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Monday, August 30, 2010

Looking forward to Fall 2010: COMMUNITY

After the snail's pace of Summer, things are starting to move like one of those land crabs I keep trying to ward away from our outdoor laundry room (with an old golf club & useless, nonsensical shouts -- pretty sure it doesn't have a sense of hearing). Anywho, things are picking back up in our congregation -- auditorium is filling in and a number of people seem genuinely excited to grow in Christ.

Before we creep into the Fall, we've been taking a look this summer at some of the preparations for the Fall that the Elders and I have been prayerfully considering. One major item is Community Groups, which we'll be launching the first week of October (stay tuned as to how to sign up).

We've got a lot of cool peoples in our church (I know, I've personally met with 74% of you), who genuinely love Jesus, are eager to grow, but simply don't know but maybe 1 or 2 other persons. This makes sense as the church is younger than my youngest child (whose not yet old enough for proper schoolin'). So without further ado, I unveil below (which will be unceremoniously copied & pasted from Microsoft Word):

A Vision for Community

Mark 10:29-30 29 "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.

This may seem a strange couple of verses with which to begin this Vision; however, not only is Jesus talking here about the church but through this statement we are reminded of what is most important in life –relationships. Relationships comprise, at once, both our greatest sacrifice for following Jesus but also the greatest blessing that He longs to give back.

This is what church is all about: Relationship – both with God & with one another. What a privilege we have in God’s church to share in relationships that will last for eternity! At SCC, the chief opportunity to cultivate and develop such relationships is in our Community Groups. Thus, we believe Community Groups will become the “backbone” of SCC.

What is a Community Group?

Community Groups are basic Christian communities. Believing that the biblical pursuits of discipleship and evangelism are best carried out in a community context, Community Groups provide that context. They are gatherings of 8-14 people meeting in the homes of individuals or families on a weekly basis. In Community Groups, people come to know God and to experience his presence, community is developed and fostered, and people are nurtured, equipped and released for God’s work in the world. They provide an opportunity for intimacy, mutual support, practical love and service, learning about the Christian faith, prayer, and sharing what we see God doing in our midst. They are led by trained lay-leaders from the congregation who are given on-going support and oversight by the pastor & elders. Most weeks will include elements of meal-sharing, fellowship, prayer, & Bible Study -- but occasional Movie Nights, Ladies Luncheons, Guys Outings, Beach Volleyball Festivales will be thrown in as well as healthy substitutes.

Why Community Groups?
Theological Reasons – Because of who God is & who He calls us to be

1. In revealing Himself as a Trinity, God demonstrates that He is a community in and of Himself.

There is much about the Trinity that is a mystery to us. However, the fact that God has revealed Himself to be triune makes it clear that community is intrinsic to the structure of reality. Community, thus, is not created but foundational to the universe. If God were only one, this would not be true. If He were dual, in him there would be a singularly-directed love toward one other. But because He is Triune, community is the highest form of relational existence within the universe. God always existed in a lifestyle of community and, being created in His image (Gen. 1:27), we are to accordingly mimic such a lifestyle.

“Within God’s very nature is a divine ‘rhythm’ or pattern of continuous giving and receiving not only of love, but also glory, honor, life…each in its fullness. Think. God the Father loves and delights in the Son (Mt. 3:17), Jesus receives that love and pleases the Father (Jn. 8:29). Jesus honors the Spirit (Mt. 12:31) and the Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son (Jn. 16:14). Each person in the Trinity loves, honors, and glorifies the other and receives love and honor back from the others…there is never any lack.” - John Samaan, Servants Among the Poor

2. God calls a people, rarely just a person.

a. When God created humanity, He proclaimed that it “was not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). “God does not exclusively fill the human heart. He made mankind to need more than himself. The staggering humility of God to make something that was not to be fully satisfied with the Creator and the creation is incomprehensible” (Allendar & Longman, Intimate Allies).

b. Israel was addressed and dealt with primarily as a community, not as separate individuals. The covenant and the commandments were directed to them as a people.

c. In calling the Twelve Apostles it is fairly clear that Jesus saw himself as reconstituting Israel (see Twelve Tribes of Israel). The church has replaced Israel as the community which is to testify to God’s character & salvation by the quality of its life together.

d. Finally, one ought not lose sight of the fact that a great majority of the New Testament writings were not addressed to individuals, but to entire communities (and local churches especially). They were meant to be read as communities (cf. Col. 4:16), interpreted by communities, and embodied by communities. Thus, the question, “What does this mean to us?” is meant to have priority over the question, “What does this mean to me?” This is not to suggest that we should not view ourselves as individuals or that our individuality is irrelevant. However, though we are never less than individuals, we are always more than individuals. Therefore, the latter question is most appropriately asked in the form, “What does this mean to me as a member of this community?”

