What is our product?

weekfive.jpgSermon #5 in our Branded Series. This sermon concludes the series.


“If I only had a brain….” That’s the earworm that Lee Swann stuck me with last Sunday. Thank you!

Maybe now you’ve got it playing over and over, too. If so, you’re welcome!

I remember growing up watching “The Wizard of Oz,” by Frank Baum, every year when it came on TV. I am young enough to be not really too impressed that some of it was done in color, but we all loved the story.  Though, I admit, for several years I was scared of those flying monkeys!

Not long before I first saw the movie, in 1964, that Henry Littlefield unlocked the secrets of the story.  It was a populist allegory, he claimed, and was written as a commentary on turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th century) monetary policy. The yellow brick road was the gold standard, Emerald City represented the fraudulent greenback, or us currency without the gold standard. The Strawman was the american farmer, the tin man industrial workers, and the cowardly lion William Jennings Bryan.

Littlefield explanation of the story has since been discounted, but that, of course, doesn’t mean there aren’t other versions.

Like the religious version: the yellow brick road is the “way to enlightenment.” The emerald city represents heaven, and each of the main characters a particular version of human temptation or frailty.  The wicked witch of the west, being killed with water that represents baptism.

At least as plausible is the atheist allegorical explanation. There is no real wizard, just a human behind a curtain.

Some of you might like the feminist version. Frank Baum, the author, was son-in-law of a leading suffragist. All the characters who actually have any power in the movie are women.

You might have your own version of what the Wizard of Oz means. You might not – maybe you have never even seen the movie.

We are story-driven people, and our brains are meaning-making machines!  If there isn’t a story, we’ll make one. Where there isn’t meaning, we will make it up and overlay it.

No one tells a story for no reason, do they?  It might not be the most obvious reason, but there is a reason.

Today we remember the story of Pentecost.  You might wonder why we haven’t read the story of Pentecost from the scriptures.  You might not.  The story is in Acts 2.  I could tell you the reason I didn’t have it read is that I love our liturgists and didn’t want to make them read verses 9-11, which read:

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!         (Acts 2:9-11)

So, here is the story.  You can read the official version in Acts 2.  In fact, please read it sometime today.  Let me know what you think!

The disciples, having recently watched Jesus ascend into heaven, are meeting on the day of Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, a Feast Day on which God’s people gathered to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. While waiting, the Holy Spirit shows up and fills them!

Filled with the Spirit, they step before the crowds and start speaking in tongues – languages – so that everyone, all those Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, etc., can understand them!

When you let the Holy Spirit speak through you, a lot less is lost in translation!

When we let the Holy Spirit speak, people will be able to hear us in their own language!

Having never heard anything like this, some of the crowds guessed the disciples were drunk – speaking out of their minds!  

Peter stood up to preach.  He preached; told them the story of Jesus in terms of some of the prophecies in the Hebrew Bible.

“God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day.”

This is the final message of our Branded series.  The premise is that Jesus is, or would be, branded. Branding, you recall, is not just a logo or a jingle, but an image or video or song that connects people (customers) with a story.

On that first day of Pentecost, the telling of God’s story brought 3,000 into the community of faith.

What will you do with this story?

For four weeks we have summarized God’s story. For four weeks we have talked about being made in God’s image – that we ALL bear the brand of God and God’s story, and that God’s story is one of hope and forgiveness and healing and reconciliation. Thus branded, we are, with God, in the business of making disciples; followers of Jesus. To make disciples, we have to be disciples. Last week we talked about getting to know what other people, people who don’t know Jesus and aren’t followers of Jesus, value. I claimed last Sunday, and still firmly believe, that when we practice the patience of listening to other people’s stories, we will learn what they value. By listening to others, we will also earn the right to be heard when we tell God’s story and how it has impacted us; changed us.

So, today, the finale.

Has God’s story changed us?

We are, you see, the product we have to offer.

