A Perfect Act of Love

Self-Love (1)2If I ever do a perfect act of love, I’ll probably be proud of it, and then it won’t be a perfect act anymore. Maybe if I die in the midst of performing this act, I could do it.” – man on radio (wish I knew who he was)

When I heard it, this idea struck me. Even my best efforts are littered with selfishness and pride. My “wants” show up in the most unlikely of places – even when I “serve,” I want to be recognized – or I want someone else to take notice and look at me with more admiration, etc. My service serves myself. I’m sinful. Very sinful.

Scripture addresses this too.

Isaiah 64:6 – “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

Romans 7:21-25 – “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

So here’s the question: How can I get rid of this? How can I serve selflessly? Of course the only REAL answer is Jesus. He alone has done a “perfect act of love” – the cross. He alone is perfect, and so all of His acts were perfect. Ours are NOT. Nor will they ever be. Our acts of service and sacrifice are always going to be tainted with at least a little bit of selfishness. We are sinners, but because of His “perfect act of love” (the cross), we can receive forgiveness and will be made holy. Our selfishness is forgiven and covered by His blood.

A perfect act of love? This is not a goal for us to attain, but a grace that Jesus has offered to us.

Miracle

Eric and I playing a Concert

I was a witness to a miracle a few years ago. Let me tell you the story: I used to play in a Christian worship band that recorded a couple of CDs and traveled around to play a few gigs. We played for church services, youth camps, and in coffeehouses, etc. Anyway, one night after rehearsal I was talking with my buddy Eric as we tore down the equipment. I packed my stuff up and took it out to my car and then headed back in to turn out the lights and lock up. I met Eric in the building as he was getting his stuff packed up. (He played electric guitar and carried around a lot of equipment.) We continued talking and carried his equipment out to his truck to load it up.

There it was!!! Did you catch it?? The miracle I witnessed that night was incredible!!

OK….maybe it wasn’t the parting of the Red Sea or anything, but it was still a miracle! Let me explain: I absolutely HATE loading and unloading music equipment. I’ve done it for years and it’s the worst part of being a musician. But that night as I talked to Eric, I served him by helping him carry his stuff out. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but here’s why it’s so significant. I never actually thought about it. I never made the decision to help him or to carry his stuff. As I talked to him, I just naturally picked it up without even thinking about it. Because of my friendship with him, I served him without any thought. Service just came naturally. It was almost an accident. It was out of the overflow of our friendship and my love for my friend that I ended up serving him.

I think God intended for us to serve this way too. Christians are great at making decisions to serve. They decide to go on a mission trip or to volunteer as a Sunday School teacher or VBS helper, etc. Those are great decisions and I believe we should make them as often as possible. But I also wonder: If we had a closer friendship with God, do you think we might serve Him without thinking about it? Could we end up serving God by accident? What would it take for service to be a reflex instead of a decision?? Have you ever told somebody about God without thinking about it? Does the name of Jesus come out of your mouth out of the overflow of your heart? Have you ever helped someone just ‘cause you loved them so much?

Ephesians 2:4-5a “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ.”

God’s love is what motivated Him to send Jesus to the world. His love should motivate us to serve Him. (Check out John 14:15 too.)

Prayer: Lord, invade my life in such a powerful way that I’d be able to serve you without thinking about it. Let service & love become a reflex in my life and not only a decision. Mold me into a man who reflects You in everything I do – not just when I make conscious decisions, but also in my everyday quick reactions and interactions with people. Teach me to love others like You love them and cause that love to overflow out of me in simple everyday acts of service. AMEN!

PS: Eric, if you’re out there and reading this, I miss you. Wish I we lived closer and I had the opportunity to carry your stuff to your truck again. Those were good times. I’ll say a prayer for you and your family tonight.

Church Staff Ideas

Church staff people are valuable. (I know, ’cause I was one at one time.) Therefore, I have always said that if I was ever in a place where I got to make decisions regarding church staff, there are some things I’d like to offer them. Below are some of my ideas. What do you guys think??


Church Staff Benefits/Requirements

Our goal is to make this the best job you’ve ever had. We hope you find a place where you can feel supported, encouraged, and equipped to become all that God has called you to and want to lay a groundwork/foundation so this is possible. At any moment, we’d welcome any suggestions you might have for your own position or for one of your co-workers. We hope to treat each person as an individual and therefore your benefits may differ from your co-workers. We are not as interested in “equal” as we are in “what is right” for a particular situation/individual. We want to be as flexible as possible and believe that we have hired the right people and so we will choose to trust you with these benefits.

