Church Around the Table

Every now and then we need to go backwards and mine the past to find a really good idea. The wisdom of the past gives us wisdom in what to do today, and I think it’s time for quite literally a good old idea.  Here’s why.

Look around Wayne County. There are churches which mostly do the same thing. The same schedule. The same approach. Classes on Sunday morning. Then worship in rows in a sanctuary, singing and then listening to a lecture style sermon. I like that. It makes sense to me. It feels like church. It’s all I’ve ever known or done, and the same is true for you. It works well for us and for some people. But church hasn’t always been done like this.

Now look at Wayne County. While we are worshipping on there are thousands of people who are not worshipping anywhere. In fact, as near as I can determine, two-thirds of the people of Bible believing Wayne County are staying as far away from church as they can. There are all kinds of reasons. They don’t believe, for one, or they don’t feel they fit in. Maybe they’ve been hurt or burned by church in someway. Maybe they’re bored with classes and lectures and sitting in rows.

Two statements now I want you to pay attention to. Here’s the first: Those people are proving, Sunday after Sunday, that they will not come be a part of what we do on Sunday morning, at least the large majority of them won’t. Here is the second: We are absolutely required by God to reach those people. So if they won’t come, but we still are required to reach them, what do we do? This is where we need to look back and find an old idea.

Church hasn’t always been what we call church. In the church’s first 300 years especially, it looked radically different. Churches met around tables in homes and sometimes other public places. “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Church happened over a meal. And over that meal there was worship and teaching and prayer and fellowship. It worked. Well. “And the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved.” In 300 years, a church that started with 120 people survived persecution, conquered Roman paganism, and spread around the world a dinner at a time.

We need to reach our pagans, too. We are required to. We can’t duck that. What if to do it we go back to this very old idea and reach people a dinner at a time? There is a movement that is doing just that. Some churches are starting services around tables and dinner and inviting the unchurched to come, eat, and see. It’s called “dinner church,” and about 300 churches are doing it. We should too. Why not? So we’re talking, planning, praying towards beginning a Saturday night “Church Around the Table” to reach more people for Jesus. We need your help. But hear this. This is not for you. This is for lost, unsaved people who do not come to anyone’s church. We are trying to reach people for Jesus with Church Around The Table. But we do need your help. You’ll hear more soon.

Try it! You’ll Like It!

Let’s go back a decade or two or three or more and talk advertising. Long ago Alka-Seltzer ran a commercial in which a rather unhappy looking man was sitting in a restaurant complaining. The waiter had brought him something and said, “Try it! You’ll like it.”  “What is it?” the man asked. “Try it! You’ll like it!” repeated the waiter. That phrase, “Try it! You’ll like it!” became a cultural phenomenon. It was everywhere. It was on bumper stickers and t shirts, coffee mugs, and just about any place you can imagine. In those pre- internet days, “Try it! You’ll like it!” went viral. Here’s the rest of the little thirty second clip. The man says, “So I tried it.” Dramatic pause. “Thought I was going to die. So, I took two Alka-Seltzer.” Alka-Seltzer had as big a hit with that spot as they did even farther back with Speedy Alka-Seltzer. “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”

Okay, that poor guy tried it and thought he was going to die. But at least he tried it. I think of all the things I know to try, to do, to live, to obey, and how many I too often leave sitting on the table untouched. There are so many things we teach, read, study, and do not do. “Try it! You’ll like it!” No thank you. I’ll look at it. Study it. Analyze it. But I’m fine as I am. I don’t need to try it.

But the Bible says, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Do you know what that means? It means you have to actually do something. To taste and see that the Lord is good means you read or hear something he says, and you decide you will try it. The result is you discover God is right, and God is good. And good means pleasurable. God is a sensory and taste delight. Here’s an example. Gratitude. Thankfulness.

You know what the Bible says about gratitude. It says things like we are to be, “always giving thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  That’s a pretty clear command and I think most of us want to at least try to obey it. So, we stop and think about for what we’re thankful. What do we list? General things. Broad topics. We’re thankful for life. For family. For our country. For health. All well and good, but I don’t think this anywhere nearly fulfills what God wants for us. He wants a constant stream of thankfulness to pour from us over each little experience, moment, and treasure we encounter. This is what giving thanks always for everything is.

