Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Remodeling a Denomination, Church and Life

Those who follow this blog know that this past year has been one of transition for our family concerning our house situation. We sold our house of ten years and purchased an older home on property that we will divide and eventually build a new house. Our new older house was built it 1972, and looks it. Much of the house had been updated. The kitchen was vintage 1972. The cabinets were hideous. The kitchen and dining rooms were like a large, dark cave. Change was needed.

Our kitchen and dining room remodeling project are almost completed. Brenda planned the new kitchen design and cabinets. I have done all of the work – except the installation of the new granite counter tops. The new Brazilian cherry hardwood floors look great! The new kitchen cabinets look very nice. The granite countertops make the kitchen and dining rooms absolutely sparkle.

We had “hope” for our new home, kitchen and dining room. We saw possibilities. The transformation is outstanding. Our new older house will suit us fine while we build our “new” house in a year or two.

Our lives are a lot like a house. When a person accepts Christ as their savior and Lord their old house “the old self” needs to be torn down and replace with a new house/self. Over time that new self will change and mature. Constant updating will be needed. This Advent I have hope for all of our lives. Some will need that first change, others will need to update their “new self” in Christ. This Advent we each need to ask God to continue the transformation of our lives.

Our local churches/congregations are also like a house. Most have served the Kingdom of God over the years. People’s lives have been transformed through the ministries of those churches. Churches and congregations need to be transformed by God as time goes by. For some congregations there is a sense of hope, other congregations seem to have little hope. Transformation is possible but it is very difficult. The work can be very rewarding. Our house will not meet our future needs and some churches will not be able to meet current or future needs. A new “house” may be in order.

Denominations are also like a house. Most denominations have served the Kingdom of God over the years. People’s lives have been transformed through the ministries of these denominations. But times change. Is it possible to transform a denomination? I don’t think that it has ever been done. This doesn’t mean that there is no hope. Our hope does not reside in any denomination. Remember… denominations are not mentioned in scripture. To say that splitting a denomination is “dividing the body of Christ” is a crock! There are more denominations than I can count. The PCUSA almost never works the Assemblies of God, the Church of the Nazarene, the Southern Baptist Church or independent churches. The PCUSA is already dividing the body of Christ by refusing to work with all denominational and non-denominational bodies. There is great hope for the “body of Christ.”

This Advent is a time for hope: hope for our lives, for our congregations and for the body of Christ.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It is easier to find three “wise guys” than three “wise men”

Three magi (affectionately called “wise men”) undertook a long journey to see the newborn king of the Jews. Personally, I kind of like calling them “wise men.” They were similar to today’s “seekers.” They were honestly searching for truth and meaning. They read the writings from many religions. They connected their observations of the sky with the ancient Jewish writings and were willing to undertake a difficult journey to see this new king.

This weekend I will be preaching on The Hope of the Wise Men. The first Sunday of Advent I preached on The Faith of Mary—we had two young ladies light the Advent candle. The second Sunday of Advent I preached on The Courage of Joseph—we had two young men light the Advent candles. Leaving the sanctuary I heard someone saying, “Pastor Lance is going to have a hard time finding Advent candle lighters for next Sunday—he needs to find three wise men!” That got me to thinking…

Am I wise man? Are there many wise men in my congregation? Does the PCUSA have many wise men in it?

Let me begin by assessing if I am a wise man. The words of John in Revelation 2 speak powerfully,

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:2-5)

Most Christians would agree that the church at Ephesus had fewer problems than most of the first century churches. Yet, the words of Revelation deal harshly with the church at Ephesus. Their faith was cooling off. This causes me to wonder if my faith is cooling off. A new convert sees things in black and white and has to make decisions about all aspects of their life. The sense of “new life in Christ” is fresh and real. I remember that time in my life. Here’s the problem… am I willing to pay the price today for my faith that I paid back then? I was willing to leave the Presbyterian Church back then due to issues of baptism and spiritual gifts. Fortunately I belonged to a church that allowed for dedication of infants/believer baptisms and all of the spiritual gifts were recognized as available today. Would I be willing to leave the PCUSA today? Have I become like the Ephesian church? If the Presbyterian Church of yesterday was like the Presbyterian Church of today I would not be Presbyterian today!

