The Church in Chaos

Rev. Craig Shepperd

Abstract: This essay looks at who the Church is to be in the midst of suffering, brokenness, and chaos.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).

In the midst of chaos, we either push people away or we run towards them. Jesus demonstrates God’s desire to run toward chaos and suffering through his incarnation.[1] Where there are chaos and brokenness, Jesus takes on flesh and makes his dwelling among us.[2] He chooses to become our neighbor in our brokenness. Thus, it becomes the call of the Church to respond in likeness to the suffering, brokenness, and chaos in our world.

Yet, in order for us to respond in neighborly kinds of ways (justice, love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness) we have to be willing to identify with the hurting and broken. If this pandemic has done anything it has brought us closer to a level playing field. We are all in need of a neighbor. Thus, the call of the Church is to function as a microcosm of God’s Kingdom. It is precisely the Kingdom of God that provides a space where people join together as brothers and sisters.[3] For the church to embrace her calling she must allow herself to enter into solidarity with those experiencing brokenness and chaos. When we choose compassion, we see beyond ourselves so that we might live as a city on a hill. The Church is to be a city that lives in the light of another wisdom, as a sign of God’s coming kingdom.[4] This type of living sees no need to hoard personal hygiene products. This type of living does not give in to the idea of scarcity. The Church moves into the neighborhood and exemplifies neighbor-love as Jesus loved us. For us to accomplish such a task may I be so bold as to invite us into some neighborly practices that the world is in desperate need of in this particular season.

Compassion: a willingness to enter into the hurt and brokenness of another.

Reconciliation: we often think about the work of God in us making our relationship with him right. This would be true. However, let us also not forget God’s desire for us to be reconciled with one another. May God help us to live in right relationship with all of humanity.

Generosity: we may give of our resources and ourselves as freely as God has given to us.

Grace/Mercy: chaos often causes people to speak and act in ways that are out of character (or maybe in character). Can we be a place that allows others to express their hurt and confusion without needing to right the wrong done to us or settling the score?

Lament: “is to come alongside those who grieve, to sit with them in the silence and to recognize there that in God’s interconnected creation, their pain is our pain.”[5]

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. What would you add to it?

In a world looking for hope and full of fear, may the Church answer the call to be the non-anxious presence of Jesus in the world. May we move into the neighborhood and make the Kingdom of God known on earth as it is in heaven. This is our calling. We go to the broken places. We make our homes with the suffering. We enter into the chaos of life. If the church will do this, she will find God’s transforming work making all things new.[6]

[1] Philippians 2:6-7

[2] John 1:14

[3] David E. Fitch. Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 113.

[4] Richard B. Hays. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. (San Francisco, CA: Harper), 337.

[5] C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison. Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 115.

[6] Revelation 21:5

 

Taken from Rev. Craig Shepperd’s website

10 Ways To Help You Live Normal When Life Is Not Normal

By: Dan Reiland

I have been thinking about the stresses and pressures we are all carrying these days and attempting to focus on the practical things that help promote mental and spiritual health.

Whether you are a church leader, a parent leading your family, or leading in the business arena, we all need to lean into what helps us think and live healthily so we can better care for and lead others.

This does not dismiss:

1) The reality of the situation.

There’s no question that devastating things are happening in our world, and COVID-19 is at the top of the list right now. My suggestions do not pretend to make big problems magically disappear, but they do help us keep leading with a positive spirit.

2) The need to be vigilant.

The vast majority of our time and attention is needed to handle what is not normal in our midst. However, we must remain strong, human, connected, and reminded of the little things, the important things that make solving the big problems worthwhile.

3) The need for our focus to be on the hope of Christ

Jesus is and has always been the one who promises to help us with what we cannot solve. He is the giver of wisdom to solve problems, strength to endure challenges, and hope in our ultimate destiny. I’m offering some everyday things that really do help. The calmer, poised, and at peace you are personally, the better you can lead the people God has given you responsibility for.

10 Ways To Help You Live More “Normal”

(What’s normal? I know… but each of us has a normal, our normal, and when it’s disrupted, we know it.)

The goal is not for you to do all 10.

Select the ones most helpful to you.

Don’t let this be a task; let it be life-giving.

1) Establish a new routine.

