Tag Archives: Faith Church

Do we need to take global warming seriously?

18 Nov

Image result for global warming

This weekend we finish our series about Life in These United States.  We have been talking about what everyone is talking about.  I’ve enjoyed this series, though it has made me squirm from time to time!  But  as we conclude this series, we look forward to Advent.  Yes, Advent begins next week.  And during Advent we will be studying five passages in the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah.  Five passages that talk about the mission of the Messiah.  Then after the new year, we will begin a series through the book of 1st Timothy.

This weekend, though?  Creation care.  Creation care is just theological code for “environmentalism.”  But creation care is different from environmentalism, and I think you’ll see why.

As I was preparing this week, I came across this amazing headline:  “China delegate hits back at Trump’s climate change hoax claims.”

What is that all about?  Four years ago, the article reports, President-elect Trump said “China had created the concept of climate change to make America’s manufacturing sector less competitive, dubbing the global phenomenon…’non-existent’.”

Now this week, the article goes on to say, “Beijing has turned the tables on US President-elect Donald Trump over his accusation that climate change is a Chinese hoax, claiming that it was the Republican’s own party that initiated global warming negotiations.”

Really?  The Republicans?  Can’t be.  Well, it turns out it can be: “Climate change negotiations began with the UN’s International Panel for Climate Change in the 1980s, supported by the US Republican-led administrations under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.”  Reagan and Bush?  Did you know that?

Furthermore, “China and the US are the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases that are causing the earth’s temperatures to rise, according to UN data.”

How many of you watch the weather reports on the news that list the record high and low for each day?  How many of you see how often the high for that day was recorded way back in 1894 or 1927 and think “Global warming is a crock.”?  How many of you hear the reports that world-wide the last year few years have been the warmest on record?  What should we think about global warming?  Is it a hoax?

The article above notes that “scientists say a 2-degree Celsius rise would be dangerous for the planet.  The US and China signed the Paris agreement in climate change talks last year, which involves both developed and developing countries. It aims to keep the world’s rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to create a carbon-neutral world by 2100.”  But you have probably heard what President-elect Trump has said about it:  “He plans to dump the agreement, which he described as a ‘bad deal’.”

Why am I bringing this up?   I don’t want this to be a political sermon.  I’m not trying to prove to you what science says about environment.  But the environment is something that is often in the news.  So how should Christians think about it?

Doesn’t the book of Revelation predict that God going to destroy the world?  So what should we care about global warming?  What is the big deal?

Perhaps it is a bigger deal that some people think.

Join us at Faith Church at 9:30am this coming Sunday 11/20/16 as we seek out biblical passages and theological principles that we could apply to our world, teaching us how we should view this planet.

Halloween and Horror…should we be concerned?

29 Oct

Image result for why is halloween celebrated

What kinds of commercials are you seeing on TV in the very few spots that are not already taken by election commercials?

This time of year there are always lots of commercials advertising the latest horror movies.  It’s Halloween season, and they’re trying to scare you.  But why at Halloween?  Have you ever thought about that?  What is the deal with scary things and horror movies at Halloween?

In Christian circles over the years this connection between scary things and Halloween has actually been the cause of controversy surrounding Halloween.

How many of you were not allowed to trick or treat?  How many of you were not allowed to wear costumes?  Or how many of you were not permitted to wear costumes of witches or wizards or demons? How many of you had Harvest parties instead of Halloween parties?

And why?  Why are some families or churches opposed to Halloween?

When we lived in the City of Lancaster, Trick or Treat night was an amazing night.   It was like a block party that never ended.  It just went on and on, street after street, block after block.  Tons of people out walking around, conversing on their porches, giving out candy.  It was awesome.  Neighbors talking, laughing, getting to know one another.

What could be wrong with that?

And yet some people are totally opposed to it.  I would guess that in most churches you’ll find people that agree with either perspective.  That’s pretty normal in church families, to have people who disagree with one another.

We invite you to join us at Faith Church on Sunday at 9:30am.  We are going to be looking at why there has been concern about Halloween.  Do you know?

You have to go way back in history.  And it starts with the word “Halloween” itself.  It is actually two words “Hallow” and “eve”.  At some point those two words were contracted together to make “Halloween.”  But that should make us ask, what is the connection between “Hallow” and “eve”?  What “eve” are we talking about, and what is a “Hallow”?

Hope to see you Sunday!

