Current events and dead fruit trees

On Sunday we looked at Luke 13:1-9 where Jesus talks with a crowd about some current events, and then he tells them a parable.  Perhaps you might read the verses again to remind yourself of the story.

Basically the two parts go like this:

Part 1 – In current events, people died, but not because they were more sinful.  The fact of the matter is that we’ll all die, Jesus says, unless we repent.

Part 2 – In the parable, the owner will cut down dead fruit trees, unless the garderner’s fertilizer treatments cause it to bear fruit.

Do you see how these two sections are related?

The hope of the world….fertilizer!

I once listened to a very thought-provoking audio book called An Edible History of the World by Tom Standage.   I learned a lot about seeds, food development, and especially fertilizer.  Standage does an excellent job digging through the history and progress of fertilizer.  Many of you have gardens and you know what a wonderful difference fertilization makes to your flowers and vegetables.  Here in Lancaster County fertilizer is an aroma we know quite well.  The other day, I thought for sure someone had done something very awful in our bathroom, or perhaps worse that a sewage pipe was backed up.  I should have known better.  The farmers around us were applying winter fertilizer to their fields.

Standage convincingly shows that without fertilizer, we would not be able to feed the world.  Fertilizer is, in a very real sense, the hope of the world.

Jesus knew about fertilizer and he discusses it in a parable.  In preparation for tomorrow’s sermon, read Luke 13:1-9.  Perhaps you need a little hope, a little fertilizer!

Knowing Bono…follow-up

As I mentioned in my previous post, though I feel like I know the lead singer of Bono, if I knocked on his house, and he answered the door, he would say “I don’t know you.”  Those are hard words to hear.  So is it possible that God might say them to us when we hope to enter his Kingdom?

In Luke 13:22-30, that’s exactly what Jesus teaches.  I encourage you to read it.

What about you?  Is it possible that while you think you know God, he might not know you?  What can we do about this?  What does it mean to know God and be known by him?  Let’s discuss!

Getting to know Bono

U2 is my favorite band for many reasons.  I have a lot of respect for the lead singer Bono, and I would love to sit down and have a nice, long talk with him.

I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I’ve come close!  I’ve seen U2 in concert twice.  Going to those concerts was a lifelong dream come true for me.  U2 tickets are very hard to come by, and I thought it would never happen.  But a couple friends made it happen.  (Ray and Todd, if you’re reading this, let me say thanks again!)  In Denver, CO, in Nov. 2001 during the Elevation Tour my friend Ray and I were on the floor in general admission.  The next was with my wife in Philly in May 2005, during the Vertigo Tour.  There we were seated to the right rear of the stage, so close we could read the lyrics off the teleprompter.  I actually got within 20-30 feet of Bono each time.  For years before the concerts, and ever since, I’ve bought their music and videos, read the books, and followed their website.  I feel like I’ve gotten to know Bono especially well.

But here’s the rub: if I showed up at his house, and he answered the door, while I would be super-excited, I’m pretty sure he would say “I don’t know you or where you come from.”

I would say, “Yeah but, I was at your concerts.  I read your books.”

But he would say, “Sorry…I don’t know you.”

Those are hard words to hear, aren’t they?  They make me think of the classic romantic movie, where a major breakdown has happened in a relationship, and one person says “I don’t know you, anymore.” There is shock and pain involved, extreme disappointment.

Wouldn’t it be awful to have God say that to us?  Here’s the awesome news, we don’t have hear that!  There is a better way.  Want to hear about the better way?  Join us tomorrow morning at Faith Church, or wait for the podcast on Monday!

Going deeper with Jesus, and other phrases that make you think “blah, blah, blah.”

“Going deeper with Christ.”

How many times have you heard that?  A billion?

“More passion for Christ!  More intimate relationship with Jesus!”

Blah, blah, blah.  We’ve heard it over and over…

Any of you hear that phrase “going deeper” and tune out because you’ve heard it so many times, and you’re just not sure what it means OR how to go deeper?  Maybe you’re not sure you want to try.

You ever hear someone call another person “deep.”?

What is a deep person?

What is a mature person?

What does it mean to grow up?

Here’s a video clip that, when it comes to going deeper with Jesus, or when it comes to your relationship with church, just might describe the situation precisely.

