A Little Less Fragmented

We got news of a landmark event. Something we’ve been praying for for at least a year.

Have you read where Isaiah says we are to take up the cause of the widow and the fatherless? Well, if you haven’t read it, here ya go (Isaiah 1:11-17). Read it and think on it for a bit then come back.

For a year now my wife has stood in unfriendly places to make sure she held true to what God was calling her to do. A year ago, a young mom came into our church not knowing how to fit in. She wasn’t immediately welcomed by the majority. Our pastor told Kelley that this is exactly the mission we are on. And Kelley and I know that part of our mission as a family is to integrate the fringes. So he sent her to this young mom to help nurture her and encourage her.

Not too long after becoming involved, the story swirled with an ominous cloud that seemed to never relent. This mom had been reported to authorities for suspected neglect and abuse. The strange thing is that there was no evidence of such and even stranger is the person reporting this to the authorities was in a position to benefit greatly from the child being taken from his mother. The timing was urgent and we needed to get her into a stable environment as quickly as possible. I petitioned our Elders to stand for her and this little child. One of them came forward and offered to become foster parents for the little boy until the mom could get a little better situated on her feet.

At the same time, there was a lady, eager for a child she couldn’t have and seemingly desperate to make this opportunity hers. Somehow, she was able to convince the system (which is in such bad shape) to let the little boy come live with her while the birth mom got her stuff together. And to complicate things, this lady had some socially powerful friends in a very small town. If she could convince them of her noble intentions she might ultimately get to keep the child (at least that’s what she seemed to be angling for). I won’t go into the details, but it wasn’t too long until her friends came to discover how they’d been manipulated throughout this process.

Kelley went to meeting after meeting after meeting with the birth mom, the custodial caregiver, and the case worker. Most meetings ended with the caregiver cursing at Kelley. Threatening her. Threatening our family. Demeaning the birth mom and being rather belligerent to the case worker. The caregiver knew she was losing what could be the last opportunity she might ever have to raise a child. And as sympathetic as I am to that, I simply cannot stand for manipulation and disrespect. The caregiver continually created more and more hoops for the birth mom to jump through. She created scenarios where she tried to justify leaving the state with the child, even when doing so would immediately result in FBI involvement. One night the caregiver threatened the safety of our family because of her disapproval of Kelley’s involvement in this process. She said she couldn’t understand how the church could stand with someone who obviously hasn’t done anything to prove she deserves it. She said that Kelley’s involvement was an abomination and was making a mockery of the church. We came home two nights later and our house had been broken into.

The caregiver tried numerous times to convince the birth mom that the best thing for her son was that he live with the caregiver – permanently. She wanted to adopt him.

That seems noble until you realize that the birth mom loves her son and wants him to live with her and that she is doing everything and more that the state is requiring of her to get her son back. At some point, you begin to see that this the nobility has been tainted. This is an unstable situation and this child needs to be back in the custody of his birth mother sooner rather than later. And if it can’t happen soon then he needs to be placed in legitimate foster care. This sentiment wasn’t received very positively by everyone, as you might imagine. Some people were making Kelley out to be reckless and haphazard. One of our own team members (who was also aligned with the caregiver) told Kelley that she was out of line and she shouldn’t continue to do what our pastor had commissioned her to do. (Excuse me, what?!)

Here’s the deal. As a family, we make every decision through at least one of three filters – honor, generosity, and compassion. And we stand firmly to maintain those values. If someone is acting in a manner that dishonors the basic humanity of another person, we stand to build honor. And in this storyline, that’s precisely what Kelley has fully committed her heart and soul to see. We believe that every person is made in the image of God. Oftentimes, when we see brokenness in the world, it’s because someone has painted an inaccurate representation of God to an individual. We believe that we are called to help restore the image of God. And for a year, Kelley has stood beside this birth mom with honor, rebuilding honor in her heart. Telling her that she’s a good mom. That God has gifted her with love for her son and a spirit that will do everything to provide for him.