A Discussion Guide for Church Leaders and Followers!

22 Aug

A few weeks ago I started creating discussion guides that Faith Church’s small group leaders could use if they wanted to guide their group through a further consideration of a recent sermon.  Last week I introduced the sermon saying that the concept of “majority rules” could be good, but also really bad.  Faith Church is congregational, but that doesn’t mean the congregation votes to approve every decision in the life and ministry of our church.  Instead the congregation approves leaders, which I suspect is the case at your church too.  And that raises a lot of questions about the hows and whys of leadership.  Here is a discussion guide that you can use to study the concept of leadership in the church.

  1. What kind of person should become a leader in the church?
  • In the story in Acts 6:1-7 we realize that not anyone can be a leader in the church.  Instead there is a very specific criteria for who can be a leader.  In verse 3, the apostles give us the first description of what the next generation of leaders should be like.  Full of the Spirit and wisdom.  Next in verse 5 we learn another criteria for choosing these new leaders.  They had to be full of faith.  Paul would later further describe what kind of person can become a leader in the church when he wrote to two young pastors.  See 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. How are the lists in Acts 6 and Timothy/Titus similar or different?
  • Follow-up Question: Summarize the kind of person who can become a church leader in one phrase.  At Faith Church we synthesize the passages listed above by saying that church leaders must show beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are spiritually mature.
  1. How do you become a leader at Faith Church?
  • Back in Acts 6:1-7, the Apostles called a church congregational meeting and asked the church to select seven leaders based on the qualities we discussed above. Then it was up to the church to decide on selecting these seven.  At Faith Church our Nominating Committee administers a process of selecting leadership candidates through applications, interviews, prayer and discussion.  Once a candidate has proceeded through those steps, their name is placed on the congregational meeting ballot, and the congregation elects them by simple majority.  How does your church select leaders?  Is your congregation structure intentional about making sure only the spiritually mature can become leaders?
  • If you are a leader, how can this passage and process be a safeguard for you?
  • If you are not a leader, what can you learn about yourself and the possibility that God may have gifted you to be a leader? Read Romans 12:3-8 and discuss.
  1. How should church leaders lead?
  • What does the word deacon mean? The word deacon give us an important clue as what a leader should do. Deacon means servant.
  • Remember what Jesus told his disciples at the last supper? Peter was there that day.  When Jesus came to wash his feet, do you remember how Peter reacted? Read John 13:1-17.  What can we learn from this story about how leaders should lead?
  • It is possible Peter remembered the Last Supper when he wrote 1 Peter 5:1-5. Read that, and discuss what he says about how leaders should lead.
  • Leaders also set the example. Paul would say a couple times in 1 Corinthians, “imitate me” or “imitate me as I imitate Christ”.  Paul would also say to Timothy 4:12 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and purity.”  Leaders, are you setting the example?
  1. How should non-leaders support leaders?
  • Read Hebrews 13:7 and 17. What principles does the author of Hebrews (we don’t know for certain who wrote it) say a congregation should apply when supporting leaders?
  • Remember what Peter said? In 1 Peter 5:1-5, pay special attention to verse 5.  What principles does Peter teach followers to adhere to?
  • How will you support your leaders when you disagree with them? There are some clear warnings in Scripture.  What cautions can we learn in the following two passages:  Proverbs 6:16-19, Matthew 13:24-43?
  • In Acts 15 there was a sharp disagreement in the church. What was the disagreement?  How did they respond to and solve the disagreement?  What principles can we learn from this?
  1. No matter if you are paid staff, volunteer leaders or non-leaders, all must be committed followers of Jesus. What will it look like for you to “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow him”?

When Christians should stop inviting people to church

15 Aug

stop invitingI appreciate a good provocative title.  My wife says if I use them too much, people will become callous to them.  She’s right.  But I really am serious about the title of this blog post.  At first I titled it “WHY Christians should stop inviting people to church.”  But that was a smidge misleading, and I could be accused of manipulating the truth when I really just want to grab your attention.  I don’t want to be manipulative, so I changed it to what you see above.  “When” rather than “Why.”  “Why” could give the impression that Christians should never invite people to church, and that is not what I intend to communicate here.   I do, however, think there are times when a Christian should not invite a friend to church.  But when?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Let me set the stage for that discussion first.  I’ve been preaching through what we are calling Faith Church’s Growth Process.  It is a process we believe that followers of Jesus should be going through as they seek to live like Jesus lived.  You can check out the previous sermons in this series by searching this blog site for “growth process”.  To summarize, the Growth Process suggests that most people start as worshipers, move on to fellowship with a local church, but most importantly of all, should cross the Matthew 7 line and move on to discipleship to Jesus.  Today we see that there is a natural outflow to disciples of Jesus.