As Christians, we ought to be inviting others to follow Jesus. To do so with integrity means we have to be following Jesus. We have to be able to say, with the Apostle Paul, “watch what I do, follow my example, follow Jesus the way I follow Jesus.”

Otherwise we are just making up a meaning to someone else’s story.

Pentecost is a grand point in the story where we learn, as Peter says, how to make God’s story our own story. After his sermon, the people ask, “What should we do? Peter answered:

“Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away—as many as the Lord our God invites.”

This IS the meaning to God’s story!  And the promise is “for you, your children, and for all who are far away – as many as the Lord God invites”

Our lives, lived as evidence, with evidence, of the Holy Spirit’s work in us IS the product we have to offer!

Flannery O’Connor wrote many beautiful stories.  Most of them are haunting, too. One of my favorites, one that haunts me, is “The River.”

In this story, Mrs. Connin comes to pick up young Harry from his parents, as his babysitter for the day.  Harry’s mom is sick – we learn a little later she is hungover. Mrs. Connin is a committed Christian woman and is excited to take Harry down to the river, where an evangelist named Bevel is healing and preaching.  Mrs. Connin hadn’t known Harry’s name, and asks him what it is, after telling him about this preacher. “Bevel,” Harry tells her.

He wants to please this Christian woman. He wants to find a place in her story.

At the river, she identifies him to the Preacher has having not been baptized. So Harry, or Bevel, is baptized.  It sounds good, too; the life that the preacher describes following baptism is far different from the drab, bleak, miserable life that is Harry’s, or Bevel’s, up to this point in the story.

Alas, he comes up out of the water the same. He is taken home, and sent off to bed, life is the same.

The story ends the next morning, Harry, or Bevel, having taken himself back to the river, and determined to hold himself under the water until he finds that wonderful life the preacher was talking about.

I read “The River” for the first time about 25 years ago. I cried as I finished it. Then I got up and went into my first child, Robbie’s room, where she lay napping. I cried quietly, and prayed. I hope and prayed that she would know God’s story in a way that gave her hope, not in a way that left her so disillusioned that she would drown herself looking for some great, good, place I had promised.

The Christian Hope you and I have to offer is the hope that others can see in our lives.  If it is a hope we tell them about, we had better be willing to live it, too!

This morning’s scripture readings – both shorter than the Acts passage, and both noticeably absent of difficult-to-pronounce Bible names, remind us of the goodness of God’s story, and of the promise of OUR place in it, and our role in sharing it with others.

All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him.     (Romans 8:14-17)


Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”

Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.”   (John 14:8-17, 25-27)

We are baptizing one young woman and welcoming her, another young woman and two young men into membership in the Church this morning.  Not just “our” church, but THE Church.  The church that represents Jesus Christ. The Church in which the Holy Spirit lives and is active.

The Church where God’s story is lived out and lived into.

The Church where our lives are changed as we actually follow Jesus day by day.

Will  you join me in committing to these young people that we WILL “surround them with a community of love and forgiveness ”? Will you pray for them, “that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to faith”?

And you know, don’t you, that really the way THEY will be true disciples is as the see and experience US being true disciples.

We are the product. Our lives, moved and changed by the Holy Spirit are what we have to offer!


What Business are we in?

This is sermon 2 in the Branded series at Euless First United Methodist Church.

Retired United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon once told this story about the merging of two Annual Conferences in South Carolina.  These were, by the way, not geographic areas being merged, but, rather, racially segregated conferences.

However antiquated it might sound, Methodism in the South was not much faster than the surrounding culture to bridge racial divides.  But it did happen, and it happened several years ago now.  Willimon’s story began with the committee charged with organizing the first united gathering for these two conferences.

I imagine the meeting started slowly, quietly, intensely.  I suppose everyone at the table (I assume they met around a table) was eager for this merger to work, yet uncertain about the future. Cautious, yet hopeful. “We’ve never worked this closely with ‘them’ before,” both teams likely felt, but left unsaid.

