Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bottled Mission Trip

Paul, in his writings, gives us this picture of a church in which the Lord has placed many people with different abilities, each doing their own thing, but together accomplishing the purposes of God. While I see this all the time, nowhere has it been more clear than on Mission Trip. At the time of this writing, we've seen eight souls saved. We had a couple of gifted soul winners on this trip and the Lord put their gift to use. But they wouldn't have been able to do that without other members of the team identifying people for them to talk to, and that was made possible by members of the team gaining the trust of these people by helping them with home repairs. Of course, all of this was made so much easier because of a gifted administrator leading the team.

As we near the end of our trip, there is talk of "Why do we do this on mission trip but not at home? We need to continue this back in Fort Worth." While I understand the sentiment, I think we tend to encapsulate things like Mission Trip as if it were an experiment in evangelism that can be used to tell us what the church is doing wrong. We ought not think that. If we truly believe that the church is like a body working together, we should realize that the short-term mission team is bigger than the eighteen of us who loaded our tools on a trailer and drove to Albuquerque. Of course there was planning and fund raising that took place before we went. But there were other things that had to happen as well.

Most of the young people on this trip are people I once worked with in Awana. I had some impact on their development as did many others in our church. When I hear talk of doing stuff at home that is similar to Mission Trip, I don't see how I can do that without dropping some of the other things I'm doing. But part of our effectiveness on Mission Trip is due to training that has taken place in months a years leading up to it.

So what am I saying? Mission Trip isn't something we can bottle up and take home. That whole concept is backwards, because Mission Trip is the harvest that follows a lot of planting and watering. What the Lord enabled our team to do was to bottle what has been going on at South Park and pour it out over a dry, barren mobile home park. That's not to say that South Park has no room for improvement, but without the things South Park does, we wouldn't have been able to accomplish much.

Let's make improvements where we can, and let's pray to see a harvest in Fort Worth, but let us not fail to continue teaching or we won't have anything to bottle for future mission trips.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Problem With Wednesday "Prayer Meeting"

Churches used to call the Wednesday evening service “Prayer Meeting.” The church I attended when I was young didn’t have a “Prayer Meeting.” So, when I asked my mother about other churches who listed “Prayer Meeting” on their church sign, I got an image in my head that is very different from what I see in our church. In our church, we sing a song, and then we go over the prayer list. Someone prays a short prayer and then someone gets up and lectures for the remaining time.

As a child, I pictured people gathering in a room and spending an hour or more doing nothing but praying. I couldn’t grasp how anyone would willingly spend an hour or more doing nothing but praying. What a shock it was when I attended my first “Prayer Meeting.” And yet, I wonder why churches don’t spend more time in prayer at a “Prayer Meeting.”

But I see things wrong with both the idea I had as a child and the way we handle prayer meetings now. If all you do is have everyone pray the prayer they’ve memorized to pray during worship services, it might take an hour, but it misses the concept that prayer is to be a conversation with God. And while having another opportunity for someone to teach a lesson may be a good thing, teaching a lesson is not prayer.

Consider the “prayer list.” People surely don’t intend for it to be this way, but more time explaining the nature of the illness a friend has, or what is being done to treat it than the amount of time spent praying for the person. We always have the President and other leaders mentioned on the list, but when was the last time we spent a significant amount of time praying for them?

Both in Wednesday Evening Prayer Meetings and Sunday school prayer lists, we have the problem that after we’ve spent a significant amount of time listening to people talk about their problems or the problems their friends are having, we cut the actual prayer short because we know that we need to leave time for the person who is going to bring the lesson. In Sunday school, it makes sense to cut out prayer time in favor of the lesson, but it is much too rare for us to have a time of corporate prayer that isn’t rushed. Perhaps my childhood concept isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Imagine, a group of people gathering, not to listen to someone lecture, or to gossip about their friend’s illnesses, but to spend an hour in conversation with God. Having a conversation with God isn’t about us telling God what we think we need, but rather it involves finding what he is telling us in his word and responding in prayer. It isn’t about adding “if it is your will” to the end of our prayer. Rather, we should be digging into his word, so that we know that what we are asking is in his will. Having a conversation with God isn’t about general blanket statements that cover whatever requests might be on the list, but is much more specific in what we are asking him to do. I see nothing wrong with a church gathering for a third preaching service, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a true “Prayer Meeting” where the whole church gathered before the throne of God?

