Thursday, June 28, 2007

In ______ We Trust

Check out this news story about a Gallup Poll whose findings included that only 46% of people surveyed "had either a 'great deal' or 'quite a lot' of confidence in the church"

So, what are we to make of this?

Is it like when a health scare hits a fast food restaurant and no body wants to eat there? Recently the Ted Haggard scandal could have been a case for folks to distrust the church- how could a prominent preacher have a double life?

Do people not trust the church because of money? Are the televangelist fiascoes of the 80's still lingering in people's minds?

It would be interesting to me to see how the survey was framed and what questions were asked and by what criteria people were selected. But to me this is could be telling about what the church is facing.

Unless you live in Springfield MO (with like, 12 huge churches on every block) the church isn't the center of the community. No longer can we just assume that people have had a basic Judaeo-Christian worldview or have "been raised" or "been around" church. Ministering to people who have been raised in church is like, step 3. We have to start at step 1- ministering to people who are a little suspicious of "religion" or "church". This is accomplished by individuals in congregations building relationships with folks outside of the church. Not like people who "don't go to church" are our labrats or something, but loving folks is what are job is, regardless of whether they go to church! Step 2 is gaining trust through honest care for the person, getting to know their struggles, their needs, their perceptions of the church. That's the challenge of 21st century ministry, which probably isn't a new challenge at all, showing people that the church is the body of Christ charged with doing his work and building the Kingdom of God. So really...not much has changed...just go do God's work and the "trust statistics" should hopefully climb!

But that leads me to another thought. I would like to see what percentage of folks surveyed identified themselves as "Christian" or more vaguely as "religious". What if the 46% are the ones who are Christian and the rest aren't? Then does the burden of "trustyness" fall on the church? Or is it simply people don't want to have to change their lives as a result of the Gospel? Maybe you don't want to trust what you fear will make you confront your thoughts about life and the ways you live it?

The danger in this can be a quite a nice self-fulfilling prophecy. I was in a discussion with a friend once and they remarked: "Well the only true bible preaching churches are going to be small, because the gospel isn't popular". Hmmm. Isn't that a cozy justification for a stagnant community. (Insert comment about how 'it's not about the numbers here') I'm just saying this is tricky stuff. How can the church be inclusive of folks who are distrustful but still faithful to our mission and the Gospel of Christ which transforms hearts and changes lives?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Say It Ain't So

If Rosie O'Donnell replaces Bob on the Price Is Right, I will lead an angry mob all the way to L.A. to start another riot. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fantastic 4/The Dawkins Delusion

Saw Fantastic 4 on Sunday. It was a lot better than the first, which is great news considering the first F4 was right up there on the movie scale with Judge Dredd. The action was continuous and the movie didn't take itself too seriously. So, definitely worth seeing, but wouldn't be upset if I never saw it again.

Also, yesterday I bought The Dawkins Delusion. It was a short read, only 100 pages. Um, I guess it was "good". I was hoping for some entertaining stabs at Dawkins and really granular explanations of why his writings were crap. But, the author (Alister McGrath- one of the coolest names ever) was very courteous and relied on very masterful ways of dissecting Dawkins "God Delusion". So now it's on to "The God Delusion" which is thicker, and looks a lot cooler. I hope they'll be some good discussion out of that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sermon Pt 7

(sorry it's so long, but here's the conclusion)

7. The Conclusion/So What?
You see my friends; Jesus went to where he was needed most. He came to call those who needed his help, not those who were happy to stand in line at the movies and ridicule middle schoolers who don’t know any better. You see those girls are EXACTLY the ones that need to be shown you don’t have to show off your body to be accepted. Those girls need to hear they have worth beyond what they wear, and that they are not defined by how much attention boys pay them. What’s more, those girls need to be not only TOLD but SHOWN they need to EXPERIENCE the love of Christ, simply for being them. Those girls need to hear and be exposed to those things within the context of love, not judgment, out of mercy, not under stiff religion. The Pharisees mistake was they depended on their legalism to save them. Outwardly, they were righteous. Inwardly, they were sick, but did not know it. As followers of Christ, I pray that we can keep from falling victim to the same thing.

