The Season Of Giveaways

Good-Christmas-Gifts-For-Your-BoyfriendAs the holidays stretch around the corner, we often get the charity season revved up.  And this can cut many ways.

Prepare to be generous as charity workers come looking for support. Also: Look for ways that we can be Jesus to people, offering a drink, a meal, an extra coat, and more. Let’s be generous for the right reasons.

Often churches aim to leverage the holidays as an opportunity to draw people in if they give something out. It might be toys for Christmas, meals for Thanksgiving, clothes, shoes, backpacks at the beginning of school and many more ways to give things away in an attempt to win people to the faith. We end up mixing two aims into one—the aim to love and the aim to witness become seen as the goal to grow our church.

I was recently talking to the pastor of an inner-city church that our church, The Connection Church partners with on a regular basis to see both churches extend their reach and the mission of the Church with a capital C. We were talking about the plan to help them with a toy drive and giveaway over Christmas. The fact we are working toward a Christmas event that includes giving away toys should demonstrate that our perspective includes a value for giving and showing love.

Pastor Perades, a long-time veteran of serving in the inner-city of South Central LA, shared his straight talk with me. Let me pause to say, I appreciate straight talk, especially when it comes to partnering. We cannot have true partnership if one side is holding back. This straight talk helped articulate the problem with mixing goals.

Pastor wanted me to be aware that we can give toys away, and they would be glad to receive them for a Christmas event. He said we can fulfill the mandate to love our neighbor in this way. As he talks to his people, we must have an attitude of generosity, to give as we have been given so much. In this, however, he wanted to caution me, and I believe more than only me as we look toward being the church, filled with compassion, mercy, generosity and love at Christmas. Why are we doing what we do? There are plenty of good, Biblical, and laudable reasons to participate in charitable activities at Christmas. Let’s just stay within these reasons and not hope that what we do will also turn into new salvations.

His caution came to limit our expectations. We can be a people that loves our neighbor or those less-advantaged. We can aim to bless others, but let’s not see this as an evangelistic opportunity. He went on and on to say he hasn’t seen these giveaways as evangelistically fruitful. He just hasn’t seen people come to Jesus because of a freebee. Maybe that happens, but more as a consequence of the church being the church, and the Holy Spirit doing his work.

Why?

In today’s society, He explained, people are sophisticated enough to find the giveaways and show up for the free stuff. People know how to get what they want and not stick around for more than that. People know how to see through the façade that the giveaway is the carrot at the end of the stick. They know how to go through the motions to come away with what they want. Pastor shared his conviction that he has not seen these acts of charity to double as an evangelistic tool. The savvy person sees easily through ulterior motives. It is sad to put it in these terms, as a person who wants everyone to know the love of God and finds it hard to see that as a negative. But we can be clear with love and don’t have to be sneaky about evangelism.

Yes, we should love, we should be generous to those less fortunate, we should give. If I could say it in my own words. Let us be loving and giving people with no strings attached.

Maybe this can be a good reminder as the season of giving comes. Let’s give not to feel good about who we are. Let’s give without an expectation that our giving will translate into new converts or new members into our church. Let’s give and give sacrificially simply to be an extension of God’s love to this broken and desperate world.

Have you seen this kind of giving? Where have you seen it done well?

Getting “Saved” Pt.2

In my last post, I began to talk about this thing called salvation and how we expect the good news of God’s saving grace to affect people. You can catch it here.

Here goes the next thoughts with a story to illustrate my question.

Why has the church or large portions of the Christian community in the Western world gone to a place of almost enticing people into salvation? It is as though we are saying, pretty, pretty please just accept this guy Jesus into your life. C’mon, it will make me happy, and maybe you too. Yeah, yeah, smile, ‘cause Jesus loves you.

He certainly does, and his love compels us to a new life. His love drove him to great lengths that he could take our old life, the sin, the darkness, the bitter misery, the blasted state of our being and exchanges that sorryness for joy, beauty, hope, newness, and far more than a few words could even say.  His love wants to reach into our soul and make it alive, make it sing like never before of the glorious things he will fill our life with.

Some talk about faith being a journey, both a journey to faith and a journey to growing in the Lord. I don’t see this as mutually exclusive with the distinct conversion experience.

