On the last Sunday of Lent, I preached from John 12:20-33. It’s the story of Jesus after his entry into Jerusalem, and this passage involves three things. First, there were those who wanted to see Jesus; secondly, Jesus warned that those who loved life in this world would lose theirs; and, finally, Jesus described what following him really meant. I used three phrases to capture these three points: focusing on Jesus, forsaking the world system, and following faithfully. Here’s the podcast of the sermon:
In keeping with end of the year predictions, here are mine. Of course, several years ago I predicted $5 per gallon gas. Thankfully, we never got to that point. But in light of my obvious fallibility I’m framing my prognostications in the familiar “what’s in and what’s out” categories. Here’s what I think (and hope) are in and out for 2014:
1. Out: Celebrity Christians. In: Communities that model love for God and others.
More articles and blog posts appeared in 2013 lamenting the culture of “celebrity” that has infected the evangelical world. Celebrity Christians include people who are already celebrities, like Paula Deen and the Duck Commander, but celebrity Christians also include regular guys and gals who are clawing their way to the top of the bestseller list and the next big conference. Christian book publishers love the celebrity culture, but the rest of us are beginning to feel a little used.
In for 2014 are faith communities that model love for God and others. These communities are multiplying in American Christian culture, and have great appeal to everyone’s target group, Millennials. Beyond their attractiveness, communities like Grace and Main in Danville, Virginia are replacing celebrity with service and fame with friendship. Watch for more like them in 2014.
2. Out: Big evangelical conferences. In: Small local peer groups.
Apparently there are about 75 major evangelical conferences each year. Most of these target pastors, and obviously no pastor can attend all or even most of these conferences. The big conference model is coming to an end, just like the big electronic conventions of years past. Time and cost will be major factors in their decline. Also, if celebrity Christians are out, conferences which feature celebrity Christians will also fade away.
In for 2014 are small local peer group conversations. Book discussions over lunch, peer-to-peer support, and contextual problem-solving will grow in importance in 2014.
3. Out: Coaching. In: Spiritual direction.
Coaching has reached critical mass in the church world. Anyone can be a coach, and unlike in the sports world, church and pastoral coaches aren’t graded on the success of their coaching. Coaching is a metaphor borrowed from the sports world that is losing currency in the church world.
Spiritual direction, on the other hand, is a traditional and appropriate helping ministry in the Christian community. Spiritual direction focuses on spiritual disciplines and insights such as discernment, guidance, insight, wisdom, vocation, and mission. The growth of spiritual practices such as lectio divina, the daily office, and the use of prayer books portend the rise of the ministry spiritual direction in 2014.
4. Out: Major Christian publishers. In: self-publishing for local ministry.
With a few notable exceptions, major Christian publishers continue to churn out pop books from celebrity authors. The costs, distribution, marketing and mass audience targeting of Christian publishing results in fewer authors with higher profiles (“celebrities,” see Item 1).
However, self-publishing platforms like Amazon provide free access to the author who has something to say, but has a limited audience. More self-published books will be available in 2014, and more of these will be written for a specific congregation or community. Mass marketing, in other words, is out, and contextual publishing is in.
5. Out: Preaching for “life change.” In: Pastoral care.
Rick Warren popularized “preaching for life change,” which most pastors interpreted as preaching topical sermons on practical subjects like parenting, finances, and marriage. But not everyone is as good as Rick Warren at this type of preaching, and it easily degenerates into telling people how to live.
Pastoral care in sermon and practice, however, walks with individuals and families through all of the significant passages of life, and life’s unexpected difficulties, too. This “alongside” preaching and practice ministers to people in their life experiences, and encourages them to find God’s presence in moments of joy and sadness.
Those are the trends I see for the coming year. Of course, there are negative trends that we in churches will have to deal with, too. I’ll leave those to others, and wish you a Happy New Year!
Multicultural churches are all the rage these days. Conferences are packed with pastors learning how to start multicultural churches, or how to turn the churches they pastor into one. That long-overdue trend is welcomed because God is the God of diversity. In light of God’s call to reconciliation, churches ought to reflect the diversity of their neighborhoods.
But, we still need monocultural churches, particularly among newly-arrived immigrant populations. Here are six reasons why.
1. Monocultural churches can provide a safe haven for minorities within a dominant majority culture. After the Civil War ended in 1865, emancipated African Americans left their former white masters’ churches to form black congregations. The rich history of the American black church is one not only of worship, but as the hub of the African American community. For minority populations, especially newly-arrived immigrant populations, monocultural churches can provide this same safe haven today.