So, one of the white men began with a goodwill gesture, inviting any of the black men to share, “Would you tell us how you all have organized your annual conference meeting?”

“Surely,” one of them replied.  “We would begin with a rousing opening worship service on Sunday evening. Then, Monday morning, we would start the day early with a devotional time and then follow with a worship service celebrating what God had done in the past year. By the time that finished, we would receive an address from the Bishop, then adjourn for lunch. Following lunch we would gather again for a worship service….”

At this point he was interrupted, respectfully, by one of the white men, “But did you ever get around to the business of the annual conference?”

“What IS the business of the Annual Conference?” came back a question that we ought all take to heart, especially when we get heady about what great things we are going to plan or organize or do for God.

What IS the business of Euless First United Methodist Church?  What business are we in?

Last week we focused on The Brand We All Share.weekone This brand we all share is the story of God’s love and faithfulness and it we are reminded of it every time we see a human – another person, or ourselves in a mirror, because we are all created in God’s image. Branding, you’ll remember, is not an image or a tune, but a story evoked by an image, song, video, etc.

So, as God’s people, it behooves us to line our lives up with the story that God is telling. God’s story is, briefly:

Act 1: creation – good and very good!

Act 2: sin, brokenness and estrangement in relationships: between people, and between people and God

Act 3: Israel – God raises up a people to represent God, to bless others and to draw them away from their sin, brokenness and estrangement and toward the God who created them

Act 4: Jesus – God’s people having failed to faithfully live in covenant with God to bless others and draw them to God, Jesus becomes the faithful human in and through whom all are offered healing and hope from their sin, brokenness and estrangement from God and each other.

Act 5: Church – Having vanquished sin and death through crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus calls forth a Church, a “called-out people” whom God intends to embody the Kingdom of God already present on earth, here and now.

That is God’s story for us, for all of us; for all of creation.

We are, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, we are here to be ambassadors for Jesus; God is negotiating through us for the lives of everyone!

Even clearer than that, this morning’s gospel reading seems as clear as the air in this room: we are to “go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.”

So, with all that in mind, I ask today, What business are we in?

The answer must not be as easy as “making disciples and serving as ambassadors for Jesus.”

What business are we in? Filling the sanctuary?  Training children?

Converting people? Saving souls? Accumulating Jesus points? Earning our way into heaven? Building church facilities with snack bars, bowling alleys and shooting ranges so the saved will no longer have to mix with the great unwashed masses?

The United Methodist Church’s mission statement is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

This is our business.  Anything that detracts from making disciples is extra. Anything that is not part of making disciples ought to be very carefully considered before we do it as a church.

Does operating a food pantry make disciples of Jesus Christ?  Maybe, but not necessarily.

Does going to a Texas Rangers game together after worship make disciples? Maybe, not automatically.

Does having meetings every week make disciples of Jesus? Again, maybe. But 2 hours into a 60 minute meeting I have my suspicions.

Does painting the exterior trim on the sanctuary (it needs it badly, by the way) make disciples of Jesus?  Not necessarily – plenty of churches with well maintained facilities close every year.

So, if it is so easy to answer the question, “What business are we in?” why are we so easily distracted and why do we so easily and often fail to keep the main thing the main thing.

The business we are in is making disciples for Jesus Christ. Anything that detracts from that must be open for reconsideration.

Everything thing that detracts from making disciples for Jesus Christ can potentially keep us from making disciples for Jesus Christ.

In fact, it is even more challenging that that: getting our focus off of the complexity of what it means to make disciples is, I would argue, our greatest challenge.

To explain what I mean, I’d like to tell you a story.  It’s a story of wolves and Yellowstone National Park.

For the safety of people and especially of other animals such as deer and elk, wolves were eliminated from Yellowstone National Park in the 1920’s.