We are creatures of habit, and routine is essential. And a routine is different than a rut. A routine brings stability so we can remain healthy and more productive. A rut is when you are stuck, not growing, and not experiencing spiritual health. Most of us have recently had our routines blown up. Some of you have kids at home. You love your kids, but that’s a big routine breaker.

Then add the fact that perhaps all of you are home – all the time. Nothing further needs to be said.

Modify your family systems.

Make new plans.

Set new routines.

I highly encourage you to organize and simplify.  That will not solve all your problems, but it helps you lift your spirit. Moreover, candidly, it will give you something where you can see immediate and tangible results. In a time when it feels like nothing is in your control, it will help your mental health and overall disposition.

2) Reach out to your friends.

ainur-iman-IrjcB5DbM18-unsplashYou are probably in close touch with your friends and colleagues you connect with regularly. I’m suggesting that you consider friends and colleagues that you haven’t talked with, texted, or messaged on social media for a long time. Reach out and check-in. Let them know you’re thinking about them. A text or any method is great. Take a moment to pray for them and let them know you prayed.

Don’t make it a project, or a task on your to-do list; consider it a privilege to encourage someone today. This will warm your heart and lift your frame of mind.

 

3) Take time to be quiet.

Time to be quiet is desperately needed by everyone, especially in times of fear and uncertainty. My world is noisy; quiet is priceless to me. I will admit that if I get too much alone time or quiet, I will literally start looking for someone to talk to.  But quiet reflection is essential for the well-being of your soul.

I’m not referring only or specifically to your “quiet time” or daily devotional (although you might prefer to combine them), but real quiet time.  Just to “be still,” to think and reflect. I have a cup or two of tea a day, and that is very centering and a good pause for reflection.  Don’t dismiss the impact of the little things, the simple things in your life. What’s one or two little things or simple pleasures that help keep you grounded?

4) Keep your body moving.

I’m not promoting an exercise routine or any specific workout, though that’s always a good idea. That’s up to you. I’m literally referring to keeping your body moving. It’s far too easy to remain stationary and become sedentary in most leadership roles. Allow yourself to move several times a day. If you are in deep study or on the phone or doing email, get up and stretch, take a few laps or go crazy and do a few push-ups. Take a short walk. Anything. Keep moving; your body was designed for it, and it helps you feel better, think better, and lead better.

5) Do one simple thing for someone else.

Doing practical and physically present things for people is becoming more and more complicated as we are all wisely staying more socially distant. But we can find ways to love and care for people. I recently heard about someone having a meal delivered to an elderly couple who was afraid to go to the grocery store. It was a phone call and a bit of money. Another person picked up medicine for a friend. The key is that this should be a joy for you, not a duty. No guilt, it’s a “get to,” not a “have to.”

6) Take a break from social media.

Used wisely, social media is a useful tool that enhances ministry in significant ways. Personally, however, a break from social media, even if just for a few hours, is healthy.  Use that time to read a good book, one not connected to your work.

The length of your break is obviously up to you. Some leaders go on a social media fast for weeks; others just shut down for a half-day on occasion. The important thing is that you can, and do, take periodic breaks regardless of how long. If you can’t lay your phone down for a few hours, “normal” may be difficult for you to find and experience.

7) Laugh!

ben-white-4K2lIP0zc_k-unsplashThis is a very serious time on our planet, but we need moments to breathe and feel normal for a bit. Laughter is great for your soul. It’s a natural medicine to help you stay fresh and restore your physical and emotional energy so you can pour into and lead others.

For me, it might be an episode of a tv show, or just sharing a funny story with a friend over the phone or playing a board game with family!! How about you?

Let’s not let the Enemy take advantage of what’s happening around us by stealing all the joy from our souls. Find the everyday humor in your life.

8) Express gratitude.

Few things restore and strengthen your soul more than a grateful heart. It would be easy these days to get caught up in what you don’t have. That’s a natural response to loss, and we all experience it to one degree or another. The emotion that comes with that experience can be anywhere from discouraging to crushing. But getting stuck there and dwelling on it is not helpful to you. Do your best to focus on what you do have and the hope of a better future. Those you lead don’t expect you to be superhuman, but they count on you to have hope.

9) Listen to music.

I’m a Beatles fan and proud of it. My new granddaughter already loves the Beatles at six weeks old. (Train up a child… )

What music do you love?