2. Monocultural churches allow for minority perspectives to develop and be heard. On a national scale, American Christianity was shocked into reality with the publication of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah’s book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. The subtitle should have been Freeing the Church from White Cultural Captivity, because Professor Rah writes compellingly of the “white captivity of the church.” Dr. Rah’s advocacy for other voices — voices of minorities — to be heard and respected could be realized if white churches and leaders recognize and listen to the voices from Korean, Laotian, West African, African American, and other churches whose members are in the minority in American cultural life.
3. Monocultural churches can provide a connection to home, customs, language, ritual and power structures that generations of immigrants wish to retain. The myth of the American melting pot has been debunked as Americans of all ethnicities have attempted to connect with their ancestral roots. For those in the minority, the identity fostered by language, dress, ritual, and customs is difficult to retain, but important to remember.
4. Monocultural churches can become points of transition, assisting newcomers to America as they navigate their new culture. When I traveled in China, I was always interested in talking to Americans who had lived and worked in China to find out what restaurants they frequented, where they shopped, and how they learned the Chinese language. The same need exists in new immigrants to this country. Those from their own countries can help new immigrants negotiate the meaning and pace of American life.
5. Monocultural churches help resist the marginalization of minority groups. The danger any minority faces is not only being assimilated into their new culture, but being absorbed and marginalized by it. Monocultural churches, like the black church, have given rise to a unique expression of the Christian faith, and established a unique place for its people in American church life. White churches and denominations must reject outreach to minority populations because they are the answer to white church or denominational decline.
6. Finally, monocultural churches do not confirm the notorious church growth teaching called the “homogeneous unit principle.” Church growth studies advocated that because people (usually white) found it easier to be with people like them, it followed that homogeneous churches would grow more quickly and easily. However, monocultural churches are not excluders, but incubators that allow potentially fragile populations to establish themselves, grow, develop a unique witness, and thrive in the rich diversity of American church life.
Of course, none of these reasons is intended to sanction prejudice, discrimination, or exclusion in any church. In the Book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem cared for its Jewish widows and its Greek widows as well.
However, before you jump on the bandwagon of exclusive multiculturalism, remember that historically monocultural churches like German Lutherans, English Baptists, Scottish Presbyterian, British Anglican, and others established themselves in colonial America. These monocultural churches became incubators for those who came to these shores seeking freedom, which included the freedom to add their past to a new American future.
Over the centuries of church history, various metaphors have been used to describe the role of God’s chosen leaders. Some metaphors have lodged permanently in our collective consciousness, while others have not passed the test of time. I suggest that there is one more metaphor for the pastor’s role that might be a welcome addition to the others — the pastor as artisan.
Perhaps the oldest metaphor used to describe the pastoral leader is that of shepherd. The second metaphor used in the New Testament for church leaders is overseer. Both of those metaphors are enduring and widely used today.
Another metaphor that emerged in the early centuries of the church was that of pastor as the “physician of souls.” Sin was viewed as a disease and pastoral care was seen as the “cure of souls” with the priest as the administrator of that cure.
As the church growth movement took root in the 1980s, the popular metaphor of pastor as CEO was drawn from the corporate world. Successful churches, church growth advocates argued, concentrated authority in the pastor as CEO because this was the most effective means toward church growth. However, in retrospect the metaphor of pastor as CEO and the church growth movement have both proven to be inadequate for the complex task of shaping and leading twenty-first century congregations.
Of course, there are other pastoral metaphors in use as well. The popular triad of pastor as prophet, priest, and poet brings together several facets of pastoral ministry. From the sports world, the idea of the pastor as coach plays off popular sports imagery with the pastor as team strategist, and church staff and members as team players who execute the game plan.
To this wide-ranging mix of metaphors I would add one more — the pastor as artisan. At their height in the middle ages, artisans were skilled master craftsmen who produced goods that were beautiful and functional. These artisans included goldsmiths, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, hatters, tinsmiths, carpenters, potters, stonemasons, and so on. Master artisans took apprentices and trained them to become master craftsmen after apprenticeships lasting seven or more years. Artisans organized themselves into guilds which set standards and ensured that their particular skill and craft would endure.
There are six reasons I believe the artisan is an appropriate metaphor for pastors and their work.
1. Artisans focused on one product. They learned one trade which required them to learn how to select raw materials and how to craft those raw materials into a unique, finished product. Artisans lived in the vertical silo of their own trade. Silversmiths did not work in leather, cobblers did not make barrels, and carpenters did not branch out into stone work.
