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7 Quick Reasons Why Your Church Cannot Grow

For the past few months my mind has been on mission and reaching folks who are lost. There are some of you who are like, “Dude, I thought that is kind of your job.” It is but the fact of the matter is that there is more to ministry than mission but that is another post. The teens and I have gone through some discussion on Sunday morning about mission and this has really got me thinking a lot about it. The term “missional churches” has been a Christian buzzword for close to a decade now. I love the way Ed Stetzer defines it in a post he wrote for Christianity Today:

Being missional conveys the idea of living on a purposeful, Biblical mission. Mission is the reason the church exists and the church joins Jesus on mission. And, this mission is from everywhere to everywhere.

I like that definition for mission. Using that as a definition I want to share some things where I think the church is missing the boat. There are other posts that parse it better but this is where I see our churches struggling when it comes to growth (see “Further Reading” below). Feel free to disagree, clarify or add in the comments section below. Also, I give a confession below that I need you to read.

Your Church Cannot Grow Because:

  1. They lack clear vision. Andy Stanley said, “Everybody ends up somewhere in life. A few people end up somewhere on purpose. Those are the ones with vision.” If I were to go up to a member in your church and ask them, “What is the vision of your church?” what do you think the answer would be? Vision doesn’t solve everything but it does give you clarity on where you want to go.
  2. They are stuck in the past. Whether it is antiquated theology or reusing old ways of doing things, churches that remember the “good old days” might not make it to new days. Insert “gospel meetings” right here folks. They are done along with other programs that used to work.
  3. They allow power hungry folks to steer the church. I have never met a growing church who said, “We have this one elder who continually stalls votes or puts out negative vibes.” As long as you have that one person steering the ship because they are power hungry then you will not grow.
  4. Their programs are internally focused. From the youth ministry, to children’s ministry to bible class, to preaching; all seem to gear themselves toward the members. Again, this goes to “lack of vision” but when we start thinking with the members in mind then we might need to evaluate if we have mission in mind.
  5. They do not spend time with the unchurched. I read a book years ago called They Like Jesus but not the Church by Dan Kimball. In that book he made the observation that the longer folks are Christians (in years) the less time they spend with the unchurched. Number four above is part of the reason this is true but it also has to do with our comfort level. It gets messy dealing with the unchurched and it is a whole lot easier avoiding it (we pay the preacher to do it right? SMH).
  6. They do not understand what the gospel really is. I wrote about this a while back but the truth is that our churches have not done a good job at sharing what the gospel really is. We have truncated the gospel making it akin to salvation (i.e., “obeying the gospel”). Worse, I am afraid our theological gymnastic approach to the text (verse hopping and proof texting) has made us more biblically illiterate than ever before. We have zero clue about the story. Another post for another time.
  7. They have no urgency. From visitor follow-up to implementation of new ideas, many churches refuse to act swiftly when it comes to mission. There is more to this but sometimes churches are the slowest to become proactive. We wait and usually are ten years behind the curve on this. I understand change takes time but often it is time that is a luxury.

A Confession…

I have not done well at this over the years and have even contributed to the problem. My heart is for a solution on this instead of whining about problems. I am still learning the missional life Jesus exemplified in the gospels. If I were to open my journal and allow you to read it you would see scores of entries on times where I missed an opportunity or lacked the right courage. I can only get better and do work. I also admit that I have curtailed deeper explanation for my answers above. Meaning, they are too simple and need further explanation. Such is the nature of a blog as one is forced to say what needs to be said and move on. I am sure you understand.

FURTHER READING…

This World Needs a Good Samaritan – A Sermon

This World Needs a Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

By Robbie Mackenzie

(Preached on July 10, 2016 at the Clarksville Highway Church of Christ)

INTRODUCTION:

Perhaps you were watching the evening news after a long day at the office. You hear the usual weather, sports and updates on the political situation. Not long after that you hear them tell a story about a woman who helped rescue an elderly lady from her burning car. The elderly lady is interviewed and she says: “I am so grateful for this woman. She was my Good Samaritan.” Good Samaritan. The use of this phrase is not exclusive to Christians as a cursory search on Google will yield millions of hits from a variety of sources both Christian and non-Christian. There are many hospitals named The Good Samaritan Hospital[1] and Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, leads a global relief ministry called Samaritan’s Purse.[2] Many who grew up in the church probably have this story memorized as if the details become rehearsed like a social security number answer on a loan application. Yet sometimes we know many details about a story but we fail to apply the details to how we respond to the world. We become like the teacher who knows so much but does not want to teach.

I am advocating that based on recent events in our country and the entire globe that the ramifications of this story are more relevant than ever before. In just one week the United States saw two men gunned down by officers and then in retaliation five officers gunned down. Couple that with the Orlando shooting that killed 49 and a recent Baghdad bomb that killed close to 300 and it is easy to come the conclusion that we may know the story of the Good Samaritan but we are far from making the story a reality. Too many folks are more concerned about politics than the personhood of Jesus and too often this story gets shoved in the filing cabinet of our lives only opened when needed. This story serves as a reminder of what it really means to be called Christian. This story reminds us that there is a certain weirdness about us that correctly makes us in the world but not. So my thesis today is simple: THIS WORLD NEEDS A GOOD SAMARITAN. So before there were Good Samaritans helping little old ladies across the street there was THE good Samaritan Jesus talked about. Let’s look at him first.

BODY:

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37; NRSV)

The context from this story comes in the verses preceding it in Luke 10. Jesus had commissioned seventy-two others to go into the towns sharing the good news and healing the sick. If they did not want to listen or accept the healing then Jesus asked that they take the dust that is in their sandals and shake it off (10:10-11). Keep this in mind because we will come back to this in a second. They come back sharing that even the demons bowed down to the name of Jesus and Jesus shares his excitement by praising the Father (10:17-22). This brings us to our text upon which we know do the rigorous task of asking, “What did Jesus mean for them and what does this mean for us today?”

