Friday, November 28, 2008

Event Vs. Lifestyle...

I have been thinking lately about "events" in ministry. I think these thoughts are coming from my recent experience with the Boxes of Love outreach event. I also took note, as I drove through the neighborhood over the last few days, of all of the lines outside of various churches. This will continue through the month of December, at least until the 25th. This is not unique to my community. Every church and ministry during this season of the year does some type of compassionate outreach event to the poor or "less fortunate." Fast forward a few months, and during the Easter season you will see advertisements and fliers for outreach events and passion plays at various churches. The Easter holiday is another season during which "events" are popular.

Now my intent in writing this post is not to say that we should scrap all events, or to take a shot at churches who are "big" on events. I think God uses events. Plenty of brothers and sisters in the Lord can testify that God made the move on them at an event - either drawing them to Himself for the first time or strengthening their faltering faith during a tough period.

However, if we are not careful ministry events can become a crutch that we lean on in order to avoid more relational, ongoing types of service and ministry. Seasonal outreach events can become the only time that we "participate in ministry." I think they become crutches because they are more comfortable for us. Let me explain what I mean...

It is relatively comfortable to serve a dinner to the "less fortunate" in your community. It is a bit more uncomfortable and stretching to actually build a relationship with one of the men or women or families that shows up at the event. What if God actually asked us to invite this man or woman or family over for dinner in "our" home? What if instead of serving a meal at a church or community center we invited those whom we served to our family get-together? And what if this relationship lasted way beyond a holiday meal? What if we actually began to "do life" together? What if we learned that we have much to learn from those with less materially? What if we learned that our faith isn't as strong as we thought? What if those whom we "reach out" to begin to discover that we have issues too? What if Christ was then shared out of an authentic, reciprocal, relationship?

It is relatively comfortable to invite neighbors, co-workers, family members, and even people on a busy street corner to an Easter event at our churches. It is a bit more stretching to develop a lifestyle of intentionality with those whom we invited as we pray for, build with, grieve with, and rejoice with those same people. If they receive Christ, will we rally around them as a family of believers to disciple them individually and as a community? Will we be transparent, and vulnerable, and authentic, and sacrificial with them? And if they don't receive Christ will we still surround them with love even if they never receive Him (as I believe God would have us to do)? Or will we quickly move on to find "another ministry project?"

Events, if we are not careful, will keep us at arm's length from people and keep people at arm's length from us. Events also sometimes foster a perspective in which we view people as "objects of ministry" rather than "fellow subjects of the Kingdom or as those created in the image of God." (Shout out to Joel Hamernick for that quote Maybe we should emphasize events less, but rather emphasize the relationship building that could and should happen following all ministry events.

As we move towards this type of missional, Christ-exalting lifestyle, regardless of our context, it gets messy. It gets hard. It gets uncomfortable. I think though that as we look at Christ in the gospels, as we look at the early church in the book of Acts, and as we examine the charge of the prophets in the OT, this is the type of lifestyle they point us towards. As we push towards this, we will ever be in need of God's grace and we will ever be reminded of the interdependence of the body of Christ.

In my next post I will highlight churches in various contexts who I believe by God's grace are moving towards this type of Kingdom lifestyle...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Below is a prayer written by Michael Easley from his prayer book entitled "Interludes." It really resonated with me this morning as we head into Thanksgiving.


Great Provider and only Creator,

Help us every day to know that You
Gave to us in our sleep
Renewed our weary frames in the night
Presented us with a new start - every morning

Help us every day to remember You
Provide a roof
Supply us with nourishment
Protect us with clothing
All of which - to our shame - we take for granted

Remind us when we forget that You
Heal us when we are sick
Nourish us when we (greedily) consume
Supply us when we freely spend
Use us - even though we sin - for Your glory

Forgive us every day when we
Hurry into busyness
Disregard appointments with You
Rush past You with self-importance
Think our lives are more important than You
Help us have a constant awareness
That Jesus has covered all our sins
That as unlovely as we may feel, Jesus loves us
That forgiveness cost immeasurably
That our lives can be more about Jesus and less about us
That our lives can be ongoing "Thank You" for
Your grace, righteousness, mercy, and love.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Boxes of Love