The people hardest for us to love are often the ones who need it the most. It’s easy for me to love well behaved, appropriately dressed, mature youth here at this church, as almost all of them are. THAT’S EASY. But what about the rude and obnoxious youth? What about the ones who dress like they’re going out to the club? WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF THIS CHURCH? What compassion do I have in me if I don’t show it to them? Do I really love Jesus and love his people, if I’m only loving towards “the nice ones”, only compassionate to the ones who “go to church”, and judge everyone else? Jesus spoke about this too, earlier in Matthew’s gospel in chapter 5 verses 46 & 47 he says: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles (the people of the land) do the same?” In my own words, LOVING THOSE WHO ARE EASY TO LOVE IS NO BIG DEAL.

Sometimes the most “religious” people can be some of the biggest jerks. In keeping our rules, they can quickly become chains if not they don’t start with compassion. The call of Christ to the sinner means for those who follow him it will be hard. But we can forget that we too, are sinners. We too, are sick. Too often we can be quick to diagnose others. Because in our minds we have a list don’t we? A list of behaviors that “Christian people” or “good people” just don’t do. A catalog of sins we don’t do that allows us to shame others if they do. Once again, isn’t the sin of pride a sin just the same?

Christ went to where he was needed, and this was shocking to the religious authorities at the time. Jesus enjoyed the company of “tax-collectors and sinners” (verse 10). Stop and think about this. What would you think if you saw McIntyre’s Honda Civic outside of a bar? How would you react if saw your youth pastor hanging out in the Steak N’ Shake parking lot at 1 in the morning? You would probably think, oh snap, or at least that would be cool if you could add that to your vocabulary. If you saw those things I’ll bet you would be shocked. The Gospel is shocking my friends. The love of Christ is not what we expect more often than not, because it’s hard, and it’s counterintuitive to us. Much like the Pharisees we can quickly evolve into “holy huddles”, insulated “churchy people” who sneer and point fingers at people who don’t do some things we do and DO do some things we don’t do. By that I mean, we can scoff and be dismissive of people “don’t go to church” or “don’t read the bible” or “don’t know Jesus”, or people that “do drugs” or “do have sex” or “do have tattoos” or “do go to bars” or do or don’t do whatever other lists we want to make. But now we’re already read handed, because we’ve separated us from them, we are we and they are they. We are healthy, they are sick. We are righteous, they are sinners. Let us go once again to verses 12 & 13: Jesus said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…For I have come to call not the righteous but the sinners.”

My friends the love of Christ calls us to love those who aren’t easy or convenient to love, because that’s how God loves us. When we lose sight of that, we might as well break out the Pharisee costumes so we can dress the part too, and at least people can see us comin. The love of Christ goes to those who need it the most, often hardest for the religious folks to love. The church is the only organization on the planet that exists EXCLUSIVELY for those that aren’t a part of it. Let me say that again: The church is the only organization on the planet that exists EXCLUSIVELY for those that aren’t a part of it. Let’s not forget that. Let’s not forget that we are a hospital for sinners, of which I am the first one. Let’s not forget that Jesus came not for the righteous but for the sinner. That Jesus is like a doctor, who has come to heal the sick, not tend to “they that be whole”.

I had to choose a title for this sermon, and sermon titles often have an element to cheesiness to them, so I fittingly chose a cheesy Ronald Palmer song from the 80’s. Doctor Doctor, Gimme the News:

The bad news is, we’re all sick. The good news is, Jesus came to heal the sick. The good news is, we can know the remedy. Jesus Christ, the good physician will heal us and help us to heal others if we only admit we’re sick and let him do his work. It’s hard, long, painful road to recovery. The diagnosis is not up to us, I’ve tried to spend a lot of time showing how that is a bad, bad, bad thing. Someone can only know they’re sick when they experience the love of another who shares their illness. The call of Christ demands that we go and help heal the sick as we ourselves are being healed through him who ate with tax-collectors and sinners, he who looked upon people not with judgment but with compassion. My friends, the people hardest to love need it the most. The people hardest for us to love is whom Jesus calls us to love. The people hardest to love are people just like you and me, in fact, they ARE you and me. Let us not be puffed up in our churchy clothes, our churchy music, our churchy programs, our churchy words- none of these bad things in and of themselves- but let us seek out the sick as love them as Jesus did, not shake our heads at the sinners as the Pharisees did. Amen.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sermon Pts 5 & 6