A lawyer comes to ask Jesus a question with one purpose in mind: to test him. The NIV says an “expert in the law” which is another way at saying those who knew Torah in and out. Jesus encountered many of these in his ministry and most of the time they asked questions trying to pigeonhole Jesus into a certain position. [NOTE: In the sermon I said, “Maybe the Lawyer asked questions to see if Jesus knew what he was talking about.] The question he asked is an interesting one: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This word is used also by the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18:18 when he asked the exact same question verbatim in Greek. I am told that the word used for “inherit” has a monetary connotation added to it. So when the lawyer used the word he was doing so in a way in which eternal life is requested as a share allotted to him.[3] In other words, his desire is not to do what it takes to gain eternal life but he wants it as a deserved gift for a job well done.

Jesus, in his usual style, answers a question with a question: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” Jesus is not deferring the argument so the Lawyer could have his place. Rather, he is deferring to the authority by which the Lawyer calls himself an expert. Torah. The lawyer answers well: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The first part of the law is the Shema which would be something all Jews would have memorized. Orthodox Jews to this day will recite the Shema twice a day as per the requirements of Deuteronomy 6:7. The second part of what the Lawyer discusses is also an integral part of the commands (see Lev. 19:17-18). Loving your neighbor was important even to those who were called foreigners: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:34).[4] Jesus knew the Law, agrees with the Lawyer. So perhaps there is something to be said about the Lawyer’s response that does lead to eternal life. Jesus simply gives a charge to the Lawyer: do this, and you will live.” This was not enough for the Lawyer as he made an effort to make himself feel better about the portions of the Law he did and did not do. He asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

The parable Jesus shares packs a massive punch to the pride of any good Jew listening. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.” Jericho is actually north of Jerusalem but the biblical writer is not describing going down using a compass rather using elevation. Jerusalem is about 2500 feet above sea level and Jericho is actually 825 feet below sea level. The Jewish historian Josephus said the first century road between the two cities was about 18 miles.[5] The road went through rough terrain with mountains hiding would-be bandits and plenty of deserts for them to escape. Later the Romans would establish sentry points to aide travelers on this major road. But during the time of this story something like what Jesus describes would not be out of the ordinary.

Jesus uses a Levite and a Priest to point attention to the question the Lawyer asks. Surely a priest and Levite, whose dedication to Torah are unrivaled, would stop to help the naked and destitute man. Torah commanded it! Yet Jesus is trying to instill in the Lawyer that knowledge and application do not always go hand in hand. People do not always apply what they know. We are not told why they left the man. Did they not want to touch the man because of ritual purity? Maybe they thought he was dead and helping him would not help much. We can only surmise as to their reason and we are uncertain in the end. What we are certain is that the next person to come across would leave a cringe in the mouths of many.

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” It is well documented that the Jews despised the Samaritans. According to John McKenzie in his Dictionary of the Bible, the Samaritans later allied themselves with the Seleucids in the Maccabean wars and in 108 B.C. the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple and ravaged the territory. Around the time of Jesus’ birth, a band of Samaritans profaned the Temple in Jerusalem by scattering the bones of dead people in the sanctuary. This is seen actually in our own context in Luke 9:51-56:

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

Perhaps this parable is not just for the Lawyer after all. Jesus speaks how this Samaritan went above and beyond the circumstances all stemming from him “taking pity” on the guy. He then put the guy on his donkey, carried him to the inn and took two silver coins to the innkeeper promising he would cover all incurred expenses.

Listening to this story many Jews would probably shake their heads at what Jesus was saying. Perhaps their response would sound like this: “Are you kidding me Jesus? No Samaritan would ever do something like that!” They would then miss the point of the parable. It is not about who you love but how you love. John Carroll in his commentary on Luke makes an excellent point: “By reframing ‘neighbor’ as subject rather than object of action, and by telling a story in which the hero who acts in exemplary action is a Samaritan, Jesus pushes love of neighbor toward love of enemy.”[6] Jesus then moves toward application: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” This was an impossible question to mess up. It was a softball toss question if there ever was one. Yet, to admit the truth would tear down preconceived ideas about how one could treat a Samaritan. The Lawyer had only one option…the truth. He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus charges him again: “Go and do likewise.”

APPLICATION

Say Jesus roamed the earth right now and you went up to him reciting the same things the Lawyer did and then you asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He then sits you down and explains a parable to you:

A woman was struggling to provide for her kids and then her husband beat her and kicked her out of the house with the kids. She went to the Housing Agency but they couldn’t help her and so she was left to find a place to stay and food to eat for her family. She decided to make a sign and wave it at a major intersection asking for help. A preacher happened to be going through that intersection that day, looked at the woman then looked away so as to not make eye contact. He quickly drove off because he was late for an area-wide preacher’s meeting. Then after a couple of hours a youth minister pulled up and saw the woman and her sign. He looked at his wife and said, “I wish some of these bums would actually work for a living.” He gave her a scowl and drove off to go eat Chick-Fil-A. Then, out of nowhere, a Muslim woman wearing her Hijab pulls up and asks the woman about her story. After hearing her brokenness she takes her and the kids in her car. They go to the local Holiday Inn and she pays for a week’s stay. She also gives the woman some cash for incidentals and puts her in contact with different agencies for work, assistance and help.

Now some of you hearing this are thinking, “That would never happen” and you would be just like those listening to Jesus telling the story about the Samaritan. Most of us would answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” by describing people we are closest to while Jesus would answer the question by describing our enemies. We are to love the rich, the poor, black and white, American and non-American. There should be no limits to our love for Christ died for all.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best: “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” If we are truly going to be the bride of Christ then we are to start acting like him. The world’s answers to violence often is more violence while Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace makers.” Jesus claimed we are to be a city set on a hill and as such we should be bearers of light not darkness. When the Samaritan passed the man left for dead he was moved with pity because of the destitution the man was in. When we look at folks what are we moved with? Pity? Compassion? Love? Or maybe disdain? So who will you show mercy to this week? Who needs the extension of mercy because you were given that same extension in blood on Calvary? Like the Samaritan…Go and Do Likewise.

