Saturday, December 27, 2008

Post Christmas Reflection

The title of this entry may be a bit misleading. It is just to say that it's after Christmas and I've been reflecting on some things today.

There is a great article in the current issue of Christianity Today by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. The title well describes the point he is making: "Jesus is NOT a brand." The question that he is trying to answer for his readers is this: What is the difference between an evangelism within a consumeristic society that is truly Christ-centered vs one driven by individualistic market interests.

That's a good question.

It is interesting to note how many of us have allowed ourselves to be identified by what brands we prefer. Some men are Chevy men, others Ford. Some prefer Mac, others PC's. If you don't believe that, watch one of the current YouTube videos titled, "Mac vs. PC" and see which one you find yourself rooting for.

The implications for this in terms of how one receives the gospel, or perceives the demands of the gospel are not insignificant. The spiritual consumer will approach the church with the same narcissism they bring to other brands. Wigg-Stevenson postulates the spiritual consumers thought process as Christianity (the consumer version) is contemplated: "What am I expressing about myself if I buy Brand Jesus? How will Christianity fulfill my vision for me?" He continues, "The theological implication: I belong to myself. I am my own project, my own product to do with as I will. This is an enacted rejection of the honor due to God as Creator. On a psycho-spiritual level, too, this individualism sets up a sort of endless adolescence. The awkward talk of figuring out who we are--once restricted to teen years and midlife crises--becomes a lifelong endeavor."

That's why our evangelism can't be a presentation of the gospel that simply says, "Hey, look at all you get with Jesus...eternal life...peace...a sense of community with others like you...etc." Rather, it has to demand an ongoing and enacted recognition, beginning with repentance, that we belong truly to God.

We must bring into view the Lordship of Christ, the sufficiency of Christ and the Supremacy of Christ. After all, this is the only way that we remain true to the gospel that liberates, provides real self-identity, and allows us to see all other sorts of people as one of us in a unified gospel family, not one that is dissected according to sub-brand level distinctions such as those we often see in the church today where the gospel is being offered in a consumeristic fashion. In that environment people favor a church with donuts over one without, or a certain brand of music over and against another. These are brand identities that cloud the gospel indeed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Angie's Face

When I walked into my neighborhood Wal-Mart today I noticed a sign near the front door letting every customer know that they have only six more days to buy up before Christmas. I can't believe how quickly this month has flown by.

On another note, out back yard is a muddy mess. Because of the orientation of our home, and the yards in Vegas, no sun hits any dirt back there and we've received at least 1.5" of rain over the last week or so. Hopefully it will freeze tonight so that I can get out for a minute to clean up the dog's little (actually not so little) presents.

On yet another note, I have been reflecting on the joy that is called forth in the gospel accounts of Jesus' birth and wondering why it is that so many of us don't seem to exude a level of joy that is proportionate the that which is demanded by the good news of Christ's incarnation. Wow! Perhaps I'm only talking about myself. Maybe everybody else has the "joy, joy, joy, joy down in their heart, down in their..." and I'm the only one trying to rejoice in the ways that Zephaniah 3 calls for. It has taken several minutes of thought throughout the days to begin to see my heart's flame genuinely taken afresh with the wonder of Emmanuel, God with us.

This Sunday I will be preaching on the Angel's announcement to shepherds from Luke 2:1-20. I still haven't decided which text we will consider on Christmas Eve, but I have it narrowed down to a few.

Because our Christmas Eve service will be the first time we've met as a church for worship at night there will be several families joining us for the first time, it appears. Some of these folks have been our friends for months, but haven't been able to get a change in their work schedule that would accommodate them in order to be with us in the morning on Sundays. I hope that they will be richly encouraged by their participation with us. They will be an encouragement to us.

Tonight my youngest decided he wanted to help his mother with her make-up. The final product was nothing short of amazing. Angie looked like she had been camouflaged for a burglary, taken out to the street and smacked in the face with a 2 x 4, made to grow a unibrow during six months of solitary confinement with no access to a razor, and finally drug face down in the dirt for 1/4 mile before standing up to see what her boy had done. As he finished his work he could only say, "Look! You are America's next top model. You look fablious (direct quote)" I guess that would be true if the idea behind showing off fashion was to make the potential buyers wonder which model has most recently come from a filming of Lost.

