Archive for the ‘Worship and Culture’ Category

Reevaluating Church Success

October 5, 2013

For the first time in 21 years the Pittsburgh Pirates are in the playoffs. Success! Well, maybe. Success is relative. This is considered a winning season because the Pirates won 58% of their games. Now, if they were in school their report card would have been an F. Good thing its just a game, right?

I want to talk about our definition of success. We often have lofty goals and expectations for ourselves, and our churches. But do we expect too much? When it comes to sports, a little accomplishment goes a long way. A winning season is just barely a winning season. They by no means dominated baseball with 94 wins and 68 losses. The chances that you watched them win at home this year were about 63%. I mean, if there was a 63% chance of rain you might think twice about a picnic!

How about the players? Andrew McCutchen is their best batter and he is lucky if he gets a hit three out of 10 times at bat. He fails a little over seven times out of 10. This year he batted 583 times. One hundred and one times he struck out and 21 times he homered. Their best pitcher, A.J. Burnett, has lost 11 games and only won 10 and for that he makes $82 million over 5 years! Ok, enough statistics, I think you get my point: success is relative.

That brings me back to our expectations. People expect a high degree of “success” in their church. The pastor better have a lot of strike-outs from the preachers-mound, the worship team ought to have a home run with every song. And the cost of the tickets, err, I mean tithes and offerings, ought to be reasonable. And when the team is in a slump, I often see a migration of the fans, I mean congregants, to other perceived winning teams.

I think we need to redefine a church-win. If it’s evangelism success lets think of Isaiah. He was told success would be people who, “hear but don’t understand; see but don’t perceive.” (Isaiah 6:9)  Maybe success is membership? Well, Jesus started with 12 disciples. By the resurrection there were 11. He then appeared to over 500 but ten days after his ascension only 120 people were awaiting his promised gift at Pentecost.

Church success takes teamwork. And church success often resembles the averages of baseball teams. So don’t neglect your team. The Pirates previously lacked success because they consistently lost their best players to other teams. So stick to your team. Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

Additionally, stay focused and constant even with bad averages. Nine players win a ballgame; a dozen apostles changed the world. What can your small team accomplish for Christ? Stick with your team-church, encourage your leaders, keep to the vision God has given for the team, obey His Word and you will find godly success.

Giving Autism Sanctuary

April 6, 2013

In honor of Autism Awareness month I ask — How is the church creating sanctuary for families with disabilities generally and in particular Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD?

In my opinion, modern evangelicalism’s definition of a successful ministry has areas of weakness that alienate our ASD brothers and sisters. Unlike other disabilities, Aspergers (a form of high functioning autism), ADHD and the like have no visible markers. At first glance, they seem like any other child (or adult), but in reality, they suffer from a neurological disorder that affects behavior and social interactions.

Most Christians take for granted guilt and empathy, but those with this neurological condition find it difficult to connect and communicate their own emotions, let alone connect to the emotions of other people.

Many church programs are inundated with sensory over-stimulation (lights, bright colors, sounds) and activities that include multiple sensory activities (learning motions to a song on a video screen). Those with ASD and ADHD are highly attuned to each sight and sound and find it hard to filter and focus.

We evangelicals often speak in metaphor and in relational terms concerning our faith in Christ (like, “Give your heart to Christ”). Whereas those with ASD are more literal and less outwardly emotive.

The above-mentioned are tools for tending God’s garden of souls yet those power tools may be too much for these delicate blossoms. We must not forget the church’s most important services are connecting people to God and to one another. We are to nurture the tree of the faithful, grafting, in even those who feel like outcasts, branches to Christ.

I do not mean to focus primarily on programming. However, inadvertently, we may be getting in the way of Christ’s call to “suffer the little children unto me.”

Are sensory-loaded activities keeping children from feeling safe and in sanctuary when attending church? Do we present holiness as “behavioral ethics,” fulfilling social cues that are not comprehended by someone with ASD? Do we focus on their strengths of service, liturgy, and memorization? Do we value them as contributors to our own spiritual development? Are we pushing a “personal relationship” with Jesus unto kids who have difficulty connecting affectionately to their own parents, let alone the Spirit of God? Are we ministering to their families who want to express their love to them in a way they understand? Are we first to greet, to include and to validate them as valuable children with the imprint of God upon them? Are we too busy ministering that we do not notice Christ ministering through the “least of these” to us?

It is not so much an issue of accommodating the disabled as much as it is about making the church a haven for raising up the neurologically impaired, lifting their souls to heaven and putting a face to the grace we all receive in Christ.

I challenge the church to embrace disenfranchised families, to become Autistic-aware in our ministries, and allow Christ to minister to us through them.

What God Likes

February 23, 2010

This week we look to Genesis to see what God values. God creates the heavens and the earth, but he doesn’t dwell on the heavenlies; Most of the narrative describes the creation of the earth and calls it good. What then does our Lord value? The Earth. And in the creation, humanity takes prominence and even called, “very good.” Conclusion: humanity is important to God. He then describes various human achievements. Genesis Five shows us Jabal, who was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. He is the first to create community and commerce. His brother Jubal gave us culture as he was the father of music. Tubal-Cain gave us technology and tools. But their entire generation is wiped out in the Deluge. The only accomplishment God was looking for in humanity was righteousness, which he finds in Noah. Thus, God cares about righteous people above all.