Why I dislike church worship surveys very, very much

The pastors of the EC Church have a Facebook page.  It’s a place where we pastors talk shop throughout the week, ask each other questions, debate, and so on.  Recently a pastor friend of mine asked the following question:

Has anyone ever surveyed their congregation regarding worship style? If so, do you have any questions that my worship committee might use?

I knew I had to respond.  We’ve done worship surveys at Faith Church.  Maybe some of you remember them.  How would you answer his questions?  Want to know what I said?  here is my response:

Don’t survey them! It always went bad for us!!!! Ha! That is true though.

My eye starts to twitch when I think about surveys.  They give the impression of interest in hearing from people and caring about their perspective.  But somehow it has not gone well for us.  I think that might be due to believing that majority rules, or that majority is always right.  At Evangelical Seminary’s recent Faith in the Marketplace breakfast, speaker Jim Smucker (CEO of Bird-In-Hand Corporation) gave a wonderful presentation, including a clip from the movie Invictus.  Please watch it here before reading further.

So I knew I had to say a bit more in response to my friend’s question:

When I said, “don’t survey them,” above, the more I think about it, the more I think that is serious. By surveying them about worship style, how could you avoid promoting a consumerist mentality toward worship? In 2007 Faith Church was going through worship difficulties. One proposal (which I admittedly favored) was going to two services, one traditional, one contemporary. I was wrong. Though kicking and screaming, I supported our decision not to go to two services. Instead we attempted a blend. Our reasoning was that we wanted our people to practice unity over and above their personal preferences. Many were unable to demonstrate that kind of sacrificial attitude. Faith Church is now smaller from a resulting worship exodus, and has ongoing budgetary concerns.

I wonder often if we should have just given people what they wanted, and hoped to minister to them (change their minds) after keeping them here. This is speculation, but after decades of consumer-oriented worship, I highly doubt we would change their mind. Could the Spirit do it? Sure. But we didn’t go that route, and here we are smaller. About two years ago, we evaluated the blend idea, and found that wanting too. Attempting to place everyone in a position where they get a little of what they want, and have the opportunity to sacrifice a little bit, it wasn’t working. Trying to please everyone leads to pleasing no one.

So we went back to the foundation, asking “what does it mean for the gathered church to worship God?” The traditional style doesn’t have a corner on the market. Neither does the contemporary or the blend or high liturgy or anything else for that matter. Our conclusion was that we needed to lead our people in a varied, experimental, creative, biblical, Christ-centered, joyful, worship of God. Now, we tinker with order of worship almost every week. We introduce elements of worship from a variety of traditions. Some weeks an entire worship service is devoted to one of those traditions. We practice variety in giving, with communion, with baptism, etc. One week we didn’t have a worship service and instead did a Church Has Left The Building…worshiping by serving. We worship twice each summer in a local park. And we’re looking into more options this year. Not everyone likes every Sunday, but we’re no longer driven by their preferences. After a Silent Sunday (Quaker and Taize influenced), I asked for feedback, and one couple gave the best compliment: “We didn’t care for it, but we respect what you’re doing.” They’re still here a year later.

Unless you can avoid promoting consumer worship, I urge you not to survey them. Lead them into worshiping God.

So while we don’t have worship figured out at Faith Church, I hope we never do.  Instead I hope we always experiment, having teachable hearts that expectantly seek to worship God in new and old ways as much as possible.

Reflections on a month of free coffee from Starbucks

I admit, I started with doubt.  My wife came home with what Starbucks calls the January refill travel mug.  For $30, it was a relatively inexpensive Christmas gift to each other.  The concept of the January mug is pretty simple: you buy the mug, and during the month of January, Starbucks will fill it an unlimited amount of times.  Once January 31st says hello to February 1st, you own a travel mug, and you can continue to get 10cents off the price of a cup of coffee anytime in the future.

Whenever I hear the words “unlimited refills” it perks me up.

And yet I doubted.  $30 is steep.  We really don’t need another travel mug.  But most of all I questioned, is this actually a good deal?

I definitely reveled in a fantasy sometimes when I handed my mug over to the various baristas.  “I’ll have blonde roast this time.”  They fill it up no questions asked, no money exchanges hands.  I muse to myself that the people in line behind me are staring wide-eyed thinking, “How did he do that?  What is this magical free refill mug in his hands?”  Free refills feels good.

