Archive for July, 2007

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Christian Women’s Job Corps

July 30, 2007

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This an article that appeared in the Tennesseean, our local newspaper concerning a new outreach work housed at Madison. My wife Barb is among those working with Dawn Ferguson on the expansion of this program to Madison.

Christian corps offers women chance to be mentors to others


Women interested in volunteering as teachers, mentors or child-care providers in Madison have a new opportunity now that the Christian Women’s Job Corps is preparing to open a satellite facility there Sept. 10.

“We’re in the process of training right now,” says Dawn Ferguson, coordinator of the satellite that will hold classes at the Madison Church of Christ, 106 North Gallatin Road, while conducting business from an office in the First Baptist Church of Madison, 719 South Gallatin Road.

The corps has for 10 years offered hope and training for women through classes and mentoring, most recently at the former Rescue Mission building at 128 Eighth Ave. S. in downtown Nashville.

The nonprofit’s goal is to help women escape the cycle of poverty by gaining professional and personal skills.

More than 700 women and their families have benefited from the downtown Nashville program over the past decade, according to Ferguson. (Click here to read the rest of the article.)

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Irresistible Revolution

July 27, 2007

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“Don’t the Bible say we must love everybody?” “O, the Bible! To be sure, it says a great many things; but, then, nobody ever thinks of doing them.” Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncles Tom’s Cabin.

I am presently reading, “The Irresistible Revolution”, by Shane Claiborne. I had seen a number of reviews about the book, but was moved yesterday to buy it, and it has captivated me since I began reading. From his stories of working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, to his work with “The Simple Way”, in Philadelphia, I have been challenged to the very core of my being.

Some will consider him radical, and maybe that is the reason for the sub title of the book, “living as an ordinary radical”. But he is more like a gentle prophet who doesn’t pull any punches, but at the same time speaks with love and devotion. Shane attended Eastern College and one of his teachers was Tony Campolo. He said that Tony said, “Jesus never says to the poor, ‘Come find the church,’ but he says to those of us in the church, ‘Go into the world and find the poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned,’ Jesus in his disguises.” Shane took that lesson to heart. I personally have felt for a long time that our giving to a common treasury that uses a third part to meet the needs of the poor keeps them at arms length and robs us of many blessings. Shane says, “I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” P113.

The consequences of the way we show benevolence causes both the giver and the receiver to miss out on the blessings of the gift. “When the church becomes a place of brokerage rather than an organic community, she ceases to be alive. She ceases to be something we are, the living bride of Christ. The church becomes a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed. No radical new community is formed.” P159

If we were to compare what we as Christians spend on brick and mortar, something Jesus said nothing about, to what is spent meeting the needs of the poor, something Jesus talked about constantly, we would surly hang our heads in shame. Rob Bell said about Shane’s book, “Be warned, my friends: Shane is a poet, a friend, a brother – but underneath it all, he’s a prophet with a fire in his belly and a story to back it up. If you listen – or in this case, read – you will not be the same.”   

I did…and I won’t!

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What If I Really Decided To Follow HIM…

July 26, 2007

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“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Ok, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” Soren Kierdegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, ed. Charles Moore (Farmington, PA: Plough, 2002), 201

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More Thoughts On Change

July 25, 2007

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In my post from last week, “When Change Must Come…How?” I touched on three different ways we have been approaching the need to bring about change in the church. One, start over with like minded people in a completely new work. Two, multiple choice services (traditional, conservative, etc.) to please as many people as possible. And then finally, set the new direction, move ahead and let the chips fall where they may. All three types are represented here in the area where I live. In my estimation the most successful works, so far, have been the first and the third approaches.

But there is a common weight they all seem to be dragging along with them, and that is a large overhead expense. The vast majority of the funds that are generated by all of these works go to pay for creature comforts for the members in the form of a nice building. The existing groups perceived needs are at the fore front of each of these, and not so much the community they are trying to reach. What if works began with the perceived needs of others in mind? What if the major change we considered was doing what ever we do to reach those who do not know Jesus.

