Monday, February 29, 2016

Starting a new era

Building a new church has been a 10 year journey that is now only months away from finishing.  Yet as excited as I am for the finish line to be in view on the building - I tremble with the enormity of how important the next year is for our congregation.  Because this first year in this new building is a huge opportunity that our congregation only gets once every (God willing) 100 years.   Its an opportunity to invite in all kinds of new persons to our new church home.  And because its a new building they will expect us to have a fresh attitude of love and grace.

Do we really have a fresh attitude of love and grace towards new persons?

Are we willing to let them work among us (and even lead us)in new directions?

We have to be ready.  Ready in our hearts to welcome, include and to follow the people God sends to us.

Pastor Carey Nieuwhof has a blog that I follow with great tips and here is his assessment of what it means to be ready for unchurched people.

You know your church is ready to welcome unchurched people when:

1. Your main services engage teenagers. Here’s what I believe: if teens find your main services (yes, the ones you run on Sunday mornings) boring, irrelevant, and disengaging, so will unchurched people. As a rule, if you can design services that engage teenagers, you’ve designed a church service that engages unchurched people.

2. People who attend your church actually know unchurched people. Many Christians say they want to reach unchurched people, but they don’t actually know any unchurched people well enough to invite them.   We want our families to get to know unchurched people. We want them to play community sports, get involved at their kids school and have time for dinner parties and more. You can’t do that if you’re at church 6 nights a week. We don’t do many ministries because our people are our ministry.

3. Your attenders are prepared to be non-judgmental. Unchurched people do not come ‘pre-converted’. They will have lifestyle issues that might take years to change (and let’s be honest, don’t you?). Cleaning up your behaviour is not a pre-condition for salvation, at least not in Christianity. What God has done for us in Jesus saves us; not what we have done for God. Is your congregation really ready to love unchurched people, not just judge them? One of Jesus’ genius approaches was to love people into life change. If your people can do that, you’re ready to reach unchurched people.

4. You’re good with questions. I think one of the reasons unchurched people flee churches is they feel shut down when every question they ask has a snappy or even quick answer. They will find answers, but you need to give them time. Embracing the questions of unchurched people is a form of embracing them.

5. You’re honest about your struggles. Unchurched people get suspicious when church leaders and Christians want to appear to have it ‘all together’. Let’s face it, you don’t. And they know it. When you are honest about your struggles, it draws unchurched people closer. I make it a point to tell unchurched people all the time that our church isn’t perfect, that we will probably let them down, but that one of the marks of a Christian community is that we can deal with our problems face to face and honestly, and that I hope we will be able to work it through. There is a strange attraction in that.

6. You have easy, obvious, strategic and helpful steps for new people. I am still such a fan of thinking steps, not programs  One sure sign that you are ready to handle an influx of unchurched people is that your church has a clear, easily accessible path way to move someone from their first visit right through to integration with existing Christians in small groups or other core ministries. Most churches simply have randomly assembled programs that lead nowhere in particular.

7. You’ve dumped all assumptions. It’s so easy to assume that unchurched people ‘must know’ at least the basics of the Christian faith. Lose that thinking. How much do you (really ) know about Hinduism or Taoism? That’s about how much many unchurched people (really) know about Christianity. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Make it easy for everyone to access what you are talking about whenever you are talking about it.

8. Your ‘outreach’ isn’t just a program. Many Christians think having a ‘service’ for unchurched people or a program designed for unchurched people is enough. It’s not. When you behave like reaching unchurched people can be done through a program or an alternate service, you’re building a giant brick wall for unchurched people to walk into. You might as well tell them “This program is for you, but our church is for us. Sorry.”

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Gospel of John Reading Plan

This Lent my challenge to Calvary is to read through the Gospel of John over the next 6 weeks.

Week 1   John chapter 1   Jesus is the Word made Flesh
Week 2  John chapters 2-5  The Miracles of Jesus
Week 3  John chapters 6-11  The "I AM" sayings of Jesus
Week 4 John chapters 12-17  The Farewell Discourse
Week 5 John chapters 18-19  The Arrest, Trial & Crucifixion of the King
Week 6 John chapters 20-21  The Resurrection

It is up to you how you want to read these -   you can read them in one sitting at the beginning of the week and then ponder/re-read them the rest of the week or you could break it up and read a little bit each day during your quiet time.  Whatever works for you.

I encourage you to do something in response to what you read -
blog, journal, doodle, write a poem, paint a picture, discuss with your partner/family/friend, join our small group discussions on Thursdays at 9:30 am  or Fridays at 2 PM.

Do something that takes the scripture and helps you to process it and bring it into your heart and life.
And if you are willing to share what you did, I'd love to know about it!

Be blessed this Lent!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Faith & Politics: Poverty & Hunger

In 2014  in the United States of America
  • 46.7 million people (14.8 percent) were in poverty
  • 15.5 million (21.1 percent) children under the age of 18 were in poverty.
  • 4.6 million (10 percent) seniors 65 and older were in poverty.
  •  48.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 32.8 million adults and 15.3 million children.
  • 14 percent of households (17.4 million households) were food insecure.
  • 17% of Rural Americans live below the poverty line


I don't know about you, but these statistics shock me.  Here we are the most
wealthy, sophisticated, most powerful nation in the history of the world and yet
one in five of our children lives in poverty.