1. Must take 3 weeks vacation each year. This is extended to 4 weeks after serving for 5 yrs and to 5 weeks after 10 years of service. You will also get regular holidays where no one works.

2. Must take a 3 month sabbatical (paid) after 5 years of service. The number of vacation days you will receive will be reduced for this particular year.

3. Health/Dental Insurance for you and your family.

4. A month of sick leave each year – if needed. If there is a major event, more will be offered.

5. In the event of a pregnancy/birth, one month will be given to a husband for helping his family settle into the home – 3 months for a mother. All pre-natal doctor visits are excused for both mom and dad. For a parent, the family takes priority over the church. A staff person can only be healthy and effective professionally if his/her home life is healthy. We also believe that healthy homes among our staff people will serve as good examples to the congregation of what it means to live out our calling as parents.

6. One normal “work day” a month must be spent away from the office for the specific purpose of seeking God.

7. At least 2 normal “work days” a month (and as many as 1 day a week) must be spent serving in the community. The church will not just pay “lip service” & cash to the support of outside ministries. We realize that it may take you a little while to find a ministry niche that works for you and so we have also arranged a “local tour of ministries” for new staff people. Over the course of a couple months you’ll work in multiple ministries and meet the leaders of them. If your heart beats for something else, we’d also consider allowing/equipping/helping you to create a new outside ministry to be involved in regularly. However, this would be allowed sparingly. Church staff people generally do not need another thing to lead. They need places to serve and connect with people outside the church.

8. Parents will be excused from normal “work” to attend their children’s events.

9. You should plan to be away from each of your weekly/normal programs at least once a month. (This forces others to step into the leadership roles and encourages you to equip them rather than just doing it all yourself.) This also allows you to use this time to volunteer or visit another ministry within the church or even at another church to help you get new ideas and stay “fresh.”

10. Staff people will only work 5 days/week except in special occasions like church camp, mission trips, etc. For a regular week, we insist on you actually taking 2 days off.

11. Funeral leave.

12. Although we do not believe in retirement and cannot find it in Scripture, we do believe in fiscal responsibility and will offer a pension plan. You may set aside up to 3% of your salary and the church will match 1.5% of it.

PS – I realize that some of this may not be very practical and maybe even a bit over-the-top but I think I’d rather err on the side of generosity.

What are your thoughts??

Twuilty

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twitterpointless1
Photo by: jmilles

I confess. I’m guilty. Guilty of twitter abuse. I’ve read a few articles (Twitter:What’s it doing to us?) lately about the effects of twitter on people. Here’s another: Does Twitter Kill Compassion?

The main idea is two-fold:

1. With constant bits of information, we rarely take time to think or feel deeply. Humans can sort information quickly, but complex emotions like compassion or admiration take longer to process. (from Twitter:What’s it doing to us?)

2. Tweeting about ourselves all the time can eventually make us into narcissists. (an “it’s all about me”-attitude)

OK – so what am I gonna do about it? I don’t want to become that kind of guy, but I do enjoy the twitter experience and I actually read the tweets (status updates on facebook) of my friends ’cause I do care about what’s going on with them too. Anyway, here’s my idea:

I think I’ll try a little experiment.

If twitter has a tendency to make us inward/narcissists then, I’ll try to use it the opposite way. Today, all my tweets will be for the benefit of others. Today my tweets will be “in the key of Encouragement.” Tomorrow, maybe I’ll use them to offer advise or share Scripture. Any other ideas?

PS – I will probably still share a few of the things I’m doing throughout the day or if something funny happens, but I will seek to truly think about my tweet before I send it. I’m praying that God would help me to make your day better with my 140 characters.

Pagan Christianity

paganchristianity“Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna is an interesting read. I read it a few months ago, and quite honestly, I’ve been wrestling with it ever since. I haven’t blogged or posted anything, ’cause I simply don’t know what to think.