In 1974 the grey wolf was included on the list of endangered animals in The Endangered Species Act. A pack of 8 were brought in from Canada and reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995.

Whereas it had been thought that eliminating wolves would have improved life for the remaining species (especially elk), we have learned something, well, amazing.

Yes, the number of elk has decreased drastically.  Elk reached a peak of about 11,000. Now 11,000 elk was too many for the land.  Much of the grassland was overgrazed.  Overgrazing led to erosion.

Re-enter the wolf. Elk numbers are down, but grasslands quickly do better.  Wolves ate coyotes, so other species that thrive in grasslands that had been coyote food – rabbits and mice – began to flourish.  More rabbits and mice meant more foxes and hawks and badgers and weasels. More ravens and bald eagles came down to feed on the wolves’ leftovers.  Bears fed on these leftovers, too, as well as on the increased production of berries, since the elk population was down.

The elk had not only over grazed grasses in meadows, but also seedling aspen and cottonwood.  The reintroduction of wolves actually aided in forest growth – some areas saw the height and thickness of trees quintuple in a decade.  More trees meant more beavers, and beavers, like wolves, provide ecosystem boosts to many other animals – muskrats, otters, and ducks and fish.

But this went beyond just other living things.  The very health of the rivers in the area was improved. Yes. Wolves saved rivers.  Well, not exactly saved rivers.  But, the reintroduction of wolves brought back balance to the ecosystem that strengthened the grasslands which meant less erosion which meant healthy, stronger, cleaner rivers.

One aspect of the ecosystem was eliminated, and the entire system was thrown out of balance. Reintroduce that one element, in this case, wolves, and over the space of 20 years, with careful management, of course, the system is restored to balance and the entire system flourishes.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, your life is an ecosystem.  This is as true spiritually as it is biologically.

Your body couldn’t survive long, and life would be horrific to live, were it not for the millions of bacteria and other micro-flora that live off of your body – both all over your skin, and especially inside your digestive system.

This is why healthcare is so challenging: if it were ever so simple as “you need more calcium or potassium or fiber,” how easy life would be!

How do you lose weight? Take in less calories than you burn.  But you can’t just stop eating. If you just stop eating, sure, you’ll lose weight, but your body will react and burn less calories until it finds some sort of equilibrium with the calories you are now taking in.

It is just as true for our spiritual lives as our physical or biological lives!  Sometimes the story we tell is that all you have to do to be a disciple is pray every day and read your bible every day.

Sometimes we just want people to “make a decision for Jesus,” say the “sinner’s prayer,” and then, like, “poof!” they’re a mature disciple of Jesus.

Other times we make it just about helping people – if you just feed enough poor people or give away enough of your stuff or your money, then God will write your name in the “faithful” category.

Some of us have turned the Golden Rule around – I haven’t done anything bad to anyone, and that’s enough for Jesus!

I have pastored many people from all of these and other perspectives.  There are so many ways you and I can reduce what is required to be a disciple to a list – (as short a list as possible, please!) – but they all do the same thing to the ecosystem of our lives as taking wolves out of the equation did to Yellowstone.

We need a fuller, richer version of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ!  When we begin to live this fuller, richer version of being a disciple, we find that we are not only being disciples of Jesus Christ, but that we are making disciples of Jesus Christ. And when we are making disciples of Jesus Christ, we create space for God to bring on the transformation of the world.

We are NOT in the business of transforming the world.  We are in the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ.  If we do that, God will transform the world!

I have served as pastor of many people over the years. One of the things about this work that most often breaks my heart is when someone who, by all accounts has been a faithful member of the church, expresses uncertainty about his or her relationship with God.

So, in case you are one of those persons; in case you have settled for “being a disciple” meaning you should go to church or read your bible every morning or pray every day or give money to the church and a few other good causes or go on a mission trip or collect coats for the elderly or visit the elementary school every week or prisons when you can. Maybe you’ve gotten saved seven times, baptized five, and say the sinner’s prayer every night before you got to sleep,  but you still aren’t sure you’re on God’s “approved” list.