5. The Proud
You see the Pharisees were all mixed up. The were so focused on their own Orthodoxy they failed to see that was their very stumbling block. Their assent to righteousness ultimately led them into the sin of pride. Their priorities were backwards:
-More concerned with preservation of their holiness than with the helping of another’s sin
-Were interested in condemning rather than forgiving, with criticism than with encouragement.
-Focused on outward orthodoxy rather than in practical help.
Can you see why Jesus quoted Hosea 6: 6? The Pharisees in their self proclaimed holiness had made access to God exclusive. They thrived on a “who’s in, who’s out” mentality. The problem is, they were making the rules and not God. Hosea 6: 6 reads- “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Closely paraphrased we could say: “It’s compassion I want, not religion”. The Pharisees were too proud to admit they were sick, and so arrogant in thinking they were to diagnose everyone else, not God.

6. More Bad News
My friends, I’ve tried to spend some time expounding on the history and context of this one conversation in Jesus’ life. I’ve tried to show you that we are all sick, and Jesus has come to call everyone, but only those who can come to know they need him will listen. I have ripped on the Pharisees for a while now. Jesus railed against the Pharisees for their self-righteousness. In verse 13 when Jesus says “I have come to call not the righteous but the sinner” another translation reads: “I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” Let me read that again, imagine Jesus saying to the most “religious” people on that planet: “I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” (The Message) My friends how often do we create an insider and outsider scenario for those we encounter in the world? How often to do we pass judgment upon people we’d rather condemn than love? As the church, as “religious” people, can we not be guilty of the same sins of the Pharisees? Let me show you what I mean.

Friday, June 3rd I went to go see Spider Man 3 on opening night. Not only was it opening night of what was the biggest opening weekend in history, but I had obtained tickets to the showing at the Galaxy Theatre in the Valley on THE MEGA SCREEN, which I’m pretty sure you can see from space. For someone like me, Spider Man 3, on the mega screen, opening night, is a big deal; especially when you consider that I ordered about 20 tickets ahead of time and there were a group of us from church who all went together. Now, some of you parents might know this, but Friday nights at the Galaxy Theatre feels like a Middle Schoolers Convention. I mean kids are being dropped off, picked up, talking on their cell phones, talking to their friends, talking on their cell phones to their friends friends, it’s like an industrious colony of bees, really quite a spectacle to see. So there I am in line with all my church buddies, when I spot one group of middle schoolers in particular. Now keep in mind I’m only 23 years old, so I’m still shocked and disgusted when I have thoughts or speak words that sound like something my Dad would say. But I had one of those parental moments, a wave of “old-fashioned-ness” came over me, and I thought: “Goodness, I can’t believe what those girls are wearing!” I mean here was a group of 14 year old girls dressed like they might have stage names. I sat there; shocked at how their parents let them leave the house looking like a floozy, and how much of their bodies they were revealing to everyone at the movies. It was ridiculous, I even made some head shaking comments to my buddies with me.

Do you see what happened? There I was with my “church friends” looking down and shaming these girls in my mind. Since I was so righteous and thought that anyone who dressed like has got to be a heathen, I put those girls in a different category than myself. There tiny skirts were on my mental “no-no” list and so I condemned them. Where is the compassion in that? Isn’t my pride and loveless-ness worse than their short skirted-ness? If you think about it, the latter is a lot more easy to fix. Changing your clothes is a lot harder than transforming your heart. I was as guilty as the Pharisees.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sermon Pts 2, 3, & 4

Things went ok on Sunday! Woo Hoo! Here's a longer chunk....

