transformation

money

Church We Have A Problem!

I happened upon this yesterday over at jesusneedsnewpr.net (via Christian Nightmares via The Good Athiest) and wanted to share. So first watch the video:

Now your first reaction (if you are Christian and value church) might be to get all defensive, and I can understand that position. (In fact that was my initial reaction, but then I thought on it some more) Before you react from that defensive position I wanted to really engage with what the video was saying so I wrote down all the statements from the video:

  1. In America, church is serious business and business is good.
  2. In 1960 there were 16 megachurches across the country.
  3. Now there are more than 1401.
  4. The most profitable makes over 70 million a year.
  5. 63 Million Americans attended a church service last week.
  6. 21 million tithed at least 10% of their income.
  7. And churches just don’t sell hope, they also sell coffee and DVDs and books and private education.
  8. How much money is this? Nobody Knows.
  9. Church income is not taxed and most churches don’t even file a return.
  10. Nearly half of Americans (48%) believe that the federal government should advocate Christian values.
  11. The federal government has obliged.
  12. In 2004, faith based organizations received up to 40,000,000,000 in federal grants.
  13. While many other federal programs had their budgets slashed.
  14. What are they doing with all this money? (picture of mansions/wealth)
  15. Aren’t there more worthy causes?
  16. Causes that don’t mask their motives in a shroud of holiness?
  17. Causes that don’t manipulate the penitence of their disciples for the lining of their pockets?
  18. You don’t need Church to give.
  19. Give directly to a cause dear to your heart essential to your community worthy of your support: education, art, music, shelter, amnesty, clean energy, community garden, yoga, animal rescue, elderly care.
  20. 10% where it counts

I don’t think it is actually too hard to poke holes in the argument (in fact there is so much conflation that one could say the video is a total red herring argument…they have created a picture of “church” that is easy to attack). The video conflates megachurches and faith-based organizations into one unified whole. They create a picture that the church is “selling” a product and that its existence is to fleece you out of your 10%. And so on and so on. One could spend countless sentences, paragraphs, and posts deconstructing the argument and showing its logical errors. However, that wouldn’t really do any good. Why do I say that? Because church we have a problem.

A quote from Francis Chan in his book Crazy Love has continued to haunt my thoughts:

We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God. You’ve probably heard the expression “I believe in God, just not organized religion.” I don’t think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to live. The expression would change to “I can’t deny what the church does, but I don’t believe in their God.” At least then they’d address their rejection of God rather than use the church as a scapegoat. (pgs 21-22)

I think if we seriously look at the two (the video and the quote) we can look and see they are getting at the same things. The church has a problem and both outsiders and insiders are saying it. Wouldn’t it be so easy to just blame the megachurches, but reality is the whole institution has a problem. We have lost our purpose and our heart. Too many churches have stopped being agents of change in society by radically living out the Gospel through their corporate lives and instead have done just what the video says and become sellers of hope for consumers to buy.

If we think about the church as stewards of God’s gift (you know that 10% that is meant for God and given to the church to steward), are we being good stewards? Is that “tithe” being used to maintain staffing, programming, and buildings mostly? How much of that is being used to provide for those in need (a redistribution sort of thing like in Acts)? If we follow the money is it being used to transform lives? If it is whose lives is it transforming? Are we a beacon of God’s light?

Let me frame this another way: do we look at the money we are receiving and entrusted to by God’s people and asking the question of how we can transform the world with this? I wonder what the world might look like if we did, would red herring videos have as much impact/influence? Would people be able to look at the Church and really see the incarnational Body of Christ?

What do you think? Do we have a problem?

Ransom Act of Kindness

So I woke up at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning to get ready for the early service at church since I was preaching at both services this week. I went downstairs and went outside to check my car and see if I would have to scrape my windows or not (unfortunately I did have to). Well, I opened the back door and there was something sitting on our back steps next to the door. I was not exactly “awake” at the moment so I was wondering what this big roundish blob was and upon further inspection I realized it was a ham and under it was a folded black paper. I opened the black paper up and read the following:

You have served me well. I repay you with a ham! Said the Lord.