Become a disciple. Follow Jesus. Sure, you can “make decisions for Christ,” but if you don’t change some habits and patterns of behavior, what you call a decision is lip service or pandering.

Become a disciple. Start a journey down the road with Jesus.  The gospels are a good place to start: how did Jesus interact with other people?  What kinds of words did Jesus use?  What kinds of people did Jesus hang out with?

Of course, in the gospels, you’ll find this, too: when Jesus sent his disciples off to do something, he never sent them solo.  He always sent them in at least pairs. You cannot be a disciple on your own!  You need help – help in the form of other human being who are also out to follow Jesus, to be his disciples.

We are in the business of making disciples, and we can only do this by being disciples. There are other ways we could get more people in here. There are other ways we could collect more money, and maybe even other ways we could give more money away.  But there are no other ways to be disciples of Jesus.

I close with this fabulously rich point that one of you made recently for me.  You accompanied our confirmation class to the Conference Confirmation Celebration. You choose a “breakout session” aimed at helping youth manage themselves on social media. You opened the eyes of my heart once again to the beauty of Philippians 4:8.

Now, to be fair, youth aren’t the only one challenged to behavior themselves well on social media. I’ve seen some of the stuff some of you post, and, well, we older folk have no place to stand to pontificate to adolescents about what they ought to do.

Which is the beauty of your sharing Philippians 4:8 with me. Because Philippians 4:8 just happens to be followed by Philippians 4:9 – great how it works that way, huh?  Here’s chapter 4 verse 8, shared at this breakout session as a good guiding principle for what you share on social media:

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.

How great is that!  How might our perspective, our openness to God, and our vision of the divine be increased, and how might our bitterness, our pettiness, our small-mindedness be decreased, if we focus our thoughts on “anything that is excellent, admirable, true, holy, just, pure, lovely, worthy of praise!  This isn’t just for youth; this is for anyone who would be a disciple!

Which brings me to verse 9, and the power of quoting verse 8 to a bunch of youth. Here is verse 9: Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.

WHEN you are willing to say to someone, “practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us,” THEN you are a disciple, and THEN you will find you are making disciples!

And making disciples is the business we are in!

Wish I Could Disagree

This was in a letter to the editor in yesterday’s Waco Tribune-Herald by Shelby Lynn Muhl:I’m acquainted with many self-described Christians, including a number of fatuous “born-agains.” Only one actually tries to follow the instructions of Jesus and avoids judging others.

I have to think the ratio is higher than Ms. Muhl alleges, I have to admit she has a point. She goes on to point out that “The rest are deeply addicted to Mammon. One couple I know actually prays for money and entreats friends to second the motion. They also openly mock the poor.”

She’s right! Oh, sure, she paints with a very broad brush, but do we as followers of Jesus have any reply but to admit that her allegations are all too true – that we who claim the name of Jesus have a long, deep history of not representing him very well?

What can we do to change the perception?

  1. Those of us who are appalled at this representation of Christians have to come clean. We must refuse to hide our claims to Jesus to avoid being lumping in with “all those hypocrites.:
  2. We can invite those who are fond of pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians to watch us, come along side us, and look with us at how Jesus calls us to live.
  3. We can ask the Holy Spirit for the strength and courage to live like Jesus.

What else can we do?

Church learning from the Tech World

Microsoft made a $42 billion bid for Yahoo on Friday.  According to the Wired piece about it, this is an anti-Google effort by Microsoft since Google “threatens the world’s largest software maker’s grip on how people interact with computers.”

Here’s a barely-tech-literate summary.  Microsoft came to the point in the 90’s of near monopoly control over how people use (or “relate to”) computers.  With the explosive growth of the internet, Google has developed an impressive pattern of “post-Microsoft” developments.  In other words, some of what Google has been doing lately could lessen the public’s dependence on Microsoft.

