Friday, April 30, 2010

Programs, projects, people

There are different ways of approaching the activities we pursue. This is true in the individual sense, and also true in the larger, corporate sense.

Churches and corporations (and even individuals) can engage in programs. Major, full-on, organized activities focused on a particular demographic (seniors, men, single moms, homeless teens), or goals (expansion/growth).
Programs tend to set goals and priorities based on tangible, observable statistics. “We now have three new locations, we raised a $million for the new building, 20 new moms are now part of our parenting class.” It's the numbers that count—the 3 B's of bucks, butts or buildings. Success is based on an adequate increase in the numbers. Churches may use the word 'ministries' instead of 'programs', but the idea is still the same.
So, how does it feel to be nothing more than a number? One of many others who have made some organization feel successful, even if no one knows who you are. What tends to be missing in the program paradigm is the personal aspect.
Instead of statistics or size, we begin to realize that we need to focus on people.

But often this turns into making someone our project. We focus on 'fixing' someone. They have a problem, and we decide to take them on like a contractor might take on a reno job.
Now success is gauged on just that that—success. It has been a successful project if the desired end has been reached. The individual has stopped using drugs, been re-united with their spouse, or found a job. Once the project is completed, the focus changes to someone new.
It is even worse if the project is deemed a failure (the individual is still using, finalizes the divorce, or never gets a job). Sooner or later the project is dropped like the proverbial hot potato.
So, how does it feel to be a project? It is still dehumanizing. You are only important until the particular 'job' is done. No lasting relationship has been formed. Note: 'conversions' usually fall into this category. Once the person has 'said the prayer' they are funneled into a program for new Christians.

That moves us to the third alternative—people. Meeting someone and making a friend. Not to fit them into your church's ________ program, not to make them your project, but just to get to know them. To find out things they like to do and have fun together. To affirm their existence. To hang out. To listen.
--even if they never come to your church.
--even if they don't stop any of their bad habits.
To be friends.
And that is how success is rated in this paradigm.

If the shoe was on the other foot, which would mean the most to you?
--being a statistic in a successful program somewhere?
--being taken on as someone's project?
--or being a friend?
I thought so.

And What Would Jesus Do?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Amazing Grace

It can really get quite messy, this concept of grace. Once you realize that you are the recipient of it, you are responsible to extend it to others.

Think about it.
Is God gracious?
Does his grace include favor, affirmation, acceptance?
How gracious is he?
Not, somewhat, quite, very, infinitely?
What does God require or expect in order to give away his grace?
What do we do in order to deserve it?

We are taught that God is gracious and compassionate. We see it all over the life of Jesus. We hear him tell us to live the same way.
Then we use the Bible to clobber people who don't line up with our theology.

We are told that grace is free, that it cannot be earned. We see that demonstrated in Christ.
Then we preach that God only loves/accepts you if:
--you believe the 'right' way
--you live the 'right' way
--you follow a particular set of rules
--you sign on the dotted line.

Either God is gracious, loving and compassionate,
or he only loves those that we figure make the grade.

You can't have both.
Don't bother doing the 'Bible clobber' thing and also try to say that God is gracious. We've already turned off millions of people with that hypocrisy. Grace suffers every time you try to make the Bible say something that limits his love for absolutely everyone.
If it comes to a disagreement between God's unlimited graciousness and my understanding of the Bible, it's my biblical interpretation that needs to be reworked.

Speaking of hypocrisy, I'm continually having to face my own thoughts and actions. If I have received the benefits of God's unlimited grace, I need to reflect the same to all I meet.
--I have no right to choose who 'deserves' the food I hand out on the street, or who gets my spare change.
--Even though I figure that the kid on the bus should know enough to give up his seat to the lady with the walker, I still have to grant him grace.
--When I see the good church folk on their way to a Sunday service ignoring the hungry/cold/wet street campers, I need to be gracious, and not think evil of them.
--I even need to be gracious toward people who call themselves 'Christian', but are legalistic, arrogant, unloving or not gracious. (Although I'll still call them on their sad, limited, ungracious understanding of God.)

I know God still loves all of them, so I need to as well.
I know from experience that God loves me when I am a jerk, so I need to do the same.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

In praise of good friends

Who says technology is a bad thing? (OK, sometimes I do, but not this time.)

Ron (weary pilgrim) and I had the extreme pleasure of hanging out for a couple hours today with Ian (shallowfrozenwater).

That whole scenario wouldn't have happened a generation ago.

The three of us weren't blogging then (neither was anyone else, for that matter). So, we wouldn't have discovered that we are on similar journeys, and wouldn't have known we have lots in common.

And Ron & I wouldn't have had any reason to discover that Ian and his wife are here in Victoria for a couple weeks R & R.

And we wouldn't have got together for lunch.

It was a good time of getting to know the man behind the blog. I suppose Ian was doing the same with us.

It was only a few months ago that I first met Ron, and we embarked on our common search for the things of the Kingdom. That started out with coffee once a week. Now we also do CARTS together, and recently I joined the Monday dish crew at the Rainbow Kitchen that Ron has been part of for quite a while.

Sorry to say, I won't be able to do anything similar with Ian, since he heads back to Winnipeg in a few days. But I at least have a more up-to-date visual image of him than the avatar on his blog!

Oh yes, I also need to mention that Ian joined us for part of our CARTS jaunt last Friday. I tell you, there's nothing like seeing a guy get right into serving to show me that his heart is in the right place. (And he picked the most horrendous weather to be with us.)

Blessings, Ian. It has been an honor and a joy to meet you.

And I hope to meet more of my blogging bros sometime.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Are you a New Testament Christian?

Is it your goal to live as close as possible to the way the early church lived?
Are you making sure you don't eat any food offered to idols, wearing a head covering (if you are a woman), or treating your slaves well (if you are their master), or obeying your master (if you are a slave)? Are you making sure that women are silent in your church and have no place of authority?
Or is that pretty much entirely missing the point?

It's easy to see the specific things the Bible talks about. Some things that may well have been really important to people two thousand years ago. But don't enter into life much today.
It's harder to get down into what is below the surface. It takes more energy, more thought, more heart. It takes being willing to find out what God is like.
Instead of finding a verse that might fit your favorite theory, it involves truly digging.
You might discover that the God you have created isn't at all like the one you discover. You might discover that God is much more loving than you figured. That he loves a much wider assortment of people than you want him to.
Take a look as Jesus. Tell me one group of people that he didn't love. That he didn't accept. That he had any harsh words for.
Well, yes, there is one group. But you might not want to look to close at them. You might recognize a bit of your self-righteous side.
But you won't find any kind of segregation, any 'insiders' and 'outsiders'.

Back to trying to live like a first century Christian.
The world doesn't need someone who is out of touch with their reality. If people are going to be attracted to Jesus, it will be through people who understand life today. Who have discovered that the message of Jesus has something to say in today's world.
That this Jesus who showed he loved everyone 2000 years ago still has that kind of inclusive love today.
That he still says; “Neither do I condemn you.”
And that his followers echo that sentiment.

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