2. People of the Law vs. People of the Land
Enter the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a sect of elite teachers. They differed from the other Jewish priests chiefly in their strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, adherence to oral laws and traditions, and belief in an afterlife and the coming of a Messiah. ( The Pharisees adhered to a strict and exclusive code of conduct. Generally speaking, in Jesus time people were divided into two sections. The first were “The Orthodox”, the religious people. Orthodox is Greek, meaning “right, or correct practice” so the orthodox folks rigidly kept the law in every detail. The Pharisees were part of this division of society. We can thus call the first division People of the Law. The second were classed as the people of the land; they saw the law as petty regulations used by the religious elite to exploit those who are “beneath” them. The orthodox were forbidden to associate with the people of the land in any meaningful way: would not go on a journey with them, do any business with them, give anything to them, or receive anything from them, much less entertain them as guests or be guests in their houses. (Barclay) Again, the people of the law not only obeyed their scriptures, but also followed traditions and teachings of ancient rabbis. One of these teachings was “Keep far from an evil neighbor and do not associate with the wicked”. (Interpreters Bible) So can’t you just hear the uppity tone of the Pharisees, seeing the ilk of people who Jesus had surrounded himself with, scoffing and challenging him in front of his followers saying in verse 11: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The King James version of the Bible reads: “Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners?” The New Living Translation reads: “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” By spending his time with “tax-collectors and sinners” Jesus was committing a very bold act in the eyes of the holy Jewish priests, he was doing something the pious Pharisees would never do.

3. Jesus Response
Now in verses 12 & 13 we see Jesus responding, fully aware of the political offenses he was making. When we think deeply about Jesus response to the Pharisees, it is an “oh snap” situation. Now, for those of you who don’t speak the vernacular of the young people, “oh snap” is a slang expression used to convey shock or surprise, particularly after a stinging rebuttal in confrontational circumstances. In verse 12 Jesus says “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” The King James Version reads: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” I like the sound of that. Jesus continues to make quick work of the Pharisees by telling them to “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus quoted from Hosea 6: 6 (which I hope sounds familiar, as it was used as our Old Testament lesson). Jesus is telling the supposed experts that they are not experts. The Pharisees challenged him, trying to embarrass him in front of his followers, and he responds by telling them to go back to school! I’m sure the Pharisees were shocked and surprised indeed. Oh snap. The end of verse 13 contains the crucial element to Jesus message: “For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Now, let’s read that last part again: “For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” What? Are we to infer that Jesus meant there are some that don’t need him? Is he saying there are some of us that he’s not worried about, because we’re already good enough? Certainly not. “He was not saying that there were some people who were so good that they had no need of anything which he could give; nor was he saying that he was not interested in people who were good…Jesus was saying ‘I did not come to invite people who are so self-satisfied that they are convinced they don’t need anyone’s help; I came to invite people who are very conscious of their sin and desperately aware of their need for a savior” He was saying ‘It is only those who know how much they need me who can accept my invitation.” (Barclay) How do I dare put words in Jesus mouth you may ask? Just think about what he said a few words earlier; he compared himself to a doctor: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

4. We’re All Sick.
Think about it. Who here likes to go to the Doctor? If you’ve seen Farris Buehler’s day off, or if you’ve had children, or if you’ve ever thought about faking sick yourself, no one would choose going to the doctor’s office when they’re home sick, that’s worse than going to school! Recently I had some foot problems (probably due to my excessive flip flop wearing). A lot of the staff here at church would see me limping around, and ask if I had seen a doctor. I would answer in the excuse voice, “nah, just hopin it wears off” or try to come up with some lame reason “might just be the weather” or whatever. I made excuses to not want to go see the doctor. Why? Well, 1. it’s expensive and 2. it’s a pain to make an appointment and miss work or get up early or whatever. But really, deep down, the reason I didn’t want to go see a doctor is I was afraid something was wrong. My Dad is diabetic. So I’m genetically pre-disposed to diabetes plus being overweight doesn’t help anything. One of the symptoms of diabetes is foot problems. I didn’t want to go to the doctor because I was scarred I’d have to face some hard consequences and even harder changes. I don’t want to admit that I have problems. So I put off going to the doctor and pretend that everything is fine. That realization made Jesus words so real to me: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” IN ORDER TO SEE A DOCTOR YOU MUST FIRST ADMIT THAT SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOU. If not a full admission, at least you have to be open to the possibility of there being something wrong with you. You see in the Pharisee’s world, they’re self-righteous. They are teachers and keepers of the law, so their pride insulates them from the reality of their sin. The Pharisees don’t want to admit that they are sick. They might even be so delusional to think that they’re no way THEY COULD EVER BE SICK. The truth is, we’re all sick. So when Jesus talks about not healing the healthy and not calling the righteous, it’s tongue in cheek. To accept the call of Jesus you have know that you need him. You have to know that you are sinful; you have to know that you’re sick and he is the remedy. Jesus calls everyone, but the “righteous” (or really, self-righteous) do not heed his call.