Posts Tagged With: reign of God

Love Means Attending to What is Urgent: How the “Black Lives Matter” Movement Proclaims the Gospel of Jesus.

Everyone can probably agree that the heart of the gospel is about God’s love for creation, which overflows in us loving others. Love everyone, Jesus says: friends and enemies, rich and poor, people of all races, people of all sexual identities, immigrants and natural born, people of all religions, etc. We may not agree on what that looks like or how best to do that, but most would agree that love is at the heart of the gospel message.

One of our mistakes is assuming that love for one looks the same as love for all. Obviously this isn’t true. We are at different places and that must be taken into account. If your house is on fire, love dictates that it is more urgent to get firefighters to your house than to mine. That’s not saying my house is less important than yours, just that your situation is more urgent. Showing love for those with full stomachs may not mean giving them food. Yet for someone who is hungry, love requires providing them food. Love means attending to what is urgent.

Jesus makes this clear in (among many others) the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). All are given a day’s wage regardless of how long they worked. It’s not that those who worked all day are less important, it’s just that others need to eat today also. A day’s wage allows all to eat today. Those who worked all day complained because they believed they deserved more for working longer hours. And they actually do have a point. This pay scale isn’t “fair,” because it is favoring those who worked less. But the point Jesus makes is that love means attending to what is urgent.

Systemic racism in our culture reveals an urgent situation. Blacks in the US start at a different place than whites. Some might complain that the BLM movement isn’t “fair” because, they say, blacks deserve equal-to-but-not-more-than whites. But the house of African Americans is on fire. Love dictates that it is more urgent to get firefighters there. Love means attending to what is urgent. The situation of racism is urgent.

When parents of African American boys are forced to have “the conversation” in order to provide the best chance of safety when (not if) their sons are pulled over by police, the situation is urgent (see the NY Times op-doc, http://www.theconversationseries.org/).

When 80% of police stops in NYC were of blacks and Latinos and only 10% were of whites, the situation is urgent (this and the following statistics are cited and referenced at http://www.jbwtucker.com/ultimate-white-privilege-statistics/).

When blacks are 127% more likely to be frisked than whites in Los Angeles, even though they are 42% less likely to be found with a weapon, the situation is urgent.

When blacks aged 18-25 are less likely than whites to have use marijuana in the last 12 months, but are arrested at an astronomically higher rate than whites of the same age for possession, the situation is urgent.

When African American juveniles are 16% of the US population but are 28% of juvenile arrests, the situation is urgent.

When black men are nearly twice as likely to be arraigned on charges that carry a mandatory minimum, and are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison that whites (and receive sentences 10% longer than whites for the same crimes), the situation is urgent.

When whites are 78% more likely to be accepted to the same university as equally qualified people of color, the situation is urgent.

When black students are 3.5 times more likely to be expelled from school than their white peers, the situation is urgent.

When a white male with a criminal record is 5% more likely to get a job than an equally qualified person of color with a clean record, the situation is urgent.

When a college-educated white American has an average net worth of $75,000 while a college-educated black American has an average net worth of less than $17,500, the situation is urgent.

When a black man makes $0.72 for every dollar a white man makes (which, by the way, is $0.06 less than a white woman makes), the situation is urgent.

When voter ID laws disenfranchise millions of blacks and Latinos while purportedly preventing a kind of voter fraud that does not even exist, the situation is urgent.

Contrary to much white privilege thinking, BLM isn’t saying “only” black lives matter, but that love means attending to what is urgent. There is an urgency in recognizing the evidence that (whether we want to admit it or not) black lives actually do not matter as much as white lives in our culture. There is an urgency in giving priority to the house that is on fire; love means attending to what is urgent. Just as we would proclaim the priority that the hungry be fed and that the homeless be sheltered, Jesus’ gospel teaching on love declares that black lives matter.

