A Season of Reconnection

Ah, welcome September. So happy to see you Fall and cooler weather.  Hello, school days. Nice to have you back, Football, my old friend. But of all the things I’m glad to see back I’m most glad to see a season of reconnection when people begin reconnecting with routines, schedules, and church.

       You’re going to hear a lot about reconnection this Fall. Reconnection will be our theme in the months ahead beginning here in September. Reconnection will begin with Homecoming 2018 on September 16th. On that day we’ll, as usual, invite home so many members of our family as we remember those gone before and we'll hear a fine message from one of our favorite sons, Steve Davis. Steve grew up in our ministry and has gone on to do well as a minister of music and pastor. But reconnection will not end with Homecoming. We’re just getting started.

September 23rd will be Reconnection Sunday. On that day we’re launching an entire season in which we will consider all the ways we each need to reconnect with what God is doing in our lives and church. We’ll ask questions like “What is the reason we’re here? What’s a church for?”  I think the reason we’ll find might be the simplest, most obvious, and most challenging reason you’ll ever hear. You’ll have to wait to find out what it is. As we consider this answer to this most important question we’ll be asking you to reconnect with a number of ways we grow our spiritual lives.  We’ll ask you to reconnect with prayer and become a truly praying person. We’ll ask you to reconnect with worship and to gather with the rest of our body each Sunday as we together show the world what the real world truly is. We’ll ask you to reconnect with a Bible study group because we know that what we really need is to be together face to face with a group of believers with the Scriptures in between us. We’ll ask you to reconnect with our mission to the outside. We are here to show those outside what real love is, real family and real life is, and to invite them to come join us. We’ll ask you to reconnect with servanthood by saying yes to helping and making sacrifices. That’s, umm, kind of what Jesus did, isn’t it? And aren’t you and I supposed to be like him? Along that line we’ll ask you, too, to reconnect with stewardship. God gives each of us a portion of his world to have as our stewardship. He wants us to manage it for his glory.

Along the way will be fun and fellowship opportunities.  Lunch at Homecoming.  Breakfast on the 23rd as we launch Reconnection. A camping trip. The annual Tailgating event on October 21.

Here’s the main point.  We’re going to ask you to make an effort to be like Jesus. We’re going to ask you to, if you love Jesus, to love his church too.  We’re going to ask you to actually reconnect and show that love. 

If you do, you’ll make a difference. 

212 Degrees

It’s August and it’s the season for checking.  Moms and dads are checking school supply lists to see if they have the pencils and notebooks and crayons their kids need to be successful.  High school students are checking their class schedules. College students are checking to see if their financial aid package has come through. Teachers and school staff are checking, too, everything from what students are in what class to whether or not the buses have had their oil changed.  As school begins there’s a lot of checking to do.

The same at church.  Do we have enough people for Kids Life on Wednesday night?  What about menus for suppers? Changes for Sunday School?  What will the schedule for the teens be?  Worship on Wednesday or worship on Sunday night? There’s lots of checking to do.

And you have some checking to do to.  There is a verse in Romans 12 which is part of a checklist of things we as believers need to makes sure we are paying attention to.  The list checks off things like making sure your love is real and sincere, that you are faithful in your prayers, and that you share with people who are in need.  In the middle of that list is this item, “Keep your spiritual fervor.”

Fervor.  Is it out of fashion?  Is fervor something we have only during the early days of our faith and then as “maturity” settles in we too settle in to a more plodding, less passionate kind of relationship with Jesus?  Not according to the Bible.  We are to keep (that’s a command and that means we are to put effort into this) our spiritual fervor.  The sentence could be translated as “keep your spirit hot.”  Or consider this.  The word fervor in the original language has strong connections with the idea of boiling.  Think of the heat and activity of boiling water.  Keep your spirit at the boiling point.  Long ago I mentioned this in a message and a few days later a songwriting member of the congregation surprised me with a new song he called “212 Degrees.”

Keep your spirit at the 212 degrees.  Be on fire for Jesus.  Put it on our list of things to do. 

So how? Start with recognizing that your spirit has maybe grown a little cold.  Admit to yourself that you have been distracted by other things.  Then do what the song from the old Sing and Celebrate songbook says.  Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in  his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.  They will.  I promise.  Just start looking fully and constantly at Jesus.  That’s the hard trick.  Start your morning with him.  Keep your thoughts on Jesus.  Go through every moment of the day endeavoring to live in a continual conversation with Jesus.  It will be hard, challenging work but you will be rewarded in so many ways. 

Obeying Government

It’s time to be patriotic. July and Independence Day is near. We are Americans and we justly and rightly celebrate the freedoms we have. A question has arisen recently in our country about obeying laws and what the Bible says about obeying. Without comment on the issues that brought about that debate I want to try to answer if the Bible tells us we are to obey every law always no matter what. Here’s what the Bible teaches.

It teaches us that we are to obey governmental authorities. Romans 13:1-7 tells us government is a creation of God and is a minister of God, literally, a deacon of God. It’s purpose is to help keep order by promoting public good and harmony. God established it.  We are to obey it and we are to pay taxes to support it. Government does God’s work.