I am all in on the journey analogy and finding milestones or markers along the way that draw us closer to God, but I also know there have been far too many examples of an instantaneous conversion moment like Zacchaes had. A moment that says, he got “saved”.

Why don’t we expect this anymore as we witness of Jesus’ goodness in our life. Why do we feel a need to make it almost wimpy. I remember a student in one of my Bible classes in Thailand asking if we bait and switch people when we take them from a decision to the story of the Cost of Discipleship. Do we tell them how wonderful this decision will be, so they will say yes, and then give them all the gory details later? Why not tell them how wonderful life with Jesus is and expect the depth of our conviction, joy and authenticity to pull them into a place of conversion. Why not expect the grace of God to be at work as it calls people to a place of repentance. Why not believe that people can be touched by God in a powerful way. Why not from our vantage point, decidedly hope for people to get “saved” from the old, dead self into a new, alive self.  I don’t know. Maybe our faith in what God can do for a person is too low, and we feel the need to help him out a little in this business of salvation.

I am not saying, we need to beat salvation over people’s heads. I am not saying we should move back to the Bible-thumping, fundamentalist days. What I am saying, we need to take a posture of confident expectation of what God can do in a person.

At the same time, we should still be keenly sensitive to where people are coming from, and work hard to insure the only offense people receive from us is the offense of the cross. It is not easy, mind you. I get that there is a delicate balance of how we communicate with care and believe with fervor for God to work in people’s lives.

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I recently read a short story that reinstilled this conviction in my heart. This story comes from the mid-point of the last century in a small, Dutch town. A young man who believed God had the missionary call on his life decided to make his workplace his mission. First, he needed a job, so this uneducated, son of a black-smith and veteran of an unpopular war to defend his nation’s interests in Indonesia started working at a chocolate factory. The environment of his workplace was as foul of a place to work with crude language, abusive co-workers (girls who treated him hostilely), and simply poor conditions. But this was his mission field. He was sure that God had him here for a reason.

This missionary in training, Andrew, connected with another Christian, a teenage girl working behind a booth in another part of the factory. Together, they began witnessing, starting prayer meetings and taking people to evangelistic meetings.

The workplace did not change immediately though. One girl, Amy, blind and working the conveyor belt with Braille, routinely made mistakes. Her  situation was such an invitation to mocking to the point where the ringleader of these nasty girls who worked the factory floor, Gretchen, laid into Amy for dropping her materials. She picked on her ruthlessly and routinely.

At this point, Andrew, a shy Christian trying not to receive the brunt of the cut downs piped up felt the voice of God prompting him to speak. But he was not sure he should say what he heard, yet he did.

He spoke up with boldness saying, “Shut up!”, and I mean shut up for good. Stop putting everyone down. Stop being so cruel to everyone.  And not only that. I want you to go with us to our meeting Saturday. The bus leaves at 9 am; be there. I want you to  be there with us. And she listened. She showed up for the bus to the meeting.

She went along with the Christians, less than excited, but she was there. After sitting through the meeting nonplussed and partially checked out, they returned to the factory where the bus let them off. Now, everyone would go their separate directions. However, Andrew wanted an opportunity to follow up with Gretchen in the moment.

A thought came to him. He invited Gretchen to go home with him on his bicycle. He could easily take her on his way. She hesitated but acquiesced after some gentle urging. On their ride, he thought he might give her the final push into salvation, but again he heard that voice prompt to do something, something that again seemed like nonsense. However, he began to know this voice was the Lord’s and he should listen and follow what He says.

He felt urged to say nothing, nothing about the gospel of Jesus, but only to talk about the scenery. He did, and they enjoyed small talk on the way home.

The next morning at the factory, Andrew’s Christian friend asked him what he said to Gretchen on the way home. He said, nothing… why, nothing at all?

Then he looked across the warehouse floor to see Gretchen beaming with joy, and even helping Amy pick something up off the floor. He went to investigate and ask Gretchen what gives.

Gretchen explained how the previous day went in her mind and her apprehension to get a ride home from him. She feared that Andrew would push the Bible on her. She had her walls up, her barriers, but he simply showed care and consideration for her. She began to think about the whole day and the joy that exuded from the people at the meeting, the testimonies, the story of Jesus. She reflected and thought what if God is real. What if she was wrong. She prayed to God and thought if he is real, he could come and give her that joy too.