The book is written to describe the origins of many of our church traditions. By the title, you’d accurately presume that most of our traditions are heavily influenced or even completely based upon Pagan practices. This is true. The authors make a strong case and truly have their “ducks in a row” in regards to documenting these things. Here’s the problem though – just because something has it’s origin outside of the church, doesn’t make it wrong or even unbiblical. For me, these ideas expressed in Pagan Christianity, have helped me to consider and think about what practices are truly “necessary” according to the Scriptures. Acts 2:42-47 describes the things the early church concerned themselves with:

Teaching/Learning, Fellowship, Breaking of the Bread, Prayer, Filled with awe by signs and wonders (by God), Shared with one another and took care of each other, were intentional about being together, Praised God

Now, somewhere along the road, the church became much more and people began to focus on other things. Some of those things have benefited the church over the years, but that doesn’t mean they are necessary. The message of the Gospel will never change, however, the methods must change with culture.

 


 

Below is a list of the origins of many of our quote/unquote “Christian” traditions as described in the book. The authors give much more detail and do a very thorough job, but this is just a basic list. There’s a lot here so you might just want to “skim” it.


1. The church building – was first constructed under Constantine in AD 327. They were patterned after Roman basilicas/Greek temples. Before that, Christians met in homes, community centers, and Jewish temples.

2. Sacred space – was a borrowed idea from pagans in the 2nd-3rd centuries. Burial places of martyrs was considered “sacred” and when churches were built above these cemeteries – they became “sacred” too. Sacred space for the Christian is everywhere since the Holy Spirit resides in us.

3. The Pastor’s chair – came from the cathedra, which was the Bishop’s chair or throne. It replaced the seat of the judge in the Roman basilica.

4. Tax-Exempt status – came in AD313 for clergy and 323 for churches with Constantine. Pagan priests had enjoyed this privilege prior to that.

5. Stained-Glass windows – were first introduced to the church between 1081-1151 AD.

6. Gothic Cathedrals – were built according to the philosophy of Plato in the 12th century.

7. Steeples – are rooted in ancient Babylonian and Egyptian architecture and were popularized in London around 1666.

8. Pulpits – came from the Greek “ambo” which was used to deliver monologues. They arrived in churches as early as AD 250.

9. Pews – evolved between 13-18th centuries in England. (Participants became spectators.)

10. Order of Worship – Evolved from Gregory’s Mass in the 6th century and revisions were made by Luther, Calvin, Methodists, etc. Early church meetings  were marked by spontaneity, freedom, every-member functioning, and open participation.

11. Centrality of the Sermon – Martin Luther in 1523.

12. Candles – were used in Roman ceremonial courts in the 4th century and made their way into the church at the same time.

13. Lord’s supper taken quarterly – was practiced first in the 16th century under Zwingly. He also introduced the communion table.

14. Congregation standing and sitting when clergy enters/exits – borrowed practice from Roman emperors in the 4th century – brought to church by John Calvin.

15. Somber attitudes – were practiced by John Calvin and Martin Bucer based upon the medieval view of piety.

16. Guilt/Condemnation for missing a Sunday – came with the 17th century New England Puritans.

17. Long Pastoral Prayer before the Sermon – 17th Century Puritans

18. Altar Calls – were instituted by 17th century Methodists and popularized by Charles Finney.

19. Church Bulletins (and written liturgy) – came to the church with Albert Blake Dick’s stencil duplicating machine in 1884.

20. Solo hymns, Door-to-door witnessing, and Evangelism Campaigns – were started with D.L. Moody (1837-1899)

21. Decision cards – were introduced by Absalom Earle and popularized by D.L. Moody.

22. Bowed heads, eyes closed, raise your hand to respond to the Gospel – was first done by Billy Graham in the 20th century.

23. Solo/Choral music during the Offering – 20th century Pentecostals.

24. Sermons – were borrowed from the Greek sophists. John Chrysostom and Augustine popularized the Greco-Roman homily and made it a central part of Christian churches.

25. Long sermons, notes, sermon outlines – 17th century Puritans

26. Pastors (as an office) – did not exist until Ignatius of Antioch in the early 2nd century. They didn’t prevail in most churches until the 3rd century.

27. The Clergy/Laity split – didn’t occur until 100AD with the writing of Clement of Rome. By the 3rd century, Christian leaders were universally called clergy. Prior to this, clergy and laity were equal in standing/reputation/etc.

28. Ordination – evolved between the 2nd and 4th centuries and was based upon the Roman custom of appointing men to civil office.

29. The title “Pastor” – wasn’t popular until the 18th century under the influence of Lutheran Pietists.

30. Wearing your “Sunday Best” – began in the late 18th century with the industrial revolution. The emerging middle class sought to be like their wealthy contemporaries.

