Thursday, January 29, 2009

Incarnational Evangelism Part 3

One refreshing way to practice incarnational evangelism is through something called Servant Evangelism. To the best of my knowledge Servant Evangelism was best described and practiced in these last decades by Steve Sjogren who I believe used to be at Cincinnati Vineyard Church but has since moved on. I am not sure. However, Sjogren's book Conspiracy of Kindness launched new interest in this form of incarnational evangelism. Today Sjogren's website hosts many ideas and "how tos" when it comes to engaging in servant evangelism.

Basically servant evangelism is sharing the love of Christ by carrying out random acts of kindness. It is sharing Christ's love with no strings attached. Servant Evangelism might include handing out free water bottles, delivering goodies to rescue and fire workers, or delivering donuts to businesses.

Sjogren is quick to point us some caveats about Servant Evangelism. First, the primary purpose of Servant Evangelism is to share the love of Christ in a small incarnational way. If you begin with trying to grow your church you are starting off on the wrong footing. The primary motive must be to share the love of Christ. Whether or not people might notice your church in the process is secondary. Second, any church growth that does occur will happen slowly. As your church gains a reputation as a serving church and raises awareness about itself in the community you may have some persons that find their way to your church. Again, icing on the cake, Servant Evangelism is meant to be incarnational, not attractional. Third, all Servant Evangelism, before, during and after the event should be bathed in prayer.

While some question the motives of Servant Evangelism and whether there are really "no strings attached" there are a variety of benefits to Servant Evangelism. Servant Evangelism is a fun, easy, non-costly way to share God's love in a small way within the community. Small things done in great love can change the world. Servant Evangelism takes some of the stigma away from evangelism that many followers of Jesus have. It moves beyond knocking on doors and is high grace, low threat in its approach. Anybody can do it and most people have lots of fun doing it. Servant Evangelism offers the opportunity to engage people in conversation you would not normally engage in. For example, you hand someone a bottle of water for free and they ask if it is really free and you say yes it is, it is our church's way of serving in the community. They might ask what church. They might begin to tell you about a problem. They might ask you to pray for them. Whatever. The point is that you have a conversation you would not normally have with a stranger. The act of kindness, sharing Christ's love, opens up that door.

Here is a link to a podcast I recorded some time ago about servant evangelism.

You can read anything I have ever written on this blog about servant evangelism here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ultimate Guide to the Opposite Sex Wrap Up

For those who missed the Ultimate Guide to the Opposite Sex series or a message from this series here is the audio from three of the messages. One of the messages did not get recorded. You can always access the messages in written form and audio form at the New Season Message Vault.

January 25th Beating the Odds

January 18th Spousal Support- Meeting Each Other's Needs

January 4th Designed to Be Different

Incarnational Evangelism Part 2

One of the ways for the church to get the hell out of the church and be incarnational is to ask "What are we now doing inside the walls of the church/ on the church grounds that can better be done somewhere else in the community?" Is it small groups, a fall festival, Vacation Bible School, worship, or something else?

Being a portable church (a church that has no permanent location but meets in a school/ movie theater etc.) has it advantages at times because being portable forces the church out into the community for its activities.

Here is a simple example. Each year at New Season we have an Egg Hunt. Now, we could do the egg hunt on our church grounds (Lee Hill Elementary School) after worship. We would hopefully gather the 20-30 kids that come on any given Sunday. Even if we "advertised" and used attractional evangelism methods to invite others you are just not going to attract that many people, especially prechruched people, to a "church" Easter Egg Hunt. Out of necessity and partly by design we held our first and still hold our subsequent egg hunts at a local subdivision's playing fields. We put out a sign at the exit of the subdivision advertising it a couple of weeks before the event and we send each home a postcard.

Instead of sharing the love of Christ with 20-30 kids and their families we share with 100 kids and their families. We end up sharing the love of Christ with kids and their families who would have never in a million years came to the school grounds to be a part of this event but since we were out in the community bringing the church and the good news of Christ's love to them they came and now seeds have been planted.

What is the church currently doing that can be better done out in the community?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Incarnational Evangelism Part 1

Here is what I mean when I talk about incarnational evangelism. The incarnation refers to the time that God left heaven took on flesh and came to dwell with fallen humanity in Jesus Christ. God became one of us. As the Message Bible says, "God came to dwell in the neighborhood." God was among us identifying with us, teaching us, healing us and loving us.