__________________________________

[1] Vincennes, IN, Lexington, KY and Los Angeles, CA to name a few.

[2] https://www.samaritanspurse.org/

[3] Cleon Rogers Jr. and Cleon Rogers III, The Linguistic and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, p. 134.

[4] Cf. Deut. 10:19; 14:29; 24:19-21; 26:11; Lev. 19:10; 23:22; 25:35 et.al.

[5] http://bibleresources.americanbible.org/resource/from-jerusalem-to-jericho

[6] Luke: A Commentary, p. 246.

White Savior Barbie and Short-Term Mission Trips

Have you seen the “White Savior Barbie” on Instagram? The bio for this parody account says it all:

Jesus. Adventures. Africa. Two worlds. One love. Babies. Beauty. Not qualified. Called. 20 years young. It’s not about me…but it kind of is. www.barbiesavior.com/blog/2016/6/3/stoporphantrips

Some of the posts are hilarious…

And here is a funny one…

But then some of them hit close to home…

 

The Huffington post article “‘White Savior Barbie’ Hilariously Parodies Volunteer Selfies In Africa” sheds some light on why the anonymous creators of this account post these pictures:

While the now defunct Socality Barbie used the beloved Barbie doll to lampoon hipster Instagram accounts, Barbie Savior is taking it one step further by poking fun at people who suffer from the “White Savior Complex.” If you’re unfamiliar, the term is used to describe the white Westerners who travel to third world countries and make the entire affair an exercise in self-congratulatory #sacrifice. 

The new account, created by two white twenty-something women (who choose to remain anonymous) was created five weeks ago, and already has over 7,000 followers. Its creators are self-professed former “white saviors,” and say they draw from their own experiences of volunteering in East Africa.  “We were never as ‘savioresque’ as Barbie Savior, but we did things back in our White Savior days that we regret,” the creators told The Huffington Post via email. “It really just started as a joke between us, a way to get some of these things off of our chest. Its hard to pinpoint the irony at times in real life… the wildly self-centered person veiled as the self-sacrificing saint.” Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing volunteer work in Africa — it’s wonderful when people take the time and energy to make a difference for those who may be less fortunate. But the makers of the account say what they’re trying to do is shine a light on the people who fetishize and over-sentimentalize the experience of visiting Africa: The people who turn smiling African school kids into living photo-ops, who talk about how “happy everybody is even though they’re so poor!“ and who never seem to specify exactly what country in Africa they actually visited (because, you know, Africa is a country).

Other articles about this sentimentality pervade:

Perhaps one of the most indicting videos I have seen was done by SAIH Norway called Who Wants to be a Volunteer? See below…

These articles have something to say to the church who may carelessly send would-be “mission workers” to all corners of the globe hoping to do some good in the name of Jesus. I am fresh off of a short-term mission trip to the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. I have been a part of close to 10 short-term mission trips both participating and leading them on three different continents.

These articles are justifiably poignant in their thrust and expose some of the dangers of “global volunteerism.” Short-term missions alone is a multi-million dollar business with companies touting the “best” mission-trip experience for a youth group. Don’t believe me? I get flyers every week at my small rural church in Joelton, Tennessee from different organizations that all say the same thing.

Yet…I am not one of those who espouses that short-term mission work is unnecessary. As I see it, short-term missions accents mission work you are already involved in at home (more on that below). If done correctly it will help sustain your ministry and compliment a church/ministry where you complete the short-term mission work. Below I have, in a very scrambled manner, a few of my thoughts in terms of some guidelines for short-term mission work. I must concede before you that I have not been perfect with the statements below as many of them come from what I did wrong instead of what I did right.

So here are my jumbled thoughts on short-term mission trip guidelines.

#1 – Partner with an organization/church that is seeking to sustain the gospel in a contextualized manner.

I will never forget a conversation I had with an African missionary. We were talking about some doctrinal issues occurring in the United States and he said: “Robbie, I try to keep the American church as far away from here as possible.” Third-world countries don’t need American churches to save them, they need Jesus.

#2 – Discern what it would look like to send your money, instead of your body.

I wrote a check one time for flights to a place we were visiting for a mission trip. The check was for about $25K. I was nauseous. What would it look like if we just sent that money to folks who know the people better than we do, could sustain longer down there than we could and would not have to worry about hotels or other ancillary expenses? I have been on a bunch of construction mission trips and I always wondered what it would look like if we paid locals to build the church building instead of us. These locals might not even have a job and so the occupation and money might be the gospel they would need at the time.

#3 – Make sure this trip is not about you.

Why are you going? What do you God will accomplish by using you? These are all valid questions to ask yourself before you go on a trip. “I’m going for the experience,” sounds good for donors but I wonder if it is a cop out or, even worse, a code name for saying, “I hope this is a good vacation.” This is not a sightseeing trip (although some of that is not bad) but it is a trip where you will hit the ground running to work.

#4 – Short-term mission trips should, in theory, compliment the mission you are involved in at home.

It is sexy to take a trip to the jungle of Brazil to give much-needed medicine to sickly folks. It is not so sexy to take the same trip in the very county you live in. Go to a school yard in Sudan and invite them to church is “mission work” but doing that in Missouri or Alabama is more like just work. What would it look like to raise money to work with folks in your own backyard? What would it look like to have your entire church involved in service-oriented work with gospel-oriented conversations in the lanes and avenues of your own hood? If our only mission work requires us to get on a plane then we are, at best, hypocrites.

