Flight 3411 and the Church

By Scott Armstrong

April 2017 has not been the best of months for United Airlines.  You may have heard about passenger David Dao who was bloodied and dragged down the aisle of a plane by security after refusing to give up his seat on April 9, 2017 (he has now reached a settlement with the airline).  The video left us all aghast and United received justifiably terrible press after the ordeal.

I am a frequent flier with United Airlines and today I received an email from Oscar Muñoz, its CEO (incidentally, I did not know that we were such close friends, but I digress).  He offered apologies for the notorious incident and also acknowledged “meaningful actions will speak louder than words.”

I know that PR firms and lawyers are all involved in the sculpting of these apologies, so I am not naïve enough to think this is our pal Oscar sharing his heart late at night at the computer.  However, in my opinion the entire letter is excellently written.  It offers no excuses and elaborates on new policies that have been put in place to assure that customer service is the highest priority.

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At one point, Muñoz states: 

“For the past several weeks, we have been urgently working to answer two questions: How did this happen, and how can we do our best to ensure this never happens again? It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”

Those last two sentences are echoing in my brain.  Did you catch them?

Policies were placed ahead of values.

Procedures were more important than “what is right”.

I fly United, but I care minimally about airline customer service compared to our Church’s mission to make Christlike disciples in the nations.  So why am I writing about all this?

I believe the way United is handling this now has a lot to say to the Church.  I hope that we as ministers of the gospel will discover what they have found out after much introspection, communication, and tension – sooner as opposed to later.

You see, in our worst moments as a Church, we also have slowly allowed policies to replace values.  Procedures put in place originally to serve “what is right” gradually become slave-masters that cause core priorities like mission and character to submit under a gradual drip-torture of dogmatic adherence to rules.

We say we value grace, but newcomers have to jump through so many moralistic hoops before they have proven they are worthy to serve or lead.

We say we value holiness, but we hold grudges and every board meeting is a passive-aggressive power struggle.

We say we value children, but wait until those neighborhood kids dirty the carpet and talk all through service.

We say we value mission, but we almost always hope that “they” come to “us” instead of vice versa.

Do I need to go on?

May it not take a United-Airlines level fiasco to get us as a Church to engage in an introspective evaluation of our practices.  It will hurt.  We won’t like what we see at times.

But it is necessary.  In fact, it is biblical.  Jesus speaks of this process in terms of pruning, and producing fruit:

“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’” (Luke 13:6-9).

We must always evaluate our effectiveness by asking: Are we bearing fruit as a congregation? To paraphrase Oscar Muñoz: how can we do our best to ensure that any action that does not reflect Christ’s image and will for us never happen again?

This self-examination will be worth it!  We will start to see our community again as Jesus sees it.  We will be known again for the way we serve and love one another.  We will get to the point of acknowledging that meaningful actions speak much louder than words.

In that moment, our values will dictate our policies and not vice versa.

That, my friends, is a Church I want to be a part of.

That is a glimpse of the kingdom.

Belong, Believe, Become: A New Process of Evangelism

By Eddie Cole

The American evangelical process is shifting.

“Churches aren’t growing because of conversions. Churches are just swapping sheep.”

Have you ever heard someone make this claim or something like it? I have—way too many times, from pastors and church members alike. What do we make of this kind of comment, and how do we respond?

First, a note of encouragement: just because you don’t see conversions, it doesn’t mean they aren’t happening in churches in America. They are.

The gospel has never stopped being powerful. Conversion growth will continue to happen. Nothing can prevent the power of the gospel from working in the lives of those who believe it enough to act on it.

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Some Practical Suggestions for the Disheartened

#1: Don’t pout – PRAY! God is able to make you and your church mighty in gospel ministry. Do you remember when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and empowered them to be His witnesses? The Holy Spirit came when they were gathering for prayer.

When God’s people pray, things happen.

#2: Consider spending some time addressing what needs to change in your approach to reaching people. In a recent meeting with Evangelical leaders, I learned that many American churches experiencing conversion growth have discovered a slight, but significant change in the process for how to effectively evangelize.

Compare the old American Evangelical process to the new…

For decades, the most effective process used by American Evangelicals followed this pattern:

  1. Using a tool like the Four Spiritual Laws, a gospel tract, or the EE presentation, a Christian presented an unbeliever with the opportunity to believe in Christ by sharing truth with him or her.
  2. The Christian would then invite the new convert to become a part of a church.
  3. The Christian would then help the new convert to enjoy a sense of belonging with the church.

Today’s process looks more like this:

  1. The Christian invites people to belong to your community (love them even if they don’t believe), and through that…
  2. The Chrisitian helps them see why they should believe in what the Bible claims about Jesus.
  3. Once they believe in Jesus, the Christian encourages them to become a part of the church and join in the mission of evangelizing others.

Simplifying it, the process shift looks like this…

  • Old Process = Believe, Become, Belong
  • New Process = Belong, Believe, Become

This reminds me of how my friend Jeff became a follower of Jesus. Jeff saw me and another friend working out in the park that was right next to our church and he stopped to talk. My workout partner and I took a break and chatted with him for a few minutes. We ended up inviting him to come to church with us that Sunday. Not only did Jeff come to church Sunday, but he loved it and kept coming.

