Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thanks God!

There are some times that God tells you... "You know, here is a little gift for you. Just to let you know that you are on the right track."

God has given me a few of those lately. Today in staff meeting, we had a discussion... on block parties.

If you know me well at all in the last few years, you have heard me talk about block parties. I have talked about how we need to be doing them, we need to be intentional about them, etc. I don't mean block parties out in the church parking lot, I mean block parties that you organize with people, *gasp*, on your block!

Today in staff meeting, one of the issues that was on the agenda was block parties. Obviously, I was curious about what they would say about them.

Currently, there are two staff members that are talking about them. Our music minister's block is having one, and our senior minister is wanting to do one. John's block does them quite frequently. The discussion today was about how to take church money and support them.

We are talking about letting them use tables and chairs for free, we are talking about using outreach budget to furnish some things, like bounce houses and food. We are talking about doing outreach with the express purpose of reaching out to our neighbors, regardless of whether they go to our church, the church down the street, or if they even go to church at all!

There have been several God moments already in the last couple weeks that I have been here. Thanks God for talking... I am trying to listen!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I'm dumb!

Our preacher at the MacArthur campus was preaching on the affection of Jesus today. He was sharing about how while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It was good stuff, and then he said something that I have never realized before

34Then(AO) the King will say to(AP) those on his right, 'Come, you(AQ) who are blessed by my Father,(AR) inherit(AS) the kingdom(AT) prepared for you(AU) from the foundation of the world. 35For(AV) I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you(AW) gave me drink,(AX) I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36(AY) I was naked and you clothed me,(AZ) I was sick and you(BA) visited me,(BB) I was in prison and you came to me.' 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And(BC) the King will answer them,(BD) 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these(BE) my brothers,[f] you did it to me.'

I don't know how many sermons I have heard on this text, but it's a lot. He read that passage and said as much, you have probably heard this text many times.

He went on to say, "Notice who was Jesus here. Not the ones doing the serving, but rather the one's receiving the service. When we serve, we are not being Jesus to people. We are serving Jesus."

DUH! I'm dumb. That makes so much sense. It makes so much sense about the Kingdom of God. Those who are weak, those who are broken, those who are poor and troubled. Those people are Jesus! It is the job of us christians to serve Jesus!

Yup. Just thought I would share.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Slow Death of Pews, Sermons, and "Ministries"

The "functional" aspect of the American church continues to distress me.

The hallmark of the early Church was "see how they love one another." Not "see how efficiently they work together" or "see what a fantastic show they put on." Yet we still have SUCH a hard time picturing a shift in focus from ministries, functions, and Sunday mornings towards a community of "love-relationships" -- building each other up and helping each other live a better life for Christ.

In a late-night conversation many of us briefly had on a recent Saturday night, we were discussing how statistics show 20-30 year olds very interested in Jesus, yet running from the church like the plague. Why is that, we wonder. How do we get those people into our local churches?

Some might suggest trendier services on Sunday mornings. Being more seeker-sensitive. Louder music, some hipper clothes on the preacher. A fancier website.

I say all that is like polishing the brass on the Titanic. It looks nice, but it's all going down.

Societal changes in the past 30-40 years have been vast. Society has changed a lot in a short time, in a way that it didn't for hundreds and hundreds of years previously. We went from a "Christian" society (not that everyone was a Christian, but it was the expected thing to be, and there was an environment of Christianity surrounding people) to whatever you want to call it now. Post-modern. Post-Christian. Post-Church. Biblical Christianity is NOT normal now. Most people are NOT surrounded by a Christian environment.

And even more so, people are NOT interested in "the church." We've presented the church to them as a place to go on Sunday mornings, rather than a community of Jesus-followers that love each other. To society, a big Protestant church looks like a huge fancy building with a bunch of paid staff. And it does the following: A) produces a nice show to watch on Sunday mornings, B) has a bunch of "ministries" you can "serve in" to keep the gears turning, depending upon your demographic, and C) exists pretty much to get other people to attend on Sunday mornings. To add more people serving in ministries, plus of course more money in the offering to pay the bills.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I just don't see the church keeping up with society in the 21st century. That doesn't mean it needs to change its Biblical understanding or water down the message of Jesus (not that the church has necessarily done a stellar job of teaching the message of Jesus in the first place). But I do think we need to open up our minds to radical changes that are bigger than just changing up a Sunday morning service or adding additional "ministries" to the mix. I think it needs to, somehow, completely back off from the Sunday morning-centric focus, and begin putting time, people, and resources into forming a COMMUNITY of love. I think people are drawn to love, and people are drawn to community. Even the 20-something crowd.

