It seems like every time think we are done, we find one more corner that we have not sorted yet.

We have sold some of the stuff. Most of it we have given away to people in our church, to the Salvation Army, to a family that lost their home to a fire, and to a big church yard sale that raised money to help needy children. And yet . . . we still have more stuff we keep finding that we just do not need!
Somewhere in the process of cleaning, sorting, packing and distributing all this stuff it occurred to me how “rich” most Americans are, including myself. Only in America do we have clothes stored in totes and boxes because we cannot wear them all. Only in America do we have a set of dishes that we only use at Christmas and another set we only use when company comes over. Only in America do we have chairs, tables, beds and decorative items that we have not used in months, or years, and yet they sit in our extra rooms with no real purpose other than when a guest uses those rooms a few times a year. Seriously, who needs that many clothes or dishes or beds or chairs or tables?
Perhaps it is time for us to think through the consumerism that so grips our nation and start considering how we might use our excess to help those around us and expand God’s Kingdom. In order to really do that, I think we may need to clean more than our physical closets and attics. The reason we have all that extra physical stuff anyway is because some emotional or psychological need propels us to want more and more and more. When we clean up our emotional and spiritual closets and attics, I think the physical ones will be much easier to deal with. Just some thoughts from an empty nester re-evaluating life . . . .

For more devotionals like this one, consider Touching the Footprints of Jesus

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What is Normal?

Tonight I led a discussion with about 60 teens in Barre, Vermont, about the question, “What is normal?” To start the discussion off, I asked, “Which of these behaviors are “normal” for the typical teen?”
·        Dating (most said yes)
·        Worrying about other’s opinions (many said yes)
·        Thinking about how my hair looks (a few said yes)
·        Thinking about how the rest of my body looks (a few said yes)
·        Going on a diet (about 20% said yes)
·        Always being on a diet (one two said yes)
·        Studying to get good grades (about 20% said yes)
·        Preparing for nuclear war (everyone laughed)
·        Getting along with parents (about 30% said yes)
·        Thinking about God (about 25% said yes)
·        Finding a part time job (most said yes)
·        Finding a full time job (most said no)
·        Reading the Bible (a few said yes)
·        Preparing for college (almost all said yes)
·        Staying out late at night (everyone said yes, the parents present groaned)
·        Making new friends (almost all said yes)
·        Going to church (many said yes)

I then asked, “Is it normal to look in the mirror, and see a person who is: Worried, Proud, Happy, Angry, Shy, Embarrassed, Lonely, Pretty, Special, Handsome, Depressed?” Most in the group agreed that we had all felt all these things at one time or another but that is might not be normal to feel those ways all the time.
(Note: The questions were adapted from a great lesson on this issue in Talksheets: 50 Creative Discussions for Junior High Youth Groups by David Lynn.)

We agreed as a group that the difficulty in deciding how to define “normal” is that everyone has their own standards for what “normal” is. In a developing nation, it is “normal” for the majority of children to die before their fifth birthday. But it is very rare for a child that young to die in the United States. In the Appalachian Mountains, it is normal for people to drop out of high school, but in Massachusetts, more than half of the people graduate from college. In Alabama, 58% of the people go to church on a typical Sunday. In Vermont, only 24% attend church on a normal weekend. In Gambia, Africa, the average family size is 8.3 people, but in the United States the average family size is 3.1. It became obvious that trying to define “normal” using any man-made standard was impossible.

Since man-made standards for normal did not seem very helpful, we looked into the scriptures to see what God has to say.

Romans 12:2 - Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 God tells us not to be like everyone else in the world, but to be transformed. This does not mean that we have to be weird, but it does mean that we have to act differently. Our behaviors should be transformed by the power of Christ in us.

Colossians 3
2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Setting our minds on things above means thinking about God and what He desires for our lives. Our “earthly nature” refers to the way we acted before we became Christians. Putting that nature “to death” means not letting those things have power over us any longer. Some of the things we should not let have power over us include sex, impure lustful thoughts and greed. Most young people admit that they struggle with the first two. But we tend to think we are not greedy, even though most of us actually are. We care a lot about our stuff, which is why we want the latest phone, coolest shoes, and clothes that are in style. Though all that stuff used to seem “normal” to us before we were Christians,  we now have a new “normal” that is defined by God instead of the ever changing styles and ideas of people. It important to base our concept of what is “normal” for Christians on God’s ideas instead of ours because our ideas are often influenced by the people and circumstances around us, both of which can be very misleading, whereas God’s ideas are always right.

Some young people may think that just because they are not having sex all the time that they are good Christians. But God also warns us about anger, rage, and malice, which are all attitudes that we have inside our minds. Though we often show those attitudes by our actions, sometimes we hide them until they explode out of us in unhealthy ways.

