Monday, February 25, 2013

A Sacred Calling

“69% of the country believes that a bad day at the beach is better than a good day at work.”–Gallup poll

            I think this is sad. When an ancient Jew heard the word we translate “work” read from the Old Testament, the concept it brought to mind was not simply engaging in some type of compartmentalized labor. Rather he thought of work and worship. The notion was service (sacrifice) to God as offered through work. Six days a week in ancient Israel, the Israelites were to offer to God their work.
            The other side of the coin was the Sabbath. On the seventh day, the Jew was to rest. But rest here was not simply a cessation from labor. Rather, it was understood to be, again, a service to God. This rest was an offering to God—worship. The byproduct was re-newal and re-creation.
            The biblical understanding was never that a person would work until he or she reached the point of retirement, and then that person would be able to finally begin doing what he enjoyed. Instead, the biblical ideal was to work until death. The good life was to find work in something about which one was passionate. That person would work six days, and rest one. Both acts were offerings to God.
            And if a Jew was not passionate about her work? She could find consolation in the fact that she was offering a sacrifice to God through her work. Work was truly a sacred calling.

Monday, February 18, 2013

How You Can Impact an Overchurched Culture—Pt. 2

          Elaborating on last week's theme, I want to emphasize that one of the most effective ways of reaching an overchurched culture is by serving the poor. I write this for two main reasons:
  1. Overchurched (and in some cases, unchurched) people identify this ministry with Jesus—and rightfully so. The Gospel of Luke is a gospel highlighting Jesus’ ministry to the poor. In Matthew 25, Jesus makes serving the poor a salvation issue.
  2. When we live by Jesus’ ministry, it authenticates our message. In survey after survey, numerous young adults who have left churches–obvious examples of the overchurched–have stated that they place a high priority on helping the poor. They have revealed that churches that attract their attention in a positive way are those who demonstrate a clear commitment to fulfilling Jesus’ mission of serving the poor.
            The North Main church of Christ in Winters, Texas made a huge impact on their community of overchurched people because of their commitment to serving the poor. When we lived there, people who were “hard on their luck” would occasionally pass through town needing help. After 5 PM and on holidays, some of these people would stop by our house. They had been sent to us by local establishments such as Dairy Queen–all having received a variation of the same message: "If you need help, go see the Church of Christ. They help people."
            I must confess; there were times I was not wildly excited to have my holiday “interrupted.” Having said that, I realized at the time that it was a whole lot better being known as the church who helped people rather than being known as “the church whose members think they are the only ones going to heaven.”
            The servant hearts of those North Main members changed outsiders’ perception of the congregation. (Incidentally, let me emphasize, those Christians were already serving in that way before I moved there. I had nothing to do with forming their faith.)
            Writing this, I think about several of the Christians of Shiloh I have observed over the last few years. A number of them have spent much time ministering to the poor in ways such as partnering with Christians of other churches to feed the homeless of Tyler, working with other Christians in serving the “working poor” at a downtown location, serving people in the fields of health care by offering help as dentists, nurses, and doctors. I have seen Christians become foster parents and adopt children. All of these actions are like deposits accumulating in the “good-will bank accounts” located in the hearts of the overchurched.
            Now, let me emphasize, we need to watch out for the temptation of downplaying opportunities to share our faith. The world is full of organizations that began as beacons of light seeking to serve people and call them to Jesus… only to devolve into do-gooder organizations indistinguishable from secular charities.
            The world is filled with materially affluent people who are spiritually impoverished. We should never be satisfied simply because we helped a person climb out of physical poverty and ascend a materialistic ladder. Rather, our prayer should be that all of these cups of cold water open the doors to many human hearts, so that these might receive the ultimate supplier of human needs: Jesus.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How You Can Impact an Overchurched Culture

            I have shared how I see myself engaging an overchurched culture. What about you? I think there are ways you can do so effectively.
            If you are not on a church staff, you have an advantage over those who are: for instance, those of you who have jobs outside of the congregation have special opportunities to penetrate the overchurched culture’s protective shell.
            To illustrate, let me take you back to the North Main Church of Christ in Winters, Texas–where I preached for seven years. I never saw a congregation where such a high percentage of members sought to take the presence of Jesus to the workplace. One example was found in the field of teaching.
            Teachers would minister to their students who lived in dysfunctional families and in poverty. Indeed, North Main’s greatest ministerial legacy arose out of a teacher’s ministry to three children from the same family, who did not have enough to eat.
            I remember one mother of children who occasionally attended our church. One weekend, she overdosed on drugs. She was hospitalized in Abilene–40 minutes away. I visited her there and found with her a junior high teacher who was a member of our church. The teacher had stayed the night with that frightened and very sick mother.
            Winters was an overchurched community at that time, but let me tell you–it was ministry of members like the teacher, which lent authenticity to their name–Christian.
            Had you asked someone in the community about the congregation during that time, you might have received a response like this, “I am not certain about all that they believe, but they sure love people.”
            To summarize, here’s what you can do:
·      show Christ at work
·      serve people at work
·      search for opportunities to serve people who are in the extended families of those you impact through your work
This will lend authenticity to your message.
            Many people who are overchurched have left their churches because they were disillusioned with people who were in their churches. Observing somebody live a life of Christ-like service often destroys that disillusionment. This in turn will go a long way toward demolishing the hardness of their hearts.