In speaking about incarnational evangelism I am talking about evangelism that is significantly different in method than attractional evangelism. In incarnational evangelism the church does not say we are here "y'all come now", it brings the church and is the church to people in the world. In incarnational evangelism followers of Jesus leave the four walls of the church to bring good news into their families, workplaces, schools, and other activities. The direction of incarnational evangelism is always outward and is modeled in the lives of followers of Jesus.

Incarnational evangelism is also more personal. It is not 10,000 piece postcard mailers but conversations over coffee, servant evangelism projects, or events that usually happen inside the church happening outside the community. Incarnational evangelism relies heavily on relationships as a way to help people come to experience the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

We have a saying at New Season: "We need to get the hell out of the church. Both literally and figuratively." There is almost nothing that can be done inside the four walls of the church that can't be better done outside the four walls of the church.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Attractional Methods of Evangelism Part 3

While attractional methods of evangelism are less and less effective as we live in a world where everything else competes for our attention and time, one benefit to using attractional evangelism methods is that it can help facilitate invitational evangelism where people invite people to church.

It might go something like this: you send out a ten thousand piece postcard mailer or run some radio ads for two weekends in a row. Since you know that invitational evangelism is more effective than attractional evangelism you have been encouraging the people in your church to invite. Let's say one of your church members/ partners invites a co-worker to the church.

The co-worker might ask "what church is that?"

And your church member says "XYZ Church, we meet at the movie theater."

The co-worker might then say "Oh yeah, I think I got a postcard from you guys. I had put it up on my fridge and was thinking of going. Thanks for inviting me."

Now, this is what would happen in the best of all cases. The point is that attractional evangelism methods can help to reinforce an invite to a friend, relative, co-worker or neighbor.

When a church uses attractional evangelism it is always an opportunity to encourage invitational evangelism. For example, if you are sending out postcards you might put a postcard or two in each worshipper's worship program. At some point you might call their attention to it and say "We have sent ten thousand of these out to your friends, relatives, co-workers and neighbors. As these postcards go before you they pave the way for you to invite. Will you pray about who God is calling you to invite this week?"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Attractional Methods of Evangelism Part 2

I have found for myself at times, and also for many others I have talked, a desire to find the "Silver Bullet" of attractional evangelism. That is to say, the one thing that we can do as a church to reach more people for Christ. The one secret. The one golden nugget that can be applied.

As I have learned, though I sometimes forget, there is no silver bullet method that can be applied that works all the time in every situation. Contexts are different. Our mission fields are different. What works one place will not work somewhere else. Even within our own mission fields, what works one year may not work the next.

That being said it is important to try a variety of methods for attractional evangelism to determine which one is most fruitful. Try newspaper ads, radio ads, mass mailings, new neighbor mailings, ads at the movie theater, cable tv ads. Do as much as you can afford to do. The sooner you figure out what seems to bear the most fruit the more effective you will be in using attractional methods of evangelism and the more money you will save. The key is to try as many different things as possible.

You might do this as part of your launch if you are beginning a new church. Thi is typically when you have the most resources to try different methods. As you launch and thereafter track how people came to the church using a comunication card or a tear off in the worship program or whatever way your church uses. Narrow the field of methods to those that worked best and then pour into them remembering to evaluate them from time to time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Out of the Mouth of Babes

I got to spend some time with they boys yesterday since they were off for MLK Day. On TV there was a cartoon talking about MLK and the boys had discussed MLK in their classes at school the week before.

As the show on TV talked about MLK, Robert announced to me that "they had shot MLK with a shotgun."
"Yes," I replied "they did."

"Why did they do that," he asked.

"Because they didn't like what he was saying," I said.

Then Jack chimed in. "They should have just talked to him if they didn't like what he was saying."

"Yeah," Robert said, "they should have just shook his hand."

"I agree," I said.

And Jesus said, a little child will lead them. This makes more and more sense to me everyday.

Attractional Methods of Evangelism Part 1

I often tell people it used to be that one could start a church just by going to a place and making an announcement to the good people of a community that a church will be starting in two weeks and two hundred people would show up on the first Sunday. This was during a time when there were fewer churches, Christianity still enjoyed home court advantage, and persons had a greater denominational loyalty.

Then the world began to change and that method did not work any longer so we started to say to people "we're here now, y'all come!" We did this through attractional evangelism methods: newspaper ads, radio ads, postcard mailers, knocking on doors etc. And while there is still a place for attractional methods, there is a sense that this method is working less and less these days because people's lives are so cluttered, the church enjoys less and less of a home court advantage, and the church is just one part of life competing against people's other parts of life. It used to be church and school were the only things people had and we are of course so much more mobile now and information is shared at the speed of light there are many options for persons to experience community, belonging, and fulfillment apart from the church as short lived as such things are apart from Jesus Christ.