Angie is so gracious!

Monday, December 15, 2008

To What are We Inviting People

Today I was reading Leadership magazine. It came as a preview with hopes that I will subscribe. As I paged through I found an interesting article titled, “Showtime! No More.” In it the pastor of a mega-church in Phoenix (one with which I’ve been familiar for years, and to which I have friends who are connected) told a bit about his journey from believing that “entertainment evangelism” was a legitimate way of reaching people to the position he is now embracing.

After suffering a heart attack in 2002 he began a lengthy recovery and the opportunity to visit other churches during his ensuing sabbatical. When he returned to his own congregation he was appalled to see what he had labored to build. It was a place built on the Sunday “show.” A pastor-friend visited their new site shortly thereafter and said to him, “You must die as a church [in your current state] and be born as a mission.”

Soon he asked himself this question: “Could it be that our acreage, buildings, and budgets were interfering with the mission instead of accomplishing it? Why weren’t we producing empowered disciples? What were we missing?"

After months of reflection he came to this:

"Instead of just counting the people and the offerings, now we [will] look for evidence that people are breaking out of their private, cocooned lives and are fully engaged with God and serving him. We want them to do more than grab a cup of coffee in the lobby or meet someone new during the worship gatherings. We want them to go deep with one another. To be 3:00 a.m. friends--the kind of people others could call if they had an emergency. We [will] encourage them to have a mentor and to be a mentor."

I have to say at this point, that this is exactly the conviction that has been driving me and Eric since day one when we landed in Vegas. We know that if this city, or any place, is going to be transformed by the gospel it is going to have to be filled with people who have repented from every false idol and who have become fully committed to serving and honoring the Redeemer and King of the universe in every area of their lives. Building a church of 20,000 in a city of 2,000,000 won't do anything if the extent of our impact would be that a certain 1% of the population disappeared from their neighborhood for 1 1/2 hours every Sunday morning.

Our calling as pastors is to equip God's people for the work of ministry as they become transforming agents in His world.

The pastor highlighted in the article said the same thing in his own words, words that I think are quite helpful:

"In the old days, we protected people's anonymity; today we thrust them into community, doing life together. We used to invite them to attend church; now we invite them to be the church. I used to ask, 'What can we do to get more people to attend our church?' Now I ask, 'How can [we] best equip and empower [God's] people to go be the church in the marketplace where God has called them to serve?'"

He's hit it on the head. What if we were inviting our non-believing friends to other opportunities where they would witness gospel impact in the world. Why wouldn't inviting them to dinner be just as wonderful an opportunity to expose them to God's rich grace as inviting them to a service of worship? Why wouldn't grabbing them to go hiking, or to volunteer at the food bank, or to help tutor at the local school be just as wonderful an opportunity to expose them to God's rich grace?

We want to invite people to see the richness of God's grace in and through his church. To what are we inviting them? Is it to an extra 1 1/2 hour commitment to feel like they are fulfilling their religious duty, or is it to experience and participate in what God is doing to bring light into all dark places? Those two invitations are a world apart. I am convinced that people won't feel like they have anything more to invite others into than a service of worship until they themselves know that they are a part of something much grander in scope and community impact. I wonder how this vibrant kind of Christianity will impact the way our services of worship may look.

One Year Already

This past Sunday marked one year since our first public service of worship. I can't believe it! When I stood up to welcome any guests that were with us I thought to ask who had been with us on that first Sunday, December 16, 2007. Besides my family and Eric's, 13 hands went into the air. God has added so many people to our number during this first year.

More encouraging than the number of people added is the growth in grace in individuals and as a community. I can't say enough about how encouraged I am to see people living more and more boldly in the gospel. This is leading to the actual transformation of homes, soccer teams, playgroups, neighborhoods, and workplaces.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Smith's Cashier

Tonight I was able to be out with our daughter for a few minutes, just to grab a few groceries before dinner. That's always a great time.

