Media Reformation

smartphoneAs we are fast approaching the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in October 2017, it is time for us to look at where we are as a Church today. To many theologians, we are in the midst of a media reformation as the Church uses all sorts of new technology to spread the message of the Gospel far and wide in the same vein as Martin Luther and his use of the printing press to get his writings out to the masses.

Billy Graham once said, “It is time for the church to use technology to make a statement that in the midst of chaos, emptiness, and despair, there is hope in the person of Jesus Christ” (Christianity Today, October 2016, 42). It is, in fact, hard to be heard in the clutter of messages being spewed out in social media channels, but it is our task to make the effort and be the voice of promise to a people searching for true meaning in life.

Thus we are, Christianity Today tells us, an analog church. No longer can we rely on paper newsletters, bulletins, magazines and the like to get the salvation story out to people. We as a Church must, dare we say, reform our ways of reaching out.

The message is still the same, of course, as it was in Martin Luther’s day, but we need to deliver that message through media that is fast-changing and developing, but pervasive.

We as a church need to be where people getting their information, and as we all know, people’s first source of information is their smartphone. Every time I go to the doctor’s office, I notice that the first thing that people do when they sit down in the waiting room is get out their phones and start browsing.

That is where the Church needs to be with its message of hope in Jesus.

Many apps and websites already exist with daily devotions and Scripture for the day, but the Good News of Jesus is not as pervasive as it could be online.

That is why we as a Church need to focus our attention on what we can do in the mission field of the internet. We can no longer ignore it; we need to use it. Think of it as our new tool. The internet is our modern-day printing press and we are the Martin Luthers of our day,

 

Motivations

shining crossI found it interesting that both Publishers Weekly and Christianity Today mentioned the Ennegram system in their most recent issues. “Most simply, the Ennegram is a system of categorizing people with a number—one through nine—that represents a core motivation or orientation to others and the world,” the Christianity Today article reported (Christianity Today, November 2016, 56). (See also “What It Means to Be Christian,” Publishers Weekly, October 24, 2016, 21.)

At some point in our lives we have all taken a personality or spiritual gifts survey to indicate what our strongest traits are. What is making the Ennegram system different and so appealing to churches nationwide is that it gets to the heart of why people do what they do. The nine categories are as follows:

  1. I want to be good.
  2. I want to be needed.
  3. I want to achieve.
  4. I want to be unique.
  5. I want to think things through.
  6. I want to be safe.
  7. I want to have fun.
  8. I want to be in charge.
  9. I want to be a peace.

As I type each of these categories, my mind instantly goes to certain people I know and to myself. “That is so him.” “That is so her.” “That is so me.” The designers of the system grant that each one of us is a mixture of several numbers, but suggest that if you are a certain number you often become blind to the motivations of those are are another number.

I find that fascinating because it does play out so often within the Church. People talk past each other because they have different motivations. Churches that take part in a test like this can at least have a better awareness of where people are coming from and why they are saying and doing what they are saying and doing.

But the biggest takeaway I carry with me from this topic is that we all need to remember that as Christians, no matter what number we are any survey, our motivation is the same: to bring glory to Christ. If from the outset, we all acknowledge and agree to that core motivation, our interactions that proceed from that are bound to go smoother.

The Bible makes it clear:

 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:27-29

We have all put on Christ and he should be our core motivating factor.

For more information on the Ennegram system, check out this link:

https://www.amazon.com/Road-Back-You-Enneagram-Self-Discovery/dp/0830846190/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1478965712&sr=8-3&keywords=enneagram

 

 

 

House Churches

house churchAs we gather in our homes this Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the concept of “house churches,” which has had somewhat of a resurgence in our world as of late, mostly in China and in other places where Christians are being persecuted. House churches are defined groups of Christians who regularly gather for worship in private homes. The group may be part of a larger Christian body, such as a parish, but some have been independent groups that see the house church as the primary form of Christian community.

I recently talked with Jim Buckman, a missionary-at-large and a church planter in the New Jersey area, who explained that his approach to building churches was to start in the home. People feel more comfortable in their homes, they are surrounded by loved ones, and they are not caught up the structure of the organized church.

In many ways, the house church is a hearkening back to the model used in the early Church. St. Paul even references them in his letters:

The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 16:19

Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. Colossians 4:15

And I am always attracted to this picture of what was essentially a house church immediately after the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:42:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

There is a certain feeling of togetherness and a common goal and a sense of accountability that happen within a house church. People care if you are missing. People can see what is really going on in your life. People can be present to remind you that faith in Christ is stronger than anything that life can throw your way.

