Bridge Building in the Church

I often feel a stress about how infrequently I am blogging right now.  However, a couple of years ago I began to feel called to administrate a men’s retreat for affiliated churches in my area.  This has been where all my extra energy has been going. 

Today I have something on my mind in relation to church politics.  So, I am preparing to discuss it under my ‘Politics Monday’ category. 

One of the strongest choices a church can make is to find ways to build bridges to the community.

But what exactly does that mean? Simply put, it is finding ways to connect with people who do not have a church, and possibly would not normally consider setting foot on church grounds. If a congregation’s only chance to evangelize is to witness to those folks who happen to visit, they will be missing the entire point of the great commission.

When people talk about bridge building they will often center on whether an outreach event is on the grounds of the church or not.  And this does have a point to it. A lot of the people we should most want to reach would never attend an event on the church grounds.  Not in the fellowship hall, not in the parking lot and absolutely not in the sanctuary. But some will.

Those who would be willing to visit an outreach on the church grounds might well be the low hanging fruit of the great commission, but low hanging fruit needs to be picked too. For this reason, I am not in agreement with those who assert genuine outreach and evangelism cannot take place on church grounds.

However, doing events off the church grounds has tremendous value. Not only will you have a chance to meet people who you will not meet on the grounds, but you will also see the church’s faith stretched and the community’s hearts opened. The church that is seen by community involved people as also being community involved will be their most likely place to land. Furthermore, If you are always standing on the safe ground, were exactly is the faith in that?

But before you dismiss me as being a Pollyanna let me explain that both claims have another side.  When you see into the hearts of the community you might well have that tattooed biker chick who wears her pierced earrings everywhere except her ears dropping in on the senior ladies sewing circle.  It might mean having a perfectly normal looking teen boy bring his boyfriend on his first visit.

This is about the time when you begin to find that a congregation’s faith can crack or break when it is stretched too far too fast.

I suspect to many people it sounds a little bit like compromising with the world.  To others it sounds like polluting the purity of the church with the effluence of unregenerate souls.

So, bridge building is not for the faint of heart.  But then again, no part of faithful Christianity is. Real people have real problems and sometimes we get too accustomed to our view of the church as a trouble-free zone.  But it was real people for whom Christ died.  People with fears; people with flaws.  People like you and me.

Presidential Imperfection

This morning I scanned the news and was amused by one commentary which went to great lengths to diagnose the mental conditions held by our new president.  Just out of curiosity I checked his credentials and did not see a degree in psychology among them.

The President certainly is interesting.  However, I believe it is foolishness to expect any president to be perfect.  The common pattern of behavior by politicians is to present a façade of perfection.  Therefore, the real choice is not between perfect and imperfect, but instead between transparent and guarded.

With transparency comes a sea of criticism, but at the same time there is the chance to understand the person as an individual. With a guarded persona comes an assurance they will always be professional in public, but at the same time you may never be able to understand or trust what they are doing in private.

Given those choices I am willing to accept the president who allows his true self to be seen, even though I don’t always endorse the character displayed.

Taming Hypocrisy to Win America

While reading through Zechariah today it occurred to me that God often magnifies a people’s sin in the process of setting them up for judgement.  For example, the foolishness of the idolatry of Israel was put on display by the events with Elijah on Mount Carmel. The selection of Saul entirely apart from any understanding of his character moved the people toward the misery of living under a King other than God their King.

Perhaps a more modern day example is taking place in our time. The two presidential candidates both had deep moral flaws. They could easily represent the abuse of power and the obsession with sexuality, two evils which currently define our nation.  We have willingly given ourselves to these evils, and both are highlighted in the public accusations against the two candidates.

I also notice, more while reading Matthew than Zechariah, that hypocrisy is a sin of special concern in Jesus teaching. He chastises the religious leaders for despising the common people. The leaders accuse them of falling short on the minor points of the moral law, while they themselves ignore or work around the weightier points. He helped the rich to see that their belief in their own goodness was false, and that their devotion to wealth was greater than their devotion to God.

A modern day example of this hypocrisy is visible in that those who favor a candidate so easily accuse the failures of the opposing candidate. It didn’t matter which candidate won, there was going to be immediate calls for impeachment. Meanwhile both sides fail to see that the candidate on their side has genuine problems, as well. Even worse, the nation continues to deepen this divide by demonizing the supporters of their opponents.

No matter who had won the election, the path to saving America must include the unifying of the population.  It is a myth of our times, that people with opposing viewpoints cannot work together. We can stand together to rebuild our strength, without agreeing on anything more than America needs to be better. If we unify then we can take an honest look at the evils enslaving us. Seeing those evils will require us to abandon the hypocrisy and to see the weaknesses of both sides. But if we do this, if we humble ourselves before God, we will begin to tame these issues by the resources provided to us as one nation, once again choosing to be, under God.

Presidential De-Proclamation

President Barak Obama became somewhat famous for legislating with the pen. He didn’t produce as many proclamations as some presidents, but he did press the power of proclamation into the realm of putting forth as new laws. But law making is the jurisdiction of the legislative branch, not the executive.

As this happened many people across the nation were dismayed, myself included.