As our food sped down the rubber conveyor the cashier asked me how I was doing? I gave her the customary answer, "Better than I deserve."

I asked her the same.

"You know...broke just a few days before Christmas and wont' be able to give my kids Christmas."

Then...silence as I wondered how best to respond. Nothing came. I didn't have an answer.

She handed me my receipt. "Merry Christmas," were her last words and it was on to the next soul behind me.

She is hurting. I hope to be able to see her soon. In the mean time we will pray.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling, Rawhide!

Last night I was able to get some time out with my youngest son. We were invited to use a couple of extra tickets to the National Finals Rodeo here in Vegas. The skill and athleticism of the competitors was pretty remarkable. My son loved it. Four nights ago he was watching the opening night of the Finals on ESPN2 and wishing he could go someday. Just three days later there he was. I didn't tell him where we were going until we were in my truck and headed toward the arena. The look on his face was priceless. "Are we going for real? Are we going to see real cowboys?"

That kind of treatment of the animals in the name of sport became questionable to me, though, as I watched it in person. I'm still trying to figure out how this sits within the framework of God's creational mandate to Adam and Eve, and then again to Noah, to image God in their treatment of the animals as they care for them in God's stead.

Things within the City-Wide Redeemer community are so much fun right now. Our discipleship groups are getting into full swing. We should be hitting on all cylinders on the men's side of the house after the holidays. We are still organizing the women's groups.

It has been awesome to see many of our folks taking greater initiative in sharing the gospel with their families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Many of them are beginning to use a tool that we have borrowed from Perimeter Church in Atlanta, GA called Life Issues and another book called The Answer. But this isn't an "evangelism program." It is a case of men and women reshaping a resource to match their own style and personality in the great mission of making God's name known in Las Vegas. I expect that we will be able to see several more people responding to God's gracious forgiveness and acceptance through the Lord Jesus in the near future.

I can't explain what is happening, but we continue to come into contact with many people who are at a place in their lives where they want answers to their questions about God, the Bible, their own mortality, life after death, etc. It's like God is orchestrating the choreography of several lives to meet on the dance floors brokenness and crisis simultaneously, some with questions and others with hope to offer. God's Spirit is clearly at work here.

Sunday mornings are getting easier for me personally. When we launched out I had many things to take care of before we began our services of worship. I basically had to bring everything from nursery items to backdrops to music/sound items. Now we have the workings of a great set-up and tear-down crew that have made Sundays much more manageable for me. And the best part, everyone who pitches in does so with such joy. It's fun to see and experience.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Still Sick

I can't seem to kick this cold/upper respiratory thing. I've been sick since November 21. Just when I think I might be feeling better I struggle through the next day with minimal energy and sinus issues. Tonight is another tough night. I'm thinking a doctor's visit might finally be in my future.

Lot's of good things happening at City-Wide Redeemer these days. Several folks are continuing to take significant steps in the direction of their God-given purposes within His mission to redeem the world. I'll be sharing some specific stories soon.

My youngest son has a radio in his room now. It is my old alarm clock radio. The tuner is so bad that I was able to only get in four or five stations across the entire FM dial. He's thankful for it nonetheless. I told him he might enjoy listening to some Christmas music on the sleep timer for 20 minutes at bed time. He was thrilled.

When I went in to check on him ten minutes later I asked him how he was enjoying the radio. He said, "Dad, there was this news thing on just now and they said that some bad guys took a little girl's brother and that the police are trying to find the bad guys. Dad, I'm sad."

It struck me in that moment how emotionally stunted I am because of the sheer volume of bad news that crosses my path everyday through the different media outlets and personal contact with hurting people. It was hard for me to feel what he was feeling. His response was right. It is terribly sad, and once I sat for a moment with him I was able to enter into that appropriate sense of sorrow and need to ask our great God to do something wonderful for this young boy who is apparently missing.

I love learning practical theology from a four year-old. He's got lots to teach me!

Me and Angie

Me and Angie
December 2010