Church is Not…

I wrote an article last week about the reasons why we gather as a community (and also about some of things Sundays are not intended to be). Today, as a follow-up, I want to go a little further down that path.

I grew up in a moderately traditional Southern Baptist church in Alabama. There were some incredibly devoted people there. Some of them who today have become extremely valuable influences for me. But there were some who seemed to only come on Sundays out of respect for a ritual. At the time I pegged this a condition of the teaching of the church that didn’t challenge its people toward a life of devotion to Christ and His Church. I am confessing to you today that my indictment was off.

I’ve seen this epidemic in every single church I’ve served over the last decade. I’m wondering now if this is a condition of the individual rather than a flaw in denominational doctrines or practices. Even in the Deep South Bible Belt where religion and religious activity are marks of honor and duty, there’s a subterraneous belief that the church is nothing more than a civic club. Unfortunately we, as followers of Christ and overseers of His Church, have done little in the last few years to help accurately portray what Christ desires of the Church in these days.

The American Church especially is suffering from an identity crisis.

We’ve tried so hard to be appealing to the masses that I fear we’re becoming background noise in a post-Christian culture. Where I live in Western North Carolina there are just over 415,000 people. Of those, more than 190,000 people do not associate with any religious organization. Forty-six percent (46%) of our friends and neighbors (almost 1 in 2) don’t affiliate with our church or any other church in the area. In a lot of ways, I fear it may be that we don’t know who we are. To rediscover this, sometimes it is helpful to know what we are not. These may sound like some really bad marketing strategies for a church, but hear me out.

A few things the Church is NOT…

  • The Church is not a community service organization.
  • She is not a charity.
  • The Church does not exist to serve your needs.

Community Service Organization
While the local churches do well when we get involved in community service to help make our towns and neighborhoods better places to live, this is not the thrust of the Church. We must always give preference to retelling the Gospel in every way imaginable. We believe that God has called us to live in, to be an active contributor to, and to serve our communities in a variety of ways. But if we neglect to tell the story of Redemption within the context of our good deeds we are merely good people doing something nice for someone.

Not A Charity
Certainly with regard to taxes, your donations to a local church are classified as ‘charitable giving’ but that’s about as far as it goes. If one day our government decided to stop giving you credit for your donations, the Church would still continue to be the Church. Jesus taught us to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The IRS doesn’t owe Christians a tax-break just because we’re Christians. Caesar still gets his part independent of what we give to God. So, yes… give to the church. Give lots. Give lavishly. But stop hoping that Caesar will take care of you and trust the LORD. Proverbs 19 tells us that he who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD and He will repay you.

Services Sector Corporation
A lot of our gatherings are full of the best-of-the-best when it comes to public speakers, musicians, creative artists, and even culinary treats. And week after week, all around the country people arrive at state-of-the-art facilities with well planned parking to take in an experience unlike anything else. All for free. It’s easy to see why sometimes the Church has gotten mis-identified as a kind of Services Sector Corporation. Multi-million dollar annual operating budgets are required to continually pull this kind of thing off. But what if we’ve gotten so good at putting on “the show,” so masterful at “customer service” that we’ve set the expectation for those attending that this is what should be demanded by a distinguished religious consumer? When worship becomes a matter of musical preference or when the dress code of the pastor becomes the distinctive for missional alignment, I fear we’ve started to believe the Church should to be run by a different maxim than what Christ would desire.

Now, I’m all for using the resources God has given you and for making sure people who attend as guests find their experience a pleasant one. That’s simple stewardship and hospitality. What I hate is when people begin feeling entitled to stuff. “Their” seat. Preferred parking. Or that the pastor speaks to them within 60 seconds of them entering the building.

Regardless of how it plays out, it’s entitlement. And entitlement is a cancer.

We are a grateful people (or at least we’re supposed to be). We enter His courts with thanksgiving, right? But it’s hard to be grateful when you feel entitled. And if entitlement is allowed to reign, the cancer spreads. Thoughts like, “I’m just not getting fed,” or, “The band didn’t play my song,” are evidence that you’ve got a Me-Monster inside that wants more, more, more. And it simply cannot be satisfied.

Let’s think about this. You (we) are the Church. So by saying that you want the Church to meet your needs, you’d actually have to say that you want to serve yourself. Right? This is narcissism. You’re frustrated because the Church isn’t meeting your needs. But that’s simply not a realistic expectation. Instead, why don’t you go find inventive ways to serve someone else’s needs and see if God doesn’t take care of you. On Sundays, connect with a guest who’s looking for a reason to stick around. Find a ministry to jump into and serve with your whole heart. Run out with an umbrella to help mom’s get their kids inside from the rain. Mentor a child or a student. Do something to serve the needs around you.

Otherwise, just go play golf on Sundays.

