Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jesus Wept in Newtown

It's difficult to think of anything more horrific that what occured last week in Newtown, Connecticut. People responded in different ways to the news of the trajedy there. Some saw an opportunity for political discussion and reform, others questioned why, and many grieved and were in prayer for those lost and hurt.

What do you do when confronted with such a tragic situation? How are we called, as followers of Jesus, when we encounter people with unimaginable grief? Jesus, himself, gives us a model for how to approach such situations. In the Gospel of John, chapter 11, we read about the death of Lazarus. Jesus allows Lazarus to die and then raises him from the dead. He tells his disciples plainly "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe." In other words, Jesus didn't prevent Lazarus from dying and in this case, at least partly, Jesus was glad because his death would actually be used by God to bring the disciples, and so many others, to understand who Jesus really is, what he is capable of, and how he truly is the Messiah. We would never say God delights in the fact that this world is broken, yet God can use even the most horrific events for good. Of course, when in the midst of such tragedy it's difficult, to say the least, to see how this could be possible. It's important to note, however, that when Jesus makes his final approach to the tomb of Lazarus he does not give a theological explanation to those grieving. When Jesus arrives he witnesses the grief:
"When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 'Where have you laid him? he asked. 'Come and see, Lord,' they replied. Jesus wept."

Jesus wept. When we encounter people in grief, the best thing that we can do is join them in their grief. Even Jesus, who knew that he would soon resurrect Lazaus, didn't offer an explanation or rush to make the people feel better, but entered into their situation with tears and a troubled spirit. We live in a fallen world with so many broken systems and people. Many times the way we are the body of Christ, Jesus in the world, is when we pray, hold close, and cry with others about how this is not the way it's supposed to be.

We can do this without giving in to the despair because of the hope we have in Jesus. Jesus said to Lazarus' sister Martha: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who belives in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Martha said "Yes, Lord...I believe that you are the Chirst, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." We have hope, even in the most desperate of situations, because of the One, the Messiah, who came and entered into our grief, into our pain, and forged a new path to restore us to our God and the eternal abundant life that comes from knowing Him. As students in Newtown go back to school this week, I pray that they know God is there for them, even through times such as these, and that we, as followers of the Suffering Servant Jesus Christ, are here in prayer and grief with them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Oasis Cafe and Worship Update

When we began this blog back in August, the very first post was about our plans for a new young adult service on Monday nights called Oasis. I'm excited to announce that the area reshaped for that service has been a wonderful gathering spot for fellowship both before and after worship. The chapel as well has been making its transformation every week for the last month into "Oasis Worship."

We've been gathering an average of about 30 young adults each Monday, some of whom have never been on our campus before and each Monday we've had new faces! We started with a series about who Oasis would strive to be as a worshipping community and are now paralleling the sermons being shared on Sunday mornings though in a different style. The short teaching moments are all available online as full video so that anyone who might miss the service can catch up. We currently have the video during the service play on the new television in the Oasis as well as are making plans to eventually stream the services live!

This new expression of worship has a website and a facebook page to help facilitate communication and interaction. Probably most exciting is an expression close to the concept of missional community, called an Oikos, forming from those attending this service who are committed and excited about being the church out in the world through loving one another, service, and discipleship. It's so exciting to see God at work in new ways through Trinity as an Oasis, a wellspring of spiritual refreshment.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner

Last Sunday our church family gathered together in the evening to have Thanksgiving dinner and it was wonderful! The food was fantastic, the worship was authentic, and the message from Pastor Carey about being Thankful was much needed. We also expressed our thankfulness tangibly as we collected an offering for people in need within our own church family and local community as well as for South Brevard Sharing Center. During the evening, Pastor Michael shared a video clip from The Blind Side, a movie I had never seen before.

Before this clip above, the family runs from the televisions, grabs food, and then runs and sits down again. Watching it may have made a few of us feel guilty for the times we have spent our meals being entertained professionally rather than enjoying the relationships that we have, but I think the message was a good one. We are built for relationship and even though it may seem easier to check out of family and check into television and entertainment, those avenues are false places of rest. They may fill a short term desire and give instant gratification, but relationships are more enduring and fulfill a deeper sense of purpose for which we are designed. 

