Monday, October 27, 2008

Church Is Not An Event

My family took a trip this past weekend to Sea World in San Antonio. By the way, this time of year is perfect for a Sea World excursion. Beautiful weather, and no crowds make for a most enjoyable family outing. Sea World, of course has attractions that include aquariums full of sharks, sting rays, piranhas, eels, and other forms of sea life. There's a place where you can feed dolphins, seals, sea lions, and birds. There's alligators, penguins, rides, and lots of junk food. Then there are the shows. The events where humans interact with these massive sea beasts in ways that leave the observers oohing and awing.

I've seen it all before, but it still amazes me how they train these animals to perform the way they do. It is quite entertaining to both children and adults. We love those events so much that we watch some of the shows more than once every time we go.

I sit there in each of those shows and I wonder what it would be like to be a part of the action. I wonder what it would be like ride on the back of one of those killer whales, or to dance with one in that massive pool. What it would be like to to be suspended 30 feet in the air on the tip of Shamu's snout or to hang onto the dorsal fin of a dolphin who's slicing through the water at 30 mph. Of course, you can't just jump into the water and take off interacting with these sea creatures. Being a part of that action requires a bigger commitment than the price of admission. We are talking about highly trained individuals who have invested years of their lives into these animals in an effort to perform and entertain the masses.

As I was sitting here just thinking about all of that, I thought of how church is often exactly like those shows. The masses show up for the event on Sunday morning and we watch as highly trained, or sometimes not so highly trained, professionals entertain us. We sit in our chairs, or pews and we watch the performance. If its good we come back, if its not, we look for a better show somewhere else. We want the worship team to sing songs we like. Songs that move us, deeply. God forbid they sing a song that we don't like or can't connect with. Then, we want the minister to make us feel good. We want him to preach a message that stays away from the garbage in our life that needs attention, while pumping us up and exhorting us. Then, when the offering plate is passed we drop in enough to cover our price of admission if we were entertained well. Then we leave the show, our life no different than when we came.

Somehow, that process seems to be missing the whole purpose for which the church was created. The church is not an event. When we narrow it down to that, we facilitate a philosophy that will insure that the church, while reaching the masses, will fail miserably at becoming what it was created to become. The purpose of the church is to engage the masses to get out of the seats and "into the water" so to speak. It is only then that the church can become the powerful force God intended it to be. When we place a demand on those who are simply spectators, to become engaged in doing kingdom business, then and only then, are we fulfilling God's mission for the church.

Sure, there are those who come into church, in desperate need. They come in need of salvation, deliverance, healing, freedom, and a host of other things. But, when the church serves them in a way that never helps them get passed those needs, but makes them eternally dependent on the church, the church has failed at its mission. We need to do whatever is necessary to get them saved, delivered, healed, and free and then train, equip, and enlist them into kingdom business. It is only when we trash the thinking that the responsibility of ministry is reserved for a sacred few, that we can truly experience church the way church was meant to be.

In every local body of believers there is a wealth of ministry sitting. What is so tragic, is that next week, next month, and next year they'll still be sitting. And there are churches everywhere that will put on a show to accommodate their desire to simply be entertained. Trust me when I say, I'd rather go to Sea World. They are much better at putting on a show.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Faith Of A Child

Friday night we were waiting to be seated at a restaurant when a guy in a wheel chair rolled passed us. My inquisitive 2 year old asked, "What him in?" I told him he was in a wheel chair to which he responded, "Why?" I went on to tell him that there was something wrong with his legs which made him unable to walk. As I watched the look on his face as he watched the man leaving, it appeared to be one of great concern. I simply asked him if he wanted to pray for him and he responded by holding my hand and confidently said a quick prayer on his own. "Jesus heal him, so he can walk amen." He then looked out the window looking for the man and said, "Now he doesn't need that wheel chair."

Wow! Wouldn't it be great if it was that easy. Actually, it is. It just comes down to trusting God with that kind of faith. The kind of faith that believes that God can do anything. The kind of faith that takes no thought about how big the problem is, but just knows that God is big enough, strong enough, powerful enough, to fix the problem.

I remember when I was little, I had that kind of faith. I never doubted God's ability. I prayed about everything and truly believed that God answered prayer. I really believed that nothing was impossible with God.

Perhaps you found yourself there in your younger years as well. Then life happens and we begin putting God in a box. We begin to limit him in our minds and although we pray, it is no longer with the kind of faith we once had as a child. Then we follow that up with religious jargon that we learn along the way in an effort to explain the ineptness of our prayers.