One of the best examples of Jesus’ teaching on what this outflow should look like is found in Matthew 25:31-46, a story often called The Sheep and the Goats.

Did you hear what Jesus said?  Just believe in him and pray the sinner’s prayer?  Nope.  Just answer an invitation an evangelist or pastor gives to walk forward to the front?  Nope.  Go to church?  No.  Worship?  No.  He said that we are distinguished by what how we live out our faith!  There should be an outflow.  We show that we trust in him by obeying what he taught.  We actually do something! God wants his abundant life to take deep root in our lives, so that it flows out of us into the lives of those in need around us.

This is why our church has a passionate outreach with CVCCS.  We are seeking to help the Conestoga Valley community reach those in need.  Many people from our congregation volunteer at CVCCS, give donations, and serve clients.  This aspect of outreach is vital.  Throughout the Bible in the Old Testament and New, we see God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, those in need.  We Christians speak the Gospel incredibly clearly and faithfully by reaching out to those in need.

Then we also reach out 1 on 1 to the people in your life, as Jesus said that one of his disciples’ primary mission goals was to make more disciples.  I’ve heard numerous times over the years that people have a desire to reach out to their family and friends, but they don’t know how, or they are really concerned that people will reject them if they start talking about Jesus.

So the conclusion that people have come to is that actions speak louder than words.  Or as St. Francis of Assisi suggested: “share the Gospel at all times, and only if necessary use words.”

People have said others will look at Christians living out the abundant life of Jesus and think “Wow, they are different.  They have something I don’t have.  I want what they have.  Peace.  Joy.  Even in the midst of difficulty, they seem like they are grounded.”  And then those people will come up ask the Christian “you are different.  I want what you have.  Why are you different?”  “And then the Christian will be able to say “I’m different because of Jesus.”  And they Christian will have the opportunity to share Christ.

Actor Stephen Baldwin tells the story of his nanny.  She was like that.  Always joyful.  It got under Baldwin’s skin, and finally got to the point where he asked “What is going on with you?”  And she was able to share Christ with him, and he became a Christian.

Can I be honest though?

How many of you have actually encountered this situation in your life?  I don’t know that I ever have.  If you haven’t had someone come up to you and ask “why are you different?”, is it possible that you are not different?  Is it possible that there is no or very little evidence that people can point in your life that speaks that you are a disciple of Jesus?

Or maybe it is because you’ve said arrogantly, self-righteously, “Well, I’m a Christian, so I don’t do _______!”  That kind of harsh statement only divides, creates a barrier.  We need to be gracious and loving about our decision to follow the way of Jesus.

Because Christians have behaved badly like this, we all need to examine our lives and invite others to examine us as well, others who will speak the hard truth to us.  Is it possible that that the Gospel we have been preaching with our actions has not been good news?  Is it possible that people around us have not seen much off the Fruit of the Spirit flowing from us?

Or maybe people don’t ask that question because the premise of the question is faulty.  We think that is what should happen, that they are so lacking something in their lives, that something feels missing and deep down they are not at peace, can’t be at peace, and they are longing for hope, for joy, for peace.  We call this the god-shaped hole, and some people have said that God created all of us with a god-shaped hole in our lives.  A longing to be in relationship with God.  An inner ache, an inner emptiness that only a relationship with God can fulfill.

And yet plenty of people give the impression that they don’t feel that way at all.

What should we do when people are expressing no or little interest?  In our day and age, there are more and more people that simply have no desire, no interest. What should we do?  My recommendation is to avoid the gimmicks.  Avoid the events.  Invitations to church?  They might help, but I think there is a much better way.  A much more down to earth approach.

  • Pray for people.
  • Be available.
  • Love. Genuine friendship.
  • Be ready to share the words of the Good News when people give you permission.