One of the blogs I follow is called Truth in Love Network. On October 25th Kevin wrote that he had renounced jurisdiction of the PCUSA and was no longer an elder in the PCUSA. He knows what scripture says about Christianity and was no longer able to reconcile scripture with the current PCUSA. In my opinion Kevin is wise! He is not willing to compromise scripture for an earthly denomination—remember, denominations are not mentioned in scripture! Would I be willing to leave the PCUSA? My heart says, “Yes.” My earthly side is not so sure! Thus, I wonder if I am a “wise man?” I guess that I won’t be lighting the Advent candles this weekend.

That brings me to the men of my church. How many of those men are “wise.” Many of the guys are growing in their faith! Praise God. Yet, over and over again I see the men just “go with the flow.” I don’t see these men look critically at our church or the denomination. Most men are not the spiritual leaders of the household. There are a few “wise men” at our church.

Are there many “wise men” in the PCUSA structure? It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. That description reminds me of the PCUSA. At our last session meeting I brought up the idea of withholding General Assembly per capita and giving it to Presbyterian missions. One member of session in involved at the GA level and said that the staff at GA has gotten the message that churches are fed up and angry at the direction of the PCUSA. Be that as it may, I have yet to see any visible difference in what comes out of our denomination! The Stated Clerk is quick to send out letters telling the Presbyteries that we cannot adopt resolutions concerning ordination requirements and yet there has been no letter to denouncing those presbyteries seeking to ordain practicing, non-celibate GLBT persons. Our current moderator is talking good words about needing to do things differently yet I hear nothing from the GAC or the Stated Clerk. The deck chairs have just been rearranged on the deck of the Presbyterian Titanic. It doesn’t seem to wise to me.

Maybe this Sunday we will leave the Advent candles unlit. This could serve as a wake-up-call to the men of the church. Honestly, I don’t have the courage to take such a step. See… now you know why I wonder if I am a “wise man.”

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Transformation for Advent and Christmas

Today I am going to write about the transformation that has taken place in our church in preparation for Christmas. Before anyone jumps in to criticize let me make a few introductory observations. If your church has a Christmas tree in the sanctuary—you have no grounds for criticism. If your church has Christmas lights or evergreen branches in the sanctuary—you have no grounds for criticism.

Evergreen Presbyterian Church is located in one of the most unchurched regions of the country. Recognizing this fact impacts the way that we go about being the church. The Nativity Story hit the movie theaters less than two weeks ago. It will never be a big hit at the box office—but it will generate some interest in Jesus and his birth. This movie is a tool that we are using this Advent. Our talented artists and builders have transformed the front of our sanctuary into the sheep-birthing stable/cave of the movie. Using a book about the making of the movie, our folks were able to use pictures from the actual movie as inspiration for painting the hillside on which the stable was located. Then using all sorts of other “stuff” (that is a technical term for us non-artists) they built the stable big enough that a person can actually go inside it. The people who have seen the movie are shocked at how closely our sanctuary resembles the movie stable.

Why would we transform our sanctuary in this way? Why spend the time and the effort? Well… it has already be worth it because of one little girl that attends church on Saturday nights. This little girl is a little (no… a lot) temperamental. She loves coming to church—in part due to two other girls that attend. The transformation of our sanctuary absolutely captivated her. Following the worship service she spent a lot of time at the front of the church. The stable scene had caught her attention. This young girl knows the story of Jesus’ birth—that story has now taken on a slightly different meaning. This young girl did not want to leave the sanctuary on Saturday night. In the coming weeks we will have many people visiting church. It is our hope that the stable scene will generate new interest in the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

In planning worship, we forget that people have different learning styles. Some people are concrete/sequential—thus, we provide sermon outlines and room for taking notes. For the MTV generation, we have projection units in the sanctuary and periodically show short video clips (Samaritan’s Purse had some great ones for advertising Operation Christmas Child). Other people learn visually—too many churches have a difficult time “speaking the learning language” of these folks. For special occasions we transform the front of the sanctuary to help speak to our visual learners.

We have moved the Christmas tree to the Fellowship Hall. It is in the Fellowship Hall that we have our festive Christmas lights and decorations. Once again, our artistic folks have done a fantastic job of making that area shine with the joy of Christmas.

I am sorry that I will not have pictures of the sanctuary on the blog until the end of the week. My camera is in West Virginia with my wife as she does some work for the Christian mission/relief agency she works for.

In communicating the Gospel there are several roads that we can take. Too often we take the easy road and just go about things like we always do. With some prayer, planning and hard work it is possible to do things a little differently in worship—things that are meaningful and powerful.