She explained how God came and flooded her heart and changed her bitterness for goodness, and complaining for mercy and kindness. God came into her life and completely transformed her from one night to the next day. Not to say the sanctification process was complete, but the conversion was sudden and distinct.

I read this story in God’s Smuggler, the story of Brother Andrew who smuggled millions of Bibles behind the communist’s Iron curtain. His story was incredible, but this story of a girl in the factory caught my attention. She got “saved”. And I thought, why don’t we expect the good news to do this in people today? What changed in our approach, our posture before God, our desire to see people changed?

There is not an easy answer, but it makes me think. Does it make you think?

Getting “Saved”

light

I know we don’t use this word much in evangelistic conversations anymore, and I understand why it slipped out of our vernacular.

I don’t want to talk about this word in any of the ways it might be confusing to a non-Christian or a pre-Christian. I want to talk about this word in the very Christianese way we once knew it.

This word carried such strong connotation within the church when we talked about conversion, and I mean true conversion. I can’t fully convey the weight of meaning in “saved” through writing. One needs to think of a stereotypical evangelist who would give the term the necessary emphasis and oomph when using it to communicate a complete salvation and serious amount of sanctification in seemingly a moment of time.

I would hear the word and know that someone had been utterly transformed. The reality of conversion had taken place. Now a sinner had been turned into a saint, a person stepped out of darkness into the marvelous light, ashes were turned into beauty…a true and deep change had taken place. .

Well, it is not always that drastic that a person seemingly at odds with God and goodness steps out of a life of brokenness and despair into a life filled with joy and marked by gentleness, peace and mercy. The salvation process looks as different as each person is uniquely distinct.

Sometimes this process takes time, a long time; other times this conversion process happens more immediately, suddenly and even supernaturally. Well, to be honest the supernatural always plays a role in the change from darkness to light—a bigger role than we often expect or contend for.

Talking about people getting “saved” like we did in Pentecostal passion seems to be more nostalgic in my mind rather than normative today.

As I reflect on this distinction of conversion, I have found that we don’t talk about things like a sinner to a saint or calling people from darkness to light very often anymore. We almost soft peddle this thing called the gospel as though we might talk someone into accepting the good news into their already good life to make it more good. As we aim not to offend people we also try to cover up the offense of the cross too. We keep everyone happy as we keep hoping they will continue to go deeper with God…at some point down the line.

What? Is this the story we read in scripture? Is this what we saw happen again and again as missional movements swept through history and context. I think of the Awakening, the Great Awakenings that spawned from John Wesley’s preaching that called people to an encounter with a Holy God. This awakening that marked the revival came as he wrote in his journal again and again of a visible change in countenance when people came to faith.  One might say they were saved from death to life.

I love how Tim Keller talks about Jesus’ mission. He says, ‘Jesus did not come to make bad people good but dead people alive’.

But somehow, we have gotten to a place of almost being ashamed of the gospel. We allow people to secretly accept Jesus into his life. We let them wave a hand in the air or maybe even simply glance at the speaker to acknowledge their desire to be in the club, socially speaking. How does that line up with Jesus’exhortation to acknowledge him among men and he will acknowledge us before his father? Are we hoping that later, a little further down the road, these new believers will muster up the courage to openly profess their faith? I don’t know why things have denigrated to such a sad state of hope by the proclaimers of so called good news. But I would like to see a return to a belief that the gospel holds sway over people, powerful sway that changes them from the inside out. And that this gospel could suddenly and dynamically alter a person, many persons to the point this Good News shifts the culture around us.

This post has quickly bubbled into quite a big thought on this topic. The story I planned to share will have to wait until part 2.

Do you find this issue resonating with you? Why did we make this shift?

Late To The Party

I love to be the first one in line, even if it means cutting. I love to know new information before anyone else, maybe because I caught it on Twitter, or maybe because I am higher up on the gossip chain. I love being in the know.

I love new information. I love anything new, and I love being able to share that with others. I like to be ahead of the trends and not behind. I love to ride the wave and not miss it. But mostly, I just like to be a part of the party, whatever key party that is. I just like to be in more than out, a part more than left out, included and not excluded.