Seriously evaluate the idea of inviting people to church.  The simplest form of evangelism might not be to invite people to church.  In fact, it might be the wrong choice for some people.  They might have had a bad experience with church, and the wound could still be open.  They might not be into organized, institutional religious approaches, and let’s call a spade a spade, what we do in our churches on Sunday is an organized, institutional approach.  We’re used to it. We like it.  But we can blind to the fact that not everyone, and in fact few people, might have a willingness to try it out.  Instead it will likely seem extremely odd to many people.  Where else in our society do you go into a room where people sit in rows, sing songs, and listen to a lecture?  And why would they do it with a group of people they don’t know?  Just go ahead and start asking people who don’t go to church, or who have no background with church, what they think about worship services.  You might learn a thing or two about how other people view this pretty unique thing we do on Sunday.  That doesn’t make them wrong, by the way.

It is also not wrong for we followers of Jesus to enjoy worship services and hold worship services.  But we would do well to remember that it is okay if other people think differently from us.

So if there is a person in your life for whom inviting them to church might not be a good choice, or if you have invited them already and they have said “no,” then you’re likely going to have to change your approach about to introducing them to Jesus.   So pray for them.  Love them in genuine friendship.

One author says it is extremely important that we listen to people.  He says “Mission should be done with the posture of humility and compassion. A tangible way of doing this is actively listening to what people are saying. Knowing a person’s story will allow for a more faithful contextualization of the gospel.”

And when people give us permission to talk about Jesus, what should we say?  Don’t stop praying at this point.  Pray inwardly that the Holy Spirit will help you know what to say.  Jesus taught that the Spirit would help us.

The same author I quoted above said this “So what should we tell people about God? How should we do it? A good place to start is with the presenting of the overarching story of the Bible. By doing this we’ll be able to proclaim that Jesus is King, that he is working to right every wrong, and that he is restoring every broken part of this earth! Now that is good news! To me, this is much better news than the individualized gospel of Jesus hiding in our hearts.  The reality, is that most of the anxieties that come from evangelism stem from Christians not believing the gospel themselves. Or even worse, they don’t believe that the gospel is good news. When sharing the gospel, tell of the powerful, all knowing God who is on a rescue mission to redeem His world.”

Could a church worship service be a bad thing?

15 Jul

Did you have a security blanket as a kid?  Maybe it was a special stuffed animal or a pacifier.  Or did you suck your thumb?

I had a blanket as a child.  My own kids had a variety of security items, which got progressively bizarre.  Child #1 carried around a blanket, which we had snugly wrapped him in as an infant.  Child #2 had a stuffed lamb named Lamby (whose ear got wrapped over this particular child’s nose, held in place with the forefinger while sucking the thumb).  Child #3 also had a special stuffed pet, an elephant named Ellie.  But this child did not suck on his thumb.  Instead he sucked on the trunk of the elephant, which got very disgusting.  Not to mention that said child would regularly walk around and play with a stuffed elephant hanging out of his mouth.  Child #4 reverted quite a bit, as she just had a pacifier.

Did you know that adults have security items?  Ours tend to be a bit more socially acceptable, but if left unchecked they can become rather bizarre as well, and sometimes destructive.  Security items keep us from experiencing some part of life, usually the painful parts.  A bottle of alcohol can protect us from experiencing the stress of finances.  Netflix can help us escape from the pain of parenting or work.  Or there might be an addiction that we use to cope with the horrible memories of our past awful experience.  Do you have a security item?

Is it possible that a church worship service might be a security item?  Peter Rollins, in his book Insurrection, suggests that worship services could actually be keeping us from worship.  Sound impossible?

This past Sunday I started a summer sermon series called Our Growth Process, which will look at how Faith Church understands biblical teaching about how disciples of Jesus can grow to be more like him.  Last week I suggested that the foundation to this sermon is to learn to focus on the Kingdom of God.  We have for too long focused on church, on church buildings and systems, whereas Jesus taught about his Kingdom.  People who want to grow as disciples of Jesus focus their lives on Kingdom of God, and how it enters our lives and world, transforming them.  So where do we begin?  With worship.

But what if the way we do worship is focused on the church rather than the Kingdom?  What if worship is actually keeping us from the transformation that God wants to bring in our lives?  Rollins thinks it could be.  But why?  And is he right?  I encourage you to read the book, but I also invite you to join us at Faith Church tomorrow at 9:30am where we are going to look at what Rollins has to say.

Why we’re getting rid of the word “evangelical” from our church sign

13 Jul

Evangelicals are in the news!  Donald Trump recently met with Evangelical leaders.  I have seen so many articles about Evangelicals and politics these past few weeks.  Some signaling the demise of evangelicalism.  Some talking about the decline of evangelical influence.

