Tag Archives: Good News

What in the world is Christian “outreach”?

12 Aug

It has been a few years, but for a long time every fall Faith Church held a Harvest Bazaar.  Before that it was called a Christmas Bazaar.  Many people in our congregation would cook up a storm in their kitchens, creating delicacies for the bake shop.  Others would staff the snack shop, making amazing chicken soup.  Still others would be hard at work crafting and donating and volunteering and we would have numerous rooms in our church building filled with items that people could buy as Christmas gifts.  And buy they did!  We would often raise $2500 or more from the Bazaar.  But why would we do this?  It was a lot of work!

Our congregation initiated the Bazaar decades ago as a fundraiser to pay off the debt we owed on our building.  Eventually we did pay off the debt.  I still remember the mortgage burning ceremony.  We have had memorable experiences with fire in our sanctuary, such as when the Advent wreath caught fire!  But I’m talking about the time when we had paid off the mortgage to the most recent expansion to the building, and we celebrating by burning the mortgage documents in a bowl during a worship service.

Though the mortgage was paid off, we kept having the Bazaar for a number of years.  Now we decided that the proceeds of the Bazaar would be directed to the Building Fund and to support missionaries.  Both good causes.  And yet there was discussion about whether or not we should keep having the Bazaar.  Was its purpose completed?  People had numerous points of view, both pros and cons.  It took a lot of work, and people were getting burned out.  So we eventually slowed down our pace to holding the Bazaar every other year.  The last time we held a Bazaar was three or four years ago, and we have no plans for another.

At one point there was a suggestion made in favor of continuing the Bazaar saying that the Bazaar was an outreach.  How was it an outreach?  Well, didn’t it bring people from the community into our building?  It did.  That is true.  Probably hundreds of people in the community would stop in, look over items, eat food, and buy stuff.  But just because they came into the building could we say that qualifies as outreach?

We’ve heard this before about the Youth Chicken BBQ we hold every spring.  People say that not only does the BBQ raise money for our youth group, it also has an outreach element to it.  We’ve heard this about pretty much anything we do that brings people into the building.  By holding an event or program for which they walk through the doors of the church building, it is reasoned, we are reaching out to them.  We have done this quite a bit over the years:  Ballroom Dance Classes, Vacation Bible School, Trunk or Treat, Concerts, Breakfasts and now most recently Summer Lunch Club.

In our recent history this approach is how we have thought about outreach.  Is that outreach?  What should outreach be?  And before we can answer those questions, should we not ask the questions behind the question?  Why do we do outreach?  Should we do outreach at all?  We should have solid reasons for why or how we do outreach before we start outreach.  But do we have solid reasons?

Join us at Faith Church this Sunday August 14 at 9:30am as we seek to answer these questions.

Is there only bad news and a broken world?

3 Apr

broken worldHearing the bad news coming out of Kenya these past few days has been a sobering reality about our world.  I know that there is tragedy and evil like that pretty much every day of every week, but this one hit home because we have close friends who are missionaries in Kenya, and my son and I are preparing to join a team of 15 from Faith Church going to Kenya this summer.

I’ll admit, probably because of our unprecedented access to every part of the globe, I can get jaded about the bad news.  How many times can you get totally upset over a mass shooting before you start to get numb?  We call it growing a thick skin.

Some people, rightly though, say that we shouldn’t be surprised by the evil and tragedy out there in the world today.  They say that it is a fallen world, and that bad news is part and parcel of a fallen world. I tend to agree, but, man, can that come across callous.

I am paying closer attention to the news in Kenya, and I’m feeling it more emotionally because it is personal.  Thankfully my friends in Kenya live in a different part of the country and are safe.  But so many in Kenya are struggling today, so many are experiencing profound loss with this very bad news.

And that feels completely contradictory to the task I have in this blog post.  My aim is to introduce an Easter sermon.

I would much rather be introducing an Easter sermon after hearing wonderful news about how Christians in the world did something incredible because of the hope they have in Jesus.  Instead today we are hearing about Christians who were killed for being Christians.

I suspect that my consternation over this introduction is at least in part stemming from my vantage point of Christianity as the largest of the world religions.  But the original Easter story happened to a group of people that were the furthest thing a world religion.

Let me explain with a new word I learned this week: Triduum.  Ever heard that before?  It refers to the three days leading up to a feast, in this case Easter.  The Holy Triduum, or the three days leading up to Easter are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  As I was preparing for worship this week, it struck me how awful those three days must have been for those first followers of Jesus, and of course for Jesus too.

On Palm Sunday they are marching triumphantly into the city.  The crowds declare him King.  These are bold moves.  You don’t walk through the current king’s front door proclaiming that you are the new king, and you certainly don’t do it without a massive army.  Jesus came not riding on a warhorse, but on a peaceful donkey.

