Saturday, September 23, 2006

Weed Control?

In my younger days, I was a landscaper. It helped me pay the bills for my college textbooks, car insurance and the occasional Saturday Night date. I hated weeds. I loved the look of fresh, lush, green lawns. The yellow head of the dandelion, was the most frustrating of all. It took away from the presentation, and, I thought, reflected poorly on my work.

One of the ways we used to control weeds that avoided using environmentally harmful herbicides, was to aerate the soil and "over-seed." My partners and I found that if we did that in the Fall, we had very few weeds, if any, in our lawns the next Spring. There was not any room for weeds to sprout up.

I recently walked into a Salvation Army teen drop-in center. The first thing that hit me was a huge sign that read "THERE WILL NOT BE ANY SECULAR MUSIC ALLOWED IN THIS FACILITY. WE ARE CHRISTIANS." Huh?

I know that there are lyrics that are objectionable in music these days. I have no problem with monitoring and discussing the message of music. I did see in the same center a huge "X-Box" room, where kids were playing Halo. You X-box mavens would know that it is one of the most popular killing games out there. Mixed message? Talk about messing up the presentation of the Christian landscape, that might have done it.

Too often, we try to tare out weeds in the church. I think we need to practice over-seeding. We many times take the herbicide approach. We will kill all the weeds with caustic messages of condemnation. It is interesting that Jesus came into the world "not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." I think he did it through over-seeding.

He even talked about this in the parable of the wheat and the tares. If you want good reading go to Matthew 13.

J. F. MacArthur writes, "We are planted by the Lord, in the world. We should never try to escape that. We are not told to sequester ourselves in a monastery or escape with other believers into a holy commune. We are to stay where we are planted and bear fruit. We might even have a positive effect on the tares."

So how do we go about that? How do we over-seed and plant so that weeds are minimalized but not killed in a caustic manner? One word comes to mind - respect. If we love and respect a person, their views, their foibles and flaws, we may be able sew just the right seed to help them become a fruitful plant. Maybe it is also time we send a message of love instead of assigning degrees of "wrong" to behaviors with which we disagree. I think that might be the best way to grow a "lawn" of grace which will be attractive to the world.

What do you think?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Salvation or safety?

I make no apology for the fact that I belong to The Salvation Army. Our middle name is "salvation." Since moving back to the tip of the Bible belt, I have heard the term "salvation" more. I have often heard the term used more in association with personal salvation. I have heard much about how people need to be saved from Hell.

Now let me say, I believe Hell is real. I believe it is the desire of God to have people experience personal salvation in Jesus. But that view of salvation in my view is selfish.

That view of salvation is more about how I can be safe. The whole of scripture is in fact a love letter from God to His people. It is also a treatise on the Kingdom. How many times does Jesus say in the Gospel that "the Kingdom is near?" In other words, it is about bringing a new order to the world. In fact, the early church was known as "the Way" and described as the people who turned the world upside down.

Paul declared that the struggle we have is against principalities and powers. Not only was he declaring that we were working against "spiritual" powers but against sin-corrupted systems, that were working to keep the Kingdom from expanding and changing the world from sin dominated to grace driven.

Salvation takes on a very different meaning from the selfish thought about what we can get out of our relationship with Jesus, to how we can change the world, environmentally, politically and economically. It means that we must not only try to save ourselves from hell but share grace that will change all these systems and in fact, bring about its salvation.

There is so much more to salvation than being a safe individual. I believe it is about bringing righteousness through love to the world. It is no longer about what we can get, but what we can do for the Kingdom. Our adoration to the Lord is played out in our devotion to mission and to living sacrificially.

I really think it is about time, that we begin concentrating not only on our own safety and what we can get out of it, but what we can give to changing the world through our stewardship and grace. In other words, salvation in my opinion is the good news that we and the world can be different. Even though hell is real, if it is the motivating factor in our lives, I believe that we are living a shallow life of selfishness. Salvation or saftey, what are we really about?

What do you think?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Call to conversion or comfortable seats?

I spent a very long time in a meeting where we spoke about the "aesthetic" effect of the placement of the chapel in a new building. One person spent an inordinate amount of time explaining how important it was to have a beautiful sanctuary so that everyone coming in to the new facility would know The Salvation Army was "a church."

I have recently been reading the revised version of the 1981 book by Jim Wallis "The Call to Conversion. Why Faith is Always Personal, But Never Private." Wallis says some profound things about how people know the folks gathering to worship at a house of worship might "know" we are a church. He writes, "Evangelism often becomes a specialty activity awkwardly conducted in noisy football stadiums or flashy TV studios, instead of being a simple testimony rising out of a community whose life together invites questions from the surrounding society. When the life of the church no longer raises any questions, evangelism degenerates.......Perhaps never before has Jesus's name been more frequently mentioned and the content of his life and teaching more thoroughly ignored."

I have recently been thinking about how people know we are a church. I contrast the meeting early in the week, with one last night. I went with about 10 other people and we walked through some lower middle class to poor neighborhoods in Cleveland. We offered prayer for the neighborhoods. We talked to families. We prayed for people in their yards and on their porches. We offered to help them have food for their families. We invited them for something to eat or drink. There was no talk about how nice our place of worship looked. It was about how much we really wanted people to know Jesus.

Let me hasten to say that I think our buildings should be clean and kept in good repair. When they become worn out, we should replace them or renovate them. I think that is part of good stewardship. Will clean buildings, pressed uniforms, orderly worship, the best projection system, or computer labs in themselves let people "know" we are a church?

I think most of that stuff is just smoke and mirrors which we think passes for church. Often I think we are more concerned about how we can be happy or satisfied, or safe from hell, instead of showing our conversion is an experience that has changed us in such a way that people want to ask the question "Who are these people?" Do we show what the Kingdom of God is all about through our sacrifice?

I am really wondering these days if we have come to the point that we have become an entitlement people. I am a professional Christian. I get paid to be a Christian servant. Am I comfortable? Yes. Am I changing the world? I want to. I think for too many of us we have put comfort, programs and marketing in the place of real witness.

Are we calling people to conversion through our lifestyle or relying on comfortable seats and bells and whistles to make them feel better about themselves without bring real change? Are we calling people to adherence to doctrine or life-changing grace? How do we bring this state of conversion to the world the way the early church did?

What do you think?