God also says we should not slander others, which means spread false rumors, or use filthy language. Christians should avoid slander and bad language because people will quickly tire of such childish behavior and will no longer want to be our friends. God knows this and was trying to keep us from being lonely and isolated.

Christians are supposed to clothe themselves in certain things. That means that we are to wrap these things around us like clothes. The types of things Christians should be doing include having compassion on others and showing kindness to them. Notice that Christians are called to have compassion on others, not pity. There is a difference between pity and compassion. Pity usually means we think we are better than someone else and only help them to make ourselves feel important. Compassion means we really care about other people and realize we could be in their same situation at some point. Whatever help we offer is done just because we know it is the right thing to do.

Christians should be humble. Humility means knowing our place in the situation. Christians should be gentle. Gentleness means strength under control. Christians should be patient. Patience means waiting for others to grow and learn as much as we have. Christians should forgive others, just as we were forgiven by Christ. Forgiving someone means to act as if the wrong they did never happened. It does not mean that we have to put ourselves in a dangerous situation where we might be hurt. It simply means treating the person the way Christ wants us to.

The key to making all this happen is learning to love others the way we should. For the Christian, the “normal” response to those around us is to LOVE them even when they do not love us. That will definitely make us “abnormal” to the rest of the world. But it’s okay to be different from the world. What is normal to God is abnormal to the world. Some might call us Jesus freaks, but that is okay because God’s standard of normal is the one we should aspire to, not the world’s.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Praising God When Treated Unjustly

The other day I was studying Acts 16:16-34. It tells the story of Paul on his second missionary journey. Paul had planned to revisit all the places where he had started churches on his first journey. But God sent him a supernatural vision that told him to go to Macedonia instead. Paul obeyed the vision, changed his plans, and ended up in Philippi, which was a key city in Macedonia. There he met a business woman named Lydia, who became a Christian because of Paul’s ministry. Paul stayed in Lydia’s home and shared Christ with anyone in town who would listen. As I studied these verses, this is what the Lord showed me.

Verse 16 - Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction and made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling.
Paul and Silas were on their way to pray when they encountered a demon possessed slave girl. This slave girl could tell the future through the demon that possessed her. The owners of this slave girl made a lot of money from her fortune telling. When people play with the occult, they open themselves up to demonic attack. Though the occult may at first seem to give a person special power, in reality it makes a person a slave to demonic power. Demons do not care about the people they possess. They only care about power and control.

Verse 17 - As she followed us she cried out, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.”
This demon knew Paul was a man of God. It is fascinating that demons know the truth! Even though demons know the truth intellectually, they have refused to accept the impact of the truth. We must remember what the Apostle James said in James 2:19 - You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.

Verse 18 - And she did this for many days. But Paul was greatly aggravated, and turning to the spirit, said, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out right away.
The demon possessed slave girl followed Paul and his group around for days telling everyone who Paul was. The Bible says that Paul became aggravated about this and cast the demon out of the girl. The Greek word for “aggravated” is diaponetheis. The word can also mean “burdened.” Paul was not as much aggravated at the girl herself as he was burdened about her situation. She was after all demon possessed! When we minister to people whose lives are messed up by sin, we must be careful not to get aggravated at the person. Instead, we should be burdened for how the sins that bind them are slowly destroying their lives. We should be praying for God to deliver them from the chains that bind them. Paul decided to do something to help this young lady. Using the power of Christ, he commanded that the demon leave the girl. Notice he did not use his own power, but the power of Christ. The demon had to obey because Jesus Christ is on the throne and Satan is just a pretender. Satan only has power if we let him have it. Jesus’s power triumphed over Satan on the Cross! But we often let Satan convince us otherwise.

Verse 19 - When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. 
The slave owners did not care if the girl was freed from the spiritual chains that bound her. All they cared about was money. When they realized they would not be able to exploit the girl any longer, they got very upset. What we get upset about reveals a lot!

Verses 20-21 - They said, "These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews, and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.”
The slave owners distorted the truth. They said Paul was disturbing the city when all he had done was help a desperate little girl. People should have been rejoicing at this good deed, instead they called good, evil, and attacked the good doers. Notice they used a racial slur, “They are Jews.” Racism has been used to justify many sins throughout the ages. Notice they appealed to their customs and their laws. Their customs and laws allowed little girls to be enslaved for the profit of others. Whenever our customs and laws create situations where one person can be wrongfully exploited by another, it is time to chance those customs and laws!