I’m not sure how purchasing Yahoo will take back the world for Microsoft, but here’s something that struck me as I read the Wired piece.

It seems as though Microsoft wants now to try and beat Google at Google’s game.

What made Google work, though, and at the same time has shaken Microsoft’s position, is that Google didn’t challenge Microsoft at Microsoft’s game.  Google started a new game.

I wonder what the church, or should I say followers of Jesus can learn from this.  For generations, even centuries, ours was the “only game in town.”  There was no meaningful competition for the Church in the West.

For at least a generation now, though, the church has been losing members and attention.  In most of the U.S. there are now competing opportunities for attention even on Sunday morning.  Yet most of this competition isn’t really a direct effort to grab the souls of people, which, allegedly, would have been the church’s game.

No, the church, or Christianity lost because someone started a new game.

So, for at least a generation now, the church has been adopting the strategies of this new game.  Marketing, demographic analysis, consumerism, etc., to try to hold on to or regain it’s glory days.

Perhaps it’s time for Jesus’ followers to start a new game.  I don’t think we can win the current one.  Or perhaps I should say I don’t think we can win the current game and be faithful followers of Jesus at the same time.

Population: Who’s Counting?

I rarely watch TV news.  I thought newspapers, magazines, and the internet were keeping me apprised of things.  Apparently not.

“Nearly 2 billion Americans will send some sort of greeting cards during this winter holiday season.”  So Alleged the pre-movie screen shots at the theatre where Robbie and I watched “AVP:R” last night.

Last I had heard, our population was about 300 million.  Now, suddenly, I find out it is at least “nearly 2 billion.”  How could I have missed that?

The quicker among you are way ahead of me.  You realize that the population of the US is about 300 million, and that the screen slide meant that the American population will send almost 2 billion cards.  That’s an average of less than 7 cards per person, which is quite believable.

Yeah, I knew that.

The point is, however, that to say something in a slightly wrong way can give a really different message.  This is important because as followers of Jesus, we always have to be aware not only of what we are saying, but also, as much as possible, of how what we say is heard and understood by those to whom we say it.

Hot Topic


I knew last night there would be a lesson in here somwhere.  It just took awhile for me to get it.

Rachel and I made some salsa last night.  I took the job of de-seeding the jalapeno peppers we added.  In case you aren’t familiar with jalapenos, or other hot peppers, a lot of the hotness, from the capsaicin (the chemical) is in the seeds.  Since salsa gets hotter over time anyway, we didn’t want it so hot to start with; so, I de-seeded.

Trouble is, I did so with my bare hands.  I dug into each pepper with fingertips to remove seeds.  Afterwards, I washed my hands at least three times with a variety of cleansers.  Each time I touched my mouth or an eye for the rest of the evening, I was reminded quickly that I hadn’t gotten all the capsaicin oil off.

In fact, in the middle of the night I woke up, rubbed an eye, and still got a little burn out of it.  This morning I have kept my hands away from my face, and will for the rest of the day.  I washed them several more times, scrubbed under my fingernails, too; but still, I am waiting.

So, here is the lesson I have learned.  I spent a bit of effort removing the seeds from the salsa to save my mouth from its heat on down the road.  The effort I put into that, however, has seemingly backfired on me by causing me a fair bit more grief than eating spicy salsa would have.

I can’t help but think about the many times various groups of Christians have contorted ourselves and our schedules over various cultural issues in the name of protecting ourselves and our kin.  Many times, through that effort, we have brought upon ourselves side effects that may, in the long run, have proven at least as harmful.

How to Change Church Culture, part 2

“Don’t they have churches for people like that?”

Ponder Jonah with me for a minute.  We all know the story, right?  Man runs from God, gets thrown from ship, swallowed by fish.  Man repents, fish burps him up on dry land.  Man does what God had asked him to do, has marvelous success, and frets about it, bitter with God….