The life of Jesus was about serving others and meeting their needs. While it would require a new paradigm, some out of the box thinking, maybe that is the direction we should go. Some works begin and develop in the simplest ways. Jimmy Dorrell tells in an interview with the Whitenburg Door Magazine how the “Church under the Bridge” started. “This is one of those things that God birthed it for us. We went down to do a Bible study for five homeless men about 14 years ago, and we took them to breakfast and hung out with them and they asked us back, and five became seven and seven became 10 and all of a sudden a Baylor kid walked across the street to see what we were doing. We didn’t go down there to start a church, it just sort of emerged. And that’s been part of the joy of it. This was not some entrepreneurial effort, this was God’s gift to us. But it’s the church I’ve wanted to be a part of all my life. That insatiable desire inside to be a part of something valid. It happened, after years of prayer and waiting, and not something we manipulated.”

Find a need and fill it has been a motto for success in business for as long as I can remember. It has a spiritual application as well. Meeting perceived needs often leads to opportunities to meet spiritual needs. But most of the time we have offered to meet those needs only to those who were will to come to us. We invited them into our world. Many with real needs will never come into our world. They are too intimidated by our buildings, cars and nice clothes. Jesus never had that problem. He simply marched right into their world, and touched, fed, healed and embraced. The example of Jesus is a visible demonstration of the difference between Attractional and Incarnational Ministry. The challenge we all face is learning how, in practical ways to be incarnational. Could it be that if we were more incarnational in our approach to ministry we would find ourselves less dependent upon our buildings and more effective in reaching those in our communities who don’t know Him? Could it be they don’t know Him because they have never seen Him in action?

“…your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”, Matt. 5:16

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The Posture of the Church

July 24, 2007

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My tribe, as a whole, has maintained a defensive posture for as long as I can remember. Our mottos reflect that. We are “defenders of the faith”, we stand against the onslaughts of error taught and practiced in the religious world. The often quoted phrase, “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”, found in Jude 1:3, is most often interpreted as a directive to maintain a defensive posture against this perceived error. But this was not the posture of the early church. The words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”, are often interpreted to imply a defensive stand against the attack of Hell and Satan. But as Elton Trueblood said in “The Yoke of Christ”, (this phrase), “is a metaphor of offense, not defense.” We are not defending against the gates of Hell, we are marching in an assault against the gates of hell…and they can not stand against us! Boy, that is a powerful picture of the church on the march caring out it’s mission. Our marching orders in the Great commission are to “Go”, not dig in your heals and defend. While we defend, contend and debate the truth, the truth is not being preached to those who have never heard it.

The posture of a church can also determine its attitude and the image it has of it’s self. Much like a battered wife, who ducks at perceived blows, and cowers when verbally beaten down, we can have a tendency to become reactionary to any comment that is perceived as a challenge to what we believe. As a result we think more of how to respond to what is being said rather than understanding what is being said. When we think we are being pushed, the response is to push back, and then you are soon in a fight. I believe that the reason the first century church thrived, during acceptance and persecution alike, was its posture. It had a message of “Good News”. It not only had a message of salvation from punishment, it’s message was the answer to life’s struggles. It gave hope, not only for the future, but for the present.

I watched a special on the History Channel last night that explored hundreds of underground cities in Cappadocia (Modern Day Turkey) where Christians lived and worshiped in the first and second centuries. I learned that Christians not only met in the Catacombs of Rome, but also through out the areas where the Gospel was preached. When persecution started, they went underground by the thousands and continued to grow. It was amazing to see how that with hammer and chisel they carved out these large areas that could hold hundreds of people along with their animals. Some were even two and three stories deep. It was simply amazing.

There focus was to spread the Good News, not just defend it. The urgency and importance of the message determined the means to which they were willing go to tell it. Persecution actually fueled the spread of Christianity. Today, not only my tribe, but most churches today have taken this same defensive posture against the world. It is US against THEM. We fight to be accepted and tolerated. We lash out at the media and other groups that put Christian down. All of this results in turning out focus from our mission offensive, to tell the Good News, and causes us to develop a defensive posture from which we make a stand.

