cancelling church

it's been snowing like crazy here in the pacific northwest. we don't usually get this sort of snow in the GREATer Seattle area [i'm an hour north, so barely the Seattle area]. we have probably seen a legitimate foot of snow in the last week, and that is rare.

it snowed last Saturday and less than half of our regular attenders showed up for church. anyway...i grew up in the midwest [nebraska], so a little snow is no big deal. when it snows in the midwest the plows come through and life goes on. here, everything shuts down, including church-going.

tomorrow is Sunday. after a week of snow, it is again snowing outside right now. it's supposed to be another big storm. we're NOT cancelling church. some churches are. will anyone be at church? i'm not optimistic.

Hebrews says, "don't give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing?" snow is one thing, but we experience regular attenders who define "regular" as once a month or less. seriously? once a month is "regular?" once a month is good enough? why are people "giving up meeting together?" why has church become just another thing to do? especially for Christians. i can understand why the rest of the world would look at us and say, "what a waste of time." [reference Marva Dawn's book, Worship: A Royal Waste of Time].

could it be that it actually pleases God when we show up? could it be
that God actually blesses those who show up to give him praise?
i can already hear the arguments and counter-points...

am i off base? is it right to suggest or believe that God blesses
those who show up to worship?


"put the Christ in X-Mas"

well....you can guess that this post is about making "Jesus the reason for the season."
it's about "putting the Christ back in Christmas"
it's about "advent conspiracies"
it's about the "war on Christmas"

honestly...what is Christmas about?  what do you tell people?  is it about Jesus being born?  is it about presents and trees and lights and Santa?  is it about family and friends?  what is Christmas?  honestly.

i recently thought about my own family's traditions.  my family is openly and unashamedly Christian.  we go to church regularly and talk about faith with one another.  however, in practice, our Christmas celebration is more about family than it is about Jesus.  it is an excuse to eat food, play cards, and exchange gifts.  yes, Jesus is important; after all, we're Christians, but our practice says otherwise.  

is family more important than Jesus for most church-goers?  look at our practices, our language, our church programs, our church attendance.  is it about Christian community; the body of Christ; growth; discipleship; evangelism?  or, has church become another agency or educational institution for the betterment of the American family?  

i reflected on the end of Mark 3 recently and was shocked.  Jesus' family thought he was crazy.  they thought he was "out of this mind."  others thought he was possessed.  what does Jesus say to this?  "who are my mother and my brothers?  those who do the will of God are my family."  blunt.  to the point.  my brothers and sisters in Christ take precedent over my blood relatives.  [check out Derek Webb's song "King and a Kingdom" for some great lyrics on this issue]

what is Christmas about?  why do we spend it with family?  why don't we celebrate with our bros and sis in Christ?  maybe you do.  that's awesome!  why don't more churches have worship on Christmas day?  i remember two or three years ago when churches actually closed doors on Sunday, Dec 25.  wow.  seriously?  has blood trumped our unity in Christ?

so.  honestly.  what is Christmas about for you?  how do you practice Christmas?


This American Life: "heretics"

i just stumbled upon a program called "this American life."
it is a weekly show offered by Chicago Pubic Radio and available via Podcast.
this past week [my first listen] there was a story of a prominent Pentecostal Pastor named Carlton Pearson who was recently booted from his high position in conservative Christianity and deemed a heretic....


another pastoral scandal. Pearson recently discovered he does not believe in hell. he explains that God came to him on a trip overseas and told him that hell as he preached it does not exist. there is no fiery place "down there" where bad people go when they die. you have to listen to the program.

from this epiphany of sorts, his stance on evangelism has changed drastically, to say the least. he was ousted from his place of prominence, lost his church, his support, and finds himself black-balled by the Christian elite of America. because he doesn't believe in hell, he is shunned...shun on.