Now, a new form of doing evangelism is emerging that is more out in the field so to speak whereby we do not ask people to go to church we take church to them. The big fancy word for this is incarnational evangelism. I will do a series of posts on incranational evangelism in the future. This week I want to write about attractional evangelism which still has a place I believe.

I think we get the biblical basis for attractional evangelism from the Great Commission whereby Jesus told us to go and make disciples. To make disciples it is usually the case you must first introduce the message of Christ. One way to do that is to invite them to worship where Christ is introduced to people and worshipped. Jesus called this "fishing for people" when he called his first disciples.

Some people object to attractional evangelism because it is seen as advertising and that in their minds is ungodly and taps into the rampant consumerism so present in the culture. While I understand this objection I think that we have to use whatever means possible within the bounds of the Gospel to introduce people to Christ because this is a life or death issue.

In the coming days I hope to write about how we need to try many different methods to see what works in our mission field, the times when people are most open to attractional methods of evangelism, how attractional evangelism helps create a culture of invitation in the church and then share some ideas. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sharpening the Church's Welcoming Skills V

What about welcoming people who have never been or stopped going to church in the midst of worship? Much has been written about this question and put into practice. There has been much debate about seeker sensitive worship services or seeker oriented worship services and what the primary aim of worship is (is it evangelistic or is it meant to worship God?). Churches have held seeker services on Sundays and "Believer" services on Wednesday night. No matter what your strategy to make disciples or what you call your worship there are a few things to keep in mind about welcoming people who have never been or stopped going to church. Here are a few things that come to my mind:

  • Make sure there are greeters (some call them ushers) at the worship space entrance. The guest should be greeted warmly and if you have a worship program (church bulletin) be given a program. If there is not someone who has already connected with them and it is not clear where they are supposed to sit then the worship space greeter should direct them to a seat and in the best case introduce them to someone else they will sit next.
  • I believe in helping guests feel at ease right away. There should be some music playing in the background as people sit. Many guests will come a little early and so they will be sitting for a few minutes. Music and lighting can help raise their comfort level. I also find it is helpful to have something to read, like a worship program so they do not just have to gaze at their belly buttons while they wait for worship to begin. Having something to read also makes people more comfortable.
  • Once worship starts it goes without saying that guests should never be singled out. They should never be asked to stand up and introduce themselves or have their friends introduce them. That is the surest way to ensure they will never return.
  • Worship in the words of Ed Stetzer should be comprehensible. Even if you do not subscribe to the whole seeker sensitive/ oriented deal, your worship should be comprehensible to the person who has never been or stopped going to church. At New Season we explain everything we do and why we do it and this help makes liturgy and symbol comprehensible to all and meaningful. In our worship program, each worship element listed has an explanation under it.
  • The message should always be applicable while staying faithful to the scripture. It should be understandable so the guest as well as those who already regularly attend can take something away, grow in their faith and devotion to God, and experience God's love.
  • I am personally against the passing of the peace as I believe that it leaves guest uncomfortable as the "insiders" greet one another and slap each other on the back. Guests usually stay where they are shake a couple of hands and then wait awkwardly for the worship to continue. We still do this at New Season. It is amazing how quick traditions and the way we have always done things develops. It is not a huge deal for me and not so detrimental to our guests experience that I have pushed. On the benefit side, it can bring a warmth and level of vitality to worship.
  • Announcements. Limit the number of announcements of insider information. Save announcements of this group's meeting and this next class for printed materials and other communication methods. The same with prayer requests that are spoken within the service. Again, it is insider information. Find another way for people to make those and to share those. That is the important thing. Jesus told us to pray. He didn't say we had to do in a specific form such as "sharing joys and concerns."

Those are some of my thoughts on making guests feel welcome in worship. You might disagree with them and that is OK. These are not things that strike at the heart of Christianity so we can disagree and still be brothers and sisters in Christ! :)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sharpening the Church's Welcoming Skills IV

Today I wanted to write about greeters and others who engage guests as they arrive at the church. There is some debate among churches who hold a sensitivity to welcoming guests how best to use greeters. Some believe that people who have never been or given up on church want to worship anonymously. They want to come and go without being made uncomfortable by being greeted, asked to fill out a info card, or followed up with. Therefore, these churches provide little in the way of greeters and rely mostly on signage. There is some validity to such an approach.

