Friday, October 18, 2013

All the Saints of Our Lives

"The challenge of the saints of the twenty-first century is to begin again to comprehend the sacred in the ten thousand things of our world; to reverence what we have come to view as ordinary and devoid of spirit." – Edward Hays in "Secular Sanctity"

Your Love toward all the Saints (Eph. 1:15) Click photo to enlarge  November 1st is All Saint's Day. All Saint's Day is not exactly a Presbyterian religious observance day in the church calendar, it is primarily observed within the Roman Catholic church and ended up serving as the backdrop for Halloween. All Saint's Day within the Roman Catholic church is a day to commemorate the lives of all the saints of the church who have no special calendar day of their own. While other traditions, celebrate the lives of all the communion of saints in the church who during the past year have passed on to claim their place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

  As Presbyterians we don't designate individuals specifically as saints in the church, like the Roman Catholic tradition, but it does not mean it can not be important to our practices. In the Roman Catholic tradition, they tend to focus on saints in heaven? In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he writes, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints” (Ephesians 1:15). Whenever Paul speaks of saints, he is talking about members of the church, those chosen by God and set apart to do his work in the world. Saints are holy people, according to Paul, but their holiness doesn’t come from achieving some kind of moral perfection. Instead, they have a holiness that comes from being marked as God’s people.

  When a person is proposed for Roman Catholic sainthood, evidence of that person’s virtue must be presented along with at least two postmortem miracles — miracles performed by the intercession of the person after his or her death. When you have a living saint during some stage of your life, you might come to believe you were the recipient of a miracle, even though no one will ask you to give evidence, you know this person has made a difference in your life. Who are the saints in your life, those simple people of faith who shared God's grace with devotion, sacredness, and compassion, who served as role models of the divine and the holy.

  We all have individuals in our lives we might call saints. People who were important to helping us shape us into the people we have become. A teacher who gave us a love for learning and encouraged us to pursue science, math, history or the arts. A church elder or member who mentored our faith formation in the church and helped us to follow Jesus Christ as a disciple. A Sunday School teacher who guided us to understand the wonderful stories contained in scriptures about God's great love for us. A person who supported and encouraged us to go on a mission trip, serve in the church, or volunteer for a project that changed and/or strengthened our faith and commitment to the church.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An Invitation To Stay

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev. 19:33-34)

To offer hospitality to a stranger is to welcome something new, unfamiliar, and unknown into our life-world… Strangers have stories to tell which we have never heard before, stories which can redirect our seeing and stimulate our imaginations. The stories invite us to view the world from a novel perspective. - Thomas Ogletree, Hospitality to the Stranger

  I am always attempting to learn new things which would benefit the church and help us to reach out to our community and share the abundant grace of God with our neighbors. When I am on vacation, Karen and I will attend worship at churches where we have never been before, small churches, larger churches, non-denominational churches, etc. I have said before, I have stolen some of my best ideas during these visits by seeing what others are doing.

Everyone is Invited... Few are asked to Stay (click to enlarge)  What I found amazing were the variety of welcomes we received at each church. Some are friendly, in some no one greeted us, some simply ignored us, some are curious as if no new people had attended worship in years, and others guessed I was a pastor on vacation. When I am out and about I like to take photos and a few months ago I took the photo I have included in today's post. It is about a Social Club and their motto is “Everyone is Invited.... Few are asked to stay.” Sadly, I have discovered this could also be the motto of many of the churches Karen and I have visited over the years.

  I stated in my sermon series on evangelism, we are called to extend an invitation to others to “come and see” what is happening here. Of course, an invitation would seem hollow and empty if the people are not welcomed and shown hospitality once they arrive at our door. We are called upon to extend hospitality along with invitations. Each new visitor who walks through our doors is a gift from God and we are called to welcome them with graciousness for this gift. In the Bible, offering hospitality is not just a nice idea, it is a moral imperative. God's people remember that they were once strangers and refugees who were taken in by God, You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

  Many congregations would declare themselves to be friendly, open, warm, and interested in growth. They would say with conviction, “We are a friendly, caring group of people who would welcome anyone into our fellowship and extend the best of hospitality.” As church members we often find ourselves haunted by our own words, because we discover that the strangers in our midst who come through our doors do not always have a warm experience of hospitality during their visit.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Telling the Story

Christians and non-Christians have something in common: We’re both uptight about evangelism. - Rebecca Manley Pippert
  I want to continue my thoughts about evangelism today and share another video (actually two) which can help us to think about our role in evangelism. If we have been apart of the church for many years, we might have heard of a variety of evangelism strategies the church has used over the years, i.e., James Kennedy's Evangelism Explosion, the Four Spiritual Laws, the Bridge diagram, etc. In their day, many of these approaches produced effective evangelism results for the church and many churches experienced considerable growth in their membership. The problem is the world around us and our neighborhoods changed and these strategies lost there ability to reach our communities. As our neighborhoods change so does the need for our church to change its methods and strategies for outreach.

   A few years ago I read a book by James Choung called “True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In.” This book is a very different type of book from what we might expect when thinking about evangelism in the church. More than half of the book reads more like a novel than a book intended to teach us about evangelism, but this is exactly what he is attempting to do.