The Blind Side illustrates how a family can spend time together, but what was great about Sunday night is that we were gathered together not by blood, but by one Spirit, the Spirit of God, as one Body, the Body of Christ. The bond that united us as  family for that Thanksgiving meal was the eternal oneness that we experience in communion with Jesus Christ and one another. I'm so thankful for not having to walk my faith alone, or even with just my family at home, but with so many other brothers and sisters in Christ as we all gather together as a spiritual family. Thank you to everyone for just being there. 

"Oh how good, and oh how pleasant, it is with the brethren dwell together, in unity."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Political and Holiday Seasons

As this particular political season comes to end and we can finally begin to step back a little from the issues, the candidates, and the results (whether we are elated or depressed) it's worthwhile to note that in the wider view of history that Christ still reigns over all things and that He is the object of our focus.

Over 2000 years ago Jesus said when asked about the politics of taxation in the context of Roman oppression "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." We are participants in the politics of the world to an extent, giving Caesar what is his. I have no doubt that as citizens of our nations we should participate as citizens especially in the process of elections but more broadly speaking we are citizens of another kingdom. We give to God what is God's, namely everything we have, we are, and do. This is where Jesus has people focus, even in the less than favorable political conditions of his day.

Later, Paul wrote similarly in Romans 13. "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established...whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted....This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants." Paul commends the early Church to be subject to the Roman authorities and in other letters to pray for them regardless of whether we are satisfied or dissatisfied with the establishment.

Jesus and Paul had a broader view. Jesus saw a greater enemy than the emperor of Rome, a spiritual enemy, namely sin and death. Paul saw that the most effective way of seeing God's kingdom come, was not through rebellion, through turning the table on those in power through politics. The kingdom of God, or in more contemporary terms "God's nation and government", is not of this world. We can't point to a nation and say "See, there it is." Both Jesus and Paul saw that the way to truly change the world was not through overthrowing earthly authorities and establishing political entities, but through the good news of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

They saw beyond one particular season to the big picture. As we get ready to celebrate our holiday season, I'm reminded that we celebrate Christmas at this time of year not because we have accurately recorded the day of Jesus' birth, but because the early Church took over the pagan holidays of the winter solstice that was celebrated during the darkest days of the year. The days get shorter and shorter during this Holiday season, so we gather together and celebrate knowing that this winter season is not all there is. Indeed after the winter solstice the days get longer and longer and we know that we can look forward to new life in Spring. 

As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, as citizens of another kingdom, we focus not on one particular season, whether we believe it to be dark or light in the moment, but rather we take a broader view; a view of history as a whole where we see the victory of Christ over 2000 years ago, His continuing reign over all things, and He is the hope that we hold onto. We fix our "eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith" (Hebrews 12:2). We know that He alone is our savior both individually and corporately. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Missional Community Seminar

We recently had a Missional Community Seminar to help introduce the concept of Missional Communities at Trinity Presbyterian Church. I've broken the seminar up into 4 sessions that last for a total of just over an hour. If you're interested at all in getting involved or starting your own Missional Community, then start here!

Session 01 provides a foundation for the shift in church models. Session 02 provides the basic information behind what a Missional Community is and does. Session 03 is on the goals of these Missional Communities. Session 04 examines the practical steps to starting a Missional Community.

Session 01

Session 02

Session 03

Session 04

This is a very condensed version of the wealth of information out there about Missional Communities. For a more thorough explanation from the experts. Check out 3DM and Soma Communities.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Whole Hearted Worship

Greg Ogden states that “The functions of the church have been variously defined as teaching, fellowship, outreach, and worship.  Of these important functions, honoring God through worship is the church’s primary purpose, because it is our eternal vocation.” 

As the body of Christ, it is our primary call and purpose to whole heartedly worship God; it is our life’s purpose, so it's no suprise that this is one of Trinity's core beliefs.  We do this because He is totally and completely worthy.  Sometimes we think that worship is just music or singing in church, but true worship is something that we do all the time.  It is in our hearts and our attitudes.  It is in our acknowledgement that we are not God and that we don’t do things our way, but that we acknowledge all that God is and we give up our self-lordship.  When we understand this, then we keep ourselves from getting caught up in different styles of worship or worship practices, and we acknowledge that though we may prefer a particular style of worship and that is perfectly acceptable, that our entire lives should be an act of worship. 