That satisfaction evaporated when I did cost-benefit analysis.

If I purchased the most expensive coffee allowable in the refill mug, which is a grande coffee with a double shot of espresso for $3.45 (specialties like lattes or mochas are not included in the promotion), it wouldn’t take long to see how this could be a good deal.  10 of those guys would do it.  But to avoid my head exploding from caffeine overdose, I usually got a combination of regular and decaf.  Even then, I would only need to buy about 15-20 cups.  But who goes to Starbucks that many times in a month?  Maybe those of you for whom Starbucks is your second office.  For me, wanting to make this purchase worth it, I endeavored to fill the January mug 2-3 times every day.  The mug itself says free refills are limited to one per day, but none of the Starbucks employees batted an eye when I kept coming back. Actually, at my very first fill-up, I asked “How does this work?”  The barista responded that it was truly unlimited, so I went for it.  Over and over again.  My goal was 100 refills for the month.

As I drank all that Starbucks coffee, what I realized I needed to do with the cost-benefit analysis was not compare the January mug with regular purchases at Starbucks.  Instead I needed to compare it with brewing at home.  We normally drink enough coffee at home to necessitate the purchase of two 2lb bags of coffee every month.  Costco sells Kirkland-brand fair trade coffee roasted by Starbucks.  One bag of decaf and one regular costs a total of $25, and it sometimes lasts us a whole month drinking a pot or two each day.  Admittedly, this is not a scientific analysis.  But for $5 less than the cost of the refill mug, home brewing averages about one extra mug per day.  We also save time and money by not driving to Starbucks.  Because we have well-water, a permanent coffee filter, and equipment purchased long ago, our incidental cost of brewing at home is minimal, just a tiny amount of electricity, cream and sugar.  The cost-benefit analysis result is clear: it is cheaper to brew at home.

There is also another hidden cost that is hard to quantify, easy to ignore, but just may be the most important of all: Starbucks coffee hardly ever uses fair trade coffee, so I just went a whole month likely supporting slave-made coffee.  That’s more than enough reason we never should have gotten the January mug in the first place and should seriously consider boycotting Starbucks altogether.

On the positive side, there is something I have not mentioned, and it too is hard to place a value on: the interaction I had with the employees at Starbucks.  Did we become friends?  No.  But if I would continue going through the drive-thru each morning, I think friendship could follow.  Both the morning guy and the afternoon guy were very interesting and engaging, traits that were obvious even from only a few minutes of face-time each day.  Who can put a price on that?  I think Starbucks should continue the free refills for another month so I can make new friends!

In the last few days as February neared, the guys asked what I was going to do when January was over.  I told them about my cost-benefit analysis, and even gave them a spreadsheet version I made.  Sadly, I said, I would stop coming to Starbucks.  They were disappointed, whether due to company loyalty or our talks each morning, I don’t know.

The afternoon guy had a wonderful idea.  He suggested I make the last day a marathon coffee-drinking session.  He even said that I could bring an urn, and keeping driving round and round the drive-thru, gradually filling it up, like Joshua and the battle of Jericho mounting a major circular offensive on the final day.  I asked if I could invite all my friends to Starbucks and use my mug to fill up theirs too?  He said, sure, why not?  If my schedule would have allowed it, I would have tried it.  Party at Starbucks!  Free Coffee all afternoon!

Then I thought, what if we turn it into a fundraiser?  For every free cup of coffee people receive on that last day, we would encourage them to make a donation to the local Food Bank.  We just might have to try, that is, if Starbucks runs the promotion again next year!

Unless I decide to drive out to Starbucks one more time tonight, I just drank my last sip from the last refill on the last day.   It’s been fun!

Is something wrong if you are not making disciples?

Have you ever made a disciple?  By “making disciples”, I don’t mean disciples of yourself, but instead I mean disciples of Jesus.  Have you ever helped a person grow closer to Jesus, be more committed to him?

Jesus said the he would make his disciples “fishers of men.”  Essentially, he was saying that he would help them do what he did.  That takes us to our sermon last Sunday.  Jesus did make those original disciples into fishers of men.  He concluded his time with them by saying to them, “make disciples.”  Once they had become his disciples, he wanted them to make more.  And more. And more.