In our day and age, we don’t see as many widows as we used to, especially like in bible times. A widow then was someone who had no husband to represent her, no one to provide for her or protect her. She relied solely on the care of her other family members or if she had no family, the care from a sensitive and responsive heart. In our modern Western society, that scenario is not as prevalent. It is my opinion that single moms, especially those who’s baby-daddies have run out on them… they are the widows of our generation. They are left with the care of this child and abandoned by one who said he’d be there. These girls aren’t to be discarded. They aren’t to be ignored. They aren’t to be run over or manipulated. They are to be encouraged and nurtured. And that’s what Kelley has done for the last year.

We knew we were getting close to the day we’ve been awaiting. The birth mom got her own place. She got registered for school. Went to parenting classes. She was granted weekend visitation. And every weekend she would just beam when she was with her son.

And this afternoon, she sent Kelley a message to thank her because today she received full custody of her son! No more visitation. Mother and son fully reunited.

I’m so proud of my wife. She flew high like a flag amidst the beatings of adversity. She stood proudly for justice. She was a beacon of hope and honor. And today I place her high on a mountaintop for all the world to see as she flies as a symbol of profound victory. The image of God is a little less fragmented because of her.

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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.

Church Is A Lonely Place

If I were to take a poll of the saddest stories you’ve ever heard about the happenings of the Church, you’d probably come up with a few familiar tales… pastors abusing their power, finance directors embezzling funds, etc. But these are only the symptoms of deeper issues that desperately need to be dealt with. Byproducts of a kind of isolation that leaves any person vulnerable to becoming the prey of sin.

By far, one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in today’s Christian church is not the mishandling of funds or sexual indiscretions (sad in their own rite) but rather when cliques form at the expense of those on the fringes. Following Christ is meant to be done together, for sure. But somehow our affinities isolate others. This isolation it’s especially evident on Sunday mornings. The regulars pool together and the new folks sit alone. Without a connection, would they continue to come back? They already feel vulnerable and out of place. So why so often do we leave them to fend for themselves on the outside of our circles? Have we left them for the proverbial wolves?

There are three groups of people that attend our services any given Sunday: the Cynic, the Seeker and the Servant. If you find yourself in either of the first two groups of people, this article isn’t about you. We welcome you to continue to explore what it means to follow Christ within the context of a community of other Christ-followers. But if you’ve been around this community of Christians for more than a couple of months, I’d like to invite you into the third group.

I’ve heard some people within this third circle–members of this church, in fact–comment that they didn’t get anything out of the service. I’ve heard comments like, “Last Sunday morning was a waste of time.” Or, “Why did I put forth the effort to get out of bed, get my kids ready and make the drive to experience something so flat?” Sometimes I think people wish we could somehow make personal calls on Saturday night to say, “Listen, tomorrow’s not gonna do anything for you, so why don’t you just stay home.” Now, I don’t think that this is a majority attitude (at least I hope not), but I’ll bet some of you have thought this at some point.

The problem with this attitude is that it’s nothing shy of arrogance. It’s pompous and self-serving. This attitude fosters the mindset that the reason we gather on Sundays is for you. If you’ve found yourself at the Grove for more than a couple of months, maybe this is the first time you’ve heard it so let me be clear… if you are a regular of this place, Sunday is not designed for your listening pleasure. The songs. The message. The provisions. Not for our members. We expect our members to attend and find a way to serve on Sundays and then participate in Small Groups throughout the week. Sunday is largely designed for our guests. And your presence on Sundays is for our guests, for the people who are looking for a reason to connect to the church. You are not merely just a body filling a seat, you are a connection point for someone wondering why they should stick around. That new couple sitting beside you is wondering what makes you want to come and be part of this community. And more often than not, you keep quiet and people move on in search of a place to belong.

We have a Connecting Ministry at our church. And you’re in it. You may not have been formally recruited. But you are the reason people decide either to stick around for another week or to move on. It’s not the teaching or the music or the kids program. Those are secondary for most people who are looking to connect. People choose to stick around when they feel like they matter. If you’re a member, a servant, you are the connecting point. It’s through your invitation that people move from one circle into the next.

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

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.