Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Getting engaged

I am going to be writing a few blogs on a book I have been reading called, Jim and Caspar Go to Church. It is a book written by Jim Henderson (not the one of Muppet fame) and Matt Caspar. I would love to get a dialogue going on these blogs because I want to know what you think - whether you consider yourself a Christian or not. Before I can tell you much about the book, I need to give some background.

Jim Henderson spent 25 years as a pastor in the Pentecostal church, moved to being a director of evangelism, and then started Off the Map (http://www.offthemap.com/). Off the Map is an organization that wants to make evangelism doable for everyday, normal, non-church staff Christians.

Matt Caspar is an atheist hired by Jim to go to churches and give his unvarnished viewpoint of the experience to Jim. The whole point of this exercise was for Jim to figure out what Christians can do to share the Gospel with non-Christians without being offensive. What is attractive about church (if anything) and what isn't.

For your information, Matt Caspar is a copywriter for a large Christian publication firm and happens to write many of the pre-made postcards that churches send out in the mail. He is also a musician. This means two things to me, 1) he is pretty familiar with evangelistic church jargon and the way we try to woo people to church and 2) he has professional knowledge of one of the main ways modern evangelical churches reach out to people in worship - through contemporary music.

It has been interesting for me to read and hear Caspar's opinions about the churches that they visited. For example, when they visited Saddleback church (a mega church in California), Caspar comments that while the people sitting in the congregation seem interested in the service, it also seems to him as if they are there because it is "...something simply on most folks' schedules - Saturday: cookout, Sunday: church...it feels like most of them are just watching TV...not really engaged in the spirit of it all." (pg. 5)

Today I want to talk about this issue of engagement, or the lack thereof. Are you engaged in worship? Is it something that renews you and gets you ready to go back to the world for more? Or is it something that you simply check off your 'to do' list and move on to the next thing?

I suspect I know the answer, but I also tend towards pessimism so maybe I am wrong. I would love to know if I am.

But for the moment let's assume I am correct and ask the question, "Why aren't we engaged in worship?"
1)Is it because we don't have relationships with others in the worship service?
- Are our lives are too filled with other things (sports, birthday parties, grocery shopping, the kid's homework, work that we have to finish before Monday) so church becomes just another thing to check off our list and we don't have the time to form relationships with the people we see on Sunday morning.
- Have Christians accepted the cultural belief that "bigger is better" and "we can never have too much". Often our churches are not considered 'successful' unless they are on their way to becoming or have become 'mega' churches with thousands of people in attendance each week.

2) Is it because we have too much ownership in church and have given God too little? (As a little side note here, when I mentioned Saddleback Church earlier, I wrote after it in parenthesis that it was Rick Warren's church. It struck me immediately how ironic that was because it is not Rick Warren's church at all, it is God's church - but I think we often forget that the church isn't 'ours'.)
- Can we be engaged in a service that is driven and focused on us and what we can do rather than on who God is and what God can do?

3) anyone else have an idea why we might not be engaged as whole-heartedly and whole -soully as we could be?
Please tell me. You don't have to have a solution. Maybe together we can help free ourselves to more closely engage or re-engage with God on Sunday mornings in worship because the one thing I do know for sure is that God longs to engage with us.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." -John 3:16


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Join the Story - Live Oak Value #9

Today is the end of my blog series on Live Oak's values. We've gone through 8 of them prior to this. They are:
1. Jesus Changes Everything
2. Everybody has a 'calling'
3. Authentic living in the 'burbs
4. It's about who, not what
5. Everyday Justice
6. Church happens in your neighborhood
7. All truth is God's truth
8. The story matters

and today is #9 - 'join the story'.

All of the values are important (that's why we have nine of them), but today's might be the one that is the most action oriented. "Join the story" means that we want everyone who comes to Live Oak to feel welcomed and loved. That means all of our members and long time visitors need to be welcoming and loving towards everyone who walks through our doors. We want everyone at Live Oak to be actively reaching out to people who don't have a church home or who don't know Jesus. That means all of our members and long term visitors need to be working on building relationships with people who are 'dechurched' (used to go but don't anymore) or those who run the spectrum from not knowing Jesus at all to the person thinking there might be "something to that story...". We want everyone and anyone to feel that Live Oak is a safe place to come to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ.

I feel pretty confident in saying that Christians have a reputation for being closed off and hypocritical. (Did I hear some shocked gasps of surprise at that statement?)
Most people who are not Christian feel that we are happiest when we can deal with other Christians, particularly those of our same denominational leanings.

This isn't necessarily an incorrect thought. If you are a Christian reading this, take a minute to think about who your friends are, what you do for entertainment, where you send your kids to pre-school, school, or for after school activities. We can't completely isolate ourselves from non-believers unless we go live in a commune, but often, we come fairly close to doing just that in the decisions we make on a daily basis.

Jesus lived in the world but was not of it and he prays that his disciples would be in the world but not of it in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John. This doesn't mean that we withdraw from hanging out or being around people who do not follow Jesus. This means that we hang on to our values that are based on the Bible and Jesus' teaching while we are out in the world around the millions of people who do not know him. We don't use our values to hit people over the head with an imaginary 'sin' stick because we know we are just as sinful as anyone else. The difference is that as Christians, we know that we are forgiven and that with God's help we can do better in the future.

