Archive for the ‘Transitions and Change’ Category

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Traditions Are A Funny Thing

June 16, 2011

Traditions are funny things. I don’t know how many baptisms I have witnessed in my life. But in all of them I remember seeing the person doing the baptizing raise his hand as he spoke before baptizing the candidate in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In artist renderings of the baptism of Jesus, John the baptizer is often shown with his hand raised as he prepares to baptize Jesus. I was just looking at a picture of a recent baptisms that took place in Africa and there it was again, hand raised before the
baptism.

I know of no verse in scripture where we are told that we should raise our hand, nor do I find an example where this practice is described, yet this tradition has crossed oceans and cultures as it has traveled around the world, especially among our tribe.

As I reflected on this tradition we practice at baptism I thought how it has not been a tradition among us to raise our hands when we
pray or sing. In fact in some circles people are thought to be strange or weird if they do. I have even heard folks say, “It makes us look like the Pentecostals”, as if that were a bad thing. I see a contradiction here. And what makes this contradiction more odd is that the people who often pride themselves in being a people of the book, who “speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent”, don’t practice something that the Bible says a lot about.

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Ps. 63:4) “I call to you, O Lord, everyday; I spread out my hands to you.” (Ps. 88:9) “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.” (Ps. 134:2) “Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ’Amen! Amen!’” (Neh. 8:6) “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” (Lam. 3:41 KJV) “I fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed.” (Ezra 9:5-6) “Solomon knelt down before the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.” (2 Chron. 6:13) “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword … Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, ’For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.’” (Ex. 17:11-16) “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.” (1Tim. 2:8) “Every day,” David says in Psalm 88:9, “I call to you and spread out myhands to you.”

Buddy Owen in an article adapted from his book, “The Way of the Worshiper” said, “Look at your hands. They aren’t going to hurt you; just look at them for a moment. Magnificent aren’t they? Who gave us our hands? God gave them to us. What do we do with our hands? Well, we work with our hands. We feed ourselves with our hands. We play with our hands. We give gifts and receive gifts with our hands. We show affection with our hands. We also fight with our hands. We sin with our hands. Why are we so hesitant to worship God with our hands Lifting our hands to God is a biblical posture of prayer. It is another physical demonstration of a spiritual truth. Just as we bow our hearts when we bow our knees, so we lift our hearts when we lift our hands (Lam. 3:41). By kneeling before God and lifting our hands to him, we are presenting our bodies to God as a spiritual act of worship. “

When we lift our hands with palms open it is a physical display of openness. As with kneeling in prayer, another Biblical practice lost by us over the years, lifting our hands is simply a posture of devotion that expresses humility and worship. David said, “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place?  4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.” We understand that David was not speaking of physically clean hands. When hands are open it is a gesture of openness and expresses we have nothing to hide. It is also an appeal for help. It reminds me of the child that comes to his or her parent with arms out stretched open wide and hands lifted up.

Regardless of what we do with our hands before a baptism or in a time of prayer and worship it is the condition of the heart that is most important. I am not arguing for or against any tradition.  But for me personally there is something freeing about physically and outwardly expressing what is going on in my heart. At first it was awkward and uncomfortable, because it was different and I wondered what others would think. It became freeing when I kept my focus on the ONE I was worshiping and it became a very natural expression of praise and worship.

I began this article by saying, traditions are funny things. Today when someone lifts their hands in worship some may feel uncomfortable, but if we could be transported back to the early church or even further back to the Old Testament period, I think we would be very uncomfortable if we did not raise our hands.

Traditions are funny things.

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NATION OF ANGER. NATION IN DANGER.

November 1, 2008

By Terry Rush

(Borrowed and adapted)

I am very concerned about our nation. The threat of simmering unrest is nearing boil. I don’t think I’m exaggerating. The political scene is fire-red hot. Debate—bitter, rude, insulting debate—does not reveal information as much as it reveals skill. Millions of dollars are spent for a job which pays thousands. Office workers, church members, and neighbors are divided into camps of strong opinions backed by hard feelings.

