Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Test of Love

I’m preparing to attend Quest Church Planter Training Intensive, a three day training around new church starts. A part of the pre-training preparation includes the reading of “A New Testament Trilogy”. I’ve not yet completed the book, but the following quote leapt out at me.

“The homogeneous church is not a picture of heaven but of earth dwellers who find it hard to relate to those who are different. Loving those like you, as worthy as it is, is not an award-winning activity. Jesus made it clear that even the Pharisees greet those that greet them. Or as Dallas Willard boldly asserts, the Mafia is nice to those that are nice to them. Loving those who are not like you and even those who abuse you and use you (Matthew 5:48) requires a supernatural Jesus-like love. This kind of love can only come from the person of the Holy Spirit in yielded hearts that long to reflect the truth and grace of God and exists between the persons of the Trinity. Maybe this has something to do with why the Church is America is so impotent to change our cities and communities. The love we employ is natural and centered more on the self than upon God, geared more towards personal fulfillment than the extension of God’s Kingdom, and tends to decline when not received, rewarded, or acknowledged. In this respect we are much more like the world in our practices and lifestyles. That is, those who have a sense of morality in the world.” A New Testament Trilogy, Our God, Ourselves, Our Community. Tom Johnston & Mike Chong Perkinson, pp.31-32.

Does this describe your church, your walk with God. I’ve seen it at work in many churches. We’ve learned to love those who are like us. Some congregations are very good at loving each other, but those who are unlike us, that is a more difficult proposition.

Try this simple test:

1. Imagine you came to church next week and someone was sitting in your pew (I know most of us have a regular pew). Your choice is to sit somewhere else or share the pew with this stranger. Imagine the kind of person with whom you would choose to share the pew. Imagine the kind of person with whom you would choose to sit somewhere else. In this scenario it is not an option to ask the person to move (even though I’ve heard and even witnessed such actions).

I suspect if we are truly honest there is a long list of persons we might choose to avoid. The are likely different from us in some way; age, sex, race, dress, hygiene, etc.

This could be a simple test of love. Are we willing to love them, not from afar, but right up close, shoulder to shoulder? By loving I do not mean a warm, fuzzy feeling, but a way of acting, behaving that is accepting, welcoming and caring.

1 John 4 reminds us:

My dear friends, we must love each other. Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows that we have been given new life. We are now God's children, and we know him. God is love, and anyone who doesn't love others has never known him… But if we say we love God and don't love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don't love the people we can see?

I pray the time will come for you and me when others will know us as followers of Jesus by the way we love others, particularly those who are not like us.

Grace & peace,


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Is this the place you would come if you did not already belong here?

This great question is posed in a weekly email newsletter, “Leading Ideas”, created by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. The Lewis Center is part of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. (Here is a link to their site:

Is this a place you would come if you did not already belong here? This question invites not only a “yes” or “no” response, but an additional question; Why?

Why do you attend the church you attend?

Why would someone else wish to attend?

Is your (or my) reason for attending the same as someone who does not currently attend?

If you didn’t attend this church, would you attend another?

If so, which one? Why?

I invite you to think deeply and move beyond the simple first response. Share the question with others and listen to their response.

See what you can learn.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Where Are The Youth?

I get asked that question all the time. It comes in many forms. Some ask why there are no youth in their church. Others ask why parents don’t bring their kids. One church even asked how they can make the kids like what they do.

I find it frustrating. Last time I checked most of our communities have schools and those schools; elementary, middle, high schools and colleges all have kids and young adults in them. I drive through communities and see kids playing. I drive by soccer fields and see all ages running around. So the problems isn’t that we’ve suddenly stopped having children. People in New England are still perpetuating the species and a reasonable rate.

This rant isn’t about blame. It seems we get hung up on blame. We blame parents, society, kids, sports, schools for the lack of people under 25 in our churches. But blaming hasn’t increased their numbers in our pews. If it did we’d have run out of space long ago.

So where are the youth? Maybe that is the wrong question. Rather where is the church? Do we really want youth in our church? What are we willing to do to reach them and bring them in? One church in this district provides a place for teens to hang out on Friday’s? Another has an active group which engages in mission activities. Some even have worship services geared to reach youth and young adults.

I am beginning to suspect that most of our congregations (of course that is us) don’t really want youth. We want the “idea” of youth who will then continue on what we are doing. But we are not willing to learn what they need or invest the time and resources to really reach out to them. How many of us have had a conversation with someone between the age of 12 – 18 in which we asked about their interests, listened to their ideas and paid attention to their concerns?

What kicked this off for me was another request from someone looking for a United Methodist church with youth or young adults. They are looking for a congregation who care about young adults and youth. I find it frustrating when I can not direct them to a place within 30 miles of their home, because none of our churches around them reach out to people between the ages of 15 and 25.

Does it frustrate you? Do you have a heart to do something about it in your church? Well, what are you waiting for?


Hey, if you are already engaged in an exciting outreach to youth, share it here. Talk back, let’s hear it.

Handle this Prayer with Care

Wesley Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

Do you realize, Lent is coming?

Two weeks from today is the beginning of the season of Lent. Traditionally, Lent is a time of preparation, preparation for Easter. It is a great time to take on a new spiritual practice. Many use it to do something that will refocus their lives closer to God. The tradition of giving up something for Lent, is really about shaking up the normal routine to refocus our lives on God.

Lent is a great time to try out fasting, tithing, intentional Bible study, service to others, prayer, daily devotion or many other spiritual disciplines. I’d like to offer one here, the Wesley Covenant prayer. This prayer, from John Wesley, offers a radical refocusing of life. It challenges us to dependence upon God. To place ourselves completely in God’s hands.

I offer it to you as a daily Lenten practice. Pray this prayer each day during Lent and see what happens. It is the kind of prayer we grow into. We might first pray with the intention that we will someday really mean it. That is okay. That is honest. The prayer challenges us to grow, to let go, to become more fully what God wants us to be.

Please be warned, this prayer when practiced regularly, will change your life. Pray it with care.