Practical Reasons – Living out my Faith

1. Fellowship.

“What is fellowship as defined in the New Testament? Just this: participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common at the deepest possible level of human relationship – our experience of God Himself” (C.J. Mahaney, Why Small Groups).

Consider these verses that contain the Greek work koinonia or fellowship (community, communion, sharing, participating):

Acts 2:42 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Philippians 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,

Philemon 1:6 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

As a member or regular-attender of SCC, there is no better way to put yourself in a position to fulfill these commands than by being a part of a Community Group.

2. Service.

Community Groups are a place where Gifts are exercised and Care is provided. The church is sometimes compared to a football stadium where you find 22 people who desperately need a rest and thousands of people who desperately need exercise. God has given spiritual gifts to every Christian (1 Cor. 12: 1-7). He fully expects us to use them. But a couple obstacles remain. First, many are hesitant to use their gifts in a corporate context (ie. A/V team, worship team, Children’s Church, etc.) because they’ew intimidated, don’t get to see the obvious need right before their eyes, or would rather not go through the hassle of missing the occasional sermon or getting to church early. Second, even in a small church, it’s simply not feasible for every member to use his/her gifts on a Sunday Morning. Community Groups provide a natural outlet for the discovery & use of spiritual gifts. Consider that in a Community Group of 8-14 persons the needs are more obvious and the number of persons who can fulfill them are fewer. Thus, even the most casual Christian is compelled to either consider how he/she can contribute or how he/she can ‘jump ship.’

So a ‘side benefit’ of Community Groups is that it helps instruct, prepare & challenge people to use their gifts to serve the wider, corporate body when many perhaps otherwise wouldn’t.

It is through the exercise of believers’ spiritual gifts, then, that individual members can receive & provide care (1 Cor. 12: 24-26, Gal. 6:2, 1 Tim. 4:14).

3. Outreach

Community Groups are a place to Discover Christianity. Generations X and Y (18-40) are part of a trend seen over the last five years – namely, belong then believe. Among the Baby Boomers and those born in the middle of the 20th century who grew up in cultural modernity, people first had to be convinced before they became part of any community, organization, or association. Now, however, people want to belong to something and then, in that context, work out exactly what they believe. Belonging Before Believing. Community Groups provide such an opportunity and do so environment & format that are more conducive to discovery than Sunday Morning Worship.

The key here is to get those who have already trusted Christ on the same page & mission with you. Encourage participants in your group to notify the rest of the group ahead of time if you’re bringing a young or non believer. That way, they can be ready to both share their faith and be sensitive not to gloss over difficult concepts & language that more mature Christians take for granted (eg., sin, saved, born again).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Work, Play, Worship...all outta sorts

After feeling a bit out sorts the last couple days, I came across this Newsletter from a few years back on my bookshelf that helped frame my predicament fairly well. In an article on Rest, author & Wheaton College professor Leland Ryken writes:
Earlier in [the 20th century] someone claimed that we work at our play and play at our work. Today the confusion has deepened: we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.
I'm wondering: How & to what degree have you seen this play out in your own world ?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Some other good opening one-liners ... for pre-Christians

Yesterday, while preaching on "Sharing God's Gospel...on Napkins," I spoke briefly about my friend, Doug, the minor league Hockey Player -- who, though he'd sat through some church services & had at least one 'born again' friend, had never understood the gospel because no one had actually sat down with him one-on-one to explain it & field his questions. This was certainly a major reason why he was surprised by some details of the gospel in our conversation. I basically made the point that a good, opening one-liner that can lead into a presentation of the gospel is:

"Has anyone sat down with you, one-on-one, and actually shared with you why Jesus' news is so good?"

Below are some other good opening one liners for pre-Christians (ie. those who haven't yet trusted their lives to Christ, but through prayer we eagerly anticipate they will)

  • "Where are you on your spiritual journey?"
  • "If you died tonight, are you 100% sure that you would go to heaven?"
  • "If you were to die tonight & stand in front of God, and He asked, "Why should I let you into Heaven?" what would you tell Him?
  • "What do you think lies on the other side of death?"
  • "Why do you wear that cross?" (Note: Person being asked must be wearing a cross)
If someone claims to be a Christian but, as I said yesterday, 'you wonder because they've wandered,' here are some questions:
  • "Ah, you're a Christian. What do you mean by that?"
  • "How do you know that to be true?"
  • "What's required of being a Christian?" (Trust/faith/belief [which are all translations of the same Greek Word] should be the answer -- often times I find that someone has bought into the notion that being a good person, doing good deeds, or even being involved in church/Christian activities is the requirement or, at least, is the core requirement of being a Christian).
Do you have any other effective, opening one-liners that you've used or witnessed?

