Monday, February 25, 2013

Church is not for me?



Have you ever been accused of only hearing what you want to hear, or, only seeing what you want to see? I know I have. Last night I was talking to a niece who teaches a class of middle school children and she told me one of her students thinks he is a cat. My unfiltered response was, “Well that must be difficult for you since you are a dog.”

Fortunately she heard what I wanted to say rather than taking the words at face value. I was thinking of one of those long thin dogs you see with French models, which fits her. Had I been talking to someone else, well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

I bring this up because I am concerned the people who do not know Jesus and who would not normally consider going to church will only see what they expect to see when they come to church. According to my unscientific survey over the years they expect to be in a building decorated 20 years ago, filled with long time church members who expect the guest to act and look like them. They believe the music will be less than professional, the message long, theological, and, irrelevant to their lives. Not surprisingly they also expect to be judged as unworthy to be there.

Church goers expect to see what they have always seen. They do not see the d├ęcor, demographics, music, or even, the message as important. They are there to be in church. Because of this “selective perception” church goers do not see the need to make changes in the look and feel of the church. They assume people come to church for the same reason they come to church. Non church goers see church goers as apathetic to their attendance.

I know the last paragraph is more a caricature than description, but, it highlights the issues we face in making LHCC irresistible to people who won’t know Jesus unless we introduce them to Him. When we make changes to our property and program we want to keep these concerns front and center. We are, of course, being good stewards of God’s resources when we repair, paint, and, decorate. We also want to be good stewards of His Mission as we do all these things so that non church goers will immediately feel welcome and comfortable. If that means I do not have that same “ah I am at church” feeling, but, they have an “ah ha so this is church” feeling I believe we have succeeded.

Much of what I am comfortable with and find pleasing in “church” may have to take a back seat to what makes them feel comfortable and find pleasing. That is how a person with one set of preconceived assumptions, that would be me, can reach out to another whose assumptions are so different, that would be the one Jesus is calling to Himself.

I believe I must contribute to making the church environment so welcoming to the people who do not yet follow Jesus that they will be willing to give Him a chance to work in their lives. Given that Jesus primary mission was to the “sick” who need a doctor and not to me, the healthy, then I must change my environment so they can hear the unchanging truth of Christ. Since God is not willing that any should die without Him then I must give up my prejudices so the people closest to His heart can find a pathway to him.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What Would Your Name Mean?



This week I was, “Is Jesus ever called Immanuel in the Bible?” The short answer is not for English readers, or, Western minds. The issue of naming in the Middle East, and indeed in many other cultures, is not a once for all task. The naming of a child is given a great deal of thought and is intended to express past family accomplishments/faith and future hopes. For that reason as children grow to adults their names are embellished with their character as in the Native American naming highlighted in the movie Dances With Wolves.
The prophecy through Isaiah , "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14) fulfilled in Jesus according to Matthew, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' which means, 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:22-23). This does not mean, however, that the Messiah’s name would actually be Immanuel. That was His personage while His name was His mission, to be God’s salvation, is given in His given name, Jesus.
All this got me to thinking about my name and if there could be qualifiers I could wear? Sherman is a pretty mundane name meaning, “cutter of cloth, or, shearer of sheep.” Ok, that is my name, but, could I have a separate category of name titled, “he shall be called”? Jesus got some pretty astounding ‘secondary’ names like “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
All of that to ask this question, “Given that we are to be like Christ would it be a good idea to give some thought to a few “he shall be calleds” (HSBC for short) for ourselves?
“For to John & Marge a child is born, to them a son is given, and the ministry shall be upon his heart and he shall be called Servant to God’s Church, Speaker of God’s Truth, Testimony of God’s Grace, Loyal Husband, Gracious Father, Dotting Grandfather, and, Constant Student of God’s Word.” For Jesus it was a prophecy certain to be fulfilled. For me it a humble prayer I strive to earn.
Why don’t you give it try? What would your HSBC say of you?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