#5 – Find some way to extend the relationship with the missionaries in place.

All too often we simply trash-and-dash the site we work at without cultivating an ongoing relationship. They still have ongoing needs that many of us can help with years down the road. In a sense, the place we visit becomes an extension of our own church as we fellowship through social media and email. I went on a mission trip to Peru in January of 2004 and I still pray for a guy down there who I developed a kinship with.

Ok…I know I missed some things so help me out?

Your church is addicted to this (you are too) and what you can do about it in 2016

I remember one January we were trying to plan a quarter of activities in the youth ministry I led at the time. The goal was to schedule a spring retreat on a weekend where most of the ministry could attend. “How about this date?” I said excitingly. “I have a tournament that week,” one girl jumped in. “Oh yeah we do too!” So knowing I have a couple back up dates I said, “What about this one?” “I don’t know Robbie, that is the weekend before Spring Break and many of us will be going out of town.” “That’s right. I am sorry,” I said feeling a bit defeated. “This is the last date the retreat center has open so what are your thoughts about this one.” “Robbie that is right smack dab in district tournaments and plus spring baseball is gearing up for our families.”

Here is the bottom line when it comes to the difficulty of people getting connected to the mission of the church: We are just too busy. Busyness has become the status quo of western civilization. People all the time ask me, “Robbie how is the new church going?” and if I respond with, “We are really busy” then I always get a “that’s good” from folks. Why? Busyness is the modus operandi of our culture and the sad part is our churches have adopted this way of life and we are suffering.

How do we expect the church to participate in the mission of God when our schedules are absolutely insane? I hear of my youth ministry friends struggling all the time to get kids to show up to events, parents to volunteer and people in the church to participate and I think it all comes back to our lives are lived like a rat race and we don’t even know it. I saw a video on the Verge Network site that resonates with much of what I am saying and Paul Tripp makes a good case. It only takes a couple minutes to watch…

The Biggest Challenge Facing the Church Today | Paul David Tripp from Austin Stone Counseling Center on Vimeo.

So what can we do to help the mission of our church? Ask this important game-changing question:

“What set of values drives the schedule of our family?”

Early in our family we made it a point that we would not miss services because of a ball game. Now this was not to say that missing a service here and there was evil rather we wanted to create an atmosphere early that said, “above sports, hobbies and other things we value Jesus Christ and his church.” I have not regretted making that decision. In a time where busyness is a god we are trying to eschew the cultural milieu we are in by practicing simplicity in our faith.

I can’t tell parents what they should do but I can try to model what I think is a better way for our family. We are not perfect in this but we try to practice balance when and wherever possible. They still do sports and other things but we take breaks and we don’t push them. For you Christians out there here is the question: “If I were to ask you to disciple someone in your current schedule for 1-2 hours a week could you do it?”

Many of you are setting goals for 2016 (read Michael Hyatt’s post about that) and I think that is wonderful but let me push you a bit and ask that you make living a simpler life so that you can have mission at the front of your life your goal. “Ever wonder why many people do not volunteer at your church?” A huge reason is that they simply do not have the time. They don’t.

Grace and peace,

Robbie

 

5 Signs That Your Church’s Mission and Jesus’ Mission are Out of Sync

We were interviewing at this particular church for a youth ministry position. The church was large with about 900 or so members and a youth group of almost 150. During the interview process and in conversations over the weekend they bragged about the facilities and the various projects occurring. Talking with the senior minister in his office he unrolled blueprints for a massive building expansion and at the point I knew it was not a good fit for me. This church seemed concerned more about building the church (literally) than growing the church.

You see there is nothing wrong with a building or expansions as they serve a function for the church. Yet it seems sometimes the church gets lost in mission and loses focus of what’s most important. I am reminded of the church in Ephesus that went from being such a vibrant family to them abandoning their first love (Rev. 2:4).

So how do you know if your church’s mission and Jesus’ mission are out of sync? These responses come from a desire for us to revive our effort in the communities to become a more externally focused church. It is my prayer that we change and do so for the sake of the unchurched.

You know your church’s mission and Jesus’ mission is out of sync when…

The majority of the church’s activities are inwardly focused.

Take a hard look at your church’s calendar and your youth group’s calendar. Are the activities focused inwardly or outwardly. Read this carefully: the growth of the church is directly correlated to how often your membership spends time with the unchurched. If most of the church’s activities function to serve only its members then our mission is not in line with the mission of Jesus. A side note tangent I want to emphasize: gospel meetings as they stand now are antiquated and function mainly to focus on the membership and not the unchurched. I dare you to make a list of the activities of your church and prove how they are externally focused. Go ahead. From worship to classes to bulletins to announcements to meeting times all seem to have the same subject in mind: inward not outward.

There is no real growth in the church.

I hear of churches that are growing and upon further investigation most of the growth that has occurred is from members leaving other churches. If Satan ever had a good distraction tool it would be pseudo church growth. How many baptisms have you had from unchurched members in the past year? I am not talking about sons or daughters of attendees but I am talking about people from your community where members from the church have poured into them with intense discipleship.

The church is distracted with inconsequential issues.

Look at the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of Paul and nothing distracted them from spreading the good news. Paul said, Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). Jesus was truth and a church that focuses on issues more than Jesus himself is one that is out of sync with the mission of Jesus.

People in the community don’t really talk about the church

Everywhere Jesus went people talked about him (despite his efforts to remain quiet). Both the naysayers and the followers probably had endless discussion at the dinner table about this new movement. Fast forward to now…

Do people in the community talk about your church? “Hold on just a minute,” you say. “There are so many churches in our county and so many people and not everybody is going to talk about the church.” True but I am not talking about everybody. I have said this before in another post but in our county there are a couple of churches that I always here people talk about. They are involved with this program and that school and this addiction recovery and that recreational league. Here is a fact…they are growing and it reflects in how active they are in the community.