Music does wonders for the soul. Listen to some of your favorites as much as you can.

And of course, your favorite worship music is a great choice as well!

Just don’t do the guilt thing… if you like country, pop, classical, whatever, it’s OK, turn it up!

10) Pray God’s promises of love and hope.

I’ve saved the best for last. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. The longer I’m a Christian, the more I feel “bewildered and disoriented” when I’m not intimately close, daily, in my relationship with Jesus. I love time with God. His promises alone keep me going on tough days.

One of my favorite passages is Psalm 34:4-9:

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;

their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;

he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,

and he delivers them.  Taste and see that the Lord is good;

blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Fear the Lord, you his holy people,

for those who fear him lack nothing.”

© 2020 Dan Reiland | The Pastor’s Coach – Developing Church Leaders

Jeremiah 29:11 – A Poem by Ana Brunk

Some of the greatest people on the planet are Missionary Kids (MKs).  Emily and I have been able to invest in different groups of MKs through the years, and we, of course, have two of our own that we think are dynamite.

Missionary Kids possess a great deal of cultural intelligence and seem to be able to adapt to a multitude of challenging situations.  But that does not make them impervious to pain and loss.  Recently I re-read a poem that a wonderful MK wrote in 2011 when she was 14 years old.  I hope that it gives you a window into what a teenage MK deals with and the hope that they can find in God even when the burdens seem unbearable.

Jeremiah 29:11

Ana Brunk, Nazarene MK in Singapore, 14 years old (July 2011)

Imagine yourself in Heaven,

Where the beauty of God’s creation thrives

Where the light and love of your Father surrounds you

Imagine yourself sitting in a vast field full of color and beauty

Your Father is there with you

You crawl onto his lap and hold his hand

As you do, he lifts your thumb for a closer look

Do you see those tiny lines all over your finger?

Your thumbprint is so special and unique, just like you he says with a wink

You look up at your Dad and smile

I have a purpose for everything that I do

Even the pattern on your thumb was made the way it was for a reason

Before returning to your home here in Heaven you suffered many hardships

Dear friends would have to leave

Your best friend moved away from you too

You felt alone, like you were the only one who really cared about your relationship with me

I felt your pain in all those situations

I cried with you in the bad times and celebrated in the good

But I knew the plans I had for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you

Plans to give you a hope and a future

You look up at your Father with tears of joy in your eyes

And it all worked out perfect, thank you Daddy

How I Knew God Was with Me in My Parents’ Divorce

By Scott Armstrong

September 1993.  I was 15 years old.  My dad and mom call a family meeting after supper.  My brother and I came down from our rooms, wondering what’s going on.  We usually had the famous “family meetings” once a year when some new rule was being enforced or when a vacation needed to be planned or discussed.

This time was different.  There was an eerie vibe to the room.  My dad exhaled audibly while my mom fidgeted with her hands.  Then—BOOM!—my world changed forever.  They were getting a divorce.  They just couldn’t work things out.  They had too many differences.  Blah, blah, blah.  Although it doesn’t make sense, part of me was hearing every word perfectly even while another part instantly tuned out the drone of their voices.

 

 

Then it was my turn.  “What do you mean, you can’t work out your differences? Are you some sort of teenage fling that is on today, off tomorrow? Did those vows you made years ago mean anything?” I was furious.  I was sad. I was numb.

That is reality #1.  That actually happened.  And I will never be the same again because of it.

So here is reality #2.  God with us.  “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you…the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5,9).  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  We hear a lot about this second reality around Christmas time, don’t we? The “Incarnation.”  God with us.  It kind of makes us feel warm inside, especially when things are going particularly well in life.

But what happens when Reality #1 and Reality #2 collide? As a teenager, I knew Reality #2 was true—I had heard about it every Christmas since I had been born. And I certainly knew Reality #1 was true—I was experiencing it like tumbleweed experiences a tornado.  And let me be honest: it was pretty tough to see how the reality of “God with us” could be right when the reality of the divorce was in my face every day.  The shouting. Mom moving out.  First time I had two Thanksgiving dinners, two Christmas trees, two houses where I did not feel at home in either.  Where was God in all this?

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 I have no easy answer.  I knew in my head that God was with me, but my heart and my life told me different. People at church with good intentions but little tact would come up to me and assure me, “You know, God is always with us, no matter what.  You will get through this.”  That’s what I really needed—a mini-sermon to make me feel better!  I already knew from Scripture that God was somewhere to be found in this whole muddle of loneliness and anger, but where?