The church family wrapped its arms around him and welcomed him. He loved the music and even appeared to like most of my messages. Eventually, the gospel took hold of his heart. After several months of coming, he gave his heart to Jesus and I was privileged to baptize him.

Jeff was the kind of person who stereotypes would dictate ‘hates’ Evangelicals. Some would suggest he’d never come to one of our worship services. But God did a powerful work in him because of the love he was shown by Christians. The way God worked in his life shows an example of the shift in the process of evangelism.

The newer process – belong, believe, and become – worked with Jeff. It’s working in many lives and for a growing number of congregations.

Be ready at all times to share the gospel truth, because it is the gospel that changes lives. Let us begin the process by simply showing gospel warmth until that door of conversation opens. In other words, love people until they ask, “Why?”

 

This original article was published on: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/january/church-growth.html

 

The Most Offensive Word in America – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

We don’t always acknowledge it, but many of us subconsciously believe God gives us commandments to force us into a stiff, single-file line. This lie makes God seem like an angry referee obsessed with rigid rules and regulations, as if He bitterly paces back and forth in heaven, waving a red flag and trying to control our every word and step. Who would want to obey a god like that?

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The reality is that God is much more like a loving father trying to keep his children from running into traffic. The more we learn to submit to His commandments, the more we see they are not burdensome rules but rather signposts pointing toward the path of true joy, life and peace. For instance, I always thought King David sounded a bit crazy in Psalm 19 when he said the rules of God are “sweeter than the drippings of the honey comb,” but when I compare the peace of submission to the emptiness of sin, I know he was right.

We may think independence is what we want, but it comes with a hidden cost.

Speaking to an atheist who asked about the difference between heaven and hell, renowned author and pastor Tim Keller once said, “Nobody ever goes to hell unless they want to. People go to hell because they want to be away from a god who will tell them what to do. People in hell would say, ‘It’s pretty miserable here, but I would never want to be in heaven with God, where He is telling people what to do.’”

Our culture tells us true freedom comes in following our desires wherever they lead us. While this sounds nice and provides the plot for most romantic comedies, reality reveals why this is false. For example, I have a number of friends who have overcome extreme substance abuse. When one of my friends recounted his past addiction to pain killers to me, he said, “I had become a complete slave to pills. My desires were killing me.” In many ways, unrestrained pride, lust, greed, fear, control, jealousy and anger have the same effect.

Defiance of God’s commandments may give us a fleeting sense of power and independence, but this actually reveals our weakness and constant need for grace. We have to have the humility to acknowledge our own faults and the trust to follow God’s commands, even when they run contrary to our personal desires. Because something better is on the other side. God offers us abundant life, the fullness of freedom and more love than our minds have the capacity to comprehend.

If we ever hope to experience these things, we have to do the most countercultural, rebellious thing imaginable within our culture: submit to a truth deeper than ourselves.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/god-our-generation/most-offensive-word-america

The Most Offensive Word in America – Part 1 of 2

By Curt Devine

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It’s at the root of every national flare-up—and it’s affecting your faith.

I once stayed at a Catholic convent full of strict, wrinkled nuns in Hyderabad, India. One night, my friends and I decided to go out for some fun, food and drinks, but as we approached the compound’s main gate, we ran into the Mother Superior. As the oldest, coldest, most intimidating of the nuns, she gave us strict orders: “Be back by 9 p.m. or we will lock the gates and release the guard dogs before you return.”

Of course, this only made us eager to defy her authority. We scoffed at her orders and ran off to eat spicy tandoori without a care in the world. We naturally returned past curfew and assumed we were in the right because the nun had encroached on our right to do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted to do it. But although the guard dogs turned out to be 10-pound puppies, we strained our relationship with the convent, and our actions called our missions organization into question in their eyes.

More than a random incident of youthful rebellion, I see this as a reflection of a wider ideology that pervades our culture. We are the land of the free, the home of the brave, a nation founded on revolution and individual autonomy. These are beautiful things, of course, but they also come with a side effect.

The most offensive word to many of us is a simple, two-syllable word that insults our beliefs and violates our value system: submit.

We inherently believe no one has the right to tell us how to live, where to go or what to do. We are our own masters. I’ve heard it said that a culture can be understood through its celebrities, and so we love the ego of musicians like Shakira, the image of revolutionaries like Che Guevara and the entertainment of TV stars such as Honey Boo Boo. All of these figures represent individualist rebellion against the authorities that be. They refuse to submit—and we love them for it.

Although most of us do not rebel on the same level as the eccentrics mentioned above, we often defy authority in subtle ways. We fly down the freeway at 90 miles per hour, then feel violated when police officers obstruct our daily routines by giving us speeding tickets. How dare they tell us we’re wrong, right?

The problem is that this hostility to submission often leaves us raring for selfish gain without considering how our actions affect others. More importantly, it hardens our hearts to the will of God.

This article will continue in the next post.

