Today is May 6th. If I’m keeping track of time correctly, we are currently in our 7th week in the United States since federal and state authorities began making restrictions for citizens in light of COVID-19. There is no doubt that we are all being affected in deep ways – not just physically or economically, but socially, relationally, and emotionally. It’s hard to fight against emotional fatigue and apathy when you’re not even sure what day it is anymore.
Call me naïve, but I was really hoping that this pandemic would be an enemy that would unite the American people. The divisive rhetoric of our culture, driven almost entirely by political and racial divides, has become too wearisome for me to bear. But as days have become weeks, the pandemic has become another source of contentious divide. I am especially saddened when I see God-fearing Christians using divisive language, promoting politically biased information, or even lashing out at those who disagree with them on what is best for our country.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. These behaviors have become the mold that our culture has made for us. It is far easier to settle into a familiar way of doing things (even if that involves unhelpful or sinful behaviors) than it is to pursue the difficult paths of humility, grace, and kindness.
This cultural mold has given us patterns of convenience. In the history of God’s people, it is not uncommon for us to choose the complacent path of convenience rather than the difficult path of obedience. The Israelites early conquest of the land of Canaan is a great example of this pattern that is worth our time to consider. Continue Reading
One of my first tasks when I started my new pastorate three years ago was helping our church get up to speed with our use of technology. When I walked into my new office on the first day, I found an old metal cart with stacks of multi-colored VeggieTales VHS tapes. On the bookshelves were boxes containing cassette tapes from 1995 which claimed to offer “the latest and best method for small groups for your church!” Other rooms had old VHS players(!) and printers sitting in the corner collecting dust, as well as several piles of old cables that nobody could remember what they belonged to.
Those early days were a lot of fun, not only clearing out all of the old, unused technology, but also helping our church embrace new technology to minister in this technologically advanced world. It took some time and effort, but three years later we finally have a social media presence (which now is really firing on all cylinders thanks to the newest member of our staff), domain name email addresses, online giving, a church management software, electronic children’s check-in, and now…well, like everyone else, livestreaming.
What I learned about our church in those early days wasn’t so much that our members were resistant to technology. Technology wasn’t ignored because it was feared, but because gathering in person was valued so much that new forms of technology just hadn’t really been thought about. In other words, our church so prized the embodied gathering of the saints that technology was always thought of as something that would be nice to have, not something that was essential.
Churches across the globe are finding themselves in a really interesting place. Now that Christians can no longer gather in person (and for good reason), technology has never been more essential to keep ministry going. Yet the real, tangible, and embodied gathering of the church has never been more valued in this generation.
Why? Because we really miss each other. Continue Reading
I have been meditating on the story of the man with a withered hand in Mark 3:1-6 in preparation for an upcoming men’s retreat. This passage is a wonderful account of Jesus’ compassion on social outcasts. Jesus is willing to challenge the oppressive religious authorities of his day in order to heal this man and restore him in the eyes of the surrounding community.
But this beautiful story has a dark ending. Verse 6 reads:
The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Since it is common for us to read the Pharisees as the villains in the gospel stories, it is quite easy for us to read over a verse like this without giving it a second thought. Continue Reading
Bishop William Temple once said, “The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” It’s a nice sentiment, isn’t it? Perhaps attempting to echo the teachings of Jesus from places like Mark 2:17 (“I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”) and his many parables about the Kingdom of God (like that of The Great Banquet – Luke 14:12-24), this quote reminds us that the mission of the Church is to go out into the world to make disciples. In so doing, more and more people will have peace with God and be made whole.
So why does it seem like becoming a part of a church can often be so, well – difficult? In his recent book The Second Mountain, author David Brooks describes what some might call a conversion to Christianity, or what others (myself included) would call a spiritual journey toward embracing Christianity. When it came to actually interacting with Christian people and Christian institutions, Brooks describes his journey in this way:
“I was on a journey toward God, and I found out pretty quickly along the way that religious people and institutions sometimes built ramps that made it easier to continue my journey, or they built walls, making the journey harder. I found that many of the walls in the Christian world were caused by the combination of an intellectual inferiority complex combined with a spiritual superiority complex. I found that Christians, especially of the Protestant evangelical variety, are plagued by the sensation that they are not quite as intellectually rigorous or as cool as the secular world. At the same time, many of them are inflated by the notion that they are a quantum leap or two more moral.”
Yikes! In a future post I will explore some of the ramps he found that made it easier to interact with Christians and their churches. In this post, I want to explore the four walls – or barriers – that Brooks discovered in his experience and discuss some of the applications it might have for our churches. Continue Reading