10 Risks I’m Thankful Saturday Night Church has Taken

ThanksAt Highland Park Saturday Night Church, our mission is:  moving from maintenance to mission by taking risks to influence others to love God. 

It’s been two and a half years since we began living out this mission together.  It has been scary, fun, exciting, intimidating, painful, transforming, and life-giving.  This Thanksgiving season I’d be remiss to not stop to say, “Thanks.”

So, here are 10 risks I’m thankful for:

  • Trusting Brooklyn and me as your pastors
  • Listening to a nascent preacher
  • Moving from Room707 to the Gym, and most recently to the Sanctuary
  • kidsPACK
  • Hosting a BBQ Throwdown
  • Changing worship service time and location to serve in Lights of Lakeland
  • Serving in the children’s ministry (we shifted from all paid workers to a majority of volunteers)
  • Encouraging Brooklyn and my tag-team preaching
  • Caring for widows and single mothers
  • Neighborhood block party, Halloween balloon handout, and Joe Castillo

Thank you, Highland Park Saturday Night!

 

Learning to Avoid Being Too Preachy in My Preaching

stageAs preachers or speakers, we rarely hear much feedback.  The times that we do, it’s comes under the guise of “constructive criticism,” aka “you stink.”

Recently, I’ve been hearing something different.  A few of my listeners have offered positive, encouraging comments.  Each person’s feedback came with a common thread.

From their perspective, the one thing they all appreciate about my preaching is:  using language, stories, and illustrations that make sense to listeners who might not be Christian.

There’s no grandiloquence with me (I only know this word from studying for the GRE a few years back).  I speak in the vernacular.  Partly by choice, but mostly by accident.  I am a simple guy.  I can’t even pronounce most of the deep theological terms from Seminary.

Since I’ve heard this comment from a few different people, I’ve been thinking about my method more seriously.  What is it that makes my preaching come across this way?

I think it narrows down to three things I do.  I consistently read blogs that are not from a Christian perspective.  I feel like this exercises my mind to think outside of a singular point of view.  I use personal stories from my own life and struggles.  I’m not without fault.  There’s still room for me to grow.  I try not to use theological words that you need a seminary degree to understand.  

What’s most interesting to me about the comments I’ve received is the irony.  The more I speak in a way that might be disarming and better received by listeners who are not Christian, the more disarming and better received it is by Christians.

When is the last time you heard a “preachy” sermon?  What impact did it have on you? 

 

Learning to Lament the Education of Our Youth

FCATUpon reading it, I was shocked!  I had no idea.

I was staring at the FCAT results of a local elementary school.  If you’re not familiar, the FCAT is the state of Florida’s standardized test for all elementary schools.  Every student is required to pass with efficiency to move to the next grade level.

My attention is focused on the Literacy (Reading/Writing) results.  The sheet displays the projected proficiecy (72%) for this particular school, and the current proficiency (60%).  As my eyes scan to the right, I see the proficiency level of 8 distinct ethnic/subgroups.  This is where I’m caught off-guard.

Here’s the breakdown:

Group 1    Group 2    Group 3    Group 4   Group 5    Group 6    Group 7    Group 8

n/a              n/a             26%           57%         72%          27%           12%          45%

My heart sank.

Bases solely on the information in front of me, I see students who face a struggle not their own.  For some, the odds are against them.  By the mere fact of a group they are born into, the statistics say they will fail.

With no answers, I turn to Psalm 129 to express a lament for our students.

“Often has the system attacked our students from their youth”

let God’s people now say–

“often has the system our attacked our students from their youth,

  yet it has not prevailed against them.

 

The cities have been built on their backs;

they made their buldings high;

 

The LORD is just;

he has cut the chains of the oppressors.

 

May all who hate our students

be put to shame and turned backward.

 

Let them be like the grass in the scorching Florida sun

that withers before it grows up,

 

with which the growers do not fill their hands

or collectors their arms.

 

while those who pass by do not say,

“The blessing of the LORD be upon you!

We bless you in the name of the LORD!”

Whatever the reason for the proficiency gap, may God hear our cry.

Protect our students, God.  Free them from the grip of oppressive systems.  Rescue them from circumstances and stereotypes that seek to hold them down.  Remove any barrier that stands in their way.  Resurrect in each student a confidence in themselves as one created in the image of your intelligence.

May your people be instruments of liberation for the education of our youth.  May your people not stand by and watch from a distance.  Show us what to do.  Give us new imaginations for tomorrow.  Lead us to inspire hope.  Empower us with the courage to never give up.
Amen.

 

 

 

Learning 3 Drawbacks to the Phrase “Good Wooks”

money-coinsIt’s not an everyday phrase, “good works.”  At least, not outside the Christian world.