What’s A Volunteer

All over the world there are those who see something so compelling they are driven to give of themselves, their finances, and even sometimes their entire lives.

We’ve been talking about the impact our money can have on bringing solutions to the needs around us in a very real, very practical sense. Things that will feed the hungry, clothe the needy and befriend the outcast.

And this is exactly what our volunteers do. Everyday. Around our communities and across the world. We are the rescued ones who now have made it our mission to serve as agents of our Redeemer. To bring the story of love, of liberation and restoration to people who are loved by God.

A Grove Volunteer sees the world through Christ and reaches out with hands to serve, to heal, to give hope. Because at one point we were the outcast, the hurting, the hungry and needy. We were alone and without hope.
Christ has come for all of us through the hands of his agents.

And now we do the same.

If you are currently serving with the Grove, take a second to fill out a Connect Card (in the center of your table or in the seatback pocket of a chair around you). Drop it off in the basket before you leave and we’ll help you find ways to aide in the redemption story of the Gospel.

www.thegrovechurch.com/serve

www.thegrovechurch.com/missions

Live Generously

A problem currently exists in American churches that we as spiritual leaders need to address. As a whole, American congregations (of which we are classified) are not generous. Let’s look at some facts.

Christians are giving at a 2.5% per capita or tithe. During the Great Depression, they gave at a 3.3% rate. Today, 33-50% of church members, those who claim they have bought in at a deep level to the ministry of their local church, give nothing.

If we were able to see people increase their giving from 2.5% to 10% of their annual income, an additional $165 billion would flow into the Kingdom. To show the global impact those resources could make, consider the following:

$25 billion would relieve global hunger, starvation, and deaths from preventable diseases in 5 years.
$12 billion would eliminate illiteracy in 5 years.
$15 billion would solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.
$1 billion would fully fund the Great Commission.
$100 – $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion.
These statistics were provided by http://www.generouschurch.com.

Here are some possible characteristics of a generous church. Do you agree with these statements?

A Generous Church:

is broken about the condition of those around them and has a vision of what financial resources could do to bring aid to the hurting and suffering.
celebrates generosity.
is unapologetic about asking for resources. It understands that ministry costs money, and the more money you have, the more impact you can make.
is well-funded and therefore, able to focus on the under-resourced, hurting, orphaned, poor, and those in need rather than giving so much energy to ministry maintenance.
is on a quest to serve those around them. Too much of Swain Co. and surrounding areas live below the poverty line. This is unacceptable to the Generous Church.
values partnerships with other organizations like LoveBryson, Samaritans Purse and Bridge of Hope to make the greatest impact in our communities and around the world.
isn’t afraid of the “Big Ask.” Giving and serving aren’t bad words in a Generous Church and the people of a Generous Church aren’t afraid to answer the call.
knows its community and knows how to utilize resources effectively to bring a solution to the problems.
creatively allows its people to participate in generosity.
has many avenues for financial contributions. There is no shortage of opportunity or mechanism for giving at the Grove. Obviously, giving on Sundays during regular worship gatherings is an easy way. But the Grove also offers online giving, automatic pre-authorized bank draft and mobile transactions. There are actually members of our team who can process contributions directly to the Grove on their mobile devices. Try it. Next time you see Jeff or Randall around town, offer to make a donation right then and there. It’s painless and the receipt is texted to your phone or can be emailed to you on the spot. Pretty cool.
recognizes that it takes all of us working corporately together. Together we make a difference.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these points.

What would it be like to see global hunger erased; every person on the planet drinking clean water; missionaries around the globe fully funded as together, we fulfill the Great Commission and ministries all over the world begin growing at record rates? This is so within reach. But it won’t happen on our current 2.5% giving. Do you believe in living generously? As people, we are wired to act on what we believe. If we say we believe something and do nothing, is it really a belief or simply a nice idea?

I’ve been reading Bonhoeffer lately. Two things spring to mind as I wrap this entry. He says (to the effect), “The ultimate test of a moral society [like the Church] is the kind of world it leaves to its children. We do not very naturally realize that we have been given so much more than we give. But we cannot be rich without gratitude.” More famously he wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

So again, do you believe in giving and living generously? Do you believe it’s important to obey God? Bonhoeffer states, “Only the obedient believe.” Your money is going somewhere.

If you believe it, do something with it that will make an impact.

Live Generously.

-Randall

Why Baptism?

WHY BAPTISM?

We’ve asked that question over the past couple of weeks to some of our people who’ve been baptized in the past few years. This week we got to pose the same question to a few who’ll be baptized today.

What’s the big deal about baptism?

Let’s look. Jesus was baptized. He instructed his disciples to baptize. So it seems there’s gotta be something to this, right?

There are two ordinances of the church, and this is true all over the world. One is communion, where we remember the obedience, the sacrifice and the redemption through Jesus. We do this together. It serves to remind us that he did all of this to save all of us.