2. Artisans trained apprentices to continue their craft. Skills, insights, and trade secrets were passed from master artisan to his apprentices carefully. This hands-on training and mentoring assured the continuation of the traditions of each craft, but also allowed for advances and improvements as new tools and techniques were developed. Artisans brought on new trainees each year, assuring their workshops a continuing supply of understudies at different stages of learning.
3. Artisans were successful when their workshops produced both quality products and skilled apprentices. An artisan without an apprentice limited his future and the future of the trade in which he was engaged. Successful master artisans realized that their survival meant not only producing goods today, but continuing the trade for generations through the lives of apprentices they trained.
4. Artisans maintained important traditions while incorporating best practices as they became available. The purpose of the apprentice system was to pass on the skills and trade secrets developed over decades of skilled work techniques. These traditions became marks of pride, honor, and identification for each artisan guild. Guilds guaranteed that standards were followed, while also vetting newer practices. This process assured that the entire guild would continue to be well-thought of, and its products would be valued and purchased.
5. Artisans depended on other artisans for products they did not produce. The carriage maker, for instance, depended on the wheelwright for wheels. The wheelwright, in turn, depended on the blacksmith for the iron bands wrapped around the wooden wheel. Because artisans specialized, they depended on and supported each other’s work and products.
6. Artisans were themselves master craftsmen. While this might seem self-evident, they knew what it was like to be a novice, and then to progress to the more complex skills as their knowledge and craftsmanship developed. Master artisans knew the frustrations of apprenticeship, learned to endure the seven or more years their apprenticeship covered, and valued their training as they set up their own workshops as master artisans. There was no shortcut to becoming a master craftsman, and no absentee ownership of a skilled craft workshop. Artisans were hands-on masters, trained to train others while producing their own quality products.
In summary, the pastor as artisan is an apt metaphor and here’s why.
Like artisans, pastors…
1. Focus on one product — proclaiming and practicing the good news of Jesus Christ.
2. Train others to do what they do, thereby ensuring continuity of Christian witness now and in the future.
3. Are most successful when they not only produce effective ministry results, but when they also work closely with others to do the same.
4. Value age-old traditions, such as doctrinal orthodoxy, while incorporating new expressions of the faith into their practice.
5. Depend on others, as members of the body of Christ, to provide those gifts they do not possess in order to function faithfully as the Church.
6. Have learned important lessons from skilled leaders who have gone before them, and have incorporated those lessons into their own mature practice of ministry.
Viewing pastors and other church leaders as artisans helps us to take a long-term approach to ministry. Apprenticeships that lasted seven years required patience, consistency, and perseverance from both master artisan and apprentice. However, by taking the long view , artisans created beautiful products and an enduring legacy. Pastors could learn from their example.
Here’s the sermon I’m preaching for the second Sunday of Eastertide. I trust your Sunday will be a wonderful day filled with hope that the resurrection brings, just as it brought hope and possibility to the first disciples.
The Implications of Being Sent By Jesus
John 20:19-31 NIV
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said,“Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Going for the Big Finish
Our granddaughters, Vivian and Maggie, are like other 12 and 9 year old girls. They are involved in a number of extra-curricular activities. Vivian took dance for several years, and the highlight of the dance year was the annual recital. But this wasn’t just any recital. The dance studio has dozens of students, which means lots of moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and so on who will want to see their daughter, or granddaughter, or niece perform.
To accommodate the large crowds, the dance instructor rented the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina, for, not one, but two days of dance recitals. But for the little girls — Vivian was a preschooler then — the highlight of the dance recital was getting to wear the costume, or costumes, depending upon how many numbers they were in.
So, this is a big deal. And, like dutiful grandparents, we made 4-and-a-half hour trip one way to see Vivian on stage for all of about 3 minutes. That’s what grandparents do, and we did it a couple of times.
Well, by about the third or fourth year of dance lessons, Vivian’s interest in dance classes was waning. So before signing up for dance lessons for another year, Laurie, our daughter, and Vivian had a little chat.
Laurie asked Vivian if she wanted to take dance for another year. Vivian said, “Yes.” Then, Laurie said, “But that means you’ll have to go to dance lessons every week.”
Vivian replied, “Oh, I don’t want to go to the lessons. I just want to be in the recital.” Laurie informed Vivian that the only way to get to be in the recital (and wear the sparkly costumes) was to take dance lessons each week. Thereupon, Vivian’s dance career came to an end.