Our culture is filled with those who value the earth more than the people who inhabit it. We have people who think the most important things are community, commerce, culture or technology. These have there place, but what we learn from Scripture is that what our Lord truly values is righteousness. The fathers of these important human contributions all perish. Even the good creation, something God Himself took more time to create than humans, perished in the flood.

Today’s question is simply, where do you put your value in this life? Is it creation, community, commerce, culture, technology… or is it righteousness. Saving or developing any of those good things without doing it in righteousness secures its demise. But being a person of righteousness, according to Genesis is what our Lord values above all, and so should we.

Grace and Mercy in John 3:16

February 6, 2010

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This one verse explains God’s great grace and mercy to us in one complete package. Grace is, “getting what we do not deserve” whereas Mercy is, “not getting what we do deserve.”

Grace is when you owe someone money today but are given an extension to pay your debt. That’s a “grace period.” You don’t deserve it  but out of the kindness of your friend, you receive it.

Mercy is when you are convicted of breaking the law but the judge doesn’t throw the book at you. You deserve the maximum, but he extends leniency.

Jesus Christ was given because we are convicted of sin – and the penalty will be us, or Christ. We are not off the hook. God’s love doesn’t ignore our sin. But God provides the way out. Christ does it all, our job in salvation is to believe… to change our way, and believe. And then the Lord extends mercy (we shall not perish) and grace (but have eternal life).

The Rock and The Droplet

February 1, 2010

There is a story that Rabbi Akiva once observed a steady drop of water boring a hole in a rock. When we first think of it, it seems absurd that water can change a rock – especially a drip. But the power of repetition, and the power of the “less is more” can make an impression on the hardest of rocks.

How much more so can the steady drip drop of the Scriptures make an impression upon our sin-hardened hearts of stone? Often I have people say they want to get into Bible reading as they have slipped away from their devotions. So they take up a Bible-In-A-Year plan, or sit down to hours long steady reading. I tell you, a 5 gallon bucket of water dumped upon the surface of a rock will do little to make an impression – it will be wet, but otherwise only the surface will be changed, and only for a short time. But the steady drip, the small continuous amounts of water tap-tapping at that rock will alter the rock. The same is with the Scripture. Take seven minutes a day, every day and read the Bible. Let it sink in, slowly marinate your soul and in a year, you may not have read the whole Bible, but you will find yourself indelibly, and markedly changed.

Rabbi Akiva didn’t start truly studying the Bible until he was in his 40’s. After he saw that drip, he knew he could be altered too… “If drops of water can make an imprint on a stone,” he reasoned, “then even I can learn Torah.” You are never to far off, too old or too anything to be impressed by the Scripture, if you allow it to affect you, a little at a time.

So take the 7 minute challenge – 7 minutes a day, 7 days a week. Read, think, pray. Allow a little Scripture to change you a lot — instead of a lot of Scripture change you a little.

The Golden Rule: Hillel verses Jesus

May 3, 2008

Jesus was not the first Rabbi to mention the Golden Rule, but His take on it was far better, if you look closely. Both Hillel and Jesus found the basis for the Golden Rule in the book of Leviticus (19:18), yet each came from a different perspective.

Hillel was asked by a Gentile to summarize the whole law “while standing on one foot.” Hillel answered, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”  (Shab. 31a) Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

On the surface they seem identical except for one is said in the negative and the other in the positive, but that is where all the difference makes the most difference. Hillel speaks in the negative and thus if followed could lead one to do very little loving. Jesus, on the other hand pushes us to love first. Jesus motivates us to pre-emptive strikes of loving-kindness. “Don’t do!” says Hillel, and so many do not go out of their way, but Jesus Christ exclaims, “Do!”

This Golden Rule is often called the law of reciprocity… but not from our Lord. It is not returning good or evil, its freely giving and hoping to receive good and not evil in return. Do not think of love and kindness as pay back, but as right living.

As children we were always told, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This then lead to “children should be seen and not heard.” But the Bible says, speak, and speak love. The Bible says, “out of the mouths of babes…” Let us urge one another on in loving-kindness and spread love, joy, and peace. Live the golden rule – love first before you only love after being loved, only encourage after being encouraged, only care after being cared for. Follow Jesus and live the positive – go and do unto others as you would want.

What happened to Sacrifice?

November 8, 2007

One thing seems prevelent in the consumer minded American church culture from my perspective… the loss of sacrifice. I hear of churches wondering how to attract new people… I myself have been caught up in this same thinking. We forget, God is the one who calls. But because of our desire to impress our Lord with the ability to add to the herd, and our desire to see ourselves as accomplished workers in the vineyard, often we are found bargaining with the sheep and coxing the grapes to ripen by offering deals. We will change our music, shorten our sermons, produce better child-care, etc. Instead of saying, “Come and bring your sacrifices to the Lord,” we say, “No worries, we’ve got you covered, sit, relax, be comfortable, enjoy, come back next week.” We sacrifice to them instead of to the Lord. Instead of sacrificing our music preference in order to encourage new believers to worship, we complain, or leave (so much for a sacrifice of praise).

We need to recover sacrifice as a habit. Sacrifice of our time, talent, talk and treasure. America will sacrifice, for themselves. America is in debt, to looking good, feeling good, being comfortable… But will America heed the call to bring their gifts to the Temple of the Lord, Jesus Christ? Are we willing to swallow hard and bring our time, talent, talk and treasure to the Lord in order to bless Him before us, and to bless others before us as well?

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