That probably doesn't mean one big community of 1000 or 5000 people. It's nearly impossible to have a true love-community that big. You'd have to have a number of smaller communities. They've got to commit to one another.

We're a nation that is ruled by functionality. We think of ourselves in terms of our jobs, our careers, and the tasks that we do. And Christians, nay, church-goers, think of themselves by the ministry-tasks that they do. They'll say, I run sound at church. I play some guitar with the praise band. I help out in the nursery. I'm a greeter at the front door. I'm an usher and I pass the communion trays.

There is nothing wrong with any of those tasks. But we need to radically rethink our focus. The "church" is dying.

Monday, July 14, 2008


We raise our Starbucks glasses... We eat some Mango Habanero chicken wings... We down a pint or two of Guinness... All for our good friend Soebs, who is leaving our little community for the bustling town of Springfield, Illinois. Later this week, he'll be starting at a new church serving as senior high minister.

We wish Soebs well. He's really a man that desires to see God's people get excited about ministry, about evangelism, and about serving the poor. He's got a heart for all that stuff, and he's never been short on laughter and encouragement. He's not afraid to let his voice be heard (after all, anyone within a two-mile radius can hear him) and, like many of us, he's got opinions and passions that he'd be happy to share with you.

Darin departed just a couple of months ago for a preaching job near Atlanta. Joe is no longer serving as an elder. Macca is an ex- (recovering?) worship minister himself. The makeup of the contributors to the Java Jesus blog has changed greatly in a short period of time!

Of course, the great thing about the Internet is that we can continue to discuss and debate our ideas, philosophies, and methodologies, even if we're spread out a bit. And this way, we can add smiley emoticons to diffuse any loud arguments.

Thanks for that, Internet!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Left Behind, the Insurance

I've seen a lot of things sold in the name of Christianity, but this one takes the cake. Basically, for $40 a year, you can ensure that your pagan relatives get access to your "stuff" when the rapture takes place through a service by youvebeenleftbehind.com. No, I am not making this stuff up.

Here's how it works: Jesus splits the skies. The dead in Christ rise. Those who are left are taken away. What's left are the poor pagans and procrastinators who meant to become a Christian but never got around to it. Since the 5 owners of youvebeenleftbehind are all claimed to be Christians, they've programmed their system to send out thousands of emails to the unchurched loved ones of those who are gone. The email will say something like, "I'm sorry that you didn't make it, but here is the pin code to my bank account, as well as all my passwords. I won't be needing them anymore, and with tribulation coming, you could probably use a little bit of cash." How does the computer system know that the Rapture has occurred? It's currently programmed to hold back the flood of emails so long as 3 of the 5 website owners log in at least once every 3 days. So, after 6 days of no logins, a flood of information will go pouring out over the internet to comfort the poor saps.

I probably won't subscribe to this service, but really, who wouldn't want to have one more chance to say, "I told you so?"

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Kickin 'em to the Curb: More Fun With Admonishment

Is the church actually called to excommunicate people?

The term "excommunication" denotes something very... Catholic... in our mind. We like to think that us Protestants (at least us "emergents") don't "kick people out" of the church.

I've had spiritual discipline on my mind lately. Maybe not "spiritual discipline," per se, but at least the topic of church leadership trying to run people out of church. Granted, it's probably not easy to do in a big, seeker-sensitive church -- it's unlikely anyone is going to file a restraining order to keep people away on a Sunday morning. But multiple people have pointed out that it can be done in other ways. Psychological ways. Cutting them off from participating in different groups. Perhaps not letting them sing on the worship team anymore, not letting them lead small groups or Sunday school classes, or just generally ostracizing them from the community.

I think most of us would agree that is probably NOT the ideal Biblical model of admonishment, by the way.

As much as I dislike the notion of "kicking someone out" -- people already have such a negative view of the church as an exclusive club -- there is plenty of scripture and historical basis for it. We could find plenty of writings of Paul in the New Testament (Titus 3:10, I Corinthians 5, I Timothy 1:20, etc) where he encourages churches to cast people out of the fellowship in certain situations. (Paul was all about the church discipline!) And we often use Jesus' model of admonishment in Matthew 18.

The question becomes, how do we fine the line between a relational, loving church model, and upholding the Biblical standards of church discipline?

When do you actually cast a brother out of the community of believers?