The Disciples Face a New Challenge
All of us have had those moments where we want the big finish without all the prerequisites that go before it. And followers of Jesus are no different. Let’s look for a few moments at the implications of being sent by Jesus.
First, of all, we have to realize that the disciples had not thought about their future without Jesus present to lead them. However they had imagined their lives turning out as Jesus followers, a life without him was not one of the scenarios they entertained.
So attached were they to Jesus that when they thought about his leaving them, as they do in John’s Gospel the 14th chapter, Jesus has to reassure them that where he is going, they are going to, and that there are rooms prepared for them in his Father’s house. (John 14:1-6 NIV)
But that doesn’t seem to satisfy at least one of them. Thomas complains, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
So, when Jesus is crucified and buried, their world collapses. Now, on the first day of the week, the disciples have had time to see the empty tomb, and to discuss the implications of that for themselves. Of course in John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene claims to have seen the Lord herself, but in John’s telling of the story, the disciples have gathered together behind locked doors because they are afraid of what the Jewish authorities will do to them next.
They must be imagining that the authorities, with the consent of Pilate, have raided the tomb of Jesus, and concealed his body so that his grave will not become a martyr’s site for Jesus’ followers. Or, they might be afraid that the authorities have stolen the body of Jesus in order to blame them, his followers, of doing the same thing and thereby trying to perpetrate a hoax that Jesus rose from the dead.
Whatever they are thinking, they are dealing with the implications of having been Jesus’ followers. And, I imagine that not a few of them are wondering how they got in the mess they found themselves in.
But suddenly, without announcement or warning, on the evening of that day that had seemed to go on forever, John simply says, “Jesus came and stood among them…”
He greets them with the words, “Peace be with you!” which was the standard greeting among Jews, the greeting that God’s peace would rest on the person or family to whom one was speaking.
Immediately he shows them his hands and side. This is no apparition, no ghost, no fog-machine scene where they can barely see Jesus. No, as proof that he is who they think he is, he shows them the nail wounds in his hands and the gaping spear wound in his side. Now, you and I can only speculate on what this looks like. Apparently these wounds were meant to verify that this really was Jesus, rather than further disturb the disciples, so the visible wounds had a reassuring, rather than revolting, role.
Then, Jesus says to them again, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
And there we have it. This is what they are going to be doing in their future which does not include the physical presence of Jesus. They are going to be sent into the world by Jesus, just as the Father had sent Jesus into the world.
We read these words so casually now, as if we are thinking, “Well, of course that’s what Jesus is doing, sending the disciples into the world. We all know that.”
But for the disciples this is a new revelation. Of course, Jesus has hinted at their mission. He’s even sent them out on trial runs of the sort capture in Luke 10, where 72 of Jesus’ followers go on a mission of ministry to do what Jesus did. They heal the sick, they cast out demons, they seek the person of peace — meaning one who is a conduit of God’s shalom — and when they return Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18 NIV).
But now, rather than going immediately where Jesus is going, Jesus is sending them on a mission to the world, in the same manner in which God the Father has sent him. In other words, just like Vivian learned, before you get to the big finish, there are some things that have to be done first.
So, what are the implications of being sent into the world by Jesus?
Equipped by the Spirit
The first implication of being sent my Jesus into the world is that Jesus isn’t sending them, or us, alone. No, as he promised he is sending the Holy Spirit to be his presence in our life.
Jesus promised the disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16 NIV)
This Spirit of truth is the Holy Spirit. Now this is not the first time we see the Holy Spirit. From creation onward, the Spirit of God has been present and at work. But this is the first time that the Spirit is promised to someone other than a king, or a priest, or a prophet. This time the Spirit is promised to be the ever-present companion of every follower of Jesus, just as Jesus was with the disciples in his earthly life.
Then, Jesus doesn’t just promise the Spirit, he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Wow. That was unexpected by the disciples. While they’re still trying to digest the idea that the resurrected Jesus is standing before them, and that he is sending them, he does something he has never done before — he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Somehow in our misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit, we have thought that the Holy Spirit is optional, at least in our worship and doctrinal expression. So, when the charismatic movement came along, you were either in or out. You either decided that you wanted those expressions of the Holy Spirit or you didn’t. The same is true today. Pentecostals represent those who are led by the Spirit in worship, while the rest of us are led by our understanding of Scripture, or tradition, or doctrine.
