Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"I'm doing a new thing..." God

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
I've been thinking recently... which is always dangerous.  I've been thinking about something Jesus said, and I'm left wondering what it all means.

Jesus had been in the home of Matthew with a crowd that caused quite a stir amongst the religious community of the day... it seems Jesus was hanging with sinners! Can you believe it?  Moments later some of the religious establishment questioned the religious practices of the disciples of Jesus, evidently they weren't fasting... a real problem, at least to some.

Jesus shares that perhaps then was NOT the time to fast.... then he spoke using a parable.  He spoke of a garment needing a patch and some new wine needing a new wineskin.  It's these words that I cannot get away from.  They're challenging my thinking.  Listen to them,

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.  And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22

As I look around the church today I believe God is doing a new thing.  What exactly does that mean though?  Is it a call to disregard the past?  Perhaps Luke's telling of this parable might help us.  In Luke, Jesus, at the end of this parable, shares... "And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’ ”  Immediately we begin talking about Jesus doing a new thing there are those who suggest we're dishing the past.  However in this parable for all the talk of the need for a new vessel... Jesus still suggests the OLD is better.  Go figure!

So what is Jesus suggesting?   Let me start by saying I'm not sure!  In fact if you're looking for answers you've come to the wrong place.  I look at the context and see the establishment of the day struggling to fit what Jesus is doing in the box of their own religious experience.  Their understanding of worked out faith doesn't mesh with what they see in Jesus. 

Fasting was a vital part of the Jewish faith.  It was one of the three pillars of expressed religion... and eating with sinners would leave one unclean... unable to enter the temple, the very presence of the Almighty God.  This was serious.  They were certainly not being flippant.  And yet Jesus responds by telling a parable... a parable that suggests that what God is doing won't fit into the vessel they've crafted.  So what is this new thing God longs to do?

Again, I'm not sure... perhaps it's too early to tell, or perhaps I'm to close to see it... I simply know this: God is doing a new thing!  He's stirring the heart of his church!  He's stirring my heart.  I've been in ministry for just over 20 years and I"m realizing I can no longer do ministry the way I've always done it.  I bought the whole church growth movement.  I swallowed... hook, line and sinker... the call to build the church.(As if I could...) 

I can't do it any longer or to put it another way... I'm realizing the futility of ME building the church.  We've come to Ireland... our task... plant the church. Don't get me wrong I'm more convinced than ever that God is wanting to build HIS church.... but did you notice the difference.  HE will build HIS church.  This leaves me with two questions.... First, what will this church look like?  And secondly, what am I called to do?

Let's be honest, if God is doing the building... perhaps I don't have the control I thought I had.... perhaps I should simply get out of the way and allow God to do what HE is going to do... remember even the gates of Hades cannot prevail against the church.

So what should I be about? I keep going back to the words of Paul... "now YOU are the body of Christ (the church) and each one of you is a part of it." 1Cor 12:27  We have a part to play... remembering that it is Jesus who said, "I will build my church... in other wrods we're NOT in control, we're NOT in charge... we're simply called to follow.  The question becomes about where?  Where is HE leading?

Jerry Porter, at a recent meeting I attended in Glasgow Scotland challenged us to plant churches... this in a city full of steeples and incredible churches.  This, in a part of the world that has been saturated with the church.  What was he talking about?  I think he was talking about the NEW things God is doing, even in Europe... a new thing that has nothing to do with what we've made church about in recent past.

We've made church about buildings and facility.  We've made church about talent and money.  We've made church about programs and numbers... when in reality all those things are simply products of what the church really is all about.  You see the church is not about buildings, or programs or money or talent... it's about people who yield their lives to God and who share HIS love with others.  We've been called to plant the church in Ireland... guess what there are plenty of churches in this land of 'Saints and Scholars'.... they don't need another building, another program.... what they need is Jesus.

Much of the church has got out of the church planting business because we couldn't afford it, because we didn't have the right talent or enough money... perhaps God is wanting to do a new thing... perhaps God is wanting to get away from the programs and power... perhaps he's looking for people like YOU and ME... who are willing to walk across the street and share HIS love, by being very present in people's lives...

I've recently been reading from a book by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, it's called "The Tangible Kingdom" in it they quote Henri Nouwen who shares some words that capture what I'm feeling.  Listen to them.

"More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball and be known as someone who wants to live with them.  It is a privilege to have the time to practice the simply ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems.  My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets.... but I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn't be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own and to let them know with words, handshakes and hugs that you do not simply like them - but truly love them."

Maybe Jerry Porter is on to something...maybe church planting is NOT about buildings, programs, the talent we think we need or even the money we don't have... maybe it's about YOU and ME sharing the love of Jesus.

What do you think?   I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Step by Step...

I've been in the states for the last six weeks sharing about our journey in Ireland, meeting new people, catching up with old friends... and in the midst of this journey God is speaking into my life about something, something that is changing me.  I guess you might say I'm learning something... go figure!

Let me start by asking a question.  When do great things happen?  When are lives changed? 

My mind goes to moments like these: Moses at the burning bush.  Paul on the road to Damascus.  Those were significant moments...great moments.  Yet I'm learning that great moments can happen in places and ways we'd never imagine.  They can happen through things that we might see as insignificant or even mundane.  Allow me to explain.

Someone shared how a conversation we'd had around a kitchen table had impacted them... they remembered it like it was yesterday, and I remembered NOTHING!  Another individual came up to me this last week and shared how a phone conversation I'd had with them changed their life.... The crazy thing was I didn't even remember it, even when they described it in detail... not even a faint recollection.  I missed it, or did I?

You'd think we'd be aware when something significant was happening or about to happen, right?  You'd think we'd know when we're being used of God.  Yet even as I missed it... I really didn't.  I was present in the life of another and God was there too.

I'm coming to see in more vivid ways that we often make ministry about BIG stuff.  We think ministry happens on Easter Sunday... or on Sunday, period. Those of us in "professional" ministers...whatever that means... even think we can orchestrate the movements and action of God in the life of another.  Pretty funny when you think about it.  Yet all through these last six weeks I've been reminded that God often uses insignificant and mundane things and moments to do radical work in the lives of people.

To be honest, I sometimes struggle because I feel what I'm doing is SO insignificant. I'm in Ireland and I'm simply walking into people's lives, something anyone could do.  No great skill required. And yet, I'm coming to understand that EVERY moment, EVERY step, EVERY seemingly insignificant action can be filled with God's presence and used for HIS kingdom sake, no matter how insignificant it might seem. 

As Paul states in Colossians 3:17  "Whatever you do, whether in word of deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Let's embrace God in EVERY moment and place... who knows what will happen!