At Live Oak, we want to cultivate an environment where anyone can come be a part of our community, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey. We want to be a place where it doesn't matter who you are, where you have been, or how far you are from who you want to be. We are all at different points on our own journies and we want to help everyone move a little farther along theirs.

Come and join the story with us.


"I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" - Luke 5:32


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Story Matters - Live Oak Value #8

The "Story" is the story of God's love for us. It is a story complete with longing, adventure, shattered hopes, redemption, and romance. It is a story of how completely and wonderfully God loves us and how much he wants to be in a relationship with us.

This story starts with God creating the universe and then creating us in his image so that we would have the ability to be in relationship with him. God wanted us to know him from the very beginning of time - just as a mother desires to know the child she is carrying long before the baby is born. Once created, God pursues us, just as a parent chases after a child that is not yet capable of understanding the strength of the love that binds him/her to his parent.

The story of human interaction with God as told in the Bible matters because it teaches us that we are never too horrible and never too far away from God that he cannot love and find us. In fact, when we do terrible things and run away from God, the Bible tells us that God actively searches for us and desires to win us back to him. This story is the model for our lives as parents, friends, children, spouses, and workers. It tells us that there is always room for love and forgiveness in the midst of a life and world full of pain and transgressions.

I realized this morning in a conversation with my son that he didn't quite understand this idea. He was telling me that good people who don't do bad things get to go to heaven and people who do bad things don't. (A very just and rational line of human thought that many of us believe to be true by the way.) It was hard for him to understand when I told him that everyone does bad things and God still loves all of us. We don't win God's love, it is freely given to us along with forgiveness because of God's love for us. There is no perfect human in "the" story except for Jesus Christ. The rest of us have to be reminded that the Bible is important because it tells us the truth: not one of us will get it right, but God loves us and wants to be with us, anyway.


"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me.... It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them....My people are determined to turn from me...."How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?...My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused." - Hosea 11: 1-8 (selected)


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All Truth is God's Truth - Live Oak Value #7

It is hard sometimes to know what is the truth. The media spins the truth to suit their political point of view. We, as individuals, finesse the truth at times to protect our own self interests. It is a very natural part of the sinful human condition to bend the truth to present ourselves in the best possible light - it has been happening since the apple incident in the Garden of Eden.

However deceptive we might be, our God, the one who created everything, is a God of Truth. There is nothing in him or of him that is deceiving or a lie. Because of this, we can trust him and know that the things in this world that are truthful, are of God.

We can trust in the truth that God loves us. When deciphering the big "T" truths in this world, this is a good litmus test.
Does God, out of his love for us, want us to be hateful and dismissive of the world or the people who live on it?
Does God, out of his love for us, want us to step on the backs of others to get what we desire?
Does God, out of his love for us, want us to give ourselves up to addictions, abuse, or any other harmful act perpetrated upon us by ourselves or others?
Does God, out of his love for us, want us to respect ourselves and others as children of his creation?

God is a God of Truth. Therefore anything in this world that is true is true because of him. God has revealed himself through creation and through his word - the Bible. Even if the truth comes from an unlikely source, if it is really Truth, it is of God. We know when we hear truth, just as we know when we hear falsehood, even if we deny it. Our job is to hear and accept truth, even when it is difficult, as well as to tell the truth, when a lie would be easier.


"But you have an annointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth." - 1 John 2: 20-21


Monday, August 2, 2010

Church happens in your neighborhood - Live Oak Value #6

You might think that the only time "church happens" is when people gather on Sunday morning to sing songs and hear the preacher preach - but you would be wrong. That's just the Sunday morning church service. The "church" is not a place, it is a people. The "church" is a community of people who believe that they are forgiven sinners because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

If, as Christians, we believe that we have to go to a specific place to be the church, then we are in trouble. Jesus wants us to follow him at all times and act the same way Monday through Saturday as we do when we are in a specific place to worship Him on Sunday. This means that to be the church everywhere, at all times, we need to work on two things:
1) being the best person we can be all week long, not just on Sunday when we know other Christians are watching us, and
2) acknowledging that we are all messed up in some way and allow ourselves to be as real with folks on Sunday as we are with our friends during the week.

If we can meld these two modes of being into one, then we will be living out our faith in our daily lives and doing 'church' everyday, everywhere.

Many of you might not recognize the hymn, "We are the Church" but I remember it quite well from childhood. The first line states: "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, 'yes' we're the church together." It goes on to say, "The church is not a building, The church is not a steeple, The church is not a resting place, the church is a people!"

The church isn't a place or a thing - the church is a group of people who are actively trying to follow the teachings of Jesus all day, everyday. Yes, that is impossible for us to do well most of the time but if we believe, then we have to try our best.

Church happens all around us. It happens when we offer to water our neighbor's plants while they are out of town. It happens we see someone needing help with the cart or bags at the grocery store and we do something instead of pretending we don't see their dilemma. Church happens whenever we enage with others while living out our Christian faith and principles. Church is a verb not a noun and it needs us to make it happen.


"The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence." Ephesians 1:22-23, translation The Message