Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tim Tebow, Easter and the cross

Tim Tebow has done many great things in his young life. He won the Heisman Trophy, two college championships, was a first round draft pick and led the Denver Broncos to an unexpected playoff win. Off the field, he is a champion, too, answering his critics with politeness and grace and giving his time to work with disabled children.

His greatest accomplishment, however, is Tebowing. His simple act of bowing in prayer after a touchdown spread like wildfire and people all over the world were mimicking his reverent posture. He created a meme. A meme is an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. Organizations of all types spend a lot of money in an attempt to create a meme.

Tebow created a Christian meme; a rare occurrence in our culture where we are more likely to imitate culture than to impact it. One example is the way t-shirt merchants take a well known secular brand and change the words in clever manner to create a religious message. (Intel inside becomes Jesus inside.)

Many churches today try to create a meme by finding the right name, logo and tagline that will make them stand out from all the other churches. Tebowing became a sensation because of Tebow's remarkable comeback wins not because of clever choreography. Likewise Christian memes are born out of extraordinary acts not because of clever marketing.

The most powerful meme of all is the cross. It is the universally recognized symbol of Christianity. We sing about it, preach on it, display it, wear it and make it part of our logos and our art. It was not chosen as part of a marketing plan. It emerged as a reminder of the price paid for our salvation.

Another powerful Christian meme is Easter. In the midst of colored eggs, bunnies, baskets, lilies and new clothes, the gospel stills breaks through. Churches will have their highest attendance of the year. People who come once a year will choose this. Some will be in your church for the first time. Your regulars will not miss this day. They come because they know that this is a day to celebrate our Christ.

There is power in that. Welcome those who come into your church this Sunday. Invite them to come back. It may have been awhile since you have seen many of them but they were drawn today by the resurrection power symbolized in Easter.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Making the gospel “good news”

Mark 3:1-6

Jesus had a conflict with the religious establishment of his day. The Gospel of Mark highlights the differences right away. Notably, Jesus clashes with the religious establishment over the Sabbath.

The Pharisees, a respected group of religious leaders had helped to establish a set of rules regarding appropriate behavior on the Sabbath. They thought it would make it easier for people to have concrete guidelines that would keep them from inadvertently violating God's Law.

One Sabbath day (Mark 2:23) Jesus and his followers are walking through a field. They are hungry and grab some handfuls of grain to eat. The Pharisees are insulted by what they viewed as a blatant violation of God's command not to work on the Sabbath. The established rules stated that no work would be done on this day and picking grain was work.

Jesus said that God's Law was meant to help people, not hurt them. Picking some grain to eat was not work. The rules set up by the religious establishment made the Sabbath a burden and not the day of rest and refreshment that God intended. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

Later Jesus would enter a place of worship on the Sabbath and encounter a man with a crippled hand. If Jesus were to heal this man, he would be working on the Sabbath. Healing was in his job description, you see. Couldn't it wait until Monday? Jesus could have given him his card and had him call for an appointment.

Jesus, understanding the conflict of the moment, asked a question designed to bring clarity. He asked, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4)

When no one spoke, Jesus answered the question himself by healing the man.

There is still conflict today regarding Sabbath-keeping and other religious rules. We get conflicting answers when we ask the wrong questions. The religious establishment today often confuses cultural norms with spiritual principles. Good rules applied in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons leave people hurt and angry. It drives people away from the God who loves them so much.

I am not suggesting we should take a relaxed attitude toward sin. We are to call sinners to repentance and offer them grace. Jesus always acted out of grace while still respecting God's Law. His intervention stopped the stoning of an adulterous woman but he did not condone the sin. He told her to “sin no more.” (John 10)

Before we establish any religious rules, we must ask if it is biblical. If it is biblical then it is supporting the gospel rather than hindering it. Let us not ever forget that gospel means “good news.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

A church for all generations

Some churches in America are comprised of essentially a single generation. Some become this way through changing neighborhood demographics and others intentionally target an age group for a new church start. The religious establishment encourages targeted evangelism as an effective means of church growth and the popular target is usually the under 40 crowd. In fact, if you reach people under 40 in large enough numbers you will be admired by your peers and celebrated by the religious establishment. You can write a book and hold seminars.

Churches that are primarily composed of people over 60 are perceived to be dying and many actually are. Emerging leaders often lack the patience to communicate with these churches and are frustrated when their advice is not taken. While it's true that many over 60 fail to see a need for change, many under 40 fail to see the unintended consequences that change can bring. Both sides of the generational divide must reach across the aisle and work together for the sake of the gospel.

Senior adults built our church buildings and invested their lives in ministry. They deserve respect. Their presence and wisdom are valuable.

Young adults deserve to be heard as well. They have much to offer, including insights on reaching others their age. Many young pastors lament the fact that their generation has no place in the established church.

Thriving churches have children running around and adults of all ages working and worshiping together. At some point thriving churches decide to intentionally place the gospel above personal preferences. At some point thriving churches learn that church is more than the right name and a cherished worship style. At some point thriving churches shift their focus away from self and toward God and the world he loved so much that he sent His only son to save it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Be a mentor

Jesus told us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Paul told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2)”

Mentoring is an intentional friendship where a more experienced person guides a less experienced one so that BOTH grow and learn. It is used in the corporate world to maximize the effectiveness of young executives. It has been used informally in the United States Armed Forces to develop non-commissioned officers. In the church we use it as part of the discipleship process.

Biblical examples of mentors include Barnabas who mentored Paul and John Mark. Paul, in turn, mentored Timothy and Titus. Moses, who was mentored by Jethro, mentored Joshua. I these cases leaders are both mentored and mentor others.