An Essential Sign

By Rev. Ken Childress

1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

The Resurrection validates everything we believe in. Without it, the Bible is bold enough to say, our faith is worthless. Those who think Christianity is worthwhile for life in this world alone are disagreeing with Paul; he thought we were pitiful creatures indeed if our faith is only a this-world faith (See verse 19).

No, God gave us the Resurrection – Jesus’ and ours – for a reason. It’s a PROMISE, a PLEDGE, a VALIDATION that our life on this fallen planet is but a tiny fraction of the life we were meant to live. While the rest of the world goes about living for the here and now, we live for eternity. While they make investments hoping for good returns in a matter of years or decades, we make investments hoping for good returns in a matter of timeless “ages.” While they interpret their trials as things that will make or break the quality of their lives, we interpret out trials as events that are shaping us to understand God and inherit His riches. The Resurrection makes all the difference in the world. And beyond.

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This, in fact, was the point of creation from day one. Genesis is the account of God’s creation, but the cross of Christ and the empty tomb are the account of the recreation. The early church was suddenly aware that they were living in the regenesis, the fulfillment of all God had promised, the Kingdom that does not pass away. And that knowledge guided everything they did.

We often think of the Resurrection as an Eastertime phenomenon – a past miracle that gives us faint hope for the future. It is SO MUCH MORE.

The Resurrection validates our faith in the redeeming work of our High Priest, who has taken away our sins. It allows us to live with a sense of risk and adventure, because it makes us part of a new order of creation that ultimately cannot fail. Our lives are grounded in Someone who regins in eternal VICTORY!

He is Risen…He is Risen Indeed. No Resurrection, no Christianity!

Total Victory!

Rev. Ken Childress

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Hate had nailed Jesus to the Cross. Religious men had become devilish in their opposition to the Son of God. Brutal men had carried out the execution of the Son of Man. As Jesus died, the sun covered its face in shame, and the earth trembled in embarrassment

A sound escaped from parched and swollen lips. Was it a moan of agony? Was it the rambling of a mind shoved over the threshold of unendurable pain? NO! The words formed the briefest of statements describing the most important single event in history: “IT IS FINISHED.”

To the hate-twisted minds of the religious bigots who schemed this murder, the words came as a welcome relief. The troublesome yet awesome Prophet who claimed to be the Messiah was quieted. This magnetic Teacher who taught with unique power was silenced. The miracle-working Carpenter was no longer a threat to them.

To the brutal soldiers, the death of Christ offered some excitement and diversion from the normal day of putting the sword to women and children.

To the curious mob, the crucifixion of Christ provided a lively topic of gossip in the bars and taverns on the day.

To the shocked disciples, the sudden end of their leader brought dismay and discouragement. It had been such a beautiful dream. Their years with Jesus had built expectations of dramatic social and spiritual change. Now they would attempt to rebuilt their lives, knowing they would always muse on what might have been.

To Jesus, the words, “IT IS FINISHED: meant that love had bridged the gap between a holy God and sinful man. The three words were uttered as a soul-satisfying proclamation that salvation’s door was opened.

To the world, the words “IT IS FINISHED” represent a Maga Carta, a Declaration of Independence, and an Emamcipation Proclamation all rolled into one – and more. Here is man’s redemptive Bill of Rights!. 

It is finished church, never ending redemption. It is finished! Hallelujah!

Truly Free

By Raphael Rosado

What does it mean to be free? Nowadays it seems that popular consensus has moved towards defining freedom as the capacity for people to make choices without outside interference. The content of the choice doesn’t matter as long as it’s “your choice.”

This definition seems deficient. Think about a certain addict for example. Every day he wakes up and “chooses” to go out looking for the substance that’s killing him. Regardless of all the information readily available on the harmful effects of drugs, every day millions of people decide – in the exercise of their “freedom” – to continue to use them. Is an addict really free? Worse yet, when somebody advises them to stop, many addicts say: “It’s my life, and I am free to do with it what I please.”

Or think about an adolescent starting to discover the world. She wants to exercise her freedom by going to a party with adult entertainment. When her parents advise against going to a place like that, we can almost hear the daughter’s answer: “I am free. You can’t tell me what to do.”

romper-cadenas-2.jpgIf freedom could be reduced to “choosing for the sake of choosing,” we would be forced to celebrate every mistake in its name. There must be a better definition.

In John 8:32 Jesus tells us, “…You will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Freedom is not about making any decision, is about making the right decision. Anybody can make a choice. But to be truly free, one must choose well. Good decisions can only be made when they are based on the truth: Jesus is the truth.

Later in the passage, Jesus compares sin to slavery (John 8:38). He wasn’t saying anything new; a majority of the great philosophers before him had already observed that a person that gives in to his desires and passions becomes a slave to them, a conclusion we seem to have forgotten. Still, every solution ever devised to that problem had failed.

Jesus gives the only possible solution: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Jesus, in whom complete knowledge resides, knows what’s best for us. Only Jesus can help us get past “choosing for the sake of choosing” in order to move us towards choosing well.

In this Lenten season let’s reflect on what freedom in Christ really means. “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).