So it can be pretty hard to impress me with something new, or something that I did not already hear about elsewhere.

Now, knowing that, I don’t mind being fashionably late to a party, but this week, I feel like I have been super late to the party.

What party?

For the first time in my life, even though it always sounded like a good place to be, I found my way to the Foursquare Missions Press Banquet. Before going, I often thought it would be a nice place to network and eat good food. I love missions and am open to anything mission related. However, I seemingly never allowed the Press to rise to any priority on my radar.

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Why?

That is a good question, you ask me. Well, to not beat around the bush, I thought the Press was antiquated. Even as a missionary, I just did not see what the big deal was as I hadn’t seen it applicable to my situation. Furthermore, I saw the print medium as going the way of the buffalo. The idea was nice in a former time, but with newspapers going out of business, magazines closing down, and everything moving online, I simply figured this was nice but not essential any longer.

Boy, oh boy, was I ever wrong.

Watch this video, and you will see.

Innovation captured my heart immediately when I caught what the Press was up to. They are looking for new ways to utilize the print medium, working to get posters printed, books published and disseminated, training materials and gospel tracts available in formerly difficult places. The current levels of creativity at FMP are beyond my wildest imaginations.

This thing (FMP) birthed out of a retired man’s vision a generation ago and full of retired volunteers today has such creativity and cutting edge desires to help get the gospel into the hands of local people, I am blown away. This is something I can get behind. This is something I wish I had been behind for a long time. My question this last week has been a consistent and constant one. Why didn’t I know about this? Do others know, and if not, how do we get the word out.

My heart was gripped as statistics were shared, as milestones were celebrated and most of all salvations piled up in large part due to the faithful work of the Press. People are getting the word into their hands and finding God. This is more than incredible. This work is life changing.

And then there were stories, and stories. People are working hard to meet the urgent needs. The church in one nation is looking for ways to minister to the 1.5 million refugees that have shown up on their doorsteps the past couple of years because of the Islamic State. And the stories kept coming, the urgency could not be more clear, and the people at FMP couldn’t be more diligent and creative to meet the need they were called to meet.

When I heard another national leader from a closed country talk about how this will help them since the materials that get shipped to their island nation never make it farther than customs. Well, they might make it a little farther as they get dumped into the ocean never to be used much less seen by the vibrant church of that nation. What doesn’t get used? Tracts: In a nation where sharing the gospel is illegal and cause for the police to drag you into an interrogation or even an enhanced version of rendition with or without due process, a tract can be covertly passed from friend-to-friend. When people see these Christians living the gospel and exuding joy, they ask questions, and an inconspicuous tract passed from one hand to another allows opportunity to continue the dialogue after some reading has been done.

But evangelism is not the only call for printed materials. Leadership development often hinges on having resources to study. There is so much more benefit to seeing these materials passed around in a cost effective and safe way but I think enough has been said at this point.

If you have more questions, look up the site for the Missions Press. If you want to contribute, click here.

What captures your heart about innovation in mission?

Ready and Willing: A Church That Serves

serveI would like to be ready when called upon. Ready to serve that is.

I notice that we call the military the uniformed services; implying a strong sense of servant inside the colors of the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force.

Also: The police are known by a motto: To serve and protect.

Serving is valued and admired in many parts of our society. However, I wonder if it is valued by many as it should be in the church. Are we known by serving the way the military is. Do we get people coming up to us regularly saying, thank you for your service. Well, maybe that is taking the analogy too far. We don’t do it for public recognition.

But shouldn’t this same attitude of serving be emblematic of the church. Shouldn’t we be known by our love and not our divisions, Our charity and not our self-focusedness, compassion and not our protests, mercy and not condemnation, by our good deeds and not our holier than thou attitudes, our graciousness on  social media posts and not our complaining or divisiveness, by our serving and not our preaching? Shouldn’t this be what defines the people of God. I know it did define many of those in the “Hall of Faith”. God called David his servant, Moses his servant. Even Jesus said he came to serve and not to be served.

Now, I know the stereotypes are not true of every church just like codifying a generation as the Millennials likely poorly defines any one individual in that generation. And yes, there are many churches and good Christians who embody what it means to be Christ-like and serve their neighbor, their family and their community.