What in the world is an Evangelical, anyway?

2016-07 Church Sign - Pokemon GoWe are Faith Evangelical Congregational Church.  We normally call ourselves just “Faith Church” because the words “Evangelical Congregational” are long.  It’s much easier to say “Faith Church.”

So we are Evangelical.  But what does that mean?  Why are we Evangelical?

If we go by what we hear in the world out there, we can wonder “Is being Evangelical a good thing or a bad thing?”  Obviously we at Faith Church wouldn’t use the word unless we thought it was a good thing, a biblical thing, a word that would be helpful to the mission of God’s Kingdom.

So the first way to answer these questions is to go back to our historical denominational connection.  Our denomination’s name is “The Evangelical Congregational Church.”

Right around the year 1800 a man named Jacob Albright from Ephrata PA started preaching about Jesus to the German-speaking people, mostly farmers, here in Lancaster County.  God used him mightily and he launched a number of house churches based on the Methodist model because he was discipled and licensed to preach by the Methodist Church.  This group of house churches took the name Evangelical Association (EA).  Albright passed away when the EA was still young, but he and the first leaders laid a foundation for expansion, and expand it did.  Across the country and to many places around the world.

But sadly, the Evangelical Association had growing pains, a big split, then a merger, and eventually, a bunch of the churches trying to be faithful to Albright’s original vision created a new denomination called the Evangelical Congregational Church (EC) in 1922.

Most of our EC churches are in Eastern PA, but we have some in Western PA, Ohio, Illinois and a spattering of other places.  Our headquarters in based in Myerstown, Lebanon County, where we have the denominational offices, then across the street the seminary, and across the street the other way, the retirement community.  Drive up Route 501 through Myerstown and you’ll drive right by all these places.

In the late 1960s one the oldest and largest Evangelical Congregational churches at the time, Grace EC Church in the city of Lancaster, on the corner of South Shippen and Locust streets, had a bunch of people driving into town from the East Lampeter area.  So their pastor David Heil had a vision to start a new church plant out this way, and that’s how Faith Church got started in 1968.  We will celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2018.  It was, therefore, the Evangelical Congregational Church that started us.  We are and have always been a part of the EC Church.

That is the first reason why we have the word “Evangelical” in our name and on our sign.

But is that important?  In 1968 it was really important because the name “Evangelical” meant something important, and most people in the community knew what it meant and they understood it to be a good thing.

What did they actually understand?  What does it mean to be evangelical?  Why don’t we just call ourselves Christians?  To answer that, we need to go way back before 1968 to learn what the word “evangelical” means.

The word “evangelical” is a word straight out of the Bible.  It is actually an English transliteration of one of the Greek words that was used to write the New Testament.  The word evangelical is the Greek word euangelion.  See how similar they look?

In Greek euangelion is the Good News, and in particular it carries the idea of proclaiming the good news.  It was not specifically a word about Jesus or the Bible.  It was used, for example, to describe the birth of the new Roman Caesar, the emperor.  “Good News!  A new leader has been born.”  The Caesars, the emperors, wanted their people to believe that they were God in the flesh, they wanted people to worship them and they wanted people to proclaim them as savior.  The emporer wanted the people to use the word euangelion about them.  Good News! Caesar is born, Caesar is God, and Caesar is Lord.

When the New Testament writers started using this concept about Jesus, they were making a big statement:  there is other good news, there is another savior, there is another Lord.

So the focus of euangelion, or to use the English, evangelism, was to proclaim the Good news about Jesus!

When you read the English word “Gospel” which is found in the New Testament writings quite often, you are reading the Greek word “euangelion”.  For example Paul says in Romans 1:16:

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes.

That focus is very important to remember! There is Good News!  Evangelism pointed to a very good thing. Evangelism was the act of proclaiming the good news about Jesus.  When you think of evangelicals, then, we are people who speak about Good News.

So why is there an Evangelical church?  Shouldn’t there just be a Christian church? Aren’t all Christians supposed to proclaiming this Good News?

Well, a few centuries ago, a number of Christians felt that the mission of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus as the Savior had been lost in the institutional approach Christians had been using for church.  So some Christians and churches started to promote the idea that we Christians need to get back to the wonderful task of proclaiming good news.  Because of their focus on proclaiming the Good News, they became known as the Evangelicals.