Now even in my not-quite-awake state of mind I started to laugh. I commit to living a vegetarian life almost one month ago and now God is repaying me with a ham? Either God doesn’t think I should be a vegetarian or God has a twisted idea of thanks. By the way, when I opened up the note and looked down I almost instantly wanted to run upstairs to make sure Kai was still in his crib and call Micah’s friends house to make sure he was still there. I guess I didn’t expect God to communicate via ransom note font. (okay that is me joking around)

On a serious note, it was a pleasant surprise and one that touched my heart. Something I have done over the past few days, weeks, months, or year had an effect on someone. Now I suspect I know who it is, but I can’t be sure. All I truly know is this. Whoever was touched by something I did knew that I did it from the position of my faith and that is affirming. The person didn’t need to throw in the “said the Lord” bit but he/she did and the person did that to connect with something they thought I was important. It was important for them to give me a sense of affirmation in my faith through their simple act of thanks (and since the rest of my family isn’t vegetarian they will get to participate in eating that thanks).

I do wonder though sometimes if anonymity is a good thing in any capacity. Anonymity limits relationships. Good things can be done through anonymity but I am a big believer in the fact that relationships are where transformation occurs for both parties and that can’t happen if the two parties don’t clearly know the actions of the other. I am reminded of the story where the woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and he notices and calls out for the person to identify himself/herself. Jesus easily could have just let it go but there was a push for something deeper.

This causes me to think deeper. How often do we do good work but in a way anonymously? You know that money we collect and give to a middle-agency that does mission work. That money that goes to help someone in need which is a good thing (don’t get me wrong it is a good thing), but money that isn’t tied to relationship. It gets harder if you are giving that money to someone you know and someone you therefore invite into your life. You are confronted with everything that they are and well you expose and open up all of yourself. That is what relationship is all about, it really pushes transformation because we are met with our limitations and brokenness when we are confronted in relationship with another. It is so much easier to “anonymously” give, but should we just do good or should we practice transformative relational giving?

I am thankful for my ham (that my family will eat) just as I am sure anyone who receives a blessing anonymously is thankful, but I am left wanting. I want to thank the person for their kindness. I want to get to know them more and see how we both can help one another grow as individuals and as God’s children. I wonder if those we help through our missions (without relationship) are left wanting in the same way?

Stains

So I was at a gathering of the Minnesota senior high youth this past weekend which is called UMYS. I have been to this gathering as a youth, as an adult chaperone, as a youth director, as a pastor, and now as an associate pastor.

This weekend was filled with great conversation, a great speaker (our bishop), great music (Boiling Point), and a great group that went from our church. There are many things I could write about from the weekend, but one has been mulling through my head today as I sat at home with my oldest son Micah who was sick. The closing worship on Sunday morning involved a “testimony” from one of the members of the design team who is a senior in high school (well actually she just graduated early which is an amazing accomplishment).

I admired this girl who shared her story. It took guts because her story was filled with hurt, pain, and brokenness. She had experienced abandon from a father (something I can identify with), sexual abuse from a family friend, and a battle with drug abuse. It took guts for her to stand in front of a room composed of mainly strangers and share her story and she ended her story with a quote from scripture she plans on having tattooed on her wrist and a scripture that the Bishop had quoted earlier in one of her messages. The passage was from Romans 12:21:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NIV)

It is a powerful passage. This girl’s story was one that communicated how she was trying to overcome the evil she had experienced by trying to do good. This got me thinking. My life too has been marked by pain, loss, and brokenness. I have experienced abandonment by a father, emotional abuse by a step-father, my own battle with addiction, etc. Both this girl and my stories have been marked by the stain of sin. Some of the stains are of our own doing and some of the stains are there because of what others did but either way there are stains. In fact all of us have lives marked by stains.

Well the office administrator of our church sent me an email this morning of some pictures someone had taken of some of the stained glass in our church. I am not a huge fan of stained glass, but I cannot deny the beauty of the stained glass. Well the email got me thinking about how the “stains” in our lives, whether of our own doing or not, can be transformed and used by God in beautiful ways that make them brilliant just like stained glass windows. Our lives filled with stains can be transformed in such a way that people can look and see such amazing beauty through those stains. That is what I was able to see in this young woman’s story…I saw beauty of transformation. She was a living stained glass window. She is truly trying to overcome evil with good and in the process she is allowing God to transform her into an amazing beautiful story.

I think that is something we could all learn from. We can let the “stains” of our lives (those things of evil) overcome us and we can get stuck or we can allow God to transform those stains into something beautiful as we try to overcome evil with good. We all have a chance to become living “stained glass windows.”