Politics is only one front. The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series last night. Was the danger and damage of rioters found to be in the losing city of Tampa Bay? No, it was found in the city which won! Whether victory or loss, some are filled with such anger they are anxious to find any excuse to create havoc.

Level-headed, quite responsible leaders of all fields are burnt over the shameful and unrepentant scandal of the Wall Street moguls. Congress’ volunteer blindness toward both the problem and solution exacerbates the thread-bare nerves of common man. Our nation is in a mess. I believe it to be so big, I couldn’t exaggerate it.

Therefore, rely on the Spirit of Christ. Lead your people to Him. Have them hide their wealth by giving it away. Lead them to save their lives by losing them. Teach them that our citizenship is in heaven; not on earth. Train them of the value and truth of the outstretched arms of both the Son on the Cross and of the prodigal’s Father back at the family farm. Adorn hearts with the news which is heard louder than Paul Revere’s; Our Savior Reigns ! Our Savior is King!

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“Gentlemen, this is a football”

August 6, 2008

“Gentleman, this is a football”, Vintage Vince Lombardi. The quote was all about getting back to basics. And it is true with reference to more than football. Whenever you find yourself floundering…get back to basics. If you are not growing…get back to basics. If you don’t know what to do next…get back to basics.

 

Followers of Christ are in a numerical decline. Even the Baptist are beginning to fess up to their over inflated “membership” numbers and admit that there are many more on the roles than in service to the King. (Read more here). Today there is a greater profession of believe in God and a greater lack of evidence of that faith than at anytime in history. Evangelism has not only become an archaic word that strikes fear in the hearts of Christians, it is no longer practiced as a response to the marching orders of our King. Percentages of those who are involved in pornography, that are getting divorced and that are materialist to excess are about the same for both Christian and Non-Christian alike. Christ followers need to get back to basics. Can I get an Amen?

 

“Ladies and Gentleman, this is a Bible”.

 

Prophets of old along with John on Patmos were told to, “Eat this book” referring to the message that God had given them. Read it, chew on it (meditate), digest it; make it apart of who you are. This is an individual responsibility.

 

As for the assembled church, Bible Classes need to become Bible Study Classes.  Does this sound familiar? A teacher stands up and reads a verse, then asks the class, “What do you think that means?”  And off they go into 30 to 45 minutes of shared ignorance, parroted answers learned by rote and uneducated guesses.  No wonder our kids are leaving the church in greater numbers than ever before.

 

Sincere and genuine Christians are trying to be better Christians and think that the answers will be found in the next great spirtual novel or spiritual self help book. They are fighting a battle with no armor, no weapons and no ammunition. The roaring lion is hot on their trail and they are trying to fight him off with a switch.

 

If you are stubbing, falling over things in the dark and trying to feel your way through life…turn on the light!

 

 

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UNCHRISTIAN…THE BOOK

June 24, 2008

You may not like the conclusions of this book, but you will have a hard time saying that they are not true. The following is a CNN interview with the book’s author. The interviewer is pretty savvy and I think fair in the questions he asks.

Take a look at this one also.

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Churchgoer vs Christian

May 20, 2008

Taking their lead from the PC – Mac parodies that you have seen on TV a group has a whole series of the Churchgoer vs Christian videos. Here are a couple. If you like them click on the YouTube logo in the video and it will take you to these and others.

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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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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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Ears To Hear

July 13, 2007

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There was a time when my tribe was known for their knowledge of the Bible. That time has been replaced with a knowledge of the rules, do and don’ts and how to spot a “change agent”. Many in their “holier than thou” stand for their understanding of the truth have come to epitomize those that Jesus referred to when he said, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ” ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ (Matt. 13:13-15).

Paranoia reigns supreme, as they see a liberal behind every tree. It reminiscent of the McCarty era when people were seeing a communist behind every tree. Take a moment and read Gary Kirkendall’s “A Case for the Contemporary” It will be worth you time.