Do you remember what it was Jonah was supposed to do?  God sent him to Nineveh.  Nineveh was one of the greatest cities of the day, but it wasn’t in Israel – so the Ninevites weren’t among God’s chosen people.  The Ninevites were “them.”

God’s people have way too much trouble with “them.”  We are no different, in general today; whether “them” for us means people of different (or a different combination of) racial heritage, economic status, or just hairstyle. Perhaps you have a hangup over guys wearing jeans to Sunday morning worship.  Perhaps you have a hangup over people who have hangups over a guys wearing jeans to Sunday morning worship.  Get my drift?

To be the church, the body of Christ, that God calls us to be, we have got to stop decided for God who ought to be in and who ought not.  God loved the Ninevites enough to send Jonah.  God loves the people you or I would turn up our noses toward.

God’s original call to Abram included the desire that “all the world would be blessed through him.”

The quote I opened with, “Don’t they have churches for people like that?”  was actually uttered by a man in a young adults Sunday School Class at First Church Somewhere in response to a homeless man showing up at their class.

Yessir, they do have churches for people like that.  You were standing in one.  If the building you were standing in isn’t for “people like that,” it isn’t a church.

How to Change Church Culture, Part 1

Last week I wrote briefly about some young adults who are concerned about reckless sexual morality on “today’s college campuses.”  My point was that this sounded very much like adults from 25 years ago, when I was in college, and, I’m sure, a lot like adults from 40 years ago; you get my drift.  I left the question hanging – what are we to do?  Can we, do we, dare we, do something different than prior generations have done (which things obviously have not worked)?

This weekend I was pouring through Kenda Creasy Dean’s Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church.  If you are in youth ministry, you MUST read this book.

I’ve titled this post “How to change Church Culture, Part 1” because this book, and the previous post mentioned above, are not simply matters of youth ministry or young adult ministry.  These are concerns that explain how and why we (the church) have lost and tend to continue to lose young people.

Tagged “the Autonomous Generation” by the New York Times in 1998, today’s adolescents have few adults or institutions who are prepared to ‘be there’ for them till the end of the age, or till the end of high school for that matter….

The distinctive feature of childhood in the late twentieth century… was the way adults pulled away from youth, despite young people’s expressed desire for a significant adult presence in their lives. (Practicing Passion, p.78, emphasis added)

Changing church culture, stemming the tide of loss of young people, and reclaiming a voice that might actually be heard by those promiscuous college students all hang on this point that Dean makes – adults pull away from youth! 

Whatever else we do, fellow adults, we have to stop pulling away from young people.  Those years were challenging for us – many of us have horrible failures or activities that we have buried so deep we barely remember them. Too often this burying of our own past becomes walls we build to keep others at arm’s length in the present.

At least since I was a youth, adults in churches have been calling youth “the church of the future.”  We are fooling ourselves when we say that – unless and until we stop pulling away from them.

Oh, Harry, My Harry?

Who has read the Harry Potter books, and/or watched the movies, and not loved them?  I read all 7 in the space of about 6 weeks.  While I’m sure that’s no record, I can assure you I was mesmerized with the story, the character development, the twists and turns, and, ultimately, the resolution.

I don’t know if this news has flooded out today, but I found two different stories, and their coincidence of hitting me today made both all the more interesting.  First, Rowling talks about religion, and, specifically, Christianity, in the series.  Then, she outs Dumbledore!

If you already thought the series was blatantly un- or anti-christian, you’ll likely ignore the first article and enjoy disgust over the second.

On Dumbledore’s orientation, I’m admittedly mystified.  Did or does it matter?  I confess that there wasn’t a single moment through the series that I wondered about the sexual orientation of anyone in the series.  In fact, except when Harry or Ron or Hermoine was showing normal adolescent hormonally-related interest in someone, I never gave such things a thought.

Does it change the story for you, knowing what you now know about Dumbledore?  Does it make you wonder about Snape?