The BLM movement is loudly declaring the urgency of the racism situation in our culture. When the situation is urgent, love means attending to what is urgent. In Denver, Colorado, the Black Lives Matter 5280 chapter states their mission in part,

Black Lives Matter 5280 assists in building more loving and united Black communities while eliminating anti-Black violence and racism. . . . Our work is to cultivate communities of abundant joy where all Black people are emboldened and empowered to lead, love, heal, and thrive.   http://www.blacklivesmatter5280.com/

Love means attending to what is urgent. That’s how the wolf and the lamb can lie down together. That’s how the rough places are made smooth. That’s how all earn enough to eat today. As Jesus taught, this is the gospel. And it is good news. Black Lives Matter.

Categories: american christianity, Black Lives Matter, Church in Context, missional church, racism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Resource for Congregations!

TheNeighborhoodChurch.flyer

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition, Institutional Church, kingdom of God, medium church, missional church, small church, suburban church | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Neighborhood Church: God’s Vision of Success”

My new book is available, and at a discount price! Retail is $13.00, but order now for only $10.40 at https://wipfandstock.com/store/The_Neighborhood_Church_Gods_Vision_of_Success
A great resource for congregations who wish to engage more fully in being part of the reign of God in their neighborhoods.

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition, Evangelism, kingdom of God, Make Disciples, missional church, Revitalization | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

We Will No Longer Be A Welcoming Church, Pt. 2: The Motivation!

Last week, I posted on this site that my congregation is no longer going to emphasize “welcoming.” Instead, we are going to emphasize “inviting.” I encourage you to get the vision, theology, and definitions that are foundational in that Part 1 post at: We-Will-No-Longer-be-a-Welcoming-Church. There, I wrote that we are making this change with three emphases—this post is the first of those three: Motivation for Inviting.

The fact is that you can encourage, threaten, explain, and even manipulate all you want. But if people aren’t motivated to invite others, it pretty much isn’t going to happen. Especially when it comes to church, because—let’s face it—we’ve done a poor job of making the church a desirable (much less helpful) community of which to be a part. My congregational folks know it and so do yours. That’s why they rarely invite. Isn’t there a statistic somewhere that says the average mainline person invites someone to worship once every fourteen years? There are reasons for that! Yes, our folks are happy to welcome new people if they happen to show up at church, but the vast majority of people in our congregations just aren’t motivated to invite others.

We can work really hard to try to get people to invite anyway—attempting to explain that a lot of people actually are open to coming to a church if invited (there are statistics on that too; again, not the point). But they aren’t going to go for it. Probably just like you, we’ve worked that angle too. Folks aren’t willing to take that risk. To me, that approach has, by and large, been a waste of time.

So rather than continue to push water uphill, we are going to try a different approach. We will simply raise the motivation to invite above the reluctance to invite. Sounds simple, right? Here are some ways we are attempting this:

Discover Your Ministries.

My congregation is not a large one. In my denomination we are pretty much a medium sized church. And yet, even in a place where people think they know everyone and everything that goes on, we find that no one knows all the ministry that actually is happening through our congregation. It’s surprising, actually. It turns out that lots of people in our church are doing some pretty exciting things—and hardly anyone knows about it. Sure, there’s all the normal (and wonderful!) things that are in the monthly newsletter: the food pantry drive, the youth mission trip to Tijuana (BTW, watch for a future blog post on why calling these trips “mission trips” does a huge disservice to our theology and purpose as church!), and the dedicated crew that works with Habitat for Humanity. But when you take the time to listen, people in our churches are living their faith in the broader community in amazing ways! Find those hidden gems; the reign of God is being revealed in ways that haven’t had much press. So, we are discovering these ministries and finding ways to highlight them. Awareness of what we, collectively, are actually doing is a must in order to be motivated to invite. Who knows, in a conversation with a friend, you may discover that an already existing ministry in your church actually would benefit them.

Articulate the Passion.

We are asking people in our congregation what they love about it. We are videoing any number of people asking that question and will be using our social media sites, as well as other ways, to share the answers. There are people who are committed to your congregation, right? Find out why! Give them an opportunity to say it out loud—let them articulate their passion. Helping people vocalize their love for their church not only concretizes those reasons in their own minds, but gives them good practice in saying it out loud. Young, old, male, female, straight-laced, free-spirited, etc.—the more diverse you can make the answers, the bigger a picture of the giftedness of your congregation will be revealed. Again, use whatever means you can think of to highlight these things that make your congregation special. Write them up, make posters, presentations, put them on your web page, and more. It is important that all these reasons for being part of your congregation be known to as many as possible. Enthusiasm is contagious. Let it work for you!