House churches also remind me that we so often take for granted that we have a place to worship publicly. What if we did not have a place to go to or we would be persecuted if we were seen doing so?

If we all took the concept of the house church with us to our church buildings every Sunday, think of the difference that would make in how we worship and how we interact with one another.

And, by all means, contemplate starting a house church of your own! We can never have too many places to worship.

 

The Influencers

fish60 Minutes recently ran a story about The Influencers, those young millennials who are making videos on the internet and are hired by major corporations to influence the buying habits of millions of people all over the world. One commentator noted that a single video posted by an Influencer had more power and reach than any TV commercial, newspaper ad and magazine spread combined could ever garner.

The story reminded me of what Malcolm Gladwell explained in his book The Tipping Point about “connectors,” who are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. These relatively few “connectors,” Gladwell said, serve as “agents of change” across a wide swath of economic, social and cultural arenas. These connectors led to the rise of the rise and popularity of Hush Puppy shoes in the mid-1990s, for instance.

What a wonderful picture for us as Christians who may think we cannot create much change in our world today. It is clearly possible for a few to spread an idea to many and move people to action. If it can happen with Hush Puppy shoes, then why not the message of the Gospel?

Think of ways in which you are an influencer among your social and professional circles and consider what little things you can do to share the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation to everyone you come in contact with.

There is power in small numbers. Jesus called only 12 disciples. And after his ascension, it was on their then-11 shoulders to make the Word of Christ “go viral.”

We don’t need to be computer savvy to make this happen. All we need to do is get the Word out in every way we can: sharing a meaningful spiritual moment with a friend, telling people how Christ has changed your life, making a point to say a prayer before a meal.

We can be the spark that leads to a raging fire of faith in the hearts of many.

Birth rates

The spiritual birth rate just went up by one.

The spiritual birth rate just went up by one.

I was at a seminar last year in which the topic was birth rates and how the birth rates among Christians have gone down, while the birth rates among other religions have risen substantially.

Sadly, this lower birth rates among Christians has led to fewer churches and lower membership within those churches.

Statistically,  the fact of lower birth rates cannot be denied. But it got me to thinking that just looking at the physical birth rate does not show the whole picture.

Just as Jesus and Nicodemus discussed:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:3-9

What these verses tell me is that we do not need to be too concerned about physical birth rates, but need to turn our attention to spiritual ones instead.

How many are coming to the water and the Word of baptism to be born again by the Spirit? That should be our main emphasis in the Church.

How many are living a new life, born of the Spirit?

How many are being born again, to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? (1 Peter 1:3)

How many are being born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God? (1 Peter 1:23)

Those are the birth rates we should be tabulating and celebrating above all others.

And those are the numbers that matter to God.

 

 

Look at the Birds

I have long been fascinated with birds. In fact, in eighth grade I declared that I wanted to be an ornithologist and I did my entire science fair project on which birds ate what types of seeds and suet from various types of feeders. Our family’s backyard became a bird Shangri-La for a time.

Then I have recently realized that that I have many bird-themed items in my home that I look at every day.

Unconsciously, I suppose, I have been following the words of Jesus all my life:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:26

So I decided to take Jesus up on his request and take a look at the bird images around my house and see what I learn:

metal bird

This is a metal bird I found at a Ben Franklin store in Iowa City, Iowa: It reminds me that though birds often seem weak, they can be very strong, weathering many storms and ever-changing seasons year-in and year-out. Jesus often reminds me that I am stronger than I think I am, thanks to his power within me and that I can weather any storm that comes my way in life.

Christmas bird

This is a festive bird figurine that I received from a friend at Christmastime: It helps me to celebrate as birds do, singing and tweeting (literally, not on the computer!) every morning, welcoming each new day with joy. Whenever I hear a bird chirp, I am instantly put at ease. I am going to think of how my utterances of celebration of life can bring bring joy to others.

bird pillow

This is a bird pillow that another friend gave to me for a house-warming present, and I have set it on an old pew that came from my grandparents: This bird recalls for me that birds like to build comfortable nests for themselves and their offspring, just like we build comfortable “nests” of sorts in the form of our homes. The placement of the bird pillow on the pew also calls to mind the comfort that I receive when I sit in the pews at the house of God each week. Through his Word, God brings me comfort and keeps me safe.

Make a point of keeping an eye and ear open for birds this week and take a closer look at them to see what you can learn from them, as Jesus taught us to.

 

Faith Formation

dinnerOne of the main tenets of the Church is that the home is the primary agent of faith formation. Scripture tells us:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7-8

And it is something that Martin Luther urged strongly and the reason why he wrote the Small Catechism.