Monday, June 2, 2014

When the Executioner Knocks

When I was a kid, I remember learning about the Christian martyrs—people who were burned, or torn apart, or stoned—and I remember thinking, “It would be cool to die a death like that.” I’ve since lost some of my desire for that kind of death, but I remember having these thought of standing before someone (in my mind it was always a king) and being asked if I believed in Jesus. To live, all I would have to say is, “No,” but I would answer that yes, I do believe in Jesus Christ and I will not deny my faith in him. For that cause, I would die a martyr’s death. I remember talking to my mother about this and her saying, “We could face something like that one day.”

The persecution that I imagined as a child was nothing more than a fantasy. And yet, the executioners are at our doorstep. A discussion we had at church on Sunday made me realize that we are already being asked to deny Christ in exchange for our lives, but it isn’t by a king in the king’s court. What will our response be?

On Sunday, when someone suggested that we in America wouldn’t respond as well as the martyrs we see in other countries, I responded to say that we shouldn’t assume that. My reasoning—and I believe I was right—was that we have the same Holy Spirit dwelling in us that they have in them. Anyone who is following the leadership of the Holy Spirit will respond well. Don’t believe me? Read Luke 12:11-12. While we might think we will respond poorly when faced with that situation, Jesus had confidence in the Holy Spirit’s ability to guide us.

But someone made the comment that if she were given a choice between denying her faith and the lives of her children, she would deny her faith in an instance. I want to say that I would rather my children see that Jesus was more important to me than them, but that hollow, since I have neither children nor a wife. In any case, her response made me realize that the question, “Will you deny your faith in Jesus for your life?” has taken on a different form than standing before a king or a judge.

Consider Danny Cortez, who over a long period of pastoring a Southern Baptist church, decided that he no longer believes the traditional teachings concerning homosexuality. I listened to some of what he said about how he came to that decision. No one put a gun to his head and said, “Stop teaching what the Bible says about homosexuality or die.” Instead, over a fifteen year period, he had numerous people come to him and admit to having same sex attraction. As a novelist, I can tell you that every good story begins with the protagonist dying. But the death is of the form that if something doesn’t happen in the protagonist’s life, he would rather die than continue doing what he is doing. Danny Cortez being told by so many of his friends that they were having homosexual temptation and realizing that they could never allow themselves to get intimate with the object of their affection is a good example. For him, that realization was a type of death. Of course, it wouldn’t have been for me. I’m single, so if Danny Cortez had told me how sad he was that these people could never have sex, I would’ve said, “Get over it! I may never have sex either.”

But the point is that for Danny Cortez it was a type of death and he was given the choice between denying the teachings of God’s word and experiencing that death that he felt. That is not so different from the mother at church. For her, the death of her children was a far worse death than her own death. Of course we know that anytime we place anything before God, it is idolatry and it is very dangerous. We may think it simple. If denying God will save our children, then deny God. But we have more to fear from God. If God so chooses, he can protect our children from the sword of the persecutor. But if we deny our faith in Jesus, God may take the lives of our children anyway. And worse, he may leave us here to think about what we did.

It isn’t just the issue of unconsummated homosexuality or the death of our children. That is the one that is in the news, but other things may seem worse than death as well. I see people who give in to their children’s desires to be involved in immodest activities, because seeing their children cry is worse than death. People get involved with gambling, because not being able to support the lifestyle they desire is worse than death. People turn to drugs because they fear pain of various kinds as if it were death itself. People divorce their spouses, because see death as preferable to putting up with them. Single people turn to sex without having first been married, because being alone feels like it is worse than death.

For Christians, it may not be these things, but have you considered what you would do if the company you worked for began firing people who opposed homosexuality? I expect we’ll see that happen very soon. And what if the government tries to force you to pay for abortions? That is already happening. It is easy for us to say that we won’t deny Christ, as long as there is food on the table, but as Peter discovered, when we’re surrounded by the enemy, it is difficult to take a stand.

But I still believe that if we spend time in God’s word and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, we have an advantage that Peter didn’t have. The executioner may be knocking at our door, but the Holy Spirit is there to guide us to the right answer, if we will just seek him and let him do his work.