But if we think that about the Holy Spirit we miss His presence and power. The Holy Spirit is our promised companion regardless of worship style or basis of authority. You might find it interesting that early in our founding years, Baptists were viewed as wild-eyed spiritual fanatics who neither respected tradition or reason, but held an unseemly commitment to letting the Spirit of God speak to them. Interesting how we’ve gotten tamer over the past 400 years!
But the point is, one of the implications of being sent by Jesus is that we’re not sent alone — the Holy Spirit is our ever-present companion.
An Unthinkable Ministry
But if you think the idea of having the Holy Spirit present as our companion is unsettling, just wait. Jesus also gave the disciples a ministry previously reserved for God alone. The act of forgiving sins. You remember the famous encounter Jesus had with the religious authorities of his day in Mark 2:1-12. Jesus is teaching in a house, and the crowd is so great that no one can press through. So, four friends who have brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing, quickly climb up on the flat roof, remove the roof tiles in the spot above where Jesus is teaching, and lower their friend down right in front of Jesus.
Mark says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2:5 NIV)
Religious authorities are present in the crowd, and they are appalled. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they ask. Then Jesus says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take up your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:10-11 NIV)
The disciples must have recalled that incident as Jesus gave them authority to forgive sins. But, what does that mean for us today? Is that our ministry, or did it just belong to the disciples? Well, if the Holy Spirit is ours, then this ministry is ours also.
But, this ministry of forgiving sins is a mystery to us. We do not know exactly what it means. What it does not mean is that we are now to pass judgment on others who are not like us.
What I think it means is that we act like Jesus acted toward those who are sinful. While that would include all of us, in Jesus day there were the righteous Jews, like the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and other religious figures, and then there were the sinners like the tax collectors, women of the street, and so on. Jesus ate with these sinners. Jesus went into their homes. Jesus pronounced as Zachaeus came to faith, “Today salvation is come to this house.”
Our ministry, with the leadership of the Holy Spirit, is to be Jesus to those for whom access to God has been denied, or discouraged. We open the way for them to find forgiveness by showing them the kindness of Jesus himself, the kindness wrapped in redemption and hope.
When I was in the hospital, a lady came in to clean our room every day. I’ll call her Pauline, which was not her name, but I want to protect her privacy. It was obvious Pauline had had a difficult life. You could see it in the stoop of her shoulders, and the shuffle of her feet. And it was written on her weary face.
At first, Pauline went about her business of emptying the trash, and then mopping the room with little to say. She would say to Debbie, “Come out so I can mop.”
For many people, Pauline was the anonymous housekeeper, one of the many faceless, nameless people to do menial labor that others do not want to do.
Debbie and I decided to make a friend of Pauline. We had heard one of the nurses calling her name, so each day when she came in, we were greeted her with the same friendliness and warmth of a welcomed guest. And each day, Pauline opened up a little more of herself to us. Pauline was there everyday except Sunday. When she returned on Monday, we told her we missed her the day before.
She asked if anyone had mopped our room, and we said no, they had only picked up the trash. With a sense of pride, she said, “They’re supposed to mop, but all they do is pick up trash.” We assured her that we had missed her careful attention to our room. By the time I was discharged, Pauline was actually laughing with us.
Okay, you say, “But where’s the forgiveness of sin in that?” I believe as we forgive each other the little moments of sullenness, the times of testiness, the words that wound, and the looks that kill, we free that person to be what God intended for them to be — His child, filled with his Spirit and joy.
Of course, there are other implications of being sent by Jesus than the presence of the Spirit and the ministry of forgiveness. But those are two that are important. Sometimes we skip over those two implications and rush right on to preaching and teaching and all of the ways in which people hear the Gospel. Because after all, Jesus told Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
But in this Easter season, let’s not forget that the presence of the Spirit and the ministry of forgiveness are where Jesus started with the disciples.
Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, leads a congregation of 50 people in Gainesville, Florida. Normally, churches with 50 members are not featured on CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, the NY Times, Washington Post, and every other media outlet in existence. But, Terry and his flock, like Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, have thrust themselves onto the world stage. All because Pastor Terry, who wears a .40 caliber handgun on his hip, decided to burn Korans on September 11.
But, according to Der Spiegel, a popular German magazine and website, Pastor Terry was tossed out of his Cologne, Germany congregation a couple of years ago because of the atmosphere of “fear and terror.” Also, he was accused of allegedly misappropriating funds, and failing to abide by German wage laws. Terry Jones apparently made church members perform hours of free labor to benefit the church’s bottom-line. We haven’t seen this trick since Tony Alamo made rhinestone denim jackets famous in Nashville where he sold them to country music stars for a fortune, but failed to pay his workers adequately, if at all.