At New Season, and most other churches though the aim is to set the person at ease as soon as they drive on to the campus. Therefore, there may be persons who help people to park directing them to where they should park. Some churches even ask first time guests to put on their flashers so they can direct them to the designated and prime first time guest parking (I happen to find this a little overkill but again I think valid). Then there are greeters in the parking lot, at the entrance to the building, and before one enters the worship space. At our church we also use a "connector" whose job it is to find what appear to be first time guests and then help them in the process of getting ready to worship (checking children in, getting refreshments, finding a seat) and introduce them to others they will sit near.

Who you choose as greeters is also important. It is imperative that they be warm and friendly people and not curmudgeons. They should have a neat appearance. Also, if you are in an established church and you are trying to reach young people don't put the 85 year old guy who greeted Francis Asbury when he came. As faithful as this long time greeter is, God love him, you need to have some of your young people there. As a young person coming to your church I can then immediately see and be put at ease because there are people like me here. Each church should determine the amount and position of their greeters. There is always a balance. You want people to feel really welcome and that your church is warm, but you don't want to smother and appear like a bunch of kooks!

There are always some important things with greeters that we stress. Smile! Smile! Smile! Whether you are helping to park a car or welcoming people into the building a smile can disarm hostility or make someone feel at ease. Another thing is if someone asks where something is not to just tell them "oh, it is down there past those two doors" but to take them there. And of course, greeters who are paired together must be sure not to be holding private conversations and carrying on while guests are walking by.

All in all, a church can sharpen their welcoming skills by having greeters that are warm and friendly who greet, direct, and seat first time guests.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sharpening the Church's Welcome Skills III

The old cliche says "a picture is worth a thousand words." And the reason why a cliche has become a cliche is because there is truth behind it. A picture is worth a thousand words.

What is the picture that persons who do not attend our church or any church get when they drive by your church? What is the picture people get when they enter your church for the first time or go to change their baby in the bathroom (do you even have a baby changing station in your church- after all people said they wanted more young people- if you want young people you better have a baby changing station!)?

The Aesthetics, cleanliness and presentation of our churches is often one of the overlooked ways we either welcome or turn away guests. Admittedly, controlling the aesthetics, cleanliness and presentation of your space is harder if you are portable though there are some things you can do. If you have a permanent home there are certain things that you just have to do.

Unfortunately, what I have found in the churches I have served or visited is that we often settle. I hear or perceive the attitude that "it is only church" and we allow filth, outdated fixtures, and strange smells none of would allow at our homes. We become settled because after all it is only church. Those are dangerous words! It is not only church, it is God's house and its aesthetics, cleanliness and presentation may invite or repel one of God's children. Peeling paint, asbestos tiles, musty sanctuaries all say to the guest we do not care enough to make this better and what goes on here is really not that important.

On the other hand, trimmed shrubbery, flowers, and mulch along with air fresheners, clean bathrooms, fresh paint, cleaned floors, and fixtures put up in the last ten years show the potential follower of Jesus that these people care and what goes on here is important. Part of what we have to remember, especially if we are trying to reach people under 50, is that the expectation is for cleanliness, upkeep, and good presentations. Do you notice how clean they try to keep Chick-Fil-A or the hippest store at the mall? Do you see why shopping centers remodel or die? Persons have come to expect the same for the church. Are we willing to go the extra mile in this area so as to meet expectations and welcome the guest so that some might be saved?

I think we can and should.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sharpening the Church's Welcoming Skills 2

Yesterday I talked about websites. Today I continue to talk about something that welcomes people even before the first note of music is sung in worship- SIGNS.

I am big believer in signs. I think a church should have directional signs guiding people to where you worship. At our church, we have about 15 yard signs we put out at area intersections each weekend guiding people. Some may say this overkill. It might be, but we would rather have overkill then someone not find us.

If you have one of those permanent signs in the ground like many UM churches do that you can buy and it is old and faded I say replace it or take it down. It is better to have no sign than a sign that is run down and faded and says "we do not care enough about you finding us so we have this old faded sign." Another drawback with these permanent signs is like any permanent sign they do not get noticed after a while.

When using yard signs make sure you don't try to fit too much info on them- your church name, location, time of worship and website (if you don't put the church's website on the sign don't even bother putting them out). If you try to put too much info on the signs it makes it really small and hard to see unless you are right on top of it. What a waste! Also, make sure you pick up your signs. Many counties, cities and towns have ordinances about signs. They won't bother you if you pick them up on a timely basis. Never leave them out past Sunday if you can help it.