(Sidenote - for a funny batch of secular one-liners, watch just two minutes of this classic one-liner montage of CSI Miami's David Caruso).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Confessions of a Chronological Snob

Be honest, would you buy this book (see Right)? If I set out 10 books on the topic of prayer & included this one among choices of books that were all written within the last decade, would you honestly go with this one? Most of us who see a hard cover or jacket cover from something that predates our birth would consider buying it but only to look smart or as decorative "filler" for our homes. If (like this one) it looks likes it's from the 1970s, we typically avoid it like the bubonic plague. Why is that? Why do we overlook these books when we're making the crucial choice as to what we're going to dedicate the following week(s) or month(s) of leisure time? I'm going to seek to explain why this is the case for me, but first...

Did you watch the movie National Treasure? It starred polarizing actor Nicolas Cage (I know 10 people who love him & 10 people who'd like to subject him to water boarding). There's a moment in the movie when Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is examining the Declaration of Independence. He then turns to his archeological partner, Abigail (you'll forget her real name even if I mention it), and he says to her upon audibly reading a portion of the 18th century document, "People don't talk like that anymore."

It's meant to be a serious moment, but ironically it only lets you dwell on the moment for 2 1/2 seconds before you're wisked away to the next action scene. I say, "ironically" because the many modern obstacles to "dwelling" on anything have made it close to impossible to "talk like that anymore." I don't subscribe to the theory that older books or writings were written by smarter people (although some were), by people with more conservative values (although some had), or by a generation that wrote more effectively (although some did).

One thing we have inevitably & increasingly lost is the time to to dwell & think. Every generation since the Industrial Revolution has felt the pressure of less & less time in increasing measure. Certainly, you know this in your own life. Consider: A person of the 19th century (when the above book was written) looking to communicate with a friend about his life. He thinks, "I'll send him a letter." So he sends it and he waits. He walks home that night or perhaps takes a buggy, all the time thinking, thinking, pondering a decision. Typically, it would take well over a week for such a letter to both arrive at a destination 300 miles away & incite a response that is received in turn. A week -- to think, to consider, to ponder. Now, you drive home at night and you talk on the phone (or, if you're a textaholic, you shoot a couple texts -- of course, only at red lights...of course); you wait in line, you text a friend; you're listening to someone, you check the score of a game or comment on a posted picture to your friend's Facebook page. None of these are inherently evil; heck, I'd miss them all were they gone.

But understand: Also gone is the time to think & ponder. The great 20th century poet, T.S. Eliot wrote in Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, "Where shall the word be found / Where shall the word resound / Not here / There is not enough silence." So much noise, and not just audible. It takes a remarkably disciplined & painstaking approach to make thoughtfulness & its cousin, depth, a reality. Even if you're well-read & listen, do you give yourself time like men and women of old to consider & think on thoughts, chew on new ideas, & ponder beliefs?

Not really. And so I find it difficult to relate to people who do such things. And it's not just the "Thee's" & "Thou's" older authors employ, it's the complexity of sentence, the connecting of things that our minds can no longer see unless their organized into neat
  • Bullet
  • Points
(I'm wondering if your eyes skipped ahead to the Bullet points...mine would too).

And so, perhaps a child of my age, I'm what C.S. Lewis called, "A Chronological Snob."
My understanding of "chronological snobbery" is dismissing the usefulness & validity of an idea, a book, a product (see technology) because it is old and no longer commonly adhered to/read/used/accepted by society-at-large.

C.S. Lewis, in his autobiographical account of his salvation Surprised by Joy, gives us some warning about practicing "chronological snobbery":

[Chronological snobbery contains] the assumption that whatever has gone out of date has, on that account, been discredited. You must find out why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, it tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack them or feels it necessary to defend them.
If you consider that one hundred years from now, most people will likely look at books from our "period" and pass them over as irrelevant in communicating truth, beauty, & relevant feeling, then doesn't or shouldn't it give us pause to consider why exactly we're adhering to only writing &, thus, ideas of our own era.

If we both want to rid of our chronological snobbery & locate a starting place to grow in depth, perhaps we ought to start with a book from a century other than the 20th or 21st. I'm trying this right now with a couple books now. And what stands out is not even the content so much, but, again, the way in which some of these authors write. It forces one to ponder, grapple and 'look' for connections that are foreign to newer companions on my bookshelf. If I don't stop and think, the consequence is I don't really understand it, I lose access to the meaning. So, in a sense, this 'dusty jacket' reading is forcing me to take time that I otherwise wouldn't to do some pondering. In fact, I'm reading the book pictured above and God has used it to grow me. Why don't you join me. I'll have five copies of With Christ in the School of Prayer (written by 19th century South African Pastor/Missionary, Andrew Murray) on the Book table at Sunday Worship this weekend.

Consider the Apostle Paul, who having plenty of time to think while in prison, desired not only the Bible as his companion but good ole books...parchments. He writes to his young friend Timothy, "When you come, bring the cloak that I left in with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments" (II Timothy 4:13).