But back to Terry Jones. Jones embodies the very fundamentalism he seeks to destroy. Except, of course, he thinks he’s right and Muslims are wrong (actually, Jones said they were more than wrong, they were of the devil). In Terry Jones’ very small universe, of which he is the center, he is the arbiter and protector of truth, justice and the American way. And, he insists he is going to burn Korans on Saturday.
What do we do with abusers of religion like Jones, who masquerade as Christians while saying “it’s time to hit back?” (I think Jesus took “hitting back” off the list of things we as his followers get to do, but Jones seems to have skipped over the Sermon on the Mount in the race to his 15-minutes of fame.) We speak out against him, and Fred Phelps, and Tony Alamo, and all of the other charlatans, megalomaniacs, and delusional leaders who gather a handful of people and call them a church.
Jones is not exemplifying Christian values, and is certainly not the model of Christian ministry. And don’t bother to take me to task for “judging a brother.” Two reasons: 1) he is not my brother in the faith but an impostor who gives us all a bad name; and, 2) I am not judging him because his actions are self-evident. It takes no discernment, which is implied in judging, to see through his ego-centered antics. If you think I’m too harsh, re-read the New Testament letters of Paul when he talks about charlatans like Jones. The tragedy is that he will put at-risk Americans and American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and all the Middle East, and he will further inflame the animosity between religions by his actions.
On a more positive note, EthicsDaily.com has an excellent resource for starting a Christian-Muslim discussion. The DVD is titled Different Books, Common Word, and the film tells the story of how Christians and Muslims in America work together for the common good. This film was shown on ABC affiliates last year, and is a high-quality, helpful resource in focusing the conversation about religious pluralism on positive examples.
Normally, I write about small churches that are solving big problems. Sadly today we have the example of a small church that is creating big problems. Speak out against this abuse, and then be an example of peace to others, even others of different faiths.
I have resisted getting into this because I keep telling myself, “This is not what you do here at Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor.” Normally, I don’t engage in theological discussions, particularly those that are the equivalent of how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. But, today I can’t help myself because some discussion is taking place around the interwebs about “what is the gospel?”
When facing the impossible God might have another idea. After all, God still does the impossible work of changing lives everyday.
Facing The Impossible
An Impossible Mission
Have you ever faced a situation you thought was impossible? One in which there seemed no way out, no solution, no possibility of resolving it positively?
Well, today we have four stories, from both the Old and New Testaments that were all stories of impossible situations. I don’t think I’ve ever preached on four different passages before, or told four stories from three different books of the Bible, but it’s important for us to hear today what happens when we “face the impossible.”
Of course, you remember the old TV series, Mission Impossible. Tom Cruise made several movies by the same name, but I prefer the TV series because it was a little more believable, and a little less high tech than the movie versions.
Each week the show opened with one of the agents, usually Jim Phelps played by Peter Graves, getting the team’s next assignment on a taped message.
The taped message was always the same:
“Good morning, Mr. Phelps. Your mission, should you decide to accept it is….” And then the voice on the tape would explain the mission for the IMF, Impossible Mission Force, to undertake.
At the conclusion of the explanation, the voice then said, “This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds.” And it did, all to ominous, “spy-sounding” music courtesy of musical director, Lalo Schifrin.
At times, life feels like an impossible mission, and there are four real-life stories I want us to look at this morning.
On this Memorial Day weekend, we as a nation, and as God’s people, should listen to the voice of Wisdom as she calls out to us.
Wisdom Calls Out
Proverbs 8:1-4, 12-31
1 Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates leading into the city,
at the entrances, she cries aloud:
4 “To you, O men, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
We often talk about spiritual decisions being either decisions of the heart or of the head, meaning those decisions are either based on feeling or thinking. But when it comes to the decision to follow Jesus, what we’re really talking about is a decision of the feet.
Matthew 4:18-22 is the account of Jesus calling the first disciples — Peter and Andrew, and James and John — two sets of brothers, two families of fishermen. Matthew records the action this way —
“As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” — Matthew 4:18-20 NRSV
The same scene repeats itself with James and John, the Sons of Thunder. “Immediately they left their boat and their father, and followed him.”
Decisions of the heart and head may be internal and individual. But decisions of the feet are public, obvious, and practical. When the Bible says, “They followed him” it literally means they not only felt and thought that Jesus was someone special, but their feet decided to go where Jesus went, and they followed him quickly, immediately, and irrevocably. Decisions of the feet might be what we need more of today.