Who mentored you? Who taught you the ropes and spoke words of truth and encouragement into your life?
Whom have you mentored? Are you helping another reach their potential in Christ​?

Mentoring is a process that requires relationship building. It includes not only words but actions as you model behavior that you want to see replicated in the person you are discipling. It requires patience. Be ever mindful of the Holy Spirit's role in spiritual formation.

If you are a Christian leader (at any level) you are already a role model. Be a mentor, too. Look for someone you can invest time in; someone you can encourage and challenge. Imagine the impact on your ministry if you do this often enough to create a leadership chain reaction.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Communication and planning are vital to the success of churches working together

This weekend leaders from the four congregations that share God's house on Drexel Avenue gathered to discover areas of mutual interest. Each congregation has an individual style that appeals to the people who gather at their particular time and space. There is agreement that the potential for reaching a greater diversity (and number) of people is higher by maintaining our separate congregational identities. There is also agreement that there are things we can do together that would magnify our strengths and lead to a greater Kingdom impact.

In order for diverse congregations to work together new habits need to be created. This is easier said than done and must be intentional. It takes time, joint planning and multiple channels of communication.

Joint planning needs to occur at both the event level and the strategic (long range) level. Big events have to be calendared well in advance. Each church should take turns in leading the coordination of joint ventures to create greater harmony.

Effective communication is a key element in effective joint ventures. It was discovered that some leaders were unaware of a major upcoming event despite its mention in five different media. We cannot assume that a message transmitted is one that was received. Multiple means of communication are needed along with feedback to measure the impact of our messages.

The impact of working together for the sake of the gospel is greater than just the numbers.
  • First, it pleases God when His people are in unity (Psalm 133:1).
  • Second, each congregation brings a different point of view that informs the whole.
  • Third, it multiplies our results, while reducing our efforts.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Breaking the cycle of poverty

There is a story in Mark about a paralytic who was taken by four friends to see Jesus. The friends were not deterred by the man's inability to walk, they carried him. They were not deterred by the crowd of people who packed the house where Jesus was teaching. They knew that Jesus was the only way that their friend could be made whole. So, they carried their friend to the roof, dug a hole and lowered him to Jesus. As a result of the faithfulness of these four, the paralytic was received both physical and spiritual healing.

We need friends to guide us through tough times. They help us to find jobs, drive us to appointments, watch our children, and tell us when we have spinach in our teeth. Friends in high places help us to achieve greater levels of success.

A network of friends is often what keeps someone from falling into poverty. The Bible tells us, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity (Proverbs 17:17.)”

On the other hand, people without such friends fall into a cycle of poverty. They become dependent on government checks, fall victim to predatory lending, and lack the contacts and social skills to find employment. Churches and social agencies want to help but often perpetuate the cycle by enabling through handouts. Breaking the cycle of poverty requires more than canned food, used clothes and loose change.

A group called Open Table has developed a model where a group of 10-12 volunteers use their work and life experiences along with their personal networks to mentor an impoverished family for approximately one year. Working with the person a plan is developed to break out of the oppression of poverty.

Experienced trainers help to develop new Open Tables in other churches. The model has proven effective at moving people from poverty to wholeness on both a national level and here in San Antonio. Baptist Temple has been working on the issue of hunger and poverty for many years. Our current leadership has learned much during the past few years and we are ready to take the next step.

The commitment will require meeting an hour each week for 6-8 months. If you want to be a part of a team that makes a real difference in the life of a person in need, contact the church office.

Monday, March 04, 2013

When we serve others we are most like our Lord

I recently performed a graveside service for one of our church members. I never met her as she had been in a nursing home in another city for many years. Her children had moved away decades ago and only a few church members remembered her.

Her daughter told me that she and her mom appreciated the cards and newsletters that had been sent over the years. It kept her connected to the love of her church and reminded her of the love of our Lord.

Caring for our shut-ins, widows and sick is a major part of the ministry of Baptist Temple. Our deacons and their wives take the lead but other partners in this task include our Seniors Ministry, Sunday School and Youth. These caring individuals make hospital visits, send cards of encouragement, make minor repairs, clean homes and yards, visit the home bound and so much more.

A few years ago one of our Sunday school teachers was concerned that an elderly class member was absent. She never missed class and was not answering her phone. A home visit after church that Sunday revealed that the woman had fallen and injured herself. The Sunday school teacher's timely visit, saved the woman's life.

The Bible is filled with admonitions for God's people to care for widow's and orphans, visit the sick, and remember the elderly. This type of ministry is vital to the life of a church.

A widow once told me that she had once been very active in her church but, when her husband became sick with the ailment that eventually took his life, she had to cut back her involvement. Her church friends kept up with her for awhile but began to drift away as they became busy with their own lives. She was eventually forgotten and, after her husbands death, she never went back. She was not bitter; it was just one of those things.

In order for such a ministry to function, it must be intentional and keep the group from becoming focused on side issues that are less important.
  1. Mission Statement: There must be a clearly stated mission to care for the widows, single moms, elderly, home bound and hospitalized.
  2. Encouragement: Testimonies from individuals who are performing this ministry will serve as role models and encourage others.
  3. Training: Regular training in such areas hospital visitation, counseling, conflict resolution, understanding the needs of the elderly, grief, etc. will improve the ministry.
  4. Accountability: Members of this ministry need to report on activities and hold each other accountable.
  5. Record Keeping: A list of home bound is a minimal requirement to help ensure that no one is forgotten. Other records include visits made, cards sent, elderly and single moms needing help with house repairs and cleaning.

When we serve others we are most like our Lord.
 The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."  Matthew 25:40