  What James Choung does is he tells a story about how to have a conversation with someone outside the church and how to blend our personal story of faith to the larger story of God at work in Jesus Christ and his people in the world. What James Choung has done is to engage the story of Scripture in a way that can be authentically shared with others. We have not only our story to share, but also the message of Scripture.

  James Choung’s book, “True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In”, helps us learn how to share the essentials of our faith with another person. His portrayal of the Big Story of Scripture is a very compelling and effective way of sharing God’s mission by telling this story, you are able to help people identify where they are and want to be in the faith. The major parts of the story are the following, which are explained and illustrated in the videos below by James Choung:

 WE ARE DESIGNED FOR GOOD: Choung describes God’s good creation and emphasizes God’s purpose for human beings as loving God, one another, and caring for creation.
 WE ARE DAMAGED BY EVIL: Creation is broken because of our desire to be God instead of trusting God and living into our purpose. All of creation is broken! Relationships are broken. Our lives are broken. Communities are broken.
 WE ARE RESTORED FOR BETTER: The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ bring us forgiveness and hope and set us on a journey of healing the world.
 WE ARE SENT TO HEAL TOGETHER: This is the mission of the church! This, and only this purpose, is the reason the church exists. 
   Watch James Choung’s videos, The Big Story, parts 1 and 2. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts and comments about these videos.

The Big Story, Part 1 from James Choung on Vimeo.

The Big Story, Part 2 from James Choung on Vimeo.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why Haven't You Invited Me?

“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'” (Rom. 10:14-15)
 Nothing is more destined to create deep-seated anxieties in people than the false assumption that life should be free from anxieties. - Fulton J. Sheen

  Nathan Williams told of two men who had been business partners for over twenty years. They met one Sunday morning as they were leaving a restaurant. One of them asked, "Where are you going this morning?"
  "I'm going to play golf. What about you?"
  The first man responded rather apologetically, "I'm going to church."
  The other man said, "Why don't you give up that church stuff?"
  The man asked, "What do you mean?"
  "Well, we have been partners for twenty years. We have worked together, attended board meetings together, and had lunch together, and all of these twenty years you have never asked me about going to church. You have never invited me to go with you. Obviously, it doesn't mean that much to you."

  We are told by Jesus that our task as the church is to extend invitations to “come and see” and share the good news, but most often we don't. We allow our fears or embarrassment rule our behaviors rather than look around at the people we have know even for many years and we fail to act.

  What’s the point of any conversation? Is not conversation about sharing life together? Getting to know one another better? Connecting? The best conversations leave us with a mutual respect and increasing fondness of each other with the hopes of continuing the conversation soon. If our faith, our church, and our discipleship is important to us should it not come up in our conversations. But conversations like that seem to be few and far between, especially if they get wrapped up in what we think is “evangelism.”

  If our stories of what Jesus has done for us and the fellowship we have found in the church family is truly important to us should it not come up in our conversations.

  We often make assumptions about people about their appearance, their mannerism, and we form stereotypes in our mind about specific groups which in turn kills relationships. “Come and See” (John 1:46) are the words the disciple Philip says to his friend Nathaniel. On one level, it is an invitation to friendship, discovery and discipleship. Our faith can be communicated in this way and it can be done with respect and fondness for others. We don't have to sell Jesus, the Holy Spirit will do this for us, if we are willing to share our own stories of what Jesus means to us.

  Today, I have a short video below called "Time to invite someone to church," which illustrates that we make too many assumptions about people which may prevent us from extending an invitation. Watch the video and consider in your prayers and thoughts today, what prevents you from extending an invitation to others to come and see.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Passion of Amazing Grace

"But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture — “I believed, and so I spoke” — we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Cor. 4:13-15, NRSV)
  If you want to build a ship, don't summon people to buy wood, prepare tools, distribute jobs, and organize the work, rather teach people the yearning for the wide, boundless ocean.   Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Evangelism is good news, it is the amazing grace of God revealed to God's people. The good news is not about introducing a program, gaining more members, changing worship style, attracting young people or increasing budgets. Evangelism is the good news of God’s healing and saving love in Jesus Christ. Evangelism is about sharing the Amazing Grace of Jesus Christ with our family, friends and neighbors. For the church to pursue its full redemptive potential, a passion for the life and work of Jesus Christ must be reclaimed. We must rediscover for ourselves the amazing passion of sharing God's amazing grace. When we witness others experiencing the life of grace as a “new creation” in Christ, then we as a church, as disciples are transformed.

We believe that God created a good and beautiful world. However, this beautiful creation is broken because the first humans decided that they would be better off being God than serving God. Humanity continues to choose this path of destruction. The good news is that God is not content to leave us in our brokenness. God takes on human flesh and blood to rescue us and show us the way into life’s purpose and meaning.

We often sing that old favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace” during worship. It is one of the most favorite hymns within the church regardless of denomination.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
   That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Is this hymn merely a nice hymn we sing occasionally or is it for us a witness to the glorious grace we see witnessed in those transformed by Christ's grace. God has given me the honor of witnessing this amazing grace in the lives of others as they experienced this grace and became new creations through Christ's grace. As a witness to this wonderful miracle of God my life, faith, hope and love was renewed and refreshed each time.

Today, I want to share a video simply called, “Amazing Grace.” It visually illustrates the power and significance of this grace and the powerful witness it gives the world and the church. I hope this might help to spark the passion for sharing the good news. “... so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Cor. 4:15, NRSV)