I am fortunate enough to be part of a church that has this as their ethos. #LoveServeConnect

The Connection Church in Lake Forest has worked hard to not only serve but earn a reputation of serving. When two years ago, we tried (before my time here, I was still in Thailand as a missionary) to get into city events to serve our city, we were told no. We tried repeatedly, but continued to get a closed door. Finally, we simply served by picking up trash after city events, quietly living out our value of serving or being Christians In Action (CIA).

Eventually, after doggedly working to serve the community God placed us in, the city called back. Another club could not fulfill their commitment, and the city event had become shorthanded.

The city told us we could serve under one condition. No preaching. This is a city event. And rightfully so, we would come alongside what the city was doing and serve the people of Lake Forest.

One event turned into another and another until we started getting a reputation with our bright orange Connection Church hats which pegged us as the church that cares for their city.

At a recent city council meeting where one of our staff pastors gave the invocation before the meeting, the Mayor stopped the meeting to tell the 100’s of people waiting to receive their prizes from the 4th-of-July parade that this pastor was from the Connection Church, the church that serves in all the city stuff.

Now, here is the kicker. Last weekend was the Autumn Harvest Festival. Yes, the event that happened to be the first event we tried to get into. We tried again last year, and again we were told no. The city had begun allowing us into some of the events, however, this one had plenty of volunteers from the different clubs at El Toro High School. But this year, things were different.

Scheduling conflict. Uh oh, and the city was scrambling. Why?

The Homecoming dance fell on the same night as the Harvest Festival, so the city was down some 40+ volunteers. With only a few days’ notice, they called us. They called us. I thought I should write that twice for effect.

Out of the clear blue, unsolicited, and without any notice, the city called us to ask for our help. When they were in a pinch, who did they turn to? They turned to the church. The church who has earned a reputation for serving. Isn’t that simply the coolest thing ever.

They called us, a church. Yes, a church and asked for help. These are the same people who used to tell us no for whatever reason. I tend to think  it was likely not trusting churches to be about serving anything but themselves now called on us, a church. Why, because they have grown to know we are about serving God in every way he asks us. Whether it is cleaning the parks, the waterways, being a part of events that we could be ambivalent about, or being a part of everything else they do. The city knows we care genuinely for the well-being of the city and not merely what gets us butts in the seats at our services or events. They know we are selfless and trustworthy.

They called, and we rallied our forces as best we could do last minute. Sure we wish we had more people available or could have done more, but what people wouldn’t want to always do more to serve the kingdom of God and the community in which they live.

All we could do is be ready and available for when the call came. We could simply be obedient servants of Christ to our world.

Sometimes God meets us at our point of obedience. And sometimes he doesn’t. We are simply to be obedient.

We might serve our heart out and say, what was the point. Often it is hard to quantify the point of serving. We just serve. We serve with the reality there is a balance that we do not run ragged or exhaust people in the process. We serve strategically and to our fullest capacity and not beyond.

All that to say, we served and saw some big wins:

  • We have gained great favor from our city. The future benefits cannot be imagined. God has opened a door for us that rarely gets opened to any church in any city.
  • We had people come to serve who saw a rough day turn into a good memory as they served their hearts out. They can see that the church and God are connected to them being a blessing to their city.
  • We connected with people in our community that we have lost relationship with. But because we were there, they saw us and reconnected relationally.
  • We allowed the city to keep their event open. At the end of the event, I talked with the city’s point person, their recreational specialist (a title I would love to obtain one day). I told her as our church’s point person, I apologize for not getting more people to turn out. Last minute, we just had a ton of scheduling conflicts with our people. She was more than gracious. What she said in reply warmed my heart more than words could say. She said, because we came, they could keep the activities open. Let that sink in a moment. They might have had to close down parts of their big harvest party that draws out tons of families from their normally isolated, individualistic  suburban rhythms. Children and parents might have walked away disappointed or worse.

But because a church had earned the reputation they had, the city could rely on the Connection Church to be there when needed. It takes a lot of work to earn a reputation, and sometimes when it feels like what is the point, God opens up an opportunity. It is our responsibility to step into the void and answer the call.

Let’s be people who embody the core value of Jesus found in Phil 2—a servant.

What are ways that you work to serve people?