Divided Leadership

Jesus prayed,that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). The point of unity is for others to see that God sent Jesus. When our leadership is divided and loses track of vision (or does not have one) then our mission derails from the mission of Jesus.

What else would you add to this list? It is certainly not comprehensive.

Nashville Inner City Ministry – Day 1

My typical Sundays include waking up around 7am; driving to the church building; polishing off my lesson for bible class; teaching; attending worship; lunch and then by about 1pm I relax.

Today my Sunday is a little different. It is 11:21pm and we are staying at the Highland Heights Church of Christ in Smyrna, Tennessee and I can hear faint extremely loud sounds of teenagers playing ball in the basketball court. It is music to my ears.

Today we started the day loading up our vehicles not knowing what to expect from working with the folks at Nashville Inner City Ministry. We were excited but perhaps cautiously optimistic might be the best way to describe it. I have led an inner city trip before with the fine folks at Memphis Urban Ministry (J Reezy!) but this was a different church and a different location. I prayed that their eyes would be opened and their hearts would be melted.

We rode the buses with some fine church members to pick up kids from the projects. Again, my prayers were that the kids would have their eyes opened and their hearts would be melted. We picked up the kids and attended worship. I always love worship at an inner city church because it is the kind of worship I feel my body lean towards. The hands clapping, bodies swaying and praises from good gospel hymns lifted up to God. The sermon was wonderful and I could hear the brothers saying their “Amens” and a couple of times telling the preacher to “Come on wit it!”

After that we had lunch and broke out into small groups with some of the teens mentoring other teens. We asked discussion questions and shared our stories. Some of their stories were encouraging coming from drugs to the gospel and how it has transformed their thinking in penetrating ways.

We went and dropped the kids off after that and got back to the church…It was 4pm. We ate supper at one of the coordinator’s houses and shared conversation with some teenagers over a mean game of volleyball. We laughed, prayed and had good gospel conversations. The kind of things that matter.

We got to the church and we watched a little of the NBA finals and then shared what we learned. Some of the responses:

  • How can mommas drop off their 3 or 4 year old kid and leave them with people for a whole day?
  • The way they encouraged us and welcomed us was amazing.
  • Some the struggles they endured and what I endure are almost the same.
  • Even though there is poverty the same principle applies: we all need Jesus.
  • During some intense impoverished times they seem so happy.

Here is what God taught me today:

  • Hearts can be melted. Eyes can be opened.
  • I am often too selfish with my Sundays. I need to get out and share the gospel.
  • Be thankful for what you have and don’t wish for more.
  • Being a father to my kids is something many do not have the privilege of doing.
  • The kingdom of God is at work, breaking into the darkest places of this world!

VERSE OF THE DAY:

I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers. – Ephesians 1:18 (CEB)

The Graduation Speech

*Originally preached at the Main Street Church of Christ on May 15, 2011.

The Graduation Speech

By Robbie Mackenzie (May 15, 2011)

            I have done many things since I have been alive. I have been to South America and Africa. I have attended numerous World Series games. I hiked down the Grand Canyon and back up in one day. I have watched four beautiful kids come into this world. But there are many things in this world I have not experienced. I have never jumped out of an airplane. I have never, unfortunately, found gold on the other side of a rainbow. I have never been to the North Pole and I have never, ever participated in synchronized swimming. Something else I have never done is speak at a graduation. I have probably sat through some thirty graduations and even leaving one in the middle only to arrive at another in the middle. I have heard every quote imaginable like, “This is the first day of the rest of your life,” and “If it’s to be it’s up to me.” I have heard many people misquote enough Scripture for me to pull my hair out and by the looks of my hair I have heard a lot of misquoted Scripture. Nobody remembers a graduation speech because they are all the same. This is why I am offering you a different graduation speech but in the end it will be forgettable and pretty soon it will be—well—just another graduation speech.

If I were to graduate again (which may happen) I would want to hear this type of speech at my graduation. I would want to have someone tell me what really might happen as opposed to God’s plans to “prosper us and not to harm us” (Jer. 29:11; taken out of context of course J). Those who have battled drugs, alcohol, divorce, financial heartache and difficult circumstances usually are not the ones invited to speak at graduations. Why? People want to hear the wealthy, famous, successful and “problem-free” at graduations yet those people are in the minority. Most of us fit into the second category of simple, problem-full, but content with our lives. That’s boring and nobody wants to hear about it. So this is my attempt to put pen to paper and give flesh to words that I would say if it were the last words I would say to a graduate. The speech is more about what you really may experience but it is a little uncertain. So here we go.

First of all, you’re going to grow apart from your friends. There are certain people in your graduating class you will never ever see or talk to again. Even your BFFs, whom you swore, pinkie-promised, and vowed to stay in touch via text, phone, SKYPE, or even just a visit on weekends, will grow apart from you. It’s going to be awkward when you come home and go back to a high-school football game and see your old buddies. You will realize they have changed and so have you and it will be a cool feeling knowing you are the college kid. Pretty soon you will just feel old and then you will stop going back to high-school functions. The saddest part about going different ways is watching some of your friends who cannot accept the fact that they are no longer in high-school. They still talk like high-schoolers, hang out with high-schoolers, and their maturity level stays that way for years. If they could just grow up and move on life would be better but they can’t. That may be you by the way. What they don’t tell you after you graduate is that life happens and things get in the way and we just become too busy. You might even lose a friend tragically in a car accident, overdose, or a physical ailment like cancer or something else. It’s going to hurt and you will cry.