what do we do about this? what, after all, does Christ say about Hell? there are numerous references in Scripture about Hell, or the place for the wicked. observations. in speaking about the reality of Hell, Jesus is usually talking to "religious folk" and not unbelievers. he does not use Hell as a scare tactic or tool for manipulation. Jesus doesn't scare people out of hell. instead, he talks to you and me. he tells us know-it-all religious folk to watch out. also, Jesus tells story about being invited into the Kingdom banquet based on readiness. what is readiness? did you feed me when i was hungry[matt 25]? did you pay attention to the begger at your gate [Lazarus and the rich man]? did you obey my commands? did you love your enemies? etc.

what makes a heretic? someone who claims to follow Christ, yet fails to obey his teachings and tell others about him. telling others about Christ is about inviting them into the Kingdom. it is more about inviting than it is warning. to be sure, Christ offers warnings. Christ says to be prepared. be ready.

i'm interested in your opinions:
1) is it our job primarily to warn about hell, or invite into the Kingdom? is there a difference?
2) if Hell doesn't exist, what changes about how we present/live the Christian faith?
3) is Pearson a heretic? what makes a heretic?


youth ministry 3.0

i am a youth pastor, so i figure i should say something or share some thoughts about what i do...finished reading the book Youth Ministry 3.0 by Mark Oestreicher.

the premise...youth ministry is making a shift [needs to make a shift] with the shifting cultural trends of youth.  the 3 dynamics of adolescence are identity, autonomy, and affinity.  whereas youth ministry in the past focused on identity [who we are as Christians in relation to the rest of culture] and autonomy [language of owning their faith emerges] today's youth are particularly interested in affinity.

what is affinity?  commonality.  like-interests.  attraction.
what does this mean for youth ministry?  the book suggests we must look toward being Missional and Communional [yes, it's made up...community and fellowship centered].  we must break down program-driven, big-event-focused ministry in favor of smaller groups that engage in common activities.  if there are kids that like to serve, get them together to serve.  kids that are skaters, get together and skate.  

i hope that summary is fair [if not, oh well, that's what i got!].  i enjoyed and found thought provoking.  some questions emerged for me:

1) isn't the Church, the body of Christ, the one place where people who have no business gathering should gather because of one affinity:  common faith in Christ and unity in the Spirit?

2) there is a push in the book to lessening the focus on program - right on!  however, isn't encouraging "affinity groups" to go out and do their own thing just another program that further sub-divides the body of Christ?  we're not just dividing young/old, traditional/contemporary, now we're talking about dividing the youth into skater/prep, service-oriented/Bible study,  etc.

3) finally, is this just another shot at defining "youth culture's" needs?  i greatly appreciate the work done in this book and the conversation it begs [and is getting].  as a somewhat cynical youth pastor, whenever i pick up material about youth and the changing face of youth culture, i say, "really?  let's ask them."  

after reading these works, i usually go straight to the source, the students themselves, and say, "is this true for you and your peers?"  i'm excited to see what they think!

if you're in youth ministry or support those who are, check out this book!


way of the pilgrim

just finished reading the way of the pilgrim, the classic story of a Russian nomad who discovers the "Jesus Prayer."

the prayer involves repeating the words, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" while focusing on one's breathing. 

not so difficult, right?  not so life-changing or mind-altering, right?

why does the pilgrim discover this prayer?  he is on a search for an answer to the question, "how is it possible for one to pray without ceasing?  Paul talks about praying endlessly, so how is it possible?  the Jesus Prayer is the pilgrim's answer...

is it possible?  would praying this prayer really have the power it has over the pilgrim?

i have tried to practice this prayer myself as a way of centering my thoughts before reading Scripture, and it has proved worthy.  it helps calm one's thoughts and focus not on personal needs or wants, but on Christ and our need for mercy.

what do you do to pray?  have you found a way to pray without ceasing?  are you like me and you just need to find a way to pray, period?

what's the magic formula people?!!

certainly this is going in the wrong direction...