Who knows?  Maybe the Romans were laughing their heads off at that scene.  They probably didn’t feel threatened at all.  If they wanted to, they could have stopped the events of Palm Sunday immediately and ruthlessly.  Physically speaking they had no reason to be threatened by this supposed Jewish King.

Turns out it wasn’t the Romans, but the Jewish leaders who felt threatened.  They had been dogging Jesus for months and now things came to a head.  The joy and victory of Palm Sunday turned to a betrayal and arrest on the first day of the Triduum, Maundy Thursday.  Jesus’ disciple Peter whips out a sword to fight, thinking this is the moment. You gotta love Peter’s passion, making the first strike, cutting off a dude’s ear.  But when Jesus heals the guy, putting the ear back, you have to think that Peter was shell-shocked.

Hours later he denies Jesus three times.  All of Jesus’ 11 remaining inner circle run away, except John.  If Jesus was arrested, they were probably thinking, there could easily be a bounty on their heads too.

Jesus passes the night in a dungeon, and now we’re at day two of the Triduum, Good Friday.  He has been and still is being beaten repeatedly.  He is brought to trial on trumped up charges, and the politicians get involved.  They really don’t know what to do with him as he hasn’t actually done anything wrong, but the pesky Jewish leaders are calling for his death.  So the Roman leader Pilate gives Jesus another beating and sends him to be killed.

And they crucify him.

John alone, of all the disciples, and some of the women, are the only ones at the foot of the cross.  And Jesus dies.  Imagine that.  Three years of ministry.  In the toilet.  One of the Jewish establishment guys who is a secret follower of Jesus takes his body and buries it in a tomb.  He is given an honorable burial, but it sure seems like waste.  Could this one who was supposedly king material just be another in long line of failed upstart Jewish freedom fighters?

That takes us to the final day of the Triduum, Holy Saturday.  A day of waiting, confusion.  He had told them he would rise after three days.  I wonder what those disciples were thinking.  Did they have any idea what “rise after three days meant?”  I also wonder if they were ticked off at Peter.  I wonder if they even knew he had denied Jesus.  Did Peter tell them?  He wasn’t one to keep quiet.  I can hear them arguing, debating wondering what in the world they should do next.  Clearly they decided to stay in the city, maybe just because it was Passover and that’s  what you did.  Maybe they actually weren’t decided on what they should do.  Maybe they were too torn apart to know how to think.

Their world was broken.  The events of those three days had ripped it to shreds.  Our world can feel very broken like that.  Events of the past days leave us confused and frustrated, just like the disciples.

What do we do?

Is there no good news?

The Triduum will eventually finish.  And there will be a new day.  If you’re not part of church, we’d love for you to be our guest at Faith Church on that new day, this Sunday, Easter, at 9:30am as we search for some good news.

On shouting a Christmas message that can get you killed – Luke 2:1-20

24 Dec

2014-12-24 Advent Art Panels - close

It’s Christmas Eve!  My younger kids (age 9 and 11) are charged with excitement, begging to open just one gift, or at least put them under the tree.  They cannot contain themselves.  At Faith Church we’re looking forward to a wonderful time of worship tonight.  We’ve had artists from our congregation creating art to illustrate the four weeks of Advent, and tonight we celebrate as more people from the congregation will add artistry through voice and the spoken word.  Like my kids, ours will be a church like so many others today, filled with joy and light and excitement!

On that first Christmas there was another group that couldn’t contain themselves.

The Shepherds.

After hearing glorious news of the birth of the king, they rush into town to verify the message.  Finding it true, they cannot keep their mouths shut, as they start telling everyone what just happened.  The shepherds are positively beaming. It might be the middle of the night when they finally return to their sheep, still shaking their heads at the once in a life-time experience they’ve just had. And they are praising God!

Joy to the World the Lord has come.

I imagine their joy eventually wore off. That was a big night. But things get back to normal pretty quick. Sheep to watch, sheep to feed, sheep to shear, sheep to sell. Real life. What pays the bills. And that baby isn’t heard from again. I wonder if any of them were still alive 30 years later, when his time had come?  Did they remember?  Hearing stories of an up-and-coming teacher and miracle-worker and how some people were speculating that he was the Messiah, might one of them added up the years and realized this was the baby, now a young man?

I wonder how long they told the story of that one glorious night?

I wonder if life got in the way. I wonder if they started to doubt. I wonder if people started to make fun of them, say they were hallucinating, dreaming, and that babies are a dime a dozen. “Where is this king now?” people might say. “The Romans are quite solidly in power. Shut-up, shepherds. We don’t want to hear about the angels anymore.”