31. Clergy attire – began in AD 330 and was based upon Roman officials garb.

32. The Clerical collar – was invented by Rev. Dr. Donald McLeod of Glasgow in 1865.

33. Choirs – were first introduced in the church in the 4th century as Christians copied the idea from Greek dramas and temples.

34. Boys choirs – were also borrowed from pagans in the 4th century.

35. Funeral processions and Orations – were borrowed from Greco-Roman paganism in the 3rd century.

36. Worship Team – was first used in Calvary Chapel in 1965 and was patterned after secular rock concerts.

37. Tithing – was not a widespread practice until the late 18th century. The tithe was taken from the 10 percent rent charge used in the Roman empire and then justified using the Old Testament.

38. Clergy salaries – were instituted by Constantine in the 4th century.

39. Collection plates – can be traced to the alms dishes of the 14th century. “Passing” the plate began in 1662.

40. Ushers – can be traced back to the 3rd century as a “church porter,” but truly began with Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

41. Infant Baptism – was brought into the Christian faith in the late 2nd century due to the superstitious beliefs of teh Greco-Roman culture. By the 5th century, it replaced adult baptism.

42. Sprinkling replaced Immersion – began in the late Middle Ages in Western churches.

43. The “Sinner’s Prayer” – was first used by D.L. Moody and popularized by Billy Graham’s Peace with God tract and Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws.

44. The term “Personal Savior” – spawned in the mid-1800s by the Frontier-Revivalist influence and was popularized by Charles Fuller (1887-1968).

45. Lord’s Supper – was condensed from a full meal to just bread and a cup in the late 2nd century as a result of pagan ritual influences.

46. Sunday School – was created by Robert Raikes from Britain in 1780 in order to educate poor street children. They were not given religious instruction, but a basic education.

47. Youth Pastors – developed in urban churches in 1930s-40s as a result of seeking to meet the needs of a new sociological class called “teenagers.”

 


 

Now, that’s a lot to take in. Viola and Barna (the authors) are very intentional about saying that just because these traditions are not rooted in Scripture, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice them. For me at least, they do however, raise the question, “What are the practices which are necessary in our culture?” And what would a church look like if it focused only on those things deemed necessary? If a church wants to focus on “teaching/learning” as the Bible describes, what is the best way to do so? In years past, Sunday School was the answer, but what about today? What avenue is best in our culture?

What about a building? Could a church function and be healthy without a building? The answer is absolutely “Yes!” It did quite well without a building for it’s first 300 years. But in our culture, a building is just assumed. Could a church actually be more healthy without a building? What provisions would need to be made? What else would need to happen to function without a building?

Anyway, as you can see, these ideas and their implications are huge. I haven’t gotten it all processed out, and probably won’t for a while. I just wanted to share some of it here and see if you guys have other ideas or thoughts. Please respond. I’d love to know what everybody else thinks.

Small Group Exchange

Smallgroupexchange
I just wanted to let everybody know about a new resource for small groups. Smallgroupexchange.com launched earlier this month and has tons of helpful materials. If you’re not too sure about something, they’ve got articles to help. There are also plenty of ideas and materials you can purchase (with reviews) to guide your study. They even have free training videos for small group leaders.

The smallgroupexchange folks have also asked me to do some writing/reviewing for their site. Wow! What an honor. You can check out my small group exchange bio here or one of my articles (What should we Study? & Leadership is Service). While you’re there, you should check out Heather Zempel’s articles. She’s a great writer and small group guru who has been a family friend to Miranda for her whole life. She’s quickly become my friend too. She also has a great blog called Wineskins for Discipleship.

UM ARMY

Our UM ARMY camp this year is using 1 Timothy 4:12 as their theme. It says, ” Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believes in speech, life, love, faith and purity.” This is a classic “youth ministry” verse which has been used for camps for years and years. It lays out really well to focus on each of the five examples for a week long theme too. (Anyway, I thought it was funny ’cause we’re studying Paul’s epistles right now at school too.) The director of the programs for the week sent me an e-mail asking me to put together a banner for each day’s theme. I used a program called the “rasterbator” (weird name huh?) to take the work I did on the computer and blow up the images to about 4 feet tall by 5 feet wide. The youth helped me put all the printed pages together today to make the large pictures. They turned out pretty well. Here are the images that we used. (I’ll attach them here tomorrow when I have the files.) UmarmyspeechUmarmyactions

Umarmylove_2 Umarmyfaith Umarmypurity