Then there are signs at your site. We have about 15 signs right around the school where we worship. As someone drives up to your church is it clear where they are supposed to park? Do you have a sign telling them where to park. Again, this takes away one worry that first time guests have- where am I going to park. I suggest having some spots as close to the door of your church reserved for First Time Guests with signs at the entrance directing first time guests to that parking. (You can have all the First Time Guest Parking you want but if people do not know it is there will it ever get used?)

Once people are outside of their car the next worry is where do I go in? What entrance am I supposed to use? Therefore, it is necessary to have your main entrance clearly marked. We have a bunch of yard signs directing people from wherever they park and a big banner outside the main entrance. Leave no question for people about where they are supposed to enter.

Once inside your church I am asking where is the worship space, where do I drop off my children, and maybe where is the bathroom for little Johnny who said he had to pee really bad ten minutes ago and couldn't hold it any longer? Signage about these important things are crucial along with greeters to direct which I will cover later. Once I get to the Children's Sign In area are there other signs to direct me? Are there ore signs throughout the building letting me know where bathrooms are, where the refreshments are located, where I can get information about the church. Again, it is better to have too many signs than not enough.

Tomorrow, I will talk about the building as we welcoming agent. Until then, I am signing off.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sharpening the Church's Welcoming Skills

I am resolving this week to do a series of posts about sharpening the church's welcoming skills. I claim absolution now because often times I have blogging ADD and though I intend to do a series on a subject it ends up being a series of 1. Time will tell.

Jesus demonstrated radical hospitality to the people he came into contact with and as his hands and feet today, we are to do the same. We do so recognizing that the person who is coming to the church for the first time or for the first time in a long time or from a different tradition is nervous and it is our job in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to do all in our power to alleviate man made stumbling blocks so they can experience the saving love of Jesus Christ. God have mercy upon us if we do not do all in our power to remove man made stumbling blocks.

The first thing I wanted to write about was websites. Do you know that are welcome, or lack thereof, starts well before any guest to the church darkens our doors? For most guests, their first impression is going to be the church's website. Gone are the days, especially for anyone under 60, when someone is going to pick up the phone and call to get service times or get information about the church. They can now do this anonymously on the church's website.

Much has been written about making church websites welcome. In fact, I may have done a post on it before (I am just too lazy to look it up and link to it- sorry). But let me give you few things I think church websites should include.
  • An easy to remember URL. For UM churches get rid of that crazy "GBGM" stuff in your url. Even if you use them to host buy your own domain- its $10.
  • Speaking of buying, if the website is the first impression many have of your church, pay somebody to do it professionally. Unless you have a professional web designer in your church, and this doesn't include a teenager from your youth group or the self-appointed expert in your church, spend the loot on this important first impression. Don't say "we want young people and children"and then refuse to spend money on a professionally designed website. Put your money where your mouth is.
  • Don't put a picture of your church on the website. I don't care what your church looks like on the outside. 9 times out of 10 it looks just like the other thirty in my town.
  • Do put information I am seeking. Such as the worship times, location linked to a map and driving directions, how I check in my children, what worship is like etc.
  • Do make the site easy to navigate. Cut out the clutter and make it simple. I do not need a link to the Upper Room or the parent denomination.
  • Speaking of that do decide the primary audience for your website. Is it guests or is it your members and those who already attend? Hopefully, it is primarily for guests. This is not to say you shouldn't have info pertinent to members, but I suggest you do not make that the primary purpose of your site.
  • You can find more tips for church websites by doing a google search for "Design Tips for Church Websites."

Tomorrow I will tackle signage. One of my favorite things!!

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Heart for the Lost

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Paul and Silas in a Roman jail. You can read about it here from Acts 16:16-41.

  • I love how these two men's faith have an economic impact on the master who was using his slave girl to tell fortunes.
  • I love how Paul gets fed up with the girl following them and annoying them and casts the unclean spirit out of her.
  • I love how Paul and Silas after they are thrown in prison sing hymns to God and thereby worship God in the midst of their suffering and witness to the other prisoners.
  • I love how God intervenes so miraculously in the story.
  • I love how Paul and Silas save the jailer from killing himself.
  • I love how the jailer and his family come to know Christ.

But here is something that really blows me away about this story that I had not picked up on before. It happens after the earthquake God uses to free Paul and Silas. These guys are sitting there singing hymns when the earthquake comes and are freed from their shackles and the door is opened- YET THEY DO NOT LEAVE. Why in the heck didn't they just leave? They stuck around. I think they stuck around so they could share their faith with the jailer. By sticking around they saved the jailer's physical and spiritual life!