What if we, like those first Christians, we just focused on sharing the Good News of Jesus. What if when persecuted, we smiled and continued to share the Good News. What if we would not allow ourselves to become side tracked with hurts feelings and negative thoughts about THEM, and we just continued to preach the message about HIM.

Can I get an AMEN?

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When Change Must Come…How?

July 20, 2007

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I had coffee with a friend today and we were discussing what is happening within our tribe right now. As we talked I was reminded of a comment left in response to my recent blog, “Ears To Hear” by Matthew Dabbs. Matthew said , “I think things are getting better and worse all at once.” I think I have to agree. On the one hand I am encouraged by the contemporary missional direction of many churches away from legalism and inherited beliefs. Freedom brought by a deeper understanding of grace and Gods acceptance of us in our walk with Him is such a positive result happening in many of our churches today. At the same time there are those so steeped in legalism that they have become reactionary. They fear and equate any kind of change with error and apostasy, and fight it with scathing rebukes that cause one to wonder if the Spirit of Christ lives within them at all.Churches have approached the need to change in at least two different ways. Some have started over from scratch. They decided that a new church plant was the only way to bring about the kind of radical changes necessary to be a missional church today. Others have taken the road of compromise and have sought to appease both groups within a congregation. They have elected to have a traditional and contemporary service. This seeks to make everyone happy and meet the needs of the diversity in the body with out causing turmoil. While that is the goal, in most cases turmoil was not avoided, and maybe that was to be expected.

I am not here to try and make a judgment as to the ‘best” way to accomplish our goals of being the church that Christ wants us to be. I would like to make an observation that may or may not be true in all churches that take the second road. Please understand this is a personal opinion, but one that I believe is based on solid observation. Lets call the church in our example simply Christ Church.

Christ Church realizes that it is not growing. At the same time It knows it has a number of members that are more contemporary in their thinking and that if something is not done, they will soon leave for other more progressive churches in the area. They realize that they have a large number of more conservative members and the vast majority of the money that supports the physical plant they worship in is supported by this part of the membership. After a period of evaluation the leaders feel that it would be best to approach the situation by offering two services, one traditional and one contemporary. It is reasoned that they may loose some of the ultra conservatives with the move, but that that is better in the long run for the church as a whole. They also feel that this will help them hold on to the younger more progressive thinkers among the congregation.

The progression of change often follows this pattern after the introduction of the contemporary service. A number of the more traditional members leave (kicking and screaming) for other congregations in the area. It takes a while, but eventually the dust settles. After a period of time the contemporary numbers begin to increase from like minded thinkers in congregations from the area that are not willing to make any change. A period of peace and harmony follows and all seems well. But there is a problem festering under the surface. Those on the contemporary side want to continue there direction and may wish to have for example women take a more visible role in worship, or the addition of an instrumental music service, etc. At this point the leadership is caught in the middle. To go further in the contemporary direction will no doubt cause an exodus of the more traditional members with there money. The financial pressures brought on by the initial addition of the contemporary service in the first place are still there and may have lessened some, but still are an immediate concern. So a period of stagnation sets in where there is a decline in growth from both the traditional and the contemporary groups because of the tension caused by the pull in the two directions.

It is sad and a reality that many of the decisions for Christ Church are now going to be based on finances and keeping the peace. Problems will arise that need to be dealt with, but because of the pressure of the immediate situation, they will be hushed, laid to the side, and in some case ignored all together for fear of rocking the boat.

While I have mentioned two ways, there is also a third method to bring about needed change that has been used by a few congregations, and that is to simply say this is the way it is going to be and if you don’t like it please seek a new church home. And then I suppose there are variations and combinations of all three of these methods.

So what do you think? What do you think is the best way to approach change in the Body of Christ? I know that each situation would have to be evaluated on its own merits and circumstances, but in general, what do you think?

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The Voice…A Most Amazing Instrument

July 19, 2007