Go Public.

One of the big surprises as this process unfolds is that it is becoming apparent that our church is actually more than any of us thought. Instead of being a small, typical, 50-year-old mainline church, we are closer to being a well-kept secret gold mine. So we are making our giftedness public. Sure, we have a web site and a Facebook page. But they are pretty underutilized. We are making social media our best friend. You’d be surprised how many 80 year olds have a Facebook account! So we are asking all our ministry leaders to take photos and/or videos of their ministry in action (or inaction), and post them on our congregation’s Facebook page. Most people have a cell phone with a camera on it, encourage them to use it! We have someone monitoring these posts just to make sure that everything up there is more or less appropriate (we are getting written parental permission for kids’ pictures to be on our social media sites), but pretty much anything goes. We are also asking members to encourage their Facebook friends to “like” our congregation’s page. We’re considering having a “1,000 new likes in the next month” or something like that.

The reason for all this social media stuff is partly about getting helpful information about our church into a public arena. But just as importantly, it’s about getting our own members to be more aware of all that is happening in their own church! The Holy Spirit is at work among us in ways we may not see. Social media is accessible, instant, and already utilized by many people in our congregations. And even if you discover there aren’t that many on Facebook (though you’ll be surprised how many are), teach them how to use it. I needed someone to show me how to post pictures to the church social media sites (and need periodic re-training), but any twelve year old in your church can teach that. And what a wonderful way to help younger members understand that they have something valuable to offer. The technology they take for granted is important to the rest of the church! While you’re at it, have that twelve year old link your church’s web page, Facebook page (start one today!), and Twitter account (start that one too!).

Social media is great for instant communication, connection, and information. But don’t stop there. Collect all the pictures and videos that people are taking and put together PowerPoint presentations to show after worship on several Sundays. Emphasize different aspects, e.g., “why I love my church” one week, “little known ministries we do in our world” another week, and “one thing I’ve learned about my church in the last month” on another week. The more people know about their church, the more amazed they are and excited they become. And the more excited they become, the more motivated they are, perhaps, to invite someone to experience the faith community they love.

The basis of our identity as people of God is our new life given to us in Jesus Christ. When we quit pushing that on others and simply “be” that through caring relationships with others, we reveal the love of God. And who knows? Those that are invited might reveal something about God that we didn’t know before. Oh, but wait. Remember? This isn’t about how the church can benefit, but how our neighbors can. Jesus Christ is alive and creating new life in the world—including in our congregations. How life-giving it is when we notice that, articulate that, and thereby are motivated to share that.

The next post will be about “Inviting in Bite-Sized Chunks.” In the meantime, join the journey. Post comments, questions, and insights. Let’s share this together.

Categories: Church in Context, Church in Transition, medium church, missional, small church | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Right and Left Both Have Room to Grow and Learn. Now, If We Can Only Admit It…

The topic of religious right/left conversations is a hot, but necessary one to keep in front of us as Christian people. We have more in common than we think. And the commonalities are stronger, deeper, and more central to our identity than any differences we can possibly throw at one another.

Dr. Dave Daubert of “Day 8 Strategies” has posted on his blog a great contribution to this conversation entitled, Responsible Living: A Shared Center. His point is that both right and left share a common concern of responsibility–whether for one’s self or for one another, we can learn from one another. In so doing we bear a fuller witness to the purpose of Christianity in the world and reveal more fully the grace and compassion of God.


Categories: american christianity, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Are Your Flashlights? A Sermon, 2/12/12

6th Epiphany – B

1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45

 Imagine you’ve heard a rumor of a new, totally clean, amazingly efficient, absolutely free energy source that is infinitely renewable. It could readily replace all oil, coal, natural gas, solar, wind, nuclear, and any other kind of energy supply you can think of. It is clean, reliable, and safe.

Too good to be true, right? You think so? Imagine it anyway.

You hear that a representative of this energy source is coming to share information. Though she does well, but most of us can’t really comprehend the scope of what she’s trying to tell us. So she brings a small sample of this energy so we can have a little bit of an idea as to what it can do.