Poverty is an issue that we tend to look at from two different positions:  
Individual Responsibility vs. Social Responsibility

Personal Responsibility is important.  Jesus tells many parables illustrating that God wants us to use our talents and serve God through our work.  (see for example Matthew 25: 14-30)  We are also told that everyone is needed in the Body of Christ - everyone's gifts are necessary for the whole to be its best (Romans 12: 4-5)   

Yet Personal Responsibility has its limitations.  Ask yourself - is there anything that you have accomplished in this life completely on your own? Parents fed, clothed and nurtured you so you would have discover your talents and learn responsibility.   In school you had teachers, administrators, counsellors to develop your talents and how you could use them in the world.  Your first jobs you had bosses and managers who showed you how to use your talents in the workplace.

Social Responsibility is the role that we as a community have to create a world where individuals can use their gifts, be paid a living wage, and have a safety net for those who cannot work or are hurt or disabled.

We as a society will pay for those in poverty one way or another.  We either pay higher price on our junk from Walmart so that the workers there can earn a wage that keeps them out of poverty or we pay higher hospital costs when they are sick from lack of care, cost to schools and our kids when hungry kids can't sit still, have more ADD/ADHD, costs in law enforcement when poverty pushes people to desperate actions like stealing or dealing drugs.  As a society we will pay for poverty one way or another.  The question is - are we going to be proactive and pay to help people have productive lives?

Here is an awesome way Utah became proactive in addressing homelessness: read and listen to the NPR report on their work

As you continue to watch those who are running for President, and as Iowa begins its legislative session for 2016, lets think proactive in addressing how we can be responsible together for ending poverty and hunger.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Read John this Lent

Lent Starts with our Ash Wednesday service on Wednesday Feb 10  7 PM
Then lasts 40 days until Easter March 27th.  Lent is a time for Christians to go deeper with their spirituality and grow in faith.  One of the best ways to do this is to dig into scripture for yourself and grow closer to Jesus by reading his words and how he lived.   

Join Calvary this Lent in reading through the Gospel of John.  We will be using Adam Hamilton's book as our guide and one of the great things about the book is that it has the words from the Bible at the end of each chapter so you don't have to go searching or even know how to open a Bible - its all right there for you.  

I encourage you to buy a copy and join us in worship as we discuss the major themes of John and to join us in one of our discussion groups: 
Thursday mornings at 9:30 AM 
Friday afternoons at 2 PM 
both at the Boji Bay Pavilion behind Perkins in north Milford.  

Here is an excerpt from Chapter Two, “The Miraculous Signs of Jesus” in John: The Gospel of Light and Life
Changing Water Into Wine 
John calls the miracles of Jesus “miraculous signs.” A sign points toward something else. Scholars often refer to John 2 through 12 as the “Book of Signs.” John’s stories of Jesus are intended to have a deeper meaning, which answers the questions, Who is this man Jesus? How does he affect my life? What is required of me?
Today, we’ll focus on Jesus’ first miraculous sign in John 2:1-12—turning water into wine—and how we might study it to find deeper meaning.
Jesus and his disciples had been invited to a wedding, and a wedding banquet followed. Jewish wedding banquets in the first century are thought to have lasted seven days. These occasions were then, as weddings and wedding receptions are today, among the great moments in the life of a family and one of the most joyful times in any community. It’s for this reason that the Bible often associates heaven with a wedding banquet.
But remember, there is a deeper meaning to John’s stories. This story is not only about Jesus providing wine for a wedding but also about the life he offers to each of us.
At the wedding banquet described in John 2, the wine ran out. This was terribly embarrassing for the host. Remember, at that time water was not always safe to drink, and people often drank wine at every meal. Wine offerings were made to God as a sign of life and joy and goodness. And though some passages of Scripture warn about drunkenness, there also are many that portray wine as a good part of life. (There are over 250 references to wine in the Bible, and most are positive.)
In the story, Jesus’ mother came to Jesus and told him the wine had run out. Then she told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. We don’t know that Mary was expecting a miracle at this point, only that Jesus was going to make sure the wine problem was solved. I think she may have imagined Jesus going with them to the local wineseller to purchase more wine. With this in mind, she gave instructions to the servants at the wedding banquet.
But remember, John’s stories of Jesus are intended to have a deeper meaning. Here’s a question that might help you see the deeper meaning here: Who are Christ’s servants today? The answer: we’re his servants.
Now, listen again to verse five: “His mother told the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” Note that when the servants did as they were told, a miracle occurred—water was changed to wine; the ordinary was converted to the extraordinary. John may have been saying, similarly, that if all of us do as Christ tells us, then our ordinary lives can become extraordinary.
You might say, “Is that really what John meant?” We can’t be sure, but so much of John’s writing has multiple levels that the little clues and phrases may well point to this deeper meaning.
The servants didn’t just fill the jars; they filled them “to the brim.” I think John is telling us that Jesus wants to fill us up completely. We’re meant to be overflowing, as a cup “runneth over.” Remember, the overarching theme of this Gospel is that we might have life in Christ’s name.
Notice that the wine Jesus created from the water was not just any wine, but the really good wine. And not just a little, but a lot: perhaps 150 gallons! The wine that Jesus created was better than the wine the guests had been drinking before. John wanted us to see that the life Jesus offers is richer, deeper, and of a higher quality than the life we live apart from him. 
To find out more about the meaning of Jesus’ transformation of water into wine, and the point of the other miraculous signs recorded in John’s gospel, check out, John: The Gospel of Light and Life and read the Gospel of John this Lent!