Monday, January 29, 2007

Mission Trip

Have you ever tried to recruit someone for a difficult job? For the past six years, we have been recruiting for Mission trips every spring. We begin in December by announcing when we are going to the first training event and then begin planning our fund-raising opportunities. Our congregation, has been incredible in their support for the youth and adults who go.

And every year, when we return, several folks tell me that they want to go on a mission trip some day. Then in the spring, I get calls from folks telling me that I need to talk to so and so because if I push a little, then they might go on a trip. But I never make that call. I never try to convince someone to go on a Mission Trip.

Every year, I make the same appeal for adults and youth to pay attention to the dates if you want to go – if you are led to go – if it is your turn to go, so that you don’t miss any of the important paperwork dates or the training event dates, or the fund-raising dates. What I want you to realize if you ever want to go on a Mission Trip is that this requires a great commitment.

Mission trips aren’t some vacation that we can take at the last minute if there is nothing else to do. No, Mission Trips are those events that you need to feel led by God to do, so that you can join in the planning. Numbers of people at each Center and on each work team need to be calculated in the early spring, so that we know how much money to count on and how many jobs we can accomplish.

And once you make that commitment, there cannot be any other business done during the week. During that week, each person needs to focus on the work at hand and not be trying to take care of business at home, or keeping up with your social life. That is why we discourage cell phones on the trip because they are an encouragement to let your mind wander and working with power equipment; well, that just isn’t the safe thing to do.

So here is my recruiting speech. If you feel led to go on one of our summer mission trips or on the adult trip that the District is planning in March, then carefully consider the cost and make your plans now. It may well be some of the most rewarding hard work you have ever done. It will be hot. There will be long hours. You will have to sleep on a cot and you will probably gain weight because the cooks are wonderful. There will be worship every night and devotionals to do during the day. And you will get to work with some of the most terrific youth that you could ever imagine knowing.

Sound good? I hope so, but I sort of feel like the disciples listening to Jesus. Do you remember his recruiting speech? It is found in Luke and it goes like this:

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another, he said, “Follow me.” But the man said, Lord, first let me go and bury my father. But Jesus said to him, Let the dead bury the dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Another said to him, I will follow you Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home. Jesus said to him, No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

Would you believe that was a pep talk – a recruiting talk? But- but – but – and we begin to think that this Jesus guy is not right in the head. These are hard words, yet – he recruited seventy people to go out and become itinerant healers and evangelists. And when they returned to Jesus, they had wonderful stories to tell of how God had been working through their lives.

Sort of like the stories our folks tell every summer when they return from their mission. Wonderful stories. Stories that bring tears to your eyes and hope for your soul.

Well, what is it that keeps you from going on a mission or from serving God when you feel God calling you? Maybe for some folks the question is this: what is it that keeps you from becoming a Christian in the first place? Perhaps it is that you think serving God is going to be hard? Or perhaps you think that you will have to change something so you can become worthy?

I suppose that the short answer is you are right and you are wrong. It seems to me that over the past several years, the main stream Christian media has made becoming a Christian and serving the Lord too easy a thing for most of us. We have heard that all you have to do is say some magic words and you will be in forever. We have heard that often misquoted passage when bad things happen, “God makes all things work for good” and somehow we have sent the message that it is easy to become a Christian and once your “in” that life will all be good – as good as one could get.

When you read the Bible, you come to understand that that God seemed to be on a perpetual building project with his disciples. Look at those faithful disciples and apostles who get their stories told in the New Testament: Shipwrecks, stonings, suffering, arrest, persecution, illness, run through by the sword, hunger, thirst, sacrifice and loss. In fact, none of the “good” guys in the New Testament seemed to fare very well at all.

It seems that becoming a Christian and a missionary for Jesus means that life is going to change. We all know that change is inevitable but the great anxiety that most of us face is whether or not the change is purposeful or not. Is there a point to change? Is there a point to the difficulties that we face trying to follow Jesus?

The Bible assures us that there is purpose, a point, and a destiny for those who follow Jesus. The prophets, the Apostles, and other followers help us to see it, identify with it and go for it. Their message is both good news and bad news. The good news is that you are in God’s hands. And the bad news is that you are in God’s hands.

No matter how confused you might be about God or your life be assured that God is not confused and knows what he is doing. God can rescue you and reshape you to fit his purposes, no matter how much you have messed up.

I would love to discuss God's plans with you. Why not come by on Sunday and let's see if we can understand together what God wants to do in your life. See you then. Allen

Monday, January 22, 2007

Seeing Isn't Believing

Have you ever wondered why Christians say that they believe in things that they cannot see? We have just finished Christmas and heard much about the Christmas Spirit, whatever that is, and about the birth of the Messiah, the Savior of the World. And yet, no one has ever seen the Christmas Spirit, nor, for that matter, have we seen this Jesus that we are so committed to. We say that Jesus is the Light of the world and he, himself, says that he is the light of the world; but if Jesus is the Light of the world, why is there so much darkness still here?

I suppose anyone can claim to be the light of the world. Anyone can claim to be the Messiah or for that matter, anyone can claim to be God. Hey, there are institutions all over the world full of people who think they are Jesus or Napoleon Bonaparte or somebody they aren't. So why should we believe the words of this teacher from Galilee?

The reason we believe in Jesus is that there were and are proofs to substantiate his claims. In John 9 there is a story of a man born blind.