You’re going to realize that the boyfriend or girlfriend you thought you would spend the rest of your life with will not work out. Nor will the next three or four. You will realize that there are some seriously messed-up people out there who are looking for nothing more to score with you and that is going to hurt. Perhaps you’re on the other spectrum and you will just wait, and wait, and wait while everyone around you is getting a significant other without trying yet you pray, ask someone out and still nobody will date you. Then you’re going to go home and it’s going to sting every time someone asks you, “Are you seeing anybody yet?” and then the awkward look you get when you say, “No!” To make matters worse they will offer you a monologue about them having two kids by the time they were your age. That doesn’t help either. Life does not consist in a relationship but it sure beats being lonely sometimes.

You’re going to have to say goodbye to your parents. Whether you work at home or go off to college you will have to say goodbye to them somehow. You’re going to have to convince your parents that them moving in with you in your dorm room is actually a horrible idea. They are going to call you, once, twice maybe three times a day just to hear your voice. Some of you will want to run from your parents so bad and so fast that you are going to blaze a trail along the way but some of you are not going to want to leave your parents because you will be afraid. You will get homesick because you’re going to miss the family meals, nights at the park, and games of uno, vacation and long conversations on the way to school. The phone calls from mom will get really annoying but deep down inside her voice will be like water in the driest African desert.

You’re going to be broke. Growing up your mom and dad were like a free-flowing ATM but now that day is long gone and you actually might have to work which, by the way, you don’t have time for. You may get into credit card trouble thinking you can pay the balance sometime later if you just meet the minimum payment and it’s going to come back to bite you in a very personal way. Worst of all, you might actually get that date with that someone only to be so broke you have to spend your romantic night at the dining hall or McDonald’s because you can’t afford anything else. By the way, your mom is calling you and you probably should pick the phone up.

You’re going to change physically. It’s a strange thing that actually eating 8-10 Krystals used to be fun and proper nourishment but now all of that eating during freshman year has become a part of your backside that you, literally, carry with you wherever you go. The concept of “freshman 15” no longer is a myth as you’re just trying to avoid freshman forty as you huff and puff up the stairs to your room. On top of that, guys you might start to notice that you lose hair at this time and girls you might start getting wrinkles. Your chaotic schedule and stressful demands does not make your physical issues any better. You may also get the world’s worst case of Athlete’s Foot because apparently your roommate does not have the human dignity to wear shower shoes or at least cut his feet off. The sad part of this is that you’re going to realize quickly that the physical issues, from this point on, only get worse.

You’re going to struggle attending worship services because mom and dad are not there to wake you up. Wait—is that mom calling me again? You are going to wonder what’s the point of attending services. You’re going to look at the people in the church and say it is filled with hypocrites and, you may be right. You’re going to struggle immensely at fitting-in and you are going to wish you could come back and participate in youth group again but your jerk of a youth minister will not let you. You’re going to wrestle with what the church is versus what it was in Scripture (welcome to the club). You’re going to wonder why churches invest so much time, resources and money with programs like the youth, older members, missions, building funds and yet not much time, resources and money (if any) are invested in college students. For you, church is going to be difficult.

You’re going to do some things you’re going to regret. Some of them may be minor but some of them are going to be major. You’re going to wish you could take it all back but you won’t be able to. You’re going to remember what your parents said about the dangers and now you’re going to have to tell them what you just did. It’s going to break their heart. The saddest part of it all is that you’re too stubborn to learn your lesson and so you’re going to do it all over again. You’re going to sit there late at night looking up at the ceiling wondering what you are going to do with your life. You may want to end it all.

You’re going to struggle with God. Who is this divine being that was taught so heavily to you? God has not been helpful to you and by the looks at what’s happening in the world God really doesn’t seem to care anymore. You’re going to have people cast doubt on your faith with different beliefs, ideologies and philosophical inquiries which some seem possible to believe. You’re going to try to help your faith by doing what your parents, youth minister or preacher suggested. It’s going to be tough and in my experience, when the going gets tough sometimes…well…the tough gets tougher. There are going to be moments when all you can think about God is anger, frustration and confusion. Like David, you are going to say, “How long, O Lord? How long?” (Psalm 13).

But…

However…

Nevertheless…

You’re going to make new friends. The kind of friends who do not have strings attached to them. The kind of friends whom you will laugh with, cry with and the kind of friends who will be, like the Proverb writer said, “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). The friends you make will be in your weddings, at the hospital when you have a baby and next to you when you lose someone you love. The kind of friend who will utterly depend on you and years down the road these friends will need you most when their own world is turned upside down. You’re going to go to baseball games with these friends, have cookouts, go on mission trips with them and you might even have the opportunity lead a few of those friends to Christ.

You’re going to meet someone…it may take years…and you know what…it may not happen. You’re going to look at that sweet lady who keeps asking you if you’re married yet because she had two children by your age and you’re going to smile and say, “that’s not what God wants me to do right now.” God will make it happen if it needs to happen and you’re going to be just fine with that. You just might have four kids before you are thirty though and people, by the way, will make fun of you and call you crazy and psycho but you will realize that you will be 47 by the time your last one graduates high-school which will be the age your buddy will be when his first one starts middle school. But it’s also ok if you wait that long. You follow what God wants you to do not someone else. It’s ok to be crazy so don’t change that for a second. In the words of the musician Tom Cochrane, “Life is a highway and I want to ride it all night long.” You’re going to be able to look at the person you will spend the rest of your life with and vow to be with them in sickness, and in health until death due you part. You’re going to get that same passion every time you go to someone else’s wedding and you’re going to wake up each day feeling unworthy to wake up beside the most beautiful person in the world…not your youngest child who crawled in the bed…but your spouse. You’re going to really feel blessed to be next to that beautiful person especially when you make it to the mirror in the mornings.

You’re going to regret trying to run away from your mom and dad so quickly. You’re going to want to pick up the phone and call them as much as possible. You’re going to remember their lectures, words of “wisdom”, and caution and know that they were actually right.  If God blesses you with a child you’re going to name the child after your parents because of the influence that had on your life. However, if home was a nightmare filled with abuse then you’re going to prove mom and dad wrong. You’re going to make a difference and with God’s help you will show them what you can do even when they told you it couldn’t be done.