But as the pendulum has swung, I am now beginning to see the benefits in him having behaved in this manner.  Namely that whatever he did with the power of the presidential pen, can be undone with the same power, by the new president.

Just think how much more difficult it would be to correct these actions if they had been legally enacted by the legislature.

This should be a lesson for all of America including those who will be shortly taking control. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things.  If you take the time, and respect the process, by doing things right your actions may stand the test of time.  Take shortcuts and they may short lived.

In Favor of Unity

I remember how I felt shortly after the election when Barak Obama was first elected President. It was not a pleasant feeling. It was downright confusing how so many people could see this man’s agenda as good or even appropriate. It was disheartening when his opponents were sometimes demonized as racist. It was ridiculous when some of his allies treated this new president as a political messiah. These feelings were made worse by the immediate and foolish actions which served to press his agenda, but divide the nation. I am still angered today by such, now famous, words as “elections have consequences” and “we will have to pass it to find out what is in it.” These manifestos of control divided the country in even deeper ways.

All across the urban areas of this country, people on the other side of the political spectrum are now feeling the sting that my conservative friends and I have felt for the past eight years.

So what should we conservatives do next?

We could retaliate now that we have control. We could pass every piece of legislation we want in a frenzy, we could speak out our own manifestos of control, and we could label our opponents as obstructionist, libtards, and whatever other term we find useful.  But this would make us just as divisive as the worst of our opponents have been.

Or we could look for ways to genuinely cooperate and move together.  No doubt legislation will be passed, but do so under normal rules of order, including healthy debate. No doubt proclamations are going to be undone, but don’t replace them with our own proclamations. Instead allow these ideas to weather the tests of congressional scrutiny and be passed as laws.  Instead of furthering the divide, let’s demonstrate that operating within the constraints of constitutional guidance works well without the need for creative interpretations of the document.

This work of reunifying our divisions is our most important challenge.

Many have pointed out that national debt is a huge problem. Obviously there is some unknown limit where the debt is beyond our ability to overcome.  Beyond that point our nation would lose its economic footing, be forced to default on loans, and our failure would affect not just our country but the whole world.

Similarly there is a limit to how divided we can be as a nation before the problem becomes unrecoverable. If we cause that to happen, or allow it to happen while blaming our opponents, the results will be even more disastrous.

Church Politics

For Politics Monday today I will talk about the politics within the church.  This is a topic I am intending to touch on more often.

Some people undoubtedly will be offended just by the phrasing.  Please bear with me, my definition of politics is the normal flow of relationships whenever people interact with each other, whether these relationships are local, global or somewhere in between.

By this definition, the only church that does not have politics is the church where the people fail to interact with each other at all. This would mean they fail to form friendships, fail to produce teamwork and never experience fellowship.  All of these things are produced by the synergistic power of relationships.

Most often, whether a church is a good church or a bad church, whether it is a church that does lots of good in the community or a church that barely manages to pull off worship, is ultimately determined by the strength of the relationships within the church.  A church that ‘works’ is a church that has good, strong relationships. When something breaks the fellowship of a church, the church will lose its strength.

Unfortunately, everywhere there are relationships, there are also relationships that go wrong. In the church, relationships gone wrong have different degrees of disruption to the overall congregation. For example, a couple living together will have a minimal impact in the strength of the group when they are non-serving attenders. On the other end of the scale a pastor who lies, cheats and steals will totally dismantle his church’s effectiveness.

The takeaway for this discussion is every church member, especially serving church members, should take care to protect the fellowship of the church. The primary tool for accomplishing this is to live right, because living wrong on any level disrupts that fellowship.  A secondary method is to extend grace to your fellow church members when they fall short, so that problems are not escalated after they develop.

The Immorality of Not Voting

This is a very unusual presidential election. In many ways it seems as if the candidates are the least likely individuals that each party could possibly find.

One individual brings a long stream of controversial episodes to the table. The most recent of these is the handling of classified information in such a way that made it more accessible to the Russians and Chinese than the US government officials who subpoenaed it.

The other is a brash attention seeking businessman who also has a history that generally would not be called suitable for politics.  This candidate subjects the American people to an outlandish set of promises as to what will be changed under their guidance, and how fast.

For many Christians, the question has become, how can I vote for either candidate in good conscience? I am bothered by how many of my friends in ministry have decided that there is no way to cast a moral vote this election year.

To these individuals I ask this question, have you considered the immorality of not voting? Not voting strikes me as the equivalent of folding your arms, sitting back in your chairs, and saying to the secular society around us – you made this mess, now you fix it.  Lowering that to a more common denominator, it is Christianity packing up their toys and going home.

I believe that a part of our Christian living is to be responsible citizens in our society. In this society that means praying for our president. In this society that means casting a vote to try and bring in the best possible candidate.  In the current election, as in all recent elections this includes two primary parties with opposing views as to how the country should move forward.

I disagree with the platform of one of those parties in several major ways.  I agree with the platform of the other in several major ways.  I will vote.  I will vote for a candidate whom I do not totally trust fulfill their promises, or even to keep the priorities spelled out in the platform.  I will cast this vote because voting for the other would support someone guaranteed to go in the wrong direction. And I will not abstain from voting because to me, that is the most immoral choice.