So how are we to go about that in our busy lives?

One suggestion is right there in the Scripture. Do it “when you rise” and “when you lie down.” Gather together as a family in the morning and before bedtime to pray and read Scripture and talk about how God helped you through the day and how God will give you strength for the day ahead.

Another idea was lived out by Martin Luther himself. He engaged in Table Talk, discussions about religious matters around his dinner table with family and friends. Having a time of prayer and a devotion at supper time is key to maintaining an acknowledgment of the importance of keeping the faith. Our souls need to feed on the Word, just as our bodies need nourishment from food.

Regular attendance at worship as a family is crucial when there are so many other activities begging for our attention. When the whole family goes to church together, it is a testament to the fact the we are in this Christian faith together. We are members of a genetic family, but we are also members of a spiritual family called the Church. And spending time with our brothers and sisters in the Christ is just as important as spending time as a nuclear family.

Putting up a cross on the wall of your home or plaques with Bible verses is another way for families to be reminded of their grounding in the life of Christ as they pass through the halls of the home.

In whatever you do as a family, keep thinking of ways to incorporate your faith into your family life. Our heavenly Father will bless it.

How to Get to Solla Sollew

paradiseOne of my favorite books growing up (and I think my mom’s too) was the Dr. Suess tale I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew. When the hero in the book stubs his toe, he decides to find a less troublesome place to live. Soon he’s off on a journey “to the City of Solla Sollew, on the banks of the beautiful River Wah-Hoo, where they never have troubles! At least, very few.” One image ingrained in my mind is of the main character sleeping on a bed of huge fluffy pillows. He never finds Solla Sollew, but in the process he gains strength to face his problems head on.

Here’s the link to the book: https://www.amazon.com/Had-Trouble-Getting-Solla-Sollew/dp/0394800923/ref=sr_1_82?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477150371&sr=1-82&keywords=dr+seuss%27+books

That book came to mind recently when my doctor friend John Eckrich told our Bible class at church about areas of the world that researchers have called “Blue Zones.” They are places where people live into their 90s and more and are healthy and vital into old age. The seven “Blue Zones” are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Icara, Greece; Oland, Smaland, and Skane, Sweden; and Loma Linda, California. They sound kind of like Solla Sellow, but I assure you that they are real places.

The shared characteristics of the blue zones are: emphasis on family, less smoking, semi-vegetarian diet, constant moderate physical activity, social engagement, legumes, and engagement in spirituality or religion.

What strikes me about the people in blue zones is that there seems to be a balance in their lifestyle. There is time for work, there is time for other people, and there is time for God.

The numbers don’t lie. It is this balance that can lead to a long and fulfilling life with a strong life purpose. While I may not take up eating more legumes, I think I will make a point of taking more time for God and creating more balance in my life. It may not lead to Solla Sollew or a Blue Zone, but it may bring me a richer life experience with the Lord by my side.

What can you do to create a kind of “Blue Zone” where you live?

Find out more about Blue Zones at: https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Zones-Second-Lessons-Longest/dp/1426209487/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477152224&sr=8-1&keywords=Blue+Zones

 

 

 

 

 

Struck Down but Not Destroyed

birdMy mom gave me this little plaque during a stretch when I was unemployed for several years after college and unable to land a full-time job.

The image of a squat and forlorn little bird and the text of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 seemed to capture my predicament at the time exactly.

But I have kept that plaque and referred to it often through the years when I encountered  other struggles and trying times that my 22-year-old self could never have imagined.

It reminds me that the Word of the Lord can meet us again and again with the same words in whatever plight we may be experiencing and their effect on us can be just as powerful and uplifting as it was before.

I love the language of this text:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed. Hard pressed: The world is putting on the pressure HARD. The text dow not sugar-coat it. Life is hard. We are getting pressure from every angle. I think of the demands of work, family, home, church, all pushing on us. But not crushed: The Bible assures us that we are stronger than we perhaps realize. We can handle it. Nothing will serve as a crushing blow to us when we have Christ within us. Continue reading →

Ani Ahm

oil and flourI attended a prayer breakfast last month in which acclaimed author and speaker Walter Wangerin. Jr., spoke on the “Ani Ahm.” Roughly translated, “Ani Ahm” means “the poor people of God.”

Wangerin spoke of the poor widow whom Elijah encountered in 1 Kings 17 during a time of drought. Though she had only “a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug,” she trusted Elijah when he said, “For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth’” (1 Kings 17:12, 14). She made a little cake for Elijah and then something for her and her son. And by the grace of God, “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (1Kings 17:15). 

The poor fed Elijah. Continue reading →