Pete and I arrived at the Agape Center just after 8 on Saturday morning. (The Agape Center is the Chicago site of Here's Life Inner City, the urban ministry arm of Campus Crusade for Christ.) Vince had beaten us there and was ready to begin loading trucks. The Agape Center was ready to distribute over 2,100 Boxes of Love, which would then be distributed to 2,100 households through Chicago and the south suburbs. The gym was packed with volunteers from various churches in an assembly line formation. Some packed turkeys, some folded boxes, some loaded stuffing and vegetables, some put a Bible in every box, and finally some put the finishing touch on by sealing the box with packing tape. In one of the classrooms evangelism training was offered and volunteers rotated from the training to the packing line. Outside roughly 15-30 men worked together loading various amounts of boxes into church vans, moving trucks, vans, cars, etc. As I surveyed the men loading trucks, and also the over one hundred volunteers working inside the gym I was reminded how beautiful it is when the body of Christ works together. There were men and women, young and old, Black and white, urban and suburban, some who voted for Obama and some who voted for McCain. There were Baptist churches, Lutheran churches, Pentecostal churches, Bible churches, Independent churches, Storefront churches, and Para-churches. Everyone was working together. Everyone was serving one another. We all were collectively preparing to go out and BE the church.

Pete, Vince, and I loaded vehicles from roughly 8 to 12. We then took a short lunch break at our respective homes (I enjoyed a Deliano's frozen pizza - always good!), before regrouping at Sunshine to prepare to make home visits and drop off the boxes. We spent some time in prayer, discussed our plan of delivery, and then headed out. At each home we determined whether to send 2 or 3 of us in depending on how well we knew the family. By the end of the day we had made 11 stops. At some stops we walked through the gospel with them, in others we discovered that they were believers and asked for how we could better encourage them. We shared, we listened we prayed. After each stop we debriefed the visit thinking through questions we could have asked, ways to follow up, etc. This conversation has continued today. Although no one necessarily prayed to receive Christ, I am confident that seeds were planted, and that families were encouraged.

I know the 3 of us were blessed through the experience. Many shared that the timing of our visit was truly a blessing. One mother shared how God had delivered her from an addiction to crack, another how God was giving her strength to raise her niece (young enough to be her granddaughter) who is now living with her due to difficult family situations. Several shared that they would definitely be interested in an adult Bible study at the center. Please pray for 2 mothers in particular who after hearing the message of the gospel shared that they just weren't ready.

At the end of the day we were all tired, but it was a good tired. It was a great way to spend a Saturday. It was a meaningful experience to share with 2 of my closest brothers in the Lord.

We have 9 more boxes to deliver between now and Thursday. Please pray for these remaining home visits, and for the follow up conversations that will be had as the result of our initial visits.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities, Two Elections, Two Churches, One Lord

In the fall of 2000, I was living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Technically, I lived in Wyoming, Michigan just off of 44th St. This area has many churches, Christian bookstores, Christian publishers, and Christian colleges. Grand Rapids is definitely a white evangelical hub (though the city as a whole continues to grow racially and culturally diverse.) The area of the city that I lived in was predominately white. As the presidential election drew near that fall, there was definitely an excitement in the air. People were excited for a new candidate. Christians were engaged in the political process. They encouraged and exhorted one another to get out to vote. Their candidate was elected that fall. Although I can't remember hearing it that fall, there was definitely a sense of "we won" after the election. It was even stated that God had given "us" the victory in the election.

Fast forward the tape...

It is the fall of 2008. I live in Chicago, Illinois. I live on the south side of the city in a neighborhood called Woodlawn. The south side is saturated with churches (Woodlawn is no exception). Chicago as a whole is very racially and culturally diverse, however where I live it is predominately African-American. As the presidential election drew near this fall, there was definitely an excitement in the air. People were excited for a new candidate. Christians were engaged in the political process. They encouraged and exhorted one another to get out to vote. Their candidate was elected. The day after the election, people were excited and there was a sense that "we won" the election. It has even been stated that God has given "us" the victory in the election.

Although I don't know this for fact, but I am willing to bet that the people in Woodlawn were not all that thrilled with the 2000 election result. Again, althougth I don't know this for fact, but I am willing to bet that the people of Wyoming (MI) were not all that thrilled with the 2008 election result. I am even willing to bet that this past Sunday morning, the churches in Wyoming mentioned that God is sovereign over elections, while the churches in Woodlawn celebrated the election.

The body of Christ is racially, culturally, and even politically diverse. However, the most disturbing thing to me during election season is our lack of humility and grace with one another regarding our diverse political perspectives. We stay in either our "red" or "blue" huddles and only interact with the "other side" through nasty email forwards or self-righteous blog comments. It is great that we are passionate about issues. We should be. However, I just wish we made more of an effort to understand one another. We could actually learn from one another and even sharpen one another.

I get the sense that we are as divided as ever as a church - racially, politically, etc. Maybe I am wrong (I hope I am). I am praying for grace, humility, and a desire to learn from one another. Let's hang out. Let's build with one another. Our testimony to a watching world is at stake.