We finish up looking at the Greatest Sermon Ever, the “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus encourages those who hear these words to put them into practice. He likens it to building a house on a rock and not sand. I try to unpack what that actually means for us today.
…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new person out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 4:12-22
What a beautiful thought conveyed by St. Paul in his letter to the church he started in Ephesus so many years ago. Recently my wife, Mrs. Pr. Ben (aka Rachel) read this passage to me after church one Sunday. We were struck by the language that Paul used to describe our human condition and God’s solution to our isolation. I am sure it is not lost on you that some of these same words are being used today as our nation continues to struggle with the issues surrounding immigration.
Paul reminded the non-Jewish believers of the church he started in Ephesus were once foreigners and they did not possess citizenship within the Kingdom of God. Only the people of Israel were a part of God’s family and kingdom. Up until the time of Jesus there was an “immigration ban” on entering the Kingdom of God. There was a spiritual “barrier” even a “wall of hostility” that prevented anyone outside of Israel from drawing close to God.
Everyone who is not Jewish is a gentile. All gentiles (in Hebrew the word is “goyim”) were on the outside looking in. Even if they wanted to be Jewish, they could not. There was a spiritual barrier between God ‘s chosen people and everyone else. This caused conflict and hostility to the point that it felt like there was wall that could not be scaled.
In God’s story of humanity there were only 2 nations: Israel (the people of God) and everyone else. Essentially, the borders were closed and there was a ban on immigration. Only those born in that spiritual nation could be residents.
The problem is that God doesn’t like walls or barriers even if the people of God do. Instead of reinforcing the walls or building them higher, God did something amazing. God tore down the wall and built a bridge. The bridge’s name was Jesus.
Instead of having a group of insiders and a group of outsiders God decided that there would only be insiders. Instead of having citizens and aliens/foreigners there would only be residents of the Kingdom of God. There was no screening to see if someone was well-intentioned because God knows that no one is worthy. Everyone was and still is welcome.
On that spring day two-thousand years ago, Jesus died on the cross so that the borders to His Kingdom may be opened to all who wish to enter.
Let us welcome those who enter His embassy (the church) seeking sanctuary and refuge. I know that when I come to church on Sunday morning, I sometimes feel like a refugee fleeing the terror of this world so that I may find a safe place to rest.
We continue on in the “Sermon on the Mount” and we hear a radical message of love… even the yucky people and “those people.” It is a challenge. The message is simple but the task is not easy.
Last Sunday we had one of our two congregational meetings of the year. I talked about several things but I reflected that as a leader and as your pastor I need to be thinking about Bethel in multiple levels of time all at once.
I need to be thinking about:
- The day-to-day operations of Bethel
- What is happening in the coming year
- What we should be planning for in the next 5 to 10 years
That doesn’t necessarily mean a strategic plan but it might. However, I do know that I need to be aware of long-term trends both in the church and in our society.
The importance of this hit home last night when I had the opportunity to hear John Maxwell speak. (If you don’t know John Maxwell, you are missing out. He is a pastor, author and leadership expert.) This is what John Maxwell said about any leader: “A leader must be able to see more than anyone else in the room and they must be able to see it before anyone in the room.” He also said, “If you aren’t seeing more than everyone else and before everyone else in the room, then you better get in line because you aren’t the leader but a follower.”
John Maxwell was being blunt in his assessment of leaders and leadership. This isn’t just true for pastors but for any leader in any capacity. As he continued speaking he told those listening that we should strive to be “more-more” and be “more before” (see more and see it before others). This isn’t about being the best or being in charge. This is about making sure we are prepared for the current moment and being prepared for the future.
There are many things we need to be thinking about as it pertains to the future of the church, however I want to talk about the only one I mentioned on Sunday: Invitation.
What is preventing us from having an active worshipping community of 400, 600 or even 800? Invitation. If each family in our church invited another family on the same Sunday, guess what would happen? We would double in size.
If we don’t invite, Bethel will most likely stay the same size and then slowly shrink. This is not about institutional survival. Jesus has already told us, “…on this rock (the truth of Christ) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18 The Church will continue on because Jesus promised it will, but individual congregations come and go.
I believe we should invite others because we have something the world doesn’t. We have Jesus. We have joy and love. We have community and we have reconciliation. The people you know need what we have. This world is starving for these very things. Even if you feel uncomfortable talking about such things, invite them to Bethel. I promise you that I will talk about these things to anyone who will listen.
Let us be light for this dark world! Not just in this time but 100 years from now!
We continue looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Today: Salt & Light. There is a reason Jesus mentions these two metaphors after the Beatitudes. We are salt and we are light for today and for tomorrrow.
Occasionally our presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America releases a timely statement that addresses specific current events. This past week Presiding Bishop Eaton released a statement regarding the president’s executive order regarding the temporary ban of refugees from specific countries.
Please take the time to read this thoughtful and balanced statement. Our bishop takes the scripture seriously and I appreciate that.
Bishop Eaton’s Statement:
January 30, 2017
It has been an wild week in the United States and I turned back to scripture for grounding. I am reminded of what it means to follow Jesus and who curries divine favor from God. Curious? Listen in and find out.
On Wednesday, I attended a seminar entitled, “The State of Pastors: Leading in Complexity.” It was the unveiling of a massive study undertaken by the Barna Group with generous funding from Pepperdine University. The Barna Group specifically studies and researches all things church related. If you have never heard of this organization before, they do good work and great research.