The Holy Spirit, used my little one Friday night to speak loudly to me and remind me how simple trusting God is. No, the man didn't get out of the wheel chair and miraculously start walking across the floor. But, that's not really the point. My responsibility is not performing miracles, that belongs on God's shoulders. What is necessary on my part is simply to believe and trust Him. Its to approach God with a child-like faith that views God as the omnipotent, compassionate, limitless God that He is.

I wonder how different things would be if we saturated our prayers with that kind of child-like faith. I wonder what types of humongous, mind-boggling, feats we would step out and attempt for God, if we approached life like we serve a God who can truly do anything. I for one would like to just see it, rather than just imagine it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Only One Is Fit To Be Our King

We had a young man minister in our service this past week and as he closed the service in prayer he said something that has stayed with me all week. "Jesus, You are the only one fit to be our king!" Simple phrase, but profound statement. As we look ahead to the coming election and we take a survey of where we are as a nation politically, economically, spiritually, and every other "ally" you can think of, this election appears to be one of the most important, at least in our lifetime.

Now, I'm not going to get political here, I'll save that for another time, but our next leader will have to be one who can navigate us through a lot of tough stuff. All I know is I don't envy the man who takes on this task. Of course, I'll do my part and vote for the guy I think holds my personal views and convictions, and that I think is best equipped to lead us as a nation right now.

In doing so, I'll take part in the great American process of electing those who lead us. I love that idea and am thankful that I have been fortunate enough to live here my entire life. It is true that in America we are blessed in ways that many of us take for granted. I truly have no desire to live anywhere else.

Naturally, if those I believe are best able to lead us go down in defeat come November, I won't be a happy camper. That being said, I don't think it'll destroy my world. Although, I expect a lot from those who lead us, I've been around long enough to know that it can be unhealthy to place too much confidence and trust in these mortal men and women. Although, there have been great leaders and will be some great ones to come, each of them will fail, disappoint, and upset us at some point. Yes, even the ones we like.

Let's face it, there is only One who is fit to be our king! There is only one who can be completely trusted. There is only one who has the ability to hold our life together when the world around us is crumbling. There is only one whose eternal tenure as king can not be affected by public opinion, purchased by special interest, manipulated by money, or tainted by political ideologies. His kingdom though at war, is one of eternal peace. Our king has no term limits, and wasn't chosen by popular vote. He sits on the throne because according to the God of the universe, he earned it. He can never be impeached or overthrown. He is not subject to the limitations of checks and balances, but rules with absolute power and authority. His is a government that is perfect, led by a perfect leader. Now, with Him at the helm, is there anything we really need to worry about? Trust me all is well, and all will be well for those who are a part of His kingdom.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Finding True Life

In Matthew 16:25, Jesus makes a statement that is a bit puzzling. "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." It's a bit puzzling until you actually walk it out, and in doing so find it to be so true. Over the course of the last few weeks, life here in southeast Texas has been a little crazy. Things are beginning to get back to normal for many, while others will face months and perhaps even years before things resemble anything close to normal.

In the aftermath of Ike, we've found ourselves with an opportunity to prove this scripture to be true. I don't know of one individual here who wasn't affected in one way or another by this storm. Yet, by in large most people I know began looking beyond themselves in an effort to find someone who needed a helping hand. Whether is was helping with clean up, buying food and supplies for those in need, standing in line at the FEMA pods for someone else, or driving in search of gas for neighbors. People just lived quite unselfishly.

Our church was notified of a family who had left to escape the storm and when they returned found their apartment completely cleaned out. Beds, furniture, clothes, toys, everything completely gone. Once notified, our small church got busy. Within just a few days, that family had new beds, living room furniture, food, and plenty of clothes. I had the privilege of being the delivery man, and I have to tell you I learned first hand that it is when we forget ourselves and live for someone else that we truly find life. I'll never forget the look on the faces of those three young children as we dropped off the clothes, food, and furniture. It was worth more than all the money this world has to offer.

We travel through life so often, striving for things we think will bring us fulfillment and satisfaction in this life. In the end they never do. The words Jesus spoke hold the key to that deep desire in all of us to find fulfillment. Only when we begin to lose our life do we truly find life. Think about the times in life when you've felt most fulfilled and I'm sure you'll find it was those moments when you placed someone else's needs before yourself. Those moments when you've sacrificed for someone else.

The key, of course, is learning to live there and not just visit every once in awhile. When sacrificial living becomes a way of life, then we'll be living right where we were created to live. And we'll find those words of Jesus to ring so true.