So as we approach the start of a new service at Trinity, Oasis, that will seek to have a different worship style to reach more people, the thing that is the most exciting is not that there will be another style of worship offered at Trinity, but that there will simply be another opportunity for God’s people to gather together and do what we were created to do, worship our God, who is worthy!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Missional Community

Recently in the history of our nation, we've seen a dramatic shift in how the culture relates to the Christian faith. In the past, the culture of the United States was dominantly a Christian culture. As a result, almost everyone went to some kind of church and churches were the centers of activity and communities. Today, the cultural climate is constantly changing and it is no longer the case that the church is the center of community. Instead various subcultures or groups of people have developed community in other ways, sometimes around particular geographic areas, like a neighborhood, but also around shared interests and activities, like surfing for example. We are increasingly living in a nation that resembles the wide range and mix of philosophies, beliefs, and lifestyles that Paul encountered in the Roman Empire in the book of Acts. This transition in culture is resulting in a need for us, as the Church, to transition our strategies for fulfilling the Mission of the Church to seek and save the lost and in seeing the kingdom of God come to every people group.

We are increasingly finding that larger and larger portions of the population see the institutional church as just one more subculture or community of people.  The same way missionaries wouldn't expect a group of people in India to sing in English, and follow the format of American churches, so also our hope, in this rapidly changing climate, is to adopt a model that is missionary in nature, that takes the gospel to different cultures and groups of people finding a diversity and variety of gospel expression rather than trying to force these different communities into a particular expression of "church".

Rather than sending individuals out on their own to try and accomplish this kingdom growth, we believe that we are called as a body, as Missional Communities, to work together each with their own gift, to reach a particular group of people that God has placed on our hearts. The basic structure of a Missional Community, should look similar to how the church functions, because these groups are the church, the body of Christ, in the world.

These missional communities are Families of God, Learners of our Lord Jesus, and Servants in the world. They each in and of themselves are an expression of God's Church on mission to seek and save the lost, they are families of servant learners.

They are families that love one another because Jesus said "By this everyone will know that your are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35) The Missional Communities are family and practice eating together, fellowship, loving, and caring for one another.

They are learners that teach each other, disciple each other, in order that we are prepared as missionaries to "give a reason for the hope within us" (1 Peter 3:15). The Missional Communites, as learners, listen to their people group, and discover a way of telling the story of God as a gospel proclamation in a way that particular group of people can understand.

They are servants to their chosen groups of people because our Lord Jesus "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). The Missional Communities listen, alter their lifestyle patterns, and find ways to serve their particular groups of people as a demonstration of the gospel.

Again, these Missional Communities will take different expressions and forms, much like the Church takes different forms in different cultures and countries, but one possible pattern, after weeks of listening, could be the following:

Week 1: Fellowship with the Group of People (Neighborhood BBQ) - Invite all people to Week 4
Week 2: Meet together for prayer, planning next event, and teaching on questions that came up at the BBQ.
Week 3: Meet in groups of 2-3 for accountability and discipleship.
Week 4: Love and Serve the Group of People (Clean up neighborhood park) - Invite all people to Week 7
Week 5: Meet together for fellowship, eating a meal together.
Week 6: Meet together for discipleship, working through a study on sharing the gospel.
Week 7: Community Story Telling: Share with those who are interested God's story in their language
Week 8: Repeat pattern

While the above is not based on actually listening to a particular community, hopefully the idea of participating in their community, loving and serving them, and communicating the gospel in an understandable language comes across as primary goals of the Missional Community. The glue, in between and throughout those weeks, is actual daily involvement in the lives of the group of people chosen.

The first step in forming a Missional Community, is much like that in sending a long term mission team. A body of believers, a core group, must understand the vision and devote some time and effort to this endeavor. Follow this link to find videos that dive deeper into what a Missional Community is.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When Everything is Mission

As Mission Director and as someone with a heart for missions, it's been interesting to watch how the words Mission, Missions, and most recently Missional have been used to describe a whole host of activities and calls upon the Church. In the past and in many churches today, missions was one of the many different departments within the church alongside other ministries like evangelism, children, youth, worship, and so on.

More recently, there has been a move from using Missions as a term for a department within the church, to the term Mission to describe the whole purpose of the Church, and most recently the term Missional to describe a Church that is responding to the call to fulfill the Mission of the Church. By the way, the "Missio Dei" or the Mission of God is to seek and save the lost and as God the Father sent the Son, so also the Son sends the Church into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate, proclaim, and live out the gospel.