I am still going through the data (because it is extensive) but I wanted to share a couple of interesting findings with you.
11,000 pastors were asked how they rate themselves on ministry tasks. Below is the percentage of how they ranked themselves as “excellent” in each task.
- Preaching and teaching 57%
- Knowledge of Scripture 48%
- Applied or practical theology 42%
- Leading the organization 29%
- Connecting with the community 29%
- Managing church finances 28%
- Counseling or pastoral care 24%
- Personal spiritual growth 22%
- Using technology for ministry 18%
- Managing staff 16%
- Evangelizing people 10%
- Mobilizing volunteers 6%
Notice the quick drop off after “applied or practical theology.” Even the highest rated category of “preaching and teaching”- only 57% of pastors rated themselves as excellent. It is clear to me that many pastors do not feel well equipped for the calling they have undertaken.
It was mentioned that pastors today are much more like CEOs than pastors because they are expected to lead an organization and not just preach, teach and visit the sick. As you can see above, not many feel equipped to do that very thing.
One other statistic that caught my eye today: Pastors’ reliability on specific issues, by faith practice. This is what other people believe about the role of pastor.
|Topic||All US Adults||Christians||Non-practicing Christian||No Faith|
|How the church can help people live according to God’s will||36%||69%||32%||6%|
|God’s will for human beings and the world||35%||70%||30%||4%|
|How relationships work and how to make them better||26%||59%||19%||4%|
|How people can live out their convictions privately and publicly||23%||54%||15%||3%|
|How Christianity should inform our political and justice system||17%||40%||11%||3%|
People outside of the category “practicing Christians” do not believe pastors have the authority or “reliability” to speak on the issues found in the table. What does that mean? Overall, pastors have less authority/influence outside the church than they used to. That may seem obvious, but that was not the case in our recent past. We are definitely living in a “post-Christian society” much like the earliest disciples of Jesus who were living in a “pre-Christian society.”
This seminar’s title included this tag line, “leading in complexity.” There is no doubt of that. These are complex times and the role of pastor requires many skills that are not taught in most seminaries. Often there is a lot of on the job training. I am reminded of that when I am asked by newer pastors, “what do I do when…” Yes, I still do a fair share of mentoring.
As I said earlier, I need to process this data before coming to any conclusions but I wanted to share a little of what I experienced today. If you are interested, I will share the published data with anyone (after I have finished going through it).
I am not surprised by anything I heard today, however it is good to see the research.
Even with the challenges, I love what I do and can’t see myself doing anything other than being a pastor.
We all have had expectations that didn’t pan out. For me it was Sea Monkeys that I ordered out the back of a comic book. What happens when our expecatations of God differ from God’s actual agenda? I try to sort that out…
Have you ever heard of Tim McMillan? I had not until a couple of weeks ago. He is a police officer in Georgia. He is an ordinary guy in a lot of ways. He even describes himself in this way,
“My life has been a chaotic jumble of accidents, ambitions, failures and unintended consequences. Through all of that I have discovered connections that have illuminated the world and revealed its infinite mystery. God is within us all, and therefore none of us are more important than all of us. I never wanted to be a police officer growing up. I wanted to be an astronomer, or psychologist. I love solving mysteries and no mystery is greater than the human mind and space.
In July of 2002, two of my friends were murdered during a robbery. I said ‘There are two kinds of people in this world, those who say someone needs to do something and those who say I am going to do something.’ I chose to be the later, and at 21 years old I became a police officer. “
He created a little buzz on Facebook back in October when posted story about an encounter he had while he was on patrol.
“I pulled a car over last night for texting and driving. When I went to talk to the driver, I found a young black male, who was looking at me like he was absolutely terrified with his hands up. He said, “What do you want me to do officer?” His voice was quivering. He was genuinely scared.
I just looked at him for a moment, because what I was seeing made me sad. I said, “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
In which he replied, with his voice still shaking, “Do you want me to get out of the car.”
I said, “No, I don’t want you to text and drive. I don’t want you to get in a wreck. I want your mom to always have her baby boy. I want you to grow up and be somebody. I don’t even want to write you a ticket. Just please pay attention, and put the phone down. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
I truly don’t even care who’s fault it is that young man was so scared to have a police officer at his window. Blame the media, blame bad cops, blame protestors, or Colin Kaepernick if you want. It doesn’t matter to me who’s to blame. I just wish somebody would fix it.”
He saw the fear and trepidation first hand and it (rightly so) upset him. I can’t help but think of the words of Jesus when He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…” Matthew 20:25b-26
He is a servant… a public servant. Instead of being embolden by the power he held over that young man, it upset him. Instead of seeing the power he held as something to wielded, Officer McMillan wants to break down the barriers that separate people. That specifically includes racial barriers. Last Sunday I talked about process of God refining his people. As a silversmith skims of the impurities of precious metals, God wants to skim off anything inside of us that seeks separate us from loving God and loving our neighbor. Tim McMillan is living that out.
In this extremely polarized season of our country’s history. It is refreshing to see that there are some who refuse to buy into the idea of “that’s just the way it is.”
Tim is quoted as saying, “We don’t need to treat people the way they want to be treated…instead treat people the way we want others to treat our children.”
All I can say to that is, “Amen.”