But always? No. It doesn’t. Romans 13 isn’t everything the Bible says about the relationship of a Christian to secular authority. Sometimes secular authority doesn’t want to serve God but wants to take God’s place. Sometimes it enacts laws that are counter to how God says we are to live. What does a believer do then? If you are Daniel, a Jew living in ancient Persia, what do you do when the government makes it illegal to pray? You pray anyway. If you are a Christian in first century Jerusalem what do you do when the government forbids you to publicly talk about Jesus? You reply, “We must obey God rather than men.” The point is that both in Scripture and in practice we see followers of God refusing to cooperate with certain aspects of what governments decree while still respecting secular authority as a whole. Even Jesus when on trial before the Jewish and Roman authorities refused to answer some questions  he was asked. Jesus resisted.

There is a long history of Christians resisting laws they believe that obeying would mean doing wrong. MLK, Jr. was one. He counseled this, “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.” How is that true?  Because laws are supposed to enhance freedom, justice, and the flourishing of all. When they do the opposite to what we must is to respect what government is supposed to be. So follow your conscience and be willing to accept the consequence. Dr. King wrote the words above from a jail cell where he was placed after demonstrating without a permit. The law he was protesting was a law requiring a permit to demonstrate. The authorities at the time wouldn’t have given one anyway.

Here’s an important fact. You may disagree with other believers about whether or not a law is unjust. Fine. You must, nevertheless, allow them the freedom to follow their consciences provided they are willing to accept the consequences.  After all, that’s not only taught in Scripture, it’s what led to the Declaration of Independence.

Conversion Stories

I am thinking of conversion; how it happens that God moves in us so mysteriously. I want to see it happen more and more. How does it occur? For some well known people it happened like this.

There is C.S. Lewis. Lewis’s knowledge of mythology kept him from faith. He saw similarities between Jesus and myth and chalked Jesus up as another mythological figure until his friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, told him Christianity was the true myth, the myth that really happened. Lewis got in the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle to go the zoo.  He would later say that when he got in the sidecar he didn’t believe. When they arrived at the zoo he did, and that he was “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”  But believe he did and we are all the beneficiaries of his faith.

There’s C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General in the Reagan years. He was a renowned pediatric surgeon and atheist. In his midlife he began to feel hollow and purposeless even though he was quite successful. He began to consider what made life worth living and started attending a church thinking he could examine what it offered, dismiss it, and cross Christianity off his list. After a few months of attending he said, “It dawned on me that I was no longer on the outside looking in, I was on the inside looking out, and I didn’t know when the miracle had happened.” Somehow being among the people of God had wooed his heart, quietly and subtly, into knowing Jesus.

There’s novelist and spiritual writer Frederick Buechner. He was young, already a successful novelist, and lonely living the solitary life of a writer. He began attending a church down the street to have something to do and to be around people. Elizabeth had just been crowned queen in England. The preacher was using that as a theme and said that Jesus was crowned as king in our hearts amid confession, tears, and great laughter.  Buechner later wrote, “at the phrase great laughter, for reasons I have never satisfactorily understood, the Great Wall of China crumbled and Atlantis rose up out of the sea, and on Madison Avenue, at 73rd Street, tears leapt from my eyes as though I had been struck across the face and I was a new creation.”

There’s Max Lucado. He was ten years old. A man was teaching Romans to a class of boys. Lucado says that “the jewel of grace was lifted and turned and it stole my breath.” He goes on to say he didn’t understand most of what the man was saying but that he loved Jesus. He said, “If you had told me Jesus was in hell I would have gone there.” And that brings tears to my eyes, too.

Do you know what real conversion is? It’s not our decision. It’s not our wanting to avoid hell or even our wanting to go to heaven. It’s the work of God in our hearts that brings us to the point where Jesus becomes to us our great love, our great joy, and our great truth. It’s a transformation that we don’t force and cannot make happen. It is falling in love whether we fall swiftly or whether love sneaks up on us and one day we realize that Jesus has won us. This is what being saved is.  I hope it has happened to you.

Starting Conversations

It’s Monday morning. Yesterday in church I talked about the woman Jesus spoke to who he met at a well in Samaria. I asked you to, like Jesus, cross barriers, to start conversations so people can cross the biggest barrier, the barrier between themselves and God. That’s already happening.

       I dropped in at McDonald’s for coffee and conversation. A well known, locally, person came and sat down across from me. The conversation began. He said churches were no different from politics. Church people were no different from anyone else. He said he grew up in a church. He learned there it’s all about being good. God wants to us to be good. I told him I didn’t grow up in church. That intrigued him. He wanted to hear the story of how I went from growing up outside church and ignorant of God and Scripture to be where I am today. I told him. I told him how after my sister became a believer my parents made the decision to get all of us into church. I told him how once there I became fascinated with Jesus. I told him I learned following Jesus wasn’t really about being good. It was about coming alive in a new way. It was about Jesus overcoming death. I told him we were inviting friends this Sunday and would like him to come. He told me he had no friends and he laughed as he said it.

I arrived at church. Not long after a woman came in, teary eyed. She needed gas money to get to Atlanta. Her granddaughter, she said, was having surgery and she wanted to get there. We can do that, I told her.  Then she asked a question she said her atheist husband asked her. Why would God judge you after you’d tried your whole life to be good? She said she’d never done anything wrong. She’d never stolen or done anything like that. I told her we were all a mix of good and bad, each of us. She insisted she was good. She’d never done anything wrong. Why would God judge her? I told her what mattered was this: everyone of us made the decision we could live our lives without God. We didn’t need him. I told her if we continued believing that when we stood before him God would give us exactly what we wanted, a forever without him. And she still insisted she was good and didn’t think God would judge her.

There are people around us, rich and poor, known and unknown who have not truly heard the Good News about Jesus but instead have heard twisted caricatures of it. That’s why we need to start conversations.