That was Jacob Albright’s focus.  Remember that he wanted to preach the Good News to the German-speaking farmers in this area?  They were all church people. But the churches they attended focused more on the institution of the church rather than on the Good News.  Albright himself had always gone to church but he had never heard the Good News.  After hearing the Good News from a traveling evangelist himself, and after deciding to follow Jesus, Albright had a passion that his fellow German-speaking Lancastrians would know the good news of Jesus too.  Albright became a traveling evangelist, literally riding on horseback from town to town, from house church to house church, and many people heard the Good News.

Thus the Evangelical movement started.  It featured revival meetings, camp meetings, and so on.  As the years went by, house churches got organized, and as house churches grew they built church buildings and started denominations.  Albright wasn’t the only one.  There are many evangelical denominations: Evangelical Lutherans, Evangelical Free, and many more that don’t have the word “Evangelical” in their name.

There are some beliefs that we have that are uniquely evangelical, ones that we feel are quite important and good.  That takes us into understanding more about the uniqueness of the evangelical movement.

The National Association of Evangelicals, on their website, says that evangelicals usually hold to these four things:

  1. Conversion & Discipleship: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a lifelong process of following Jesus
  2. Outreach: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  3. The Bible: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  4. Cross & Resurrection: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and his victory over sin and death, making possible the redemption of humanity

This explains what Evangelicals believe the Bible teaches about God’s Good News for humanity.  So why would we want to change our sign?  It’s sounding like the word “evangelical” is a very good thing.

Here’s the problem.  In 1968 when Grace Evangelical Congregational Church planted a new daughter church in East Lampeter, the surrounding culture thought of Evangelicals in a good light.  Fast-forward 50 years. When people in our society now think of the word “evangelical” what comes to their mind?

One way to learn is to search for the word “evangelical” on Google.  The results are very interesting.

Based on that history I just told you, if you google “Evangelical”, there should be something about Good News, wouldn’t you think?  There should be something about how God loves the world so much.  There might be our favorite evangelical Bible verse, John 3:16: For God so loved the World! That is awesome Good News.

But when we Google “Opinions of Evangelicals”, there is a surprising result.  Take a look right now.  See for yourselves.  What are some of the results?

Any images of Good News?  No.

Instead we get images of politicians.  And furthermore when you talk with people what the term “evangelical” means to them, you get a wide range of mostly negative responses.  Evangelicalism has become mixed up with politics.  Evangelicals are considered to be a voting bloc, and people have the impression that evangelicals are Republicans who are against so many issues, rather than for the Good News.

One evangelical scholar recently said this: “Due to the secular media’s ongoing misguided and misleading effort to define “evangelical” as a political posture, people are naturally confused when they discover that I am a lifelong, “card carrying” evangelical.  The National Association of Evangelicals adamantly rejects any identification of “evangelical” with a particular political ideology or even posture. Historically and theologically that is correct—even if most people in the United States who identify themselves to pollsters as “evangelical” also identify as conservative Republicans.”

When people think of the word “evangelical” they are not excited about Good News.

One Faith Church family tells the story about the first time they came to Faith Church.  My wife Michelle had invited them to the final night of VBS when we had a community Fun Fair.  That year Turkey Hill sponsored the Fun Fair and placed one of their huge Turkey Hill cows our church property’s front lawn, blocking the view of the church sign.  The family had a great time, and Michelle invited them to return to church that Sunday morning.  So on Sunday they pulled up, the cow was gone, and they saw the words “Faith EVANGELICAL Congregational Church” on the sign.  The impression they had of the word “Evangelical” was so negative that they almost turned right around in the parking lot and left.  But to keep a promise, they decided to stay.  And in the past eight years they have found Faith Church to be very different evangelicals indeed!

Think about that with me for a minute.  How many people see the word “Evangelical” on our church sign, get the wrong impression and just turn around and leave?  How many people in the community driving by every day see that word on our sign and assume that we are just like the evangelicals they have heard about in the news?  I don’t blame them.  The news is full of stories of evangelicals behaving badly.

I suspect it is very possible that people don’t think of Good News when they read our sign.  They don’t look at our sign and think “that must be a church focusing on good news”. How could they?  Many in our community have never been told about the connection between the word “evangelical” and the Good News.

That word “evangelical” on our sign, then, can become a blockade to the Good News! While we remain committed to proclaiming that there is Good News in Jesus, because the impression of the word “evangelical” has become so confused in our society in the past 50 years, having the word on our sign has made it more difficult for us to proclaim Good News to those in our community who so desperately need to hear Good News!