A few years ago, Barb and I began to understand better the need for gratitude. Barb especially took this to heart. She has become the most grateful, thankful person I know. She walks across the yard and thanks God for the feel of grass underfoot. She looks at the sky and sees its colors and from her heart cries out, “Wow, isn’t God so cool?” She thanks God for mornings and she thanks him for evenings. She is continually grateful for breezes that touch her face and for the colors of leaves. Everything. Through watching her I have learned, and I have seen that God calls for constant thankfulness because he is wanting us to come alive to everything around us, all the gifts we constantly receive and do not see. It isn’t that God has an ego we have to stroke. He has a joy to give that he wants us to experience. So, try it. You’ll like it. And you will not die. In fact, you’ll live.

Being God's Advisor

It’s Tuesday morning as I write, and at this moment a group of women are down the hall investing time in a study on prayer, specifically, The Daniel Prayer a study written by Anne Graham Lotz. I’m glad they are engaged in that study. In addition, on Sunday evenings for weeks now a group of us have been engaged in our own study of prayer and feeling a need to take prayer seriously rather than seeing it as not much more than a way to open or close a meeting. I had a friend who when someone would begin a meeting with “Let’s pray,” would jokingly ask “Has it come to that?” A joke, yes, but the joke was funny because it betrayed an attitude that is easy for us to fall into. We think more depends on us than depends on God. We think more depends on our hard work and skill than depends on the will of God or the favor of God. And so we work and worry until we’ve done all we think we can do and only then does serious prayer ever begin.  It’s come to that. 

What’s prayer? A simple definition I’ve always heard is prayer is talking to God. True enough. It is. But it’s more. Prayer is not only talking to God, prayer is talking with God. Prayer, rightly understood and done, is a two way conversation. We speak to God and God speaks to us. As we pray, His Word and His Spirit give guidance, challenge, reassurance, and conviction. We become God’s friends, confidantes, and partners and this is on a bigger scale than maybe you’ve ever realized or even dreamed. Here is what I mean.

In the Bible God so often is depicted as being surrounded by what we can think of as helpers, assistants, or as counselors. Job begins with a scene in which the “sons of God” are coming into God’s presence to present themselves to God. There are Psalms, 82 and 89 among them, which speak of God presiding in the “heavenly council”. I Kings 22 gives an example of members of the heavenly council playing a role in deciding how to deal with Ahab, a king of Israel who had decidedly gone to the dark side. There are other examples, many of them, but we tend to not notice them because we don’t have the same eyes and ears as the ancient readers of Scripture. These pictures are not just in the Old Testament but in the New as well, and this is where things get interesting. On this side of the cross and resurrection, the heavenly council doesn’t include only angels and other spiritual beings. It includes human beings, the church, you and me.   Let me say it simply and as directly as I can. God is asking us to join him in running things. He wants to know our thoughts. He wants to hear our opinions. God wants us to help him run things. And we have already started. That’s what happens when we pray.

What does that look like? It looks like Abraham standing before God not letting him go to Sodom until Abraham has been heard, and there is a hope for Sodom. It looks like Jacob wrestling with God until he’s muddy and exhausted and pronounced the victor over God. It looks like Revelation with people surrounding God’s throne saying “How long, O Lord?”, and it looks like saints everywhere on bended knees talking to their God about loved ones and places where the will of God isn’t being done and staying there until God is moved and moves. And this is how the world is changed.

#BeTheChurch

You are about to hear a lot, a whole lot, about a night, September 22. That night is Team Night here at First Baptist, and it is an extraordinarily important night. It will be the single most important night in the next year in the life of First Baptist Church. On that night you will take vital, important, necessary steps to be the church. You—and I really need to emphasize that you, not me, not the staff, not any person other than you—will chart the direction of this church for the next year. You, in the teams on which you serve in our church, will determine the mission of your team, and you will then decide what your team will do to fulfill its mission. Your team will design its plays and your team will then execute your plans and your mission.