I can look back now and see some indicators of God’s presence in that whole mess.  First, I learned that God “incarnates himself” in and through other people.  He is with us because other Christians give of their time and their tears to be with us too.  We always say that we are “the body of Christ” and that we need to be Christ’s “hands and feet” in the world, so why are we surprised when it actually happens? Through the love and compassion of my youth pastor and other teens and adults, I sensed God’s presence.

That does not mean people knew what to say; a lot of times they said some pretty stupid things.  It also does not mean I was not upset, frustrated, or even depressed at various points.  Yet, while some in my situation choose to hibernate and never talk to fellow churchgoers again, I had to get to church services every week.  That was where I sensed God’s presence—through music and preaching, of course, but also through God’s people that surrounded me with love on Sundays and throughout the week.

Second, I knew God was with me through my personal times with him. Before my parents’ divorce, I have to be truthful: I was a good Christian boy who did all of the right things.  Still, I did not have a deep relationship with Christ.  Well, all that changed when I found myself hopeless and with no one to talk to.  Normally in tough circumstances I would confide in my parents.  That wasn’t going to happen now; they did not exactly possess an objective perspective of the divorce!  I was able to talk to my youth pastor, but he did not really know what I was going through because his parents were still happily married.  So who could I turn to?

My only answer was God.  I started approaching my devotional times not as something to check off my list, but as the one time I could truly be myself.  I wept before God.  I yelled at him.  I began to wrestle with the words that I was reading in his Scripture.  Sometimes what I read made me mad; other times it comforted me.  I did not always hear a response.  I never heard voices from heaven nor did I receive some other tangible proof of his existence.  But in my quiet times, I began to trust him more.  In the toughest moments of my life, he became my closest friend, and he remains so to this day.

God with us.  It seems preposterous, doesn’t it? Especially when you are experiencing the reality of a life filled with brokenness and emptiness.  But that is what makes the second reality even stronger—God specializes in being with us not only in the good times when we “feel” him, but in the dark times filled with fear and loneliness. Let God speak his reality into your reality today.  God. With.  Us.

Harmon Schmelzenbach III: A Missionary Legacy

A few days ago much of the Church of the Nazarene worldwide was informed of the death of Harmon Schmelzenbach III on January 2, 2019.h schmelzenbach  NCN News published a worthy obituary of Harmon, which should certainly be read by any Nazarene who wants to become familiar with missions in our denomination.

I was never able to formally meet Harmon III, although I have ministered alongside his son, Harmon IV, and his grandson, Quinton, in different settings during the past several years.  However, without knowing me, Harmon III made an impact on my life.

I grew up as a part of Central Church of the Nazarene in Lenexa, Kansas, USA.  We often had 8-10 missionaries a year preach in our services (side note: I cannot fathom when churches who receive one or two missionaries a year complain of “having too many missionaries”).  All were important in building the foundation for what later I would recognize as God’s missions call on my life, although I would not say many were memorable, per se.

schmelz iv & q

Quinton and Harmon Schmelzenbach IV have carried on their family’s missions legacy.

Harmon Schmelzenbach III was the exception!  As an adolescent, I remember his tales of traversing the African landscape in order to preach the gospel to new villages and people-groups.  I remember some of the perils of the wildlife he encountered on those trips.  By the time he told us he had crossed the fourth river, I looked down at my watch and realized he had literally been preaching for an hour and 45 minutes! That may seem shocking, but what stuns me even more is that at that age I had not even noticed!  He had our entire youth group (and the rest of the congregation) entranced by his evangelistic passion and ability to tell the story of missions and of God himself.

Needless to say, when God called me five or six years later to be a missionary, I was ready.  It was not an “out-of-the-blue” thing.  If God was calling me to be like Harmon, my answer would be an immediate “yes.”  And now, having ministered cross-culturally for 16 years, I see how I have been influenced by this “giant of the faith” both on the field and as I share with churches on home assignment.

Missions has changed in the past three decades since then and now more of us live as missionaries in big strategic urban centers.  Many of us will never need to cross many rivers and fend off venomous snakes at every turn.  But the passion for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ must never wane.  Harmon III learned that from his parents and grandparents and passed it on to future generations of Schmelzenbachs.  But he also passed it on to me as well.

Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 2 of 2

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

Most churches I’ve been to are designed for someone just like me.

As much as I enjoy the Caribbean flavor of our worship, it is a constant reminder that our service and programs are not designed to reach me—they are designed to speak the heart language and meet the needs of other people in our community.

That’s how it should be, of course. But it strikes me that for all of my life I’ve been part of churches that were actively accommodating to people just like me—people my age and my race and my socioeconomic status. And I never thought of our worship and programs as “how we do church.” I thought of those things as “how people ought to do church.”

The implications of this lesson don’t stop with my past church experience. It’s become clearer to me in recent months that the vast majority of ministry resources, even Christian resources more broadly, are produced with “me” in mind. I’ve enjoyed a privileged status for a long time and never really realized it. I feel it as soon as something isn’t tailored to my tastes.

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The gift that comes from worshipping in a service that isn’t designed for me is that it reveals the depth of my consumeristic relationship with church. This is not a fun lesson, but it’s an important one.

Diversity doesn’t just “happen.”

We thought moving to one of the most diverse cities in America would mean that we would find comfortable diversity everywhere. Boy were we mistaken. The longer I live in New York City the more striking it is to me how segregated the city is. Neighborhoods and even blocks divide along ethnic designations. Schools can be monocultural even in diverse neighborhoods. It’s harder than I realized to find churches in the city that are committed to radical diversity.

All our social and civic systems work against ethnic and socioeconomic integration. It’s possible I knew that intellectually before now. But living where we live and worshipping where we worship has driven the point home: diversity doesn’t just “happen.” It takes deliberate and uncomfortable intentionality. It takes a group of people who are happy to hear all the church announcements twice—once in English and then again in Spanish—happy to sing all the songs in two languages. It takes a group of people who are willing to sacrifice their preferences so someone who sits near them can hear God speak to them the way they need to hear him.

I suppose the real gift of worshipping in a diverse urban church has been the tangible hospitality. While our service is not designed to appeal to my tastes, I am frequently moved by how accommodating people are to make sure my family feels welcome. We have been the recipients of great grace and kindness. That grace and kindness has made this vast new city feel small and familiar.

This article was originally published at: City to City.

Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 1 of 2

By Brandon O’Brien

When we moved from Arkansas to New York City, we settled in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. Our decision to live in Washington Heights was determined primarily by economics. I just could not imagine paying so much rent for so little space somewhere like the Upper West Side.

So, completely naively, we moved into the Heights and immediately became ethnic minorities.

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In addition to being white in a predominately Dominican neighborhood, my wife and I also have two adopted children. Both of them are ethnically different from us and from each other. We are quite a sight. And we’ve received our fair share of stares in the last several months—not just in the Heights. But the one place we feel totally normal is at church.

We worship in a new church called Christian Community Church of the Heights. Our service is bilingual—with music and announcements in both Spanish and English and a sermon delivered in English and translated live for Spanish speakers. The congregation is majority Latino but very diverse. In fact, the congregation reflects the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood (60-something percent Latino and 40 percent “other”). There are as many or more trans-racial couples as same-race couples.

Being surrounded by diverse families is a gift in itself, for a family like ours. We’ve received several other gifts by worshipping in a multiethnic urban church. Here are a few, presented as lessons learned. I’ve learned, for example:

Hips can be used in worship.

I’ve raised my hands in worship. I’ve bent my knees in worship. Doggone it, I’ve even clapped and swayed. But never before have my hips been tempted to involve themselves in worship. And it shows: they are very bad at it.

There’s a serious point in here somewhere. Style of worship is more than a matter of taste. Different musical forms open different possibilities, even theological possibilities. For example, I’ve sung the song “Blessed Be Your Name” in many churches in the last fifteen years. In all of them, the tone of that song has varied from reflective, even repentant, to triumphant. But when I sing it over a Caribbean bass line and rhythm section, a new possibility opens up. The song becomes positively celebratory.

In this case, musical style is a reflection of deep values and cultural personality. Our Dominican brothers and sisters know how to party, and they know how to bring that party to church. I never thought I could sing, “You give and take away” with a smile on my face. The fact that I can do it now is a gift from my diverse congregation.

*This article will continue in the next post.