The second ordinance is baptism. Jesus made his way through the crowd gathered by the river. It’s symbolic, this immersion into water and emergence from it. For John the Baptist and Jesus and those alive in those days, it was foreshadowing the transformation that would be brought to all of us through Messiah.

They did this together, to remind each other that there is life after this life. Death is not the end. And for us now, on this side of the story, it is how we identify with what Christ did, defeating death, hell and the grave and bringing new life to us in the world in which we live. For Jesus and John and their contemporaries, this was a communal thing.

And today, some of us will observe from the banks of Deep Creek. But there are others who will enter that water and remind us of what we’ve been given – new life.

Here. Now.

Experience Lent: Day 21 – Newsies

Experience Lent: Day 21 – Watch or read the local news with someone and pray.

It’s hard to watch the news. For me anyway. It’s not fun. Unless there’s a blooper or something. And those are pretty darn entertaining.

But otherwise, it’s mostly depressing.

It’s a reminder, however, of the need to work together to repair the brokenness.

We’re talking this week in Small Groups about what it means to restore the image of God, the image in which all humans were created. The practice today is an opportunity to become aware of the needs in our communities and ask God for ideas to help restore His image in the world.

Gather ’round your computer screen with a friend, co-worker or family at some point during the day. Read or watch a news segment and find the ways that God’s image has been broken and talk about ways to help bring restoration.

Heaven

There’s this song by Brett Dennen that I’ve loved for some time now. I think I heard it on my way to work one Sunday afternoon. It’s one of those songs that sneaks up on you after some time. Don’t get me wrong. Initially, I really liked it. It isn’t that it had to grow on me. Just that I’ve been stewing in its meaning and personal application for awhile now and I was finally able to put into words some of what this song reveals about my faith and how it’s practice affects the general perception of what we currently call Christianity.

I don’t believe everything I say.

I’m not trying to deceive but rather I’m trying to find an answer I can believe in. Often, it’s a way to invite others into the conversation. And frequently, where truth works itself out in community, perceptions can be challenged and tested and the fringes can be shaved down leaving the integrity of the woven fabrics of belief intact. This is kinda how it works with the music I listen to also. I don’t believe or agree with every lyric of a particular song, but I can’t ignore the truth mixed in because of the points on which I disagree.

Truth can be found by eyes of discernment even when masked by the trappings of modernism.

We have so distorted the hope of heaven that most people don’t really want to go there when they die. Most people believe heaven to be a very boring place – flying around in a sheet, playing a little harp doesn’t sound exciting to me either. We define horrific or challenging events as “hell on earth” but we don’t seem to ever use “heaven on earth” to describe anything. Maybe because we believe the good of this life is better than the best heaven has to offer. Maybe because we don’t know how good heaven really is.

Maybe because we hope that heaven is nothing like what we’ve been told.

Either way, we need a better insight into what Jesus and the ancients thought was so remarkable about heaven.

Many people hold that heaven is simply a state of mind or being. Many believe that it’s a mystical (almost mythical) location above and beyond the realms of this planet. But what hope does any of this offer those who are willing to give everything to model the life of Jesus, even to death?

Clouds?

Harps?

No, thank you.

Tasteless,

senseless,

meaningless afterlife?

This is not the imagery that Jesus uses. This is not the hope the Hebrews have for the reconciliation of God to Man at the end of all things…

…is it?

There are two stories that are strikingly similar though they were written thousands of years apart. One opens the Story and the other concludes it.

In the first part of the story, there is a tree in the middle of a small, remote village.

This tree gives life to everything it touches.

At the end of the story, the village has grown into a major city but that old tree is still there, just as strong and just as alive as it ever was,

passing down life to everything that lives and healing to every nation.

There’s a tree in the middle of the Story also. This tree, however is stained with death and decay.

This tree bears the fading Seed of the hope of freedom.

The Seed, buried in the ground and then made alive again to produce in humanity the fruit of the redemption of all things. The book of Hebrews in the Bible tells us that we get a glimpse of the light of heaven, a taste of its delicacies when we participate in the Work of God on the earth. Early in the book of Ephesians we hear that the goal of Christ’s sacrifice all along was to bring heaven and earth closer together, no longer divided by the gulf of our indiscretions. The love and presence of God and the unending provision He supplies no longer limited, rationed or withheld.

The enslaved,

given freedom.

The hungry,

fed.

The missing,

located and rescued.

We are responsible for translating this freedom to those around us. To avoid and prevent hoarding the news of our rescue.

Our ancestors were evicted from the village in the beginning because of this attitude. And yet somehow, by the end of the Book, the gates to the city are wide open and her citizens move about in the freedom originally initiated by our Creator.

This is heaven.

Freedom.