Verse 23 - After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded.
Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten up and thrown in jail. The jailer was specifically told to guard them “securely,” which meant to put them in the maximum security section of jail. The world’s reaction to the things of God sometime seems severe. But remember, Satan was fueling this response because he had lost a major battle in the spiritual war. Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of evil.

Verse 25 - About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
Paul and Silas had been unjustly beaten by a mob and then chained to the floor in the maximum security section of the jail. Their response to their situation was to start praying and singing praise to God! How do we respond when we are treated unjustly?
Notice that the other prisoners were listening! Other people notice how Christians respond to unjust difficulties. We must resist the urge to be complainers and instead learn to use the power of prayer and praise in challenging situations.

Verse 26 - Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains came loose.
Though we might be tempted to think that the earthquake was caused by the terrible singing of Paul and Silas, it was actually caused by the POWER of their prayers and praise! Never underestimate the power of prayer and praise! When God’s people start praying and praising, the foundations of Satan’s deepest cells are shaken. When God’s people start praying and praising, closed doors of every kind are opened! When God’s people start praying and praising, the chains of every sin that binds us come loose! We need to be praying and praising God more, especially when we are treated unjustly.

Verse 27 - When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped.
In those days, if a prisoner escaped, the jailer would be executed publicly. When the jailer saw the doors of the prison opened, he assumed all the prisoners had escaped and he decided to kill himself and get it over with. 

Verse 28 - But Paul called out in a loud voice, "Don't harm yourself, because all of us are here!”
Paul saw that the jailer was about to kill himself and called out to stop him. Paul had been beaten by a mob, arrested unjustly, chained to the floor of cold stone cell and yet he still cared about the jailer, whom most would have considered his enemy. How we treat our enemies says a lot about the kind of people we are.

Verse 30 - Then he escorted them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Notice the change in the jailer’s behavior. He had chained them to the floor but now he was “escorting” them out of the jail. When God gets a hold of our lives, we often begin to change our behaviors without anyone having to tell us to do it. But an outward change of behavior is not enough.  We must not just have a temporary change of outward behavior. We must experience an inward change of spiritual condition. We must be born again. The jailer asked the most important question that anyone can ask, “What must I do to be saved?” We are all sinners and because of our sin we all deserve to spend eternity in hell apart from God, family, friends and all that we hold dear.
Many people ask why a loving God sends people to hell. The answer is that God does NOT send people to hell. People send themselves to hell as a result of their own wrong choices. No one forces us to sin; we do that quite well all on our own.

Verse 31 - So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Paul answers the jailer’s question by telling him to believe on the Lord Jesus. If we want to be saved from a dark eternity separated from God and all that we hold dear, then we must believe in Jesus. Believing in Jesus means believing that Jesus is who He said He was and trusting Him to guide us in our lives. Notice that Paul calls Jesus, “LORD Jesus.” A “lord” is a ruler that tells others what to do. But Jesus is not a cruel ruler who tells others to sacrifice while He sits in a castle living well. Jesus is the kind of ruler that gave Himself for those who follow Him. Jesus is the kind of ruler we WANT to follow. Believing in Jesus is more than just an intellectual acceptance of the historical Jesus. Believing in Jesus is allowing Jesus to become the Lord, or ruler, of our lives. If we want to be saved from a dark eternity in hell, we must believe Jesus is who He said He was AND we must allow Jesus to become the ruler of our lives. If we have not yet been saved, we should consider turning from our sin and placing our faith in Christ. We might express that through a prayer something like this:

Dear Lord, I know I am a sinner and I deserve to be separated for all of eternity from You and from all that I hold dear. But right now I turn from my sin and place all of my hope in You. I want You to be the Lord of my life and help me know how to live. With Your help, I will do my best to follow You and serve You for the rest of my life. Thank you Lord, Amen.

Verse 33 - He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized.
As soon as the jailer made this personal commitment to Christ, his life was changed. The jailer took Paul and Silas home and washed their wounds. What kind of jailer does this for his prisoners? The jailer and his entire family were baptized as an outward of expression of their new faith. Baptism is IMPORTANT! Far too many people have treated baptism as if it was just a sweet ritual that we should go through to make our grandmother happy. Baptism is a public declaration of our inner faith and a shout of praise goes up from the angels of heaven every time a person is baptized in the name of Jesus. If we have not yet been baptized, it’s time.

1. We are in a spiritual war against the forces of evil and should not be surprised when demonic forces oppose us and distort the truth.
2. There is power in prayer and praise that will overcome evil and give us strength to endure difficulties in life.
3. Outward behavioral change will only last if it comes from an inner spiritual transformation that begins with believing and following Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
4. Once we have had that inner transformation, we should be publicly baptized to proclaim that faith to the world.