So is something wrong if you and I are not making disciples?  What if you have been a part of a church for years, maybe even decades, but you’ve never made a disciple.  Is that okay?  Is it bad?  Is it possible, if you are not “fishers of men” that you are not a disciple yourself?

Check out these remarks by Ed Stetzer.  Ed is a guy who studies the church around the world, particularly from the viewpoint of reaching out and starting new churches.  Hear what he recently said about discipleship:

One of the compelling statements from [a recent conference] was in reference to who could be a disciple-maker. One of our speakers declared that the New Testament expectations for those who would hold an official office in the church were extremely high. However, he went on to say, the qualifications for those who would make disciples are much, much less intense. His point was merely that disciple-making should be a normal function of every Christ follower. In the more healthy and growing expressions the global church, this is an expectation.

Do you expect this of yourself?  Does your church expect it of you?  How so?  How do you show that “disciple-making is a normal function” of your life?

To be a disciple or not to be a disciple…does it matter?

What do you think, is it an option for Christians to be disciples?  Is it possible that there are levels of connection with Jesus that are okay?  Specifically, while we all have to be believers in him, is it okay to be a believer but not a disciple?  Maybe discipleship is for the really intense followers of Jesus, like missionaries or pastors or leaders in the church?

On Sunday we begin a three-part teaching on Discipleship.  This is the second topic in our sermon series called Faith Church New Year’s Resolutions.

So what do you think?  Does being a disciple matter, in God’s eyes?  What are some passages of Scripture that would have something to say to help answer these questions?

Let’s discuss!

To be called or not to be called…the essential requirement for leadership in the church?

This morning we continued a brief series I’m calling New Years Resolutions for Faith Church.  We’re looking at two facets of the church that figure to be a significant focus for us in 2013: leadership and discipleship.  Over the next month or so, we’ll unveil a proposal for changing our church governance structure.  To prepare for that the first two sermons of the year took a look at a couple leadership episodes in the life of the first church.  In Acts 6 the apostles decide to select new leaders to handle a ministry in the church.  We explored that last week, and we saw that the apostles had a specific criteria for who would become leaders. Surprisingly, it was not their business acumen or ministry skills, but that they were full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit.

Is that how we select leaders?  Simply because they have distinguished themselves to be full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit?

Fast forward about 30 years after that Acts 6 story, and we read the teaching Paul gave two young pastors, Timothy and Titus, about selecting leaders in their churches.  What Paul shares are lists of character qualities that essentially boil down to one principle: leaders need to be people of spiritual maturity.  Notice how very similar that is to what the apostles thought was important in Acts 6.

Again, is that how we select leaders?  Because they are the most spiritually mature in the church?

What I found so interesting is that in both of these situations, there was something missing.  Calling.  And yet in many churches, we have elevated calling as primary, essential even to the selection of leaders.  We have said that if God has not called them, they have no business pursuing leadership in the church, pastoral or otherwise.

If that is the case, why doesn’t Paul, who was quite experienced with callings (read about his own in Acts 9), mention a peep about it?  It would seem that if a divine calling is so vital, Paul would have least given it a nod.  Instead he says in 1 Timothy 3:1 that the task of leadership is for “anyone” who “desires it”, “sets their heart on it”.  People can choose to be leaders!

Clearly, this is not to say that God does not call.  He has in the past, and it seems to me based on many testimonies, that he still does.  Sometimes in dramatic fashion, and other times in very subtle ways.  Most importantly, when he calls, we should answer.   What I have seen, however, is that for every person who feels called but has no business being a leader, there are ten, maybe a hundred, who are not called, and feel a sense of relief at not being called so they don’t have to serve.  The lack of divine calling becomes for them an excuse not to serve.

But what if the necessity of divine calling is actually a false premise for serving as a leader?  What if all are called to serve the Lord, and all should consider the possibility that they might be gifted for leadership?  What if, instead of a criteria of calling, we select leaders using the apostles (Acts 6) and Paul’s (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) criteria of spiritual maturity?  Furthermore, perhaps most importantly of all, this passage could serve as the impetus for us to pursue a deepening relationship with Jesus.