By keeping the word “evangelical” on our sign we are making it much harder for ourselves.  Unnecessarily harder!

We are not on the mission of getting people to like the word “evangelical”.  We want people to become disciples of Jesus! 

So our Leadership Team has talked about this, and we decided to remove the tagline from our sign.

But hear this, we’re not changing our name.  We’re just not including the tag line on the sign so that the word “Evangelical” is not a deterrent.  We are not changing the name of our church, we are not changing our affiliation with our denomination, and we are absolutely not changing our commitment to the Good News.  Our desire to remove the word “Evangelical” from the sign is actually based in our commitment to sharing the Good News.  We don’t want to place unnecessary deterrents blockading our ability to proclaim the Good News. By removing the word “evangelical” from our sign, we are strengthening our ability to share the Good News.

It is a reminder for all of us to consider how evangelical we are.  Are Good News people?  Or are we political evangelicals?

What does it look like to be people of Good news?

What will it look like for you to be a Good News person?

Do the people in your life know that you are a disciple of Jesus who is living and proclaiming Good News?

Feel free to listen to the whole sermon here.

What future societies might say about American Christians in 2016

25 Apr

Imagine people 2000 years from now studying Christianity.  What would they say about us?  What is important to us?  They would have to conclude that buildings are very important to us, and what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is also very important to us.  Take away the building and Sunday morning, and some (most?) churches have almost nothing left.  Is that what Jesus wanted?  Did he want our focus, our worship, our system of church to be on a building and what happens in that building for a few hours one day of the week?

No.  In fact, Jesus never mentioned, in all his teaching, anything about building buildings and gathering for worship on Sunday.  In Luke 21, after the disciples comment about the majestic temple in Jerusalem, Jesus says something terrifying to them.  He tells them that the temple would be destroyed!

Reading between the lines a bit, Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Guys, don’t lose your focus on the mission of my Kingdom!”

The mission of God does not change: make disciples.  But the system of church can change and it has numerous times over the centuries.  There are certain components to church that must be included.  Many have looked over the Scriptures, studied them, and believe that Jesus and his disciples taught that any system of church must have at least these four areas:  worship, fellowship, discipleship and outreach.  How we express our faithfulness to that mission is quite open for consideration.

What, then, should we do with our building?  And what system of church should we have?

The answer starts with heart and attitude.  We should not be focused on a building, or a system of church, as these will pass away!  Instead we should be focused on being Jesus’ disciples who make more disciples for his kingdom.  We should be focused on the mission of his Kingdom.

Here’s the amazing thing about the church.  If a church’s buildings are destroyed, it does not affect the church.  The church is not the building.  The church is the people.  We do not need a building to be a church.  My Rt 340 widening story might not be true, but disaster can happen.  In 2009-10 our sister congregation, Kimball Avenue Church in Chicago, had a one of those disasters.  Their boiler exploding sending super-hot water vapor throughout their building, which did serious damage.  Their building was condemned.

But Kimball Ave Church did something amazing.  They decided not to build again.  At least not a building, that is.  Instead they decided to use their property to reach out to their community, by making a prayer garden.

KAC prayer garden

Kimball Avenue Church is still a church.  Because the people are the church!  And what’s more, they kept their focus on the mission of God’s Kingdom when they considered whether or not to rebuild.  (View the entire process of the deconstruction of their building here.)

Is your focus on the mission of God’s Kingdom?  Are you a disciple, a follower of Jesus who is making more disciples for him?

Here are some questions to help you evaluate:  Who is discipling you?  Mentoring you?  Leading you?  Investing in your life?  Helping you to be a follower of Jesus?  I’m not talking about believing.  I’m talking about learning to be, to do, to live, to serve like Jesus did.  And what is the task that Jesus spent most of his time doing?  Making disciples.  Jesus tells us that his disciples will do what he did, make more disciples. So just as we are to be his disciples, we are then to make more disciples.

All of us should have a plan we are following for making disciples, and together as a church we should have a plan as well.   So let’s spend our lives on that mission, let’s use our building for that mission, but let’s not focus on our building, let’s keep our focus on the mission of making disciples.  Then 2000 years from now when a possible future society evaluates us, they’ll be able to see clearly that we stayed focused on the mission of God’s Kingdom.