BUT, it is a phrase that hangs around Christian conversations about grace and salvation.  Can “good works” earn one’s way to heaven?  It also subconsciously comes to mind for many Christians during the holidays.  What “good works” can I do for someone this year?

I’m learning 3 drawbacks to it:

  • It makes it all about me.  It describes something I do.  I can check it off my list regardless of the result it has for others.   I can do it.  Pat myself on the back.  Then, walk away feeling good and never look back.
  • Good describes the nature of the work, not the outcome.  There are many “works” that one can do that might be considered good.  I can give money to homeless person.  Seems good.  Might be.  But, does it lead to a good outcome?  Maybe.  The act of doing something doesn’t make it good.  The actual results of our actions determine if it’s good.
  • It compartmentalizes what we do.  It separates our actions into categories.  It’s like we have a list of works to do each day, and “good” is one among many.  Shouldn’t all of our “works” be good?  Everything we do should be done with the purpose of creating good.

It’s not that we should stop doing “good works.”  Certainly, we need more people doing more good things.  But, I think God challenges us to it take a step further and ask, What are the outcomes of our daily actions?  Is my life creating good?

Learning that I May Be a Christian Feminist

As male, I’m not sure that I can be.

But, if I could, I think I might be based on a few of conversations I’ve read in the blogging world recently.

If believing that women should be affirmed as pastors and preachers in our churches and conferences means I’m a Christian Feminist, then yes I am.

If believing that women still suffer inequalities in our Christian world makes me a feminist, then I guess I am.

If challenging the 21st Century Church to admit and undo unjust practices toward women in ministry qualifies me as Christian Feminist, then maybe the title fits.

I’m not sure I like the title or would beg for it to be bestowed on me.  But, the more blogs I read, the more it seems to be true.

For example, a blog post was recently forwarded to my email.  She is a well-known Christian blogger who addresses the issue of being accused of being divisive.  She writes:

But when I began writing about gender equality in evangelicalism, it became apparent to me that no matter how careful my tone, no matter how reasoned my arguments, no matter how gentle my critique, my work would inevitably be characterized as “divisive.”

As her post continues, she admits her intent is not to be divisive.  But, if pressed to choose whether to be considered divisive or remain silent, it seems clear she choices the former.  She then goes on to explain what she believes is the difference between friction and division.

I wanted to respond to the person who forwarded me the message.  I’m normally not one to reply with many words to an email.  A “great post” or “thanks for sharing” normally suffice.  This time, though, I felt compelled to say more.  This was my response on the discussion of being divisive:

The ones who don’t want change are normally the ones who create divisions.  It’s either their way or the highway.  Those calling out from the margins have been struggling within the system for years.  The reason for voicing their concern is a sign of their desire to remain as one, but with a new future together.  Or else they would have quit and dropped out centuries ago.  The marginal voices say, “Come on, it’s time to move on.  Let’s go their together.”  The divisive voice says, “No, we can’t go there.  If you want to go there, you will need to go alone.”

I believe women have a place in ordained ministry as pastors and preachers.  I believe a women’s voice and leadership have equal worth in the Kingdom of God.  I believe it’s time for the church to accept the challenge to admit some of our wrongs and have the courage to make it right.

Jesus set the trajectory for women.  It’s time for us to follow its course.  Not for current division.  But for future unity.

Am I a Christian Feminist?  Or maybe a better question is, Why do we have this label in the first place?

 

 

Learning 3 Reasons that Influence Happens Over Time

ClockWe expect influence to happen instantly.

We are named captain of a high school sports team, and we expect instant influence.  We graduate college with a degree in our hand, we expect instant influence.  We are hired as a manager, we expect instant influence.  We are given a promotion and executive title, and we expect instant influence.  We have children, and we expect instant influence.

I’m learning that influence is rarely instant.  Influence happens over time.

I received an encouraging message this week from a member of our church.  As a way to show his support for a big decision I recently made, he wrote:  “I’ve known you long enough now to know that you can. . .

Had I made the same decision 3 years ago when I first started in my position, I don’t believe my influence would have been the same.  Over time, it happens.

Here’s 3 reasons why:

  • It takes time to truly get to know someone.
  • It takes time to create a track record.
  • It takes time to demonstrate your commitment.

I wish influence happened over night.  But, it doesn’t. It takes time.  Even Jesus depended on time to lead his disciples.

Don’t be so hard on yourself.  Give yourself a chance.  Let time tell.

Why do we expect influence to come so quickly?

 

 

Learning to Respond to America’s Homeless Kid Crisis

God,HelpDo you know about America’s Homeless Kid Crisis?

Nearly 1.2 million homeless youth were enrolled in schools Pre-K and K-12.  That was in 2011.  Which, when compared to 2008, turns out to be a 72% increase in 3 years.