You Can't Make the Tree in Time



I have been reflecting on life this past week. Not the day to day activities but the life I have lived and the lives the people I have had the honor of knowing. Some jump out quickly such as my Dad, a man of almost reckless faith. Others are buried in long ago memories of my childhood. One grabbed me this last Sunday as I listened to Gayla Congdon talk about her new, and first, book, “Disrupted.” She referenced a story that spawned a great book for men, “In a pit with a lion on a snowy day” by Mark Batterson. It was sparked by the story of Benaiah found in 2 Samuel 23:20-21 and it is about facing your greatest fears with abandon. I knew a real life Benaiah who I meant for the first time at the age of 11 in the remote community of Gawa in Zimbabwe.
Jawawa Sihole was a teacher for the mission’s school in that area. He had made his living as a young man by hunting lions causing problems in the region, but, moved to education in his twenties. He had offered to help me find a buck I had wounded but could not track in the rocky terrain of that area. The hunt was successful and as hunters young and old do at the end of a successful effort we built a fire and began to tell stories. Well, he told stories as my repertoire was pretty slim.
I asked him what it was like to hunt lions. He told me the most effective way was to kill a small buck and then drag it through the bush making sounds like a lioness that has just brought down a kill calling the rest of the pride. Then the object was to climb a sturdy tree and wait for them to come to you. At that point you could pick them off one at a time.
I picked at the obvious hole in the method when I asked, “But don’t they sometimes come before you get up the tree?”
“Yes,” he replied, “and then you just have to get them before they get you, but, if you turn and try to get to the tree, they will eat you.” This from a man whose only weapons were a spear, bow, and, arrows, all hand made.
It strikes me as good advice for our daily walk. Each of us is a meal for the evil in the world. Sometimes we can sit in a safe location surrounded by family and friends who are lion killers themselves. However, most of the time we are a walking meal and when Peter warns us in 1 Peter 5:8 that Satan is a prowling lion looking for someone to devour we must be prepared to stand and fight without reinforcements. The warning of this story is, don’t turn your back on that lion, you can defeat him with the weapons of faith and Godly courage.
That is why Peter encourages us to stand firm and resist. Remember we are heavily armored against all attacks from the front. There is only failure in fleeing. Whatever your present temptations and trials, stand firm in your faith, resist, and the evil will run from you. Even if you are wounded in the encounter, God, Peter promises, will restore you.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Are You Someone?



A few years ago I was sitting at Musso & Frank's Grill in Hollywood waiting with some friends while our students were doing field research on the streets when a Southerner (I would know that accent anywhere) stopped with pen in hand and asked, "Are you someone?" My friends thought it was funny though the tourist thought less so when I responded, "Isn't everyone?" Andy Warhol coined the phrase "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes" in 1968, so I guess I have 14 minutes left after that encounter. 
While Warhol's phrase has since passed into popular culture, today, a more recent study by Seth Godin (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/) suggests that everyone is famous to at least 1500 people and some are famous to 3,000 or more.He explains the popularity of social media has created "followers" whom he identifies as "tribes." People who take their lead from someone else.
Evidently the race to be slightly famous is on, and it’s being fueled by the social and tribal connections permitted by the net. We give a lot of credit and faith to the famous, but now there are a lot more of them/us. When you are famous that changes things. You are given a great deal of trust and the benefit of the doubt more quickly. That is a lot to carry once you realize its truth.
Those people know you.  And because of your place in their lives most of them trust you. That’s a heavy thing when you think about it.
No matter how you may feel about famous people, and, many of us are reluctant to grant them any special stature, they are accorded a special audience in our circle of followers. Now you and I must realize that we have met the famous and them is us! Our words, actions, and, decisions are accorded a higher level of acceptance as well as a heightened level of scrutiny.
Is it important to know to whom you are famous? You bet it is. Your “tribe” (group of followers) is always chewing on the next thing, discussing the next idea, processing, absorbing and moving on. Is it any wonder that a new idea, action, or, decision will be moved to the top of your tribe's list? You are famous to them.
If this theory turns out to be true, and, I believe there is certainly more than a grain of truth in it, our words must be chosen with extreme care. No longer can we blurt out what flows through our minds without reviewing it for accuracy, clarity, and, grace. No longer can we choose an activity simply because it pleases us, but, rather we must consider the consequences on our followers.
Over time, says Seth Godin, once everyone is famous, the pressure will fade, but right now, the trust and benefit of the doubt we accord the famous is quite valuable and not a little frightening.
A good time to remember the words of our Lord in Matthew 18:6, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” After all, many of our followers will be the children in our families and in our sports, music, drama, and, school groups, and many others who, like the less mature, make decisions based on their feelings, especially, their feelings about us, the famous.