As a quick example, she takes the batteries out of a flashlight, waves the empty flashlight near the energy source, and immediately it works! The flashlight is brighter than ever, and according to the rep, will never go dead again. It will never need recharging. That’s nothing, she says.

But before she can say any more, one of the people gathered hands her their flashlight, saying the batteries have died, I can’t afford new ones. Will this energy source work on it? Sure, she says, and it does. Then someone else with another flashlight. Then another person. Soon everyone is running home to get their flashlights and bring them to this energy rep so they won’t need batteries again.

Wait! She cries out. This isn’t all that this energy is about! It will change transportation, housing, business, heating and lighting. Cars will be safer, cheaper. Planes will be faster and there will be no cost to fuel. All the money you’ve been spending on gas, oil, electricity will stay in your pockets! – But no one is hearing her, as she’s being overrun with broken flashlights.

She fixes many of these flashlights with this new energy. After all, that’s a small part of what it can do. But word has spread that she can make flashlights work indefinitely, and so they keep coming.

She needs to explain the bigger picture. She needs to show other examples that might help people realize what this energy really means. She needs to be able to show them how it will change agriculture, housing and development, communication, transportation. Not only will it change all that we know and experience now, but new things will be created that we can’t even imagine now.

Finally she realizes this she won’t get past flashlights here, and so she leaves. She’s on her way to another city, another energy convention, when she meets yet one more man with a broken flashlight. He begs her to fix it, saying it’s the only light he has, the only way his daughter can do her homework after dark. Help me, he pleads.

OK, she says. She waves his flashlight near the energy source and it works. Please, she says to him, Don’t be telling people this is about flashlights, OK? Go show your flashlight to the head of Research and Development at Exxon and British Petroleum.

But he’s already run off, shouting to everyone about his flashlight.

If you haven’t caught on yet, this is a grossly inadequate parable of this text in Mark 1 of Jesus healing the leper. Healing was part of Jesus’ work.

But it makes me wonder—what are our flashlights? What small part of the reign of God do you cling to—maybe even at the expense of the fullness of what Jesus is doing?

All people have really seen from Jesus so far is healing. They keep bringing sick people to him. Now wholeness is part of the reign of God, so Jesus does heal many, but he gets so overwhelmed with people wanting healing that he can’t proclaim the whole picture of what God has in store for us. He can’t invite us to join the fullness of God’s vision for all people. He can’t even move around anymore. He has to stay in the back country, away from towns. And people are still finding him. Rumors are spreading, but not about the new age of God’s rule coming among us, about forgiveness for all, life that death can’t even touch, those shoved aside being included, but rather about a guy who can cure sickness. Though Jesus brings that, he is bringing much more than new energy for flashlights.

So what’s your flashlight? What part of Jesus do you cling to? Have you seen Jesus at work in a particular way, and then quit looking beyond that? Have you experienced God in one part of your life and keep trying to relive that one experience over and over? Perhaps you’ve found significance in his teachings, and don’t consider any more than that. Perhaps Jesus has spoken to you through scripture and now you will only hear him there—even if that means using distorted interpretations. Or maybe you see Jesus caring for the poor, people in the inner city, the homeless, and don’t think about what he’s doing in the suburbs. How many of you consider yourselves financially blessed by God, but don’t hear Jesus inviting  you to primarily use those finances to help others? All of this is of Jesus, but each is only a part.

As we slowly make our way through the first chapter of Mark, I’m sensing the frustration Jesus is feeling. He’s come to bring comfort to those who are living in terror, justice to those who’ve been pushed down, forgiveness to those who are far from God, mercy to those who don’t deserve it, life to those who are dead, and, yes, wholeness to those who are broken. And more.

He comes, inviting us to take part in this new creation that he brings. All of it. It centers on him. It comes in him. Not just in our perceptions of him or experiences of him or even our beliefs in him. The kingdom of God, the hope of creation, comes in him.

So bring broken flashlights to him, sure. But know that Jesus is about more than merely our hope for what he can do. He is the hope of all creation. And he has called us, of all people, to bear witness to that to all the world.

Categories: kingdom of God, Sermon | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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