Can you believe they would stay in jail just to witness to their faith!! I know such a love for those far from God demonstrated by Paul and Silas convicts me. How about you?

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Jesus taught in the parable of the sower that when his word is sown among people it will produce different results depending on the condition of the people's hearts amongst whom it is sown. While this teaching of Jesus is called the parable of the sower it is more about the soil into which the seed is sown than it is about the sower of the seed.

Jesus relates in the parable that some seed will be...
The seed sown along the path is like anyone who hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.

The seed that falls along the rocky places is the person who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

In the church, we experience each kind of person. We are blessed when we are able to see the seed fall on good soil, take root, and produce fruit. Most pastors though struggle with the other soil types. In today's words these are the folks who are in church every Sunday but you can't tell the rest of the week. These are the ones who become connected to a worshipping community and then fall away because of busyness or life circumstances. These are the ones who you work with one on one who mysteriously vanish from your life or the life of the community. These are the ones every pastor yearns for, worries for, and searches for, and still loves.

Yet, Jesus told us there would be seed that fell amongst such soil. Our job is to plant the seed recognizing that just because we plant doesn't always mean we plant in good soil at the time and we do not always get the privilege of seeing the fruit.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Follow the Light

With so many stories of near death experiences these days where it is reported that a person experiencing death is told "to follow the light" the idea of following light has been somewhat trivialized.

Today is Epiphany, the last day of the Christmas season, and the day traditionally marked as the time the wisemen from the East arrived to worship the baby Jesus with gifts. While we mark this day twelve days after Christmas biblical scholars say that it was probably a year, two or three after the birth that Jesus arrived.

I have always been fascinated with the star that guides these wisemen to Jesus. I love how this star which must have been so bright to grab their attention and cause them to follow it is a mere flickering candle to the brightness of the Light of the World who entered into human darkness. This small light of the star guides wisemen to the Light of the World. How amazing that the source and force of life in the universe cared enough to come to earth to reveal himself and then to subject himself to our arrogant ways as human beings. The light the wisemen followed led them to this Light of Love.

Today, we are called to follow the lesser lights to the Greatest Light. We are called to be lesser lights ourselves to guide people to the greatest of all Lights. Today, even still, the God who loved us enough to come and dwell in our neighborhood stands ready to change us, love us, and empower us.

O Star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy Perfect Light.---Rev. John Henry Hopkins

Monday, January 05, 2009

Preparing the Way

I am doing a daily Bible reading plan that will take me through the New Testament and Psalms in a year. So, I am in Matthew 3 where John the Baptizer is preparing the way for Jesus and as I read the words there I was reminded of how followers of Jesus today merely "prepare the way" for Jesus' ministry.

I have become convinced of the theological truth that the church and followers of Jesus are in the business of creating environments, preparing the soil, and coming along side where Christ is already working in persons' lives. This is to say we till the garden, plant the seed, water, provide fertilizer and then wait for God to give the growth in a person's lives. Transforming other people's lives is God's business and we have the privilege to be like John and prepare the way.

This is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7. He and Apollos both had unique roles preparing the way amongst the Corinthian Christians but it was God who gave the growth. This principle of scripture holds true today.

Friday, January 02, 2009

A New Year's Prayer

I regularly use Wesley's Covenant Prayer when I read scripture and pray. You might find it helpful as well. The themes found in this prayer run so counter-cultural they are a great reminder for the follower of Jesus of our high calling as the new year begins and throughout the year. Here it is:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
(as used in the Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church, 1936).

New Year Cleaning

The new year always helps me to clean out. I like to spend new year's day cleaning and organizing whether that be taking down Christmas decorations (yes, I know Christmas is not over until Jan. 6th but I have to do it while I have the energy) or purging files on my laptop. There is something about starting the new year fresh.

In Christ, we all have the opportunity to start fresh whether it be January 1st or August 12th. The good news for us is that through what he has done in his life, death, and resurrection he cleanses us. We accept his cleansing and then out of such a cleansing live our lives for him. He makes us whole. The new year points us to God's love made known in Christ.

As we approach the new year from a spiritual perspective perhaps we can ask Christ to purge us of sin, guilt, shame, unrighteous anger, animosity, un-forgiveness, prejudice, judgment and any other thing that separates us from the mind and life of Christ. The opportunity for a fresh start is always with us whether we have followed Jesus for 1 month or 40 years.