Our church has been slightly aware of the need since we became partners with an organization that provides weekend food packs for homeless Elementary students in our community.  Every other week, we pack nearly 200 packs for the students in the 8 schools closest to our church.  For, now only know them by numbers.

BUT.  The effect of the homeless kid crisis became deeply personal this week.

A leader from our church met a young high school boy at the altar to pray.  Tears streamed down the boys face as he winced in pain.  As he held his head up with his own hands, tears dripped from his fingers.  The reason?  Mom doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills and pay for food.

The same leader who met the boy at the altar, also met with me.  He said, “God is telling me, we’ve got to do something about it.

My response was, “Let’s respond together, as a church.” 

Our church agreed.  People have stepped up to the challenge.  Initial needs are being met as I type.  Plans to get the mother and son back on their feet will continue to unfold.

It’s a crisis, though.  We know thousands of kids face a similar reality right outside our doors.  As a matter of fact, I have one note sitting on my desk from another teenage boy facing the same situation.

I’m learning.  Our response can’t be a one and done.  It’s not a one time deal.  Homeless kids need the support of God’s people.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Luke 4:18-19

How is God asking us to respond to America’s Homeless Kid Crisis?

 

 

 

 

Learning to Welcome the Stranger in My Preaching

I feel like I received an early Christmas gift.

Sounds silly.  But, I’m so excited to learn I have free access to the library at Asbury Theological Seminary.  Ten years after graduating, an alumni email enlightened me to this reality.  Duh!  Where have I been this last decade?

The most exciting part is instant permission to download thousands of journal articles!  I’ve spent every night this week searching for articles by my favorite theologians.

Which brings me to the point of this post:  Learning to Welcome the Stranger in My Preaching.  Over 100 hits appeared in the results of my search for articles written by Justo Gonzalez.  Impossible to ignore was one in the Journal for Preachers titled, Preaching that Welcomes the Stranger.  An easy click and download later, my eyes and mind feasted on his thoughts.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. The core message of the Bible is meant for strangers.  “What is the gospel, if not the good news that, even though strangers, we are all welcomed by God?”
  2. We are all guests in Church.  At the Lord’s Table—and therefore always in the church—we are never hosts, but always guests. The church whose worship is built around such a table never belongs to its congregation, to its board of trustees, or to any other governing body. It belongs to the Lord by whose gracious hospitality we are received as welcome even though we are unworthy guests. Thus, all preaching must welcome the stranger, because otherwise there is no place in the church for any of us—not even for the preacher.
  3. Christians are aliens.  In the Old Testament, Israel was commanded to love and respect the alien on the basis of Israel’s own history of being aliens: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:30). . . The people of God are always aliens repeatedly welcomed by a hospitable God.
  4. The starting point for preaching is acknowledging our stranger-ness.  We must preach the gospel of grace, the gospel of our being received into the people and the household of God, not because of who we are, but because of who God is.
  5. Preaching must include a global perspective.  “Our preaching must be concrete and deal with the specific issues of our community and congregation, it must also be catholic, constantly reminding us that we are part of a larger body spread throughout the world.”
  6. Preaching must engage cultural dialogue.  Preaching that welcomes the stranger affirms the particularity of peoples and cultures and then relates that particularity to other similar particularities. . . Those who cannot appreciate their own culture cannot appreciate other cultures. It is rather a matter of appreciating and affirming who we are and yet doing it in a manner that appreciates and affirms who others are.”
  7. Preaching to welcome the stranger isn’t enough.  “Preaching must be supported by the whole of worship. The entire service must be an act of welcoming the stranger—even of welcoming the stranger who for the present is absent.”

 

 

 

Learning to Resist Boundaries like a Middle Schooler

A Middle School Football team must have read the book, Making Room:  Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine Pohl.  It’s too coincidental.  It can’t be possible that they came up with it on their own.

Read what Pohl writes about “Christian Hospitality”:

Hospitality resists boundaries that endanger persons by denying their humanness.  It saves others from the invisibility that comes from social abandonment.  Sometimes, by the very acting out of welcome, a vision for a whole society is offered, a small evidence that transformed relations are possible.

Now, watch this story and tell me it doesn’t sound just like Pohl’s explanation of hospitality:

On the Road: Middle school football players execute life-changing play

We have much to learn from this one group of Middle School Boys.  I’m sure we have much more to learn from the Middle School Boys in our churches, schools, and communities.  They are capable of doing more than taking selfies of their abs.

I think if we pay closer attention to Middle School boys, they have something to teach us about risk.  Doing the right thing always involves risk and the chance of failure, but there’s much greater risk and loss in never trying.

How can we show greater acts of Christian hospitality in our lives?  What risks can we take to resist boundaries that de-humanize others?