And maybe they did shut-up.

Have you?

We make a big deal out of Christmas every year because it is a big deal.

When that baby was born, and those angels blazed in the night sky, and the shepherds’ hearts were bursting, it was because it IS a big, big deal. There is hope, there is a savior! God wants to have peace with humanity! That’s incredible news for those of us walking in darkness.

But have we become quiet about this?

Have the years gone by, the job that requires too many hours, the busy family, the house, the lawn…in my case these last few weeks, the wood stove, the fridge, signing up for new health care…

Life.

Has life gotten in the way? Has life shut us up?

If we feel the burden of life, then we need these boisterous Christmas celebrations. We need Advent. We need to cry our eyes out because our great God has shown us grace and mercy and peace in Jesus. And we need our hearts to be filled.

And we need our tongues loosed to tell the good news. Those humble shepherds’ tongues were loosed.

60 years after these events, Luke wasn’t afraid to directly challenge Rome by telling the story. He wrote it in a book. It was the kind of story that could get you killed!  A new king’s birth that trumped the current king? Sitting kings don’t always take kindly the news that a contender to the throne has been born.  They like to kill off the competition.  Right after Jesus’ birth, word got to the local king, Herod, and he responded in an infant genocide that caused Joseph and Mary to flee with Jesus to Egypt.  Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth presents a bold message to the world leader in Rome, the Caesar.  Take a look at this thought-provoking article that shows how Luke’s courageous message could have gotten him killed!  Because his heart was filled to overflowing and his tongue (or pen) was loosed, and he told the story of God’s peace for all, there is a Savior for all, and he welcomes everyone to his Kingdom!

When was the last time you were so jacked up about something you just couldn’t keep quiet about it?

When was the last time you experienced something so amazing, so incredible you just wanted to tell everyone about it?

When was the last time you got good news and you started lighting up Facebook about it, thumbing out text messages to your family and friends?

That’s what Christmas is all about. Let’s not just keep the carols in our churches tonight. What could it look like for you to spread Christmas joy, hope, love, grace and mercy to the people in your life?

If you want to learn more, perhaps you might give a listen to this past week’s sermon.

Have Christians forgotten the Gospel?

12 Sep

Christians talk a lot about the Gospel.

As they should.  The Gospel is the foundation of our faith.  But what if Christians have forgotten about the Gospel?

This post is written to Christians, but I would be very interested to hear what those who are not Christians would think of it as well.  Maybe those of you who are not Christians actually have a better perspective on Christians than we do about ourselves.  So if you are not a Christian, what do you think?  Do you think that Christians have forgotten the Gospel?  Perhaps you have rubbed shoulders with Christians in your neighborhood, or at your kids’ soccer game, or at work.  By their actions would you say they have forgotten the Gospel?

dont-forget-post-it-noteTo answer that, it would be good to know what the word Gospel actually refers to.  It doesn’t originally come from the Bible, believe it or not.  Some of the writers of the New Testament took a word that was common in Greco-Roman society and used that word to describe the story of Jesus.  That word was Euangelion, which by looking at it bears a striking resemblance to Evangelical.  It was Euangelion that came first.  Euangelion referred to a proclaiming of good news, and one of the most notable occurrences of Euangelion was to celebrate when a new Caesar would take power in Rome.  We can see, then, why the writers of the New Testament would use Euangelion to describe the proclamation of the good news of Jesus, the person they claimed was the true Lord.  But were they right?  What is the content of this Good News about Jesus?  How could those early Christians say that a peasant from a relatively unimportant corner of the Roman Empire was truly Lord?  The Roman Empire dispensed with Jesus easily.  How is that Good News?

In our next section of 1st Corinthians, 15:1-11, Paul talks about this Gospel, this Good News.  In fact he specifically wants to remind the Christians in the church of Corinth about that Good News.  It seems they had forgotten it.  They certainly weren’t acting like they remembered it.

Now some words to the Christians reading this post?  Do you remember the content of the Good News?  If you have a couple minutes to describe it, what would you say?  Without looking at 1st Corinthians 15:1-11, how about doing a little self-test, and write out the message of Good News in your own words.  Then click on the link for 1st Corinthians 15:1-11 and see how closely your description matches Paul’s.  But that is just the content side.  While the Good News is most certainly comprised of a particular content to be agreed with and believed, action is also part and parcel of Good News.  It must be lived out.  As you’ll read in this passage, Paul says that the Corinthians had not only received and believed it, but they staked their lives on it.  Yet, they were making a reputation for themselves, and it was not a good one.  Perhaps they had forgotten the message of Good News.  Perhaps they needed a reminder.

Maybe we need one too.