“Why does our community need a congregation like ours?”

Each congregation of Jesus-followers in a community should, on a regular basis, be asking the question, “Why does our community need a congregation like ours?” By asking this question on a regular basis, the congregation continues to seek to have its finger on the heartbeat and condition of the community. This will then help guide the refining of how the mission is carried out.

For example, about two years ago, First Baptist began something called, “Wheels of Hope.” It was discovered that individuals live in this community for whom transportation is an obstacle for getting ahead. Precious, and in short supply, money was being spent on transportation costs, such as a taxi or bus fare, that really needed to be spent on food, shelter, and other basic needs.

So, because we wanted to share the reality of God’s love and goodness, we began to use our van and personal vehicles to assist people who are in poverty situations with overcoming the obstacle of transportation. From this, we have provided transportation to clients of organizations like Early Head Start and the YWCA. We have provided transportation to places like the grocery store, job interviews, work shifts, organizational events, medical appointments, and GED classes. (We have helped four ladies successfully complete their GED by providing transportation to and from class.) If there is another group in this community, be it another congregation or otherwise, who is providing this type of thing for the reasons we have done so to those who too often fall through the cracks, I am unaware of it.

There is even a potential opportunity for us to use the van to help elementary students, whose parents are unable to do so, get to summer school this summer.

Through all of this, I believe this congregation, at least for now, has discovered why this community needs a congregation like this one. And from this, additional opportunities to share about God’s love and goodness and presented themselves.

All because of asking the question, “Why does this community need a congregation like ours?” and then the Holy Spirit saying, “Well, let me share with you some things.”

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A simple truth that must be applied to all of life

Planting season for 2016 concluded here in Iowa recently. Corn and soybeans are the two staples farmers in this area plant – and plenty of it. In this county alone, over 400,000 acres are farmed. In 2015, approximately 41 million bushels of corn were harvested and approximately 11 million bushels of soybeans were harvested.

Suppose a farmer bought all soybean seed because s/he found that it was cheaper than corn seed, but because corn was more profitable to harvest, expected to harvest corn in the fall. How might you respond to that farmer’s confusion when every field produced soybeans and not corn? You’d call that farmer crazy. If one plants soybeans, one will harvest soybeans.

And yet this very simple truth is not often applied to other areas of life. This truth is called the “reaping what you sow” truth.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the believers in the region of Galatia says it this way: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a person sows, this also will s/he reap. Because the one who sows unto his/her own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows unto the Spirit will reap from the Spirit eternal life.”

When followers of Jesus sow things other than love (i.e., judgment, condemnation, discord, harshness, misery, etc.), should they be surprised that that is exactly what they reap? Yet there are so many times when they are shocked by what they are reaping. And just like with that farmer, those followers of Jesus should be called crazy. They have no reason to be confused. They are reaping what they are sowing. They should not be surprised when they are presented with thistles and thorns to reap because that’s exactly what they have sown in the first place.

If followers of Jesus want to reap love from people and situations, they must first sow the seeds of love. If followers want to reap respect from people, they must first sow the seeds of respect in that “field.”

This truth is true and applicable to all situations and people. If one desires to have a certain outcome (harvest), then one must first plant that type of seed into person or situation (field).

This is the very truth upon which God acted. The Apostle John tells us that “we love God because He first loved us.” God wanted to reap love from us. Therefore, because He is the origin of the truth of “reap what you sow,” He first sowed love into us so that love back may be harvested.

It is imperative that this truth be applied to all aspects of life in how we relate to others and situations. We must first sow the right seed.

Consider today what type of seed you are planting in whatever “field” you find yourself.

Is making decisions based on morality the way we want to go?

This morning, I happened upon an article which touted the release of a revised study concerning moral education for congregations titled, “Standing at the Crossroads: a Study of Christian Moral Decision-Making.”

Now, what I’m about to say is not based upon actual content from this study because I have not viewed it. It is based upon my initial reaction to the title, specifically “Christian Moral Decision-Making.” And maybe the series addresses what I’m about to share, but I’m only going to share my thoughts about what comes to my mind when I read the title.

When I read “Christian Moral Decision-Making,” there is one very important Biblical, heart-of-the-gospel, heart-of-God word that I don’t automatically connect with it. That word is love. What I do connect with it is the behavior, approach, and attitude of the Pharisees whose only concern was for morality and maintaining a moral code.

The Pharisees were not concerned about love – only morality. And it was morality upon which they based practically all their decisions and actions. They didn’t care if it hurt others. They didn’t care if it was devoid of mercy. They didn’t care if it was totally empty of grace. All that mattered was adhering to morality and a moral code by and because of which they felt perfectly justified and righteous in doing and saying what they did.

In Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 9), Matthew recounts how Jesus, after calling Matthew to be one of the Twelve, had the audacity to be not only in the same house with tax collectors and other “sinners,” but to actually eat with them, meaning fellowshipping with them. In the eyes of the Pharisees and by the moral code based upon the Law given by God to which they adhered, this was an immoral act on Jesus’ part. It was sin! Jesus responds to them by quoting Hosea 6:6 to them when he says, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” There are things which trump morality.

I guess when I read “Christian Moral Decision-Making,” I see decisions made based on deeply held convictions having nothing to do with love. Deeply held convictions often justify, in people’s minds, acting in totally unloving ways. And because those deeply help convictions are based on things God has said, they have no problem connecting God’s name to an act totally devoid of true and real love. That is the ultimate taking God’s name in vain.

It is quite common today that when a news story comes out about a Christian making a certain type of decision that the reason given for the decision and action is a deeply held religious conviction based upon morality. And for that person to do differently would be sin in their mind, because of their deeply held moral conviction and adherence to a moral code. Just like the Pharisees did, which also caused them to criticize and rebuke the Son of God.

Want to know what I don’t ever recall from these news stories as being the reason and motivation for the actions taken? Love. Mercy neither. All I hear is adherence to a moral code – morality – which I equate to “sacrifice.”

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13 that without love, everything else is nothing; it’s meaningless; it’s worthless, practically rubbish. If that’s the case, why not have the decision-making process be about love first and foremost and allow love to dictate from that point forward, instead of morality or a moral code.

What a concept. Who’d have “thunk” it? Oh yeah, God did.

The result when a congregation is “more in love with the past than with the future”

In his book, Lasting Impact: Seven Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, Carey Nieuwhof says that one of the reasons why a church isn’t growing is that the church is “more in love with the past than [it is] with the future.”

He says, “This can be true of churches that are in love with tradition and churches that have had some amazing days recently. When leaders are more in love with the past than they are with the future, the end is near. Many churches have frozen in their favorite era. Walk into some churches and it feels like 1949, 1970, 1996, or even 2005. Te songs are dated, as is the approach. It’s as if you’ve unearthed a time capsule. If your church is a museum of 1950 or even 2012, the likelihood of reaching the next generation diminishes with every passing day.”

He gives no further explanation as to why this is true, but I will. In outreach, anyone who connects with the congregation can only be part of the present and the future. It is impossible for them to be part of the past. When a congregation is more in love with its past than it is with its future, the message that is sent to and received by those new people connecting with the congregation is that they really aren’t all that important. The important people were those who were around during the era of the “glory days.”

What that communicates to the new people is this: “You’re wanted here, but don’t make or bring any suggestions that would have us do something different than what was done during those glory days.” People receive this message when they make suggestions to do things in a different way and are dismissed in some way.

And what is the typical result? Eventually, those new people go somewhere else where their ideas will be truly considered in helping determine future direction. And the congregation they left where their ideas were dismissed continues to get older and the numbers continue to decrease.

And that should not be surprising or mysterious whatsoever.

 

Lesson from a 2 year old and a puddle of water

It’s been raining pretty hard this morning, so they are puddles everywhere.

This morning, I observed a 2-year-old girl walking to her house. Her mom told her to watch for the puddles. Well, she did exactly that – she looked for each one of them so she could walk in and through each and every one!

What was going through her mind as she did this? I’m not exactly sure, but I bet the following are good possibilities:

  • This looks like fun!
  • I wonder what it feels like to walk through the puddle.

Words like curiosity, fascinating, fun, and wonder are all connected with the same activity – learning. And inside learning there is growth.

Paul writes in his letter to the believers in Ephesus, “But confessing the truth, we may in love grow up in all things in Him, who is the head, Christ.” (JHL) It is well known that there is growing and learning in the spiritual realm, just like there is growing and learning in the physical.

Here’s the first part of the lesson from this 2-year-old and that puddle of water – growth in the spiritual should also have words like curiosity, fascinating, fun, and wonder attached. But, often, that just isn’t the case. Spiritual growth often has the opposite words attached to it. And that just shouldn’t be the case.

Here’s the second part of the lesson – even though that child hasn’t realized it yet, her brain has the capacity for much greater learning. But she isn’t becoming something she isn’t already; she is just growing into the reality of who she truly already is as she learns and experiences different things. She is experiencing the joy of becoming who she was already created to be. It is the same in the spiritual realm. We have already been created in and through Christ to be the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). We have been given the nature of Christ as our one and only true nature (Galatians 2:19b-20). We now get to experience that through growing up in love in all things in Christ.

Let’s embrace that learning with curiosity, fascination, wonder, fun, and excitement, just like that 2-year-old girl did with those puddles.

Wouldn’t that put a whole different spin on spiritual growth?