You will eventually make money but still, somehow, be broke for a while. It will be tough at first (remember the credit cards and loans?) but God will provide and mom and dad will help you out. I promise. If you don’t go to college then no worries because no matter what anyone says it’s ok for you not to go to college because, get this, college is not for everyone. You will show them that you can still provide and work hard and do what God wants you to do. The church will step in and provide for you in times when you could not provide for yourself. You will have to fight the evils of consumerism and you will eventually give much of your income to the church. People will think of you as crazy, stupid and a little off kilter but you will consider that suffering for the kingdom’s sake and little bit like emptying yourself which is what Jesus did for you. You will have ups and downs financially and there will be days you will have to eat beans and rice and rice and beans but you will make it because all you need is a roof over your head and food on the table.

You will learn to live with your body. It’s ok that your body is not in pristine shape or that it’s shape looks like a hamburger rather than an hour glass. It’s ok. God just wants you to be healthy. You will eventually enjoy eating things like salads, grapefruits, tree bark and you will especially enjoy drinking lots and lots of water. Balding only gets worse and so do the wrinkles and your physical deterioration will be a daily reminder thanks to your kids and sometimes teenagers who decide to take a stab. Laugh at this and consider it a way God humbles you. Look at your body as a gift from God and each day is another opportunity that someone else did not get.

You will eventually grow to love and adore the church. Yes there are hypocrites in church but your experience in life will show you that there are hypocrites everywhere inside and outside the church. The church never claimed to be perfect anyways besides there are so many people in the church who have changed their lives drastically because of the work of the church through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The church will need you to teach a class, lead a song, direct a program, visit the sick or teach a bible class. You will have a renewed commitment to the church and it will drive you and you will soon find out that it is not you that is driving you but it is the Spirit of God inside of you. You’re going to find out that the church is filled with plenty of people as messed-up as you! That will put a smile on your face and the face of thousands of angels watching.

You’re going to think about the regrets from time-to-time and they will enter your thoughts at weird moments. The regrets will be like a bruise that won’t go away or rainstorm that will not depart. You may have to call people to apologize for what you did and you may have to tell them you have changed. You may have to earn someone’s trust back because of what you did but it’s going to be worth it. You’re going to show God and others that you are a radical disciple who has radically changed. “I’m not that way anymore” will come out of your mouth as effortless as air discharged from your lungs and you will say it with a smile. Like Paul, your past will not break you rather it will shape you. Your story will become a testimony for so many people to hear.

Then there is God. He always was and always is and always will be. You’re going to find him because you’re going to long for him. Like a fire in the midst of a blizzard you will long for his warmth and light. He will show up in your life not as a boxed-in, compartmentalized God but as the living, active God. He is going to lead you to places in life you never thought were possible but pretty soon you will realize that God is in the making-the-impossible-possible business. You are going to realize that truly Jesus came so, like John told you, “we may have life, and life to the fullest” (John 10:10). You will long for something John and Isaiah described as the New Heavens and New Earth. You will feel God’s presence in your life with the utmost assurance that nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ (Rom. 8:31-39). You will feel God in your bones and in your core and it will be most satisfying. There will still be valleys where the questions of theodicy (making God just) come back but you will know, deep down in your core, that eventually God will reign over all and all will be made right.

This is my graduation speech and it is filled with paradoxes, difficulties, some contradictions and uncertainties. But such is life right? Life is never a linear process but often we find it as a cyclical pattern that repeats itself but rests on the grace of God. So may you find the friends you need. May you discover the spouse who is yours or may you rest in the state you are in. May you love every minute your family is alive. May you live fiscally sound so you can give until it hurts. May you rejoice in the body God gave you but may you treat it well. May you love the church and realize it truly is, like the preacher said, a hospital for the sick. May you use your regrets to empower and inform your future. And may you run to God, wrap your arms around him and never, ever let go.

So, Dr. Seuss was right…a little…“be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places! Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!”

 

Is your church a kingdom church? 10 Ways to Find Out!

Yesterday I attended a conversation at Lipscomb University sponsored by the Hazelip School of Theology and Missio Alliance. The conversation was about the Kingdom of God and the main speaker was Scot McKnight who is a renowned speaker, author and professor. McKnight spoke around his book Kingdom Conspiracy and the thrust of his speech was that if you are going to talk about he kingdom then it is a discussion that cannot be separated from the church. In other words McKnight says that where you see the word kingdom in the New Testament you should substitute the word church and vice-versa.

 

That deserves a blog post in and of itself (coming next week) but I wanted to share something that stirred me from this conversation. His second speech was titled, “You might have a kingdom church if…” and he gave 10 characteristics of a kingdom church. I was moved from this list and I wanted to give you the list for your perusal and stirring. The list is based off of his research of the New Testament and knowledge of the church local and abroad. So here you go…