In the past the worship department's goal was providing the best worship. The Children's Ministry focused on how can we teach and take care of our children the best. In this newer model, everything that the church does is for the purpose of Mission. Our Worship is designed to seek and save the lost, bringing them into an experience with God. Our Children are disciples so that they can seek and save the lost. There is at least one concern that I've found as the church has shifted its terminology. When something is everything, then it is nothing. In other words, if worship, adult discipleship, children ministry, student ministry, walking down the street, going to publix, eating a donut in the fellowship hall is the "Mission of God" then we have effectively removed the calls of Evangelism and what we formerly called Missions to the ends of the earth. Due to our human nature we will almost always choose the easier path. Which is easier, talking to someone in Publix or preaching the gospel in Iran? If they are both Mission, which would you be more inclined to do?

When Jesus gave the great commission in Matthew 28 he said "Go, therefore, into all nations" and the word for nations is a greek word which more literally means "people groups." In Matthew 24 Jesus tells us that the gospel of the kingdom "will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." The end of the Mission of the Church isn't near until we reach all nations, all people groups. Sometimes when churches focus on their own communities and being missional, they lose sight of this call on the Church to complete its mission and go to the ends of the earth. New terms like "Frontier Missions" and "Unreached people groups" have helped try to reforge a place for this call in the "mission", heavy laden, new language of today. The Joshua Project keeps track of the progress of the global Church in completing its mission.

Pastor John Piper says that the biblical weight of the call on the Church to reach unreached people groups, those people groups that do not have a significant Christian presence to evangelize themselves, leaves us with only three choices. First, we can radically go ourselves, as Paul did, to these people groups. Two, we can radically support those who do go, as the early churches support Paul and others. Thirdly, we can choose to be disobedient.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Evening Oasis Service

It has been an exciting first year as Associate Pastors at Trinity Presbyterian Church. When Pastor Benita and I were first called to Trinity, we were asked to be "cultural architects" of a new service. As we delved into the information from previous task forces dating as far back as 2005, we were able to come on board with the vision of offering a new evening service with the primary themes of authenticity over production, spirituality over institution, and embracing the benefits that new mediums of technology can provide. As we pass our one year mark, how wonderful it is to begin to see the foundations being laid for a new evening service to be offered beginning in late November on Monday nights from 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM.

The service will begin with a time of fellowship over coffee and tea in what is currently the Media Center in the Oasis area of the church. In fact, because this area is part of the heart of our worship, we'll probably refer to this service as "Oasis". Already we're working with an interior designer to see how best to change that space into a welcoming atmosphere that will be where we gather before and after worship, while at the same time keeping our valuable library collection intact and available. In addition to using this space and the life group breakout rooms for fellowship and prayer before and after the service, we hope to provide a live feed of the worship once its begun to a monitor in the Oasis area (as well as streaming it online) so that those who wish may remain in this fellowship area and still be connected to the service. After connecting with one another, catching up, maybe grabbing a cup of Haitian coffee, we'll transition into the time of worship by walking over to the chapel space. This space will have more involved and intimate seating in the front, and more relaxed seating, similar to the fellowship space, on the edges. Whereas Pastor Michael carries most of the teaching responsibilities for the Sunday morning services, this service will be led musically by Pastor Benita and most of the teaching moments will be led by Pastor Samuel. We also hope to be able to provide childcare for children through kindergarten for those with younger ones in their families.

A lot is coming together and again, we're excited, but in order for this service to be meaningful and authentic, we hope that those who feel led would contact us about helping form the heart of the service by serving as relational facilitators before and after the service, helping the body worship through gifts of music, sharing the load of setting up and breaking down the chapel space, preparing and serving a variety of coffees, helping the technological aspects of the service come together, and bringing your own thoughts and gifts to this expression of joy and thanks as we worship our great and loving God in response to seeing His kingdom come in our lives and in our communities. In the immediate future there is a great need for those gifted with painting and construction skills as we revamp the Oasis library area into the Oasis cafe area! There's so much more to share and to see as God works here through His people. Please continue to pray that this expression, Oasis, might be a well-spring of refreshment for all people.