Why was he born blind? Did he sin? Well, the obvious answer to that is no because he was born that way and had no chance to sin. Well, then, it must have been his parents who sinned – right? But Jesus doesn’t tell us there was any sin involved at all – just a blind man who needed some help. And so he healed him. He brought light into his darkness and then repeats those words, “I am the light of the world.”

Okay, then what the passage means is that Jesus brings sight to the blind. If that is the case, then why are there so many blind people? Why are there so many sick people? If Jesus is the light of the world, then we want to see some results – right? It seems to me that what many people want is to find a formula, not even an easy one, but a formula for making our way through the darkness. The easy answer is to say that Jesus is the light of the world.

I like what Donald Miller says in one of his books, Searching For God knows What: "The Christian faith is not about finding a formula for life. Christianity offers a relational dynamic with God. The essence of Jesus message isn't about a bunch of hoops we must jump through to get saved nor was it a series of ideas we had to agree with. Rather, it is an invitation to know God."

When we say we believe in something we cannot see, it is because we believe in a person whose life has changed our lives. We believe in Jesus because those who follow him are people who have also been helped to find their way out of darkness.

As Phyllis Wolk said, "The outer darkness of our world can be so heavy, so oppressive. But sometimes all it takes to lift that darkness is an invitation.

In the 1994 movie, The Santa Claus, Scott Calvin finds himself suddenly at the North Pole. His comment to Judy the Elf, is "I see it but I don't believe it." To which Judy replies, "Santa, seeing isn't believing, believing is seeing."

I know you can't see Jesus, but you can see those who know him and perhaps through believing, you can come to see also. Are you in darkness? The light is here, waiting for you.

If you would like to talk about your relationship or lack thereof, with God, then come on by on Sunday. I would love to get to know you and talk about it. You won't find any easy formulas for finding light, but I hope you will get to know some folks who have light enough to share. Peace, Allen

Monday, January 15, 2007

What's the point of church?

What is your experience with Jesus? I know that is a loaded question, but it is an important one, at least, I think it is. I ask it because as 2007 gets rolling, the news media is often heard telling the world about what different religious faiths believe. They will tell you about Islam or Judaism or about Christianity, as if the world doesn't know anything.

I suspect that almost everyone in this nation, at least, has some preconceived idea of what Christianity is. Perhaps we also have our ideas of what other religions are about too. But where do they get those ideas? Did you have an experience with Christians somewhere that colored your thinking about what the faith is about? Was it a good or a not-so-good experience? Perhaps you read some books on faith or you have heard sound-bytes on the television and determined that you knew everything there was to know.

So when you get invited to any number of churches, mine included, you might think that you already know who we are and what we are about. You might think that we are here to tell you how to live your life. Or you might think that we are going to spend our time telling you how bad you are. (I always have to laugh inside at preachers who think they know how bad I am.) I determined a long time ago that there isn't anything I can guess or say that you don't already know. I suspect most people already know if they have messed up their life or not.

What I hope you hear when you come to church, especially at China Spring, is that there is hope for your life and for all of us. After all, none of us have ever gotten it all together. So as a pastor, I believe that our job is to help you find your way through all of the confusion about what church is to get to the real point of it all. And what is the point? Well, you may laugh at my simplistic answer, but the point of it all is Jesus. Jesus is the point of our life and he is the point of our death.

So, regardless of what you may think we are about at church, what we want to be is a place and a people who help you experience Jesus Christ in such a way that life begins to make sense. We want you to find hope in the midst of your worst dark night.

If you would like to talk about it, come on by. I'd love to discuss it with you.

See you on Sunday! Allen

Sunday, January 07, 2007

New Beginnings

I have just completed my first sermon for 2007. One of my New Year's Resolutions is to make my column a truly weekly (not weakly) column for this year. So I am making a new beginning in the blogasphere, if that is the correct way to spell it.

I also just returned from Tennessee where I had some valuable rest time and great visits with my Mom and my children and grandchildren, even getting to be there when my newest grand-child, Chloe JoAnn came into the world. She was 7lbs 2oz and 19 inches long. I only wish I had a picture to share with you. That will come later from my son-in-law.

As I thought about Chloe JoAnn and as I thought about today's message from Genesis, I realized that the whole world is new to her. What challenges will she face? What opportunities will she experience? What will she see in her first years of life as a new person in the world?

For most of us though the road has been long and we have seen and experienced many things already. The question is, what will we do with the opportunities that are before us? What will our world be like this year? What will I do to make it a better place?

Tom Scholz of Boston fame once wrote a song entitled, "Don't Look Back."

Don't look back
a new day is breakin'
it's been too long since I felt this way
I don't mind where I get taken
the road is callin'
today is the day!

So, what opportunities are before you right now? What new things will you accomplish in 2007? As I think about this new year, I realized that we are facing the year with a new congress and a whole new political world is opening up. Is it going to be for the better or for worse? What will happen now that a dictator has been executed?

Perhaps the real question is this, what will the world look like in 2008 because I have been here in 2007?

When God created the world, God began with the creation of light, and from light, life began. As we begin a whole new year together, I pray that you will choose to live in the light that God has already given to you as those who look forward, rather than huddling in the darkness of useless misery.

The story of Christmas is of God's sending a whole new light into the world - the light of God in Jesus Christ. Today, each of us has an opportunity to start over - to begin again in the light of life.