You might be a kingdom church if…

  1. …the character of Jesus shapes every dimension of your church. McKnight called this cruciformity[1] amidst the church. This means our churches are marked by the characteristics of Jesus and not those of protectionism, power or giftedness.
  1. …the church perceives itself redeemed and rescued from the world led by the king as a redeemed community.
  1. …the church knows it is governed by the Lord Jesus. There is a temptation in our churches for the leaders to act like “lords.” A simple test of this is to ask the elders, “Who leads this local church?” If they respond, “the elders do” then you might need to reconsider the church.
  1. …your church challenges the lordless lords of culture and country. Much could be said here but suffice it to say that we need to make a concerted effort (especially in the south) to deconstruct the American gospel. When churches exalt the country against and over the king then we have problems.
  1. …if your church seeks to be a kingdom kind of community. Our local church members should never have to rely on the government for aid and assistance. Period. The Jerusalem church did not go to Rome for help they went to the church members. The church helping its members overflows into the community.
  1. …you love one another and love your neighbors. Biblical love is not an emotive affection. McKnight defined love as a “rugged commitment to, with and for someone unto something.”
  1. …you establish justice and peace in local fellowship and extend it to the community. He gave this helpful vision of what the first hour of heaven is going to be like. He said that it will be droves of coffee tables set up where we will have conversations with those with whom we have not reconciled and we will not participate in heaven until all has truly been reconciled. Powerful. I wonder how many churches that have split will meet together in heaven and the first thing the churches will say to each other is, “I’m sorry. What were we thinking?”
  1. …your church commits good works in the public sector. This is for the good of others and it shows that you truly care about others.
  1. …your church becomes sacred space or kingdom space for the community. I am not against church buildings so long as they are spaces used to help the local community. How many of you reading this are in a church that has a list of rules rivaling the constitution if someone wants to use your building? People should feel safe and the hospitalization of sinners should trump the social club of saints. Every… single… time!
  1. …your church’s spiritual disciplines foster these themes. So often the church’s spiritual disciplines are egocentric and narcissistic. Even listening to contemporary Christian music most of the songs talk about you, me, or I and leave out the community. Look at Acts 2 and you see they did things together for the purpose of the church. The Lord’s Supper was a mockery in Corinth because…wait for it…they were neglecting others.

So what do you think of these ten things McKnight discussed? Does your church look like them?

[1] Based off of Michael Gorman’s 2001 book Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross

The most important question you will ever ask.

A few years ago I read a book by Andy Stanley called The Best Question Ever and he states that the most important question to ask is, “What is the wise thing for me to do?” He framed it well asking people to look at their past experiences, present circumstances and future desires allowing them to formulate what would be the best choice given the broad array of data. It is indeed a good question but I don’t think it is the BEST question one could ask.

I guess it depends on your context as to what the most important question is. The dominant narrative in the West seems to be that of capitalism, progress and power. So maybe the most important question to many in the West is, “What will make me most successful?” Success is quantified then in numbers be it the amount of assets you have, the size of your house, the position you hold in the company and on and on. I wonder though if there is an important question that spans cultures and is something all of us could answer.

In two days I read Viktor Frankl’s magnum opus Man’s Search for Meaning and I think it has changed my life. Frankl was a concentration camp survivor who chronicled his experience and how, even in the worst of circumstances, one can find meaning. Frankl was a renown psychiatrist and his approach to therapy was called logotherapy was based on three concepts:

  • Freedom of Will
  • Will to Meaning, and
  • Meaning in Life

 

So the question then that I think is the most informative is this: What is the meaning of my life? Perhaps you remember Rick Warren famously saying in his book Purpose Drive Life the question, “What on earth am I here for?” It is a similar meaning. Frankl notes:

  • “Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” Frankl, Viktor E. (2006-06-01). Man’s Search for Meaning (p. 77).
  • What man actually needs is not a tensionless (sic) state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. (p. 105).
  • Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. (p. 109).

How does one find the meaning of what he or she is called to do. Frankl would say that we are not to ask what life can give to us rather what are we to contribute to this life that would give meaning? He gives a powerful statement:”

According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. (p. 111)

So even in the midst of intense suffering one can find meaning and purpose. We do this by love:

Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him . By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. (p. 111).

This is what kept him alive in the most dire circumstances in Nazi controlled camps:

The truth— that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way —an honorable way— in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment…My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing— which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance…There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. “Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.” (p. 37-39)

So then how do we find meaning? Investing in others and pouring our love into them and then when difficulties come the sufferings we endure are purposed in helping others. Sounds like what the testimony of all the scriptures tell us. What Frankl notes from experience and psychological expertise the Bible testifies with page after page of these stories of gaining victory in suffering and death.

May you find meaning.

To the Cross 3 – Adventures in Missing the Point Church

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)

Jesus was always getting himself into trouble wasn’t he? Healing on the Sabbath, claiming people’s sins were forgiven and a list of other things that nice religious people shouldn’t do. Jesus didn’t really care what the naysayers had to say because his purpose in life was simple: “I came not to call the righteous but the sinners.” In this story Jesus is beginning his ministry going from city to city along the coast of the Sea of Galilee. It was a custom of his to spend time with folks reclining at their table which was a sign of fellowship.

Except this was a different table. It was the table of tax collectors and sinners. Stop and think about that. Their identity was sin. Jesus knew this yet it did not phase him for his purpose was to spend time with folks who needed to be participants of his kingdom to help others do the same. Jesus’ ministry was just a few years and he had no time to waste and then thinking of how we typically do church today I wonder if we are missing the mark.

I call it adventures in missing the point. The scribes were so concerned about Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors because of the stigma attached to such a thing that they failed to understand the point of who Jesus was. Looking at out budgets, programs, activities, worship, sermons and the like I wonder aloud how much of it really goes toward the sinner.

Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” How do we approach those who are in need of Jesus? Do we even approach them? I once authored a post, “We need more Christian bartenders” and received so many good comments with equally the same amount of critical comments. People said, “You should avoid the very appearance of evil” forgetting the point of what Jesus was doing. N. T. Wright again is spot on:

And Jesus was determined to treat them [sinners and tax collectors – RM] differently. This was not (just to be clear) because, so to speak, God likes bad characters and wants them to stay as bad characters. No: God loves bad characters and wants to rescue them! Sometimes people today speak as though Jesus simply tells people that they’re all right the way they are. That would be like a doctor filling the hospital with sick people and leaving them still sick.

N. T. Wright. Lent for Everyone: Mark, Year B (p. 10).

Jesus ate with “them” because he wanted to offer them a new possibility. They did not have to accept him and many rejected him. On our journey to the cross may we offer ourselves a new possibility but also seek to help the sinners. Somewhere along the line you were in need of help and someone reached out to you. Let us do the same.

To the cross…