We are doing this for a reason. The reason is this is your church. This is your church and you, all of us, are responsible for whether or not it fulfills its mission. And I suppose we should start there. What is the mission of the church? There is a shift in thinking in the last decades and to be honest it isn’t good. The majority opinion seems to be that church is for us. It’s purpose is to bless us, feed us, pick us up and inspire us. It used to be that the majority opinion was that church was for God. We came, participated, and ministered because we want to please God. I wonder, can we turn back the clock? And can we see that the church, our church, exists to change us and to change our community into something that looks a whole lot more like heaven today than it did yesterday? That encompasses so much. It means that people need to come to know Jesus and we need to work to make it so. It means things like spiritual growth and discipleship. It means increasing the beauty of things around us. It means finding ways to erase divisions, to build relationships, help the sick and weak, and help in a thousand ways. 

You will decide what those ways are. You will be responsible. Success or failure depends on you and on what you are willing to do and what you are willing to let God do through you. That is one of the reasons we have teams and not committees. There is a difference. Committees discuss and make plans.  Teams do. Teams carry out plans. Teams make things happen. So every team from A/V to Zumba will gather, chart their course for the year, and then go make their plans happen. 

You are needed. What if you’re not on a team in our church? Easy. You show up September 22 and you can join whatever team you want. We would love to have your help. Come. Be the church.

We’re also trying to make this a no excuse is good enough night. Have children? We’ll watch them that night. Don’t want to miss a meal? We’ll feed you supper. Don’t want to miss your favorite show?  Someone invented DVRs. Afraid this will be boring? Trust me it won’t. You’ll have a good time and you’ll leave energized and ready to go be the church. 

So get ready. Team Night is coming September 22. #bethechurch

Where Have All the Prophets Gone?

Israel always killed its prophets. The prophets should have seen it coming, I suppose. Who wants to live under constant criticism? Who wants to be harangued day and night by someone who is telling you that you’re a first class screw up? And that is what the prophets did. They were a chorus of nothing but no’s. Not right. You’re wrong. You are so far off the make you’re in danger of no longer being God’s people. What was wrong with the prophets? Were they just curmudgeons? Were they people who weren’t happy as long as someone, somewhere was enjoying themselves? It’s more than that. Much more.

Israel had a role unlike that of any other nation in all the world. Their task was to show the other peoples of the world how things really work. Other nations, you see, were deceived. They thought the world was based on power. They thought that the way to “win” in life was to get more power than other nations or other people had. More chariots, more soldiers, more money, and that meant you could have more of what you really wanted. More security, more comfort, more pleasure and ease, and more people listening to your grand and glorious ideas. The nations thought things worked that way. And so often Israel did too. Israel, that unique people, was too often like the nations. Power was key. Get enough power and you can make everyone else do what’s right. But that is wrong.

A universe that has Israel’s God at its heart is not a universe that is based on power. It’s based on love. God does not bend people to his will. He doesn’t force or overwhelm. He draws. He woos. He attracts. Israel was to base their lives on loving this God and loving their neighbor as they loved themselves. People weren’t to be used as things so I can get what I want even if it hurts my neighbor. They were to be cared for and sacrificed for. And this, in God’s world, is what really “works”. Israel was the one nation that had that truth. All the other nations were in the devil’s pocket. And Israel, sadly, too often was also, and when they were, the prophets harangued the Hell out of them from the king to peasant. The prophets were thanked for their efforts by being put out of their misery and then later by having monuments built to them.

The church today is what Israel was to be. We are not to be in the devil’s pocket, thinking that getting power is the way to do God’s work and that doing God’s work means winning and putting people in their place so that they have no choice but to do what God wants no matter how grudgingly or angrily they do it. The church is to win, woo, attract, and love. But when we decide God’s way of love doesn’t work and we become like the nations who will be our prophets and harangue the holy heck out of us? And will we listen or will we bump them off as well?