No longer bound by rules we cannot keep. This new freedom is ruled by love and respect. Love of self and neighbor, providing for the widow, the orphan and the immigrant,

faithful to the love and action of God.

We have it within each of us to unite heaven and earth because Christ in us has already done the Work.

If heaven has no room for those without a bed it is tyranny.
If it offers no hope for the hopeless it is a lie.
If it refuses the dignity of life it is a prison camp.

Heaven extends beyond era, class and human existence. It has always been with us and will be ours when we’re gone.

It is found in the work of reconciliation both here in our hands and beyond our reach.

Community+Healthcare

seekingI am always enamored by the quality of contributions we seem to experience at threeonesix fellowship on a weekly basis. And this week was no different. As we looked at the Healthcare issues we as Americans are facing today and in this present election through the lenses of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral it was interesting to me to observe the different perspectives we all bring in our approach to this issue. And yet we still find ourselves unified in our compassion for those in need right here at home. This sentiment is not new to us as Americans. It is printed on every piece of currency… E Pluribus Unam… Out of many, one. I think the opposite may be true as well… From One, many. What I’m getting at is this: We are all different and yet in so many ways, we are the same. We originate from the same source. We are concentric circles, having the same and common center. And we live this out in everything we do both in our individual lives and as a faith community. As we’ve said, everything is spiritual and our faith doesn’t confine itself to a building a few hours a week. But this “concentricity” isn’t limited to those of us at threeonesix. We are all part of the same. Each human has the same value as another, regardless of the depth of her portfolio or the width of his influence.

While community can only truly be authored and fostered in true heart-to-heart connections in transparent authenticity, it oftentimes takes little moments of trust-building for some of us to open ourselves up to this kind of nakedness. It is true, online communities will (hopefully) never replace the kind of connections to which we are inherently drawn, they do foster, and in some instances, generate this authentic community we’ve been talking so much about. It’s through tools like we now have at our reach that we are able to discover needs of which we may otherwise remain oblivious. This blog for example, is a means of communicating thoughts to whomever may be interested and is open for observation, commentary, inspection and criticism. As everything should be, as long as it is tempered by respect. Mutual respect is the way Christ teaches (treat others the way you hope to be treated). And mutual concern is tied to that. This is where open community is present. This is also where the Advocate role comes into play. How many times have you heard of a person who needed clothing and food and shelter because of a loss and immediately called everyone you knew to help corral all these items? In those times, you have been the Advocate. You have called many to answer a single unified call… out of many, one. Perhaps Alexandre Dumas said it best in one of history’s famous novels in the cry of three inseparable friends who lived by the motto, “One for all, and all for one!”

As the topic circulated through the room today and we heard more and more about experiences of humanitarian services offered by individuals and large corporations, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question that I now pose to you, “Is it possible that Universal Healthcare already exists in and among us? Is it also plausible that the reason we as a nation are calling out for help in this arena that we have been personally irresponsible with our own abilities to give and support aide?”

There is no question that there are masses of people in this country without even the most basic access to healthcare. The reason we are crying out to our government to help us isn’t because they have a reputation for taking on our needs and providing a suitable remedy. It is because somewhere along the way, those of us who were supposed to protect the orphan, the widow, the poor, the hungry have, for one reason or another, delegated our responsibilities to a committee and walked away. The call we hear from our neighbors is a desperate cry for help, and though it is directed at our governmental leaders, it doesn’t lie only at their feet.

The Rising of Hope

Persevere!As the XXIX Olympic Games came to an end, I noticed that for the Chinese something new had sprung from the earth… something, it seems, they’d been pursuing for what, at least to them, felt like the span of two empires. We hear the scary stories of the absolute disrespect for life in the darkness of the Chinese underbelly, but for two weeks we saw over and over again, the glory that has always found its place in the hearts and faces of those who dedicate themselves to something bigger, something far beyond themselves.

I have a feeling, though, that this is not too different from our day to day. It’s only our eyes that aren’t looking for it. We expect greatness from an Olympic game. These athletes are the best in the world. But if you met some of these people in their work clothes, stripped of their notoriety, would we be looking for such levels of greatness? Would we expect less?

Perhaps, the truth to be found in all of this is that it’s our perspective holds great sway in changing our worldview and our thoughts of each other. Perhaps, the best way to see the dawn of hope is to let the sun rise through our eyes as we encounter each mundane moment.

They’re All Up In Smoke

CrucibleOur sins have been consumed in the Passion of Christ on the cross. His resurrection is our ticket to freedom in the life eternal. And we can be forever grateful for the new path He made for us through His death and resurrection. These was a very powerful few moments as we ignited the record of our confessions and received our Lord’s table in communion. And not only our own admissions but the confession of us all …each of us as well as all of us… It was incredibly stacked with meaning.