Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Missional Church

I heard something recently that intrigued me. The statement was something along these lines: “The time of the institutional church is over and the time of the missional church has begun.” This was mentioned in passing, and not explained. However, I think I know what that statement means. If you are a pastor, in a church leadership position, or looking for a church, this might interest you.

I believe “institutional church” refers to those churches that are mostly Sunday morning institutions. People come to worship and see themselves as part of an institution, but nothing much else happens. The institutional church, with its structure and consistency, used to be a bulwark of society. It was the center of social activities in many neighborhoods and towns as well.

Things have changed, and the church is viewed quite differently. The local church is no longer a center of social activity because there is so much else going on in people’s lives. The institutional church has lost credibility because of clergy abuse scandals, and serious and nasty divisions within the church regarding various social issues (mainly homosexuality). Today many feel the church is irrelevant. How do you make the church credible and “relevant” (however that might be defined by those making the claim of irrelevancy)?

I believe the church must move from the institutional model to being missional. What does being missional mean? I suspect it means different things to different people, but in general I think missional means being intentional about serving God by serving others. This involves, depending on each church’s call and a lot of other variables, having various ministries to serve its members and the community; sending out and supporting missionaries; and working to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unchurched in your community. Some would add seeking justice for the oppressed and marginalized, which is appropriate if a church is called to activism (but the church must do it in the name of Jesus Christ, otherwise it is just another benevolent organization).

If a church exists only to survive and isn’t thriving, then it isn’t missional. So maybe that’s something your church should look at. How are we serving others? Are we inward-looking or outward-looking? Is our church more of a social club than anything else? Is our community better because of our presence? Are we more interested in doctrine than in people? While worship and discipleship are extremely important, mission and ministry are as well.

May God bless you as you examine your place of worship and seek God’s direction for it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Clergy Appreciation

Over the years I’ve heard horror stories about how pastors have been mistreated by congregations or by factions within congregations. Before I became a pastor, I saw it firsthand at a church I was attending. I was horrified because I had grown up in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1950s where the priests were treated with the utmost respect (I’m not sure how it is today).

October is clergy appreciation month, so that might be a good time to show your appreciation to your pastor. A better way to show your appreciation is to not sit idly by when he or she is being mistreated by malcontents in the congregation. Don’t let these people, who want the church run THEIR way, to cause dissent. Such people cause conflict and disruption, and create a spirit of oppression. As a result such churches aren’t growing because any visitor to that church feels the oppression and will never come back.

People that dominate churches and make them their own little fiefdom aren’t following the teaching of Christ, who said in Matthew 20:25b-28:

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (NRSV)

If your church is disrupted by discontent, pray for it, stand up for your pastor, and don’t let these people dominate the life of the church. They aren’t following God’s will but their own selfish desires.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Economics Lesson

Usually I write about moral, ethical or spiritual matters, but in this post I want to talk economics. While I’m not an economist, I did major in economics in college, I have an MBA, and spent 30 years in the business world. So I understand economics and business fairly well.

The reason I’m discussing this subject is because I’m sick of hearing candidates claiming they’ll fix the economy if they get elected. I’m also sick of hearing people blame Obama for the mess we’re in, when this deep economic recession was years in the making. There is little he can do, because very few tools are available to him.

Classic economic theory says the government has two major tools at its disposal to “manage” the economy: fiscal and monetary policy. Both of those have been tapped out, and there’s nothing more that can be done in those areas. Interest rates are extremely low (monetary) and the government is already heavily into deficit spending (fiscal). One other area is taxation, and the repeal of the Bush-era tax cuts will most likely hurt the economy even as it reduces the federal deficit.

Our economic problems go deep, and I see two major areas that must be addressed for any significant recovery to take place:

(1) Many jobs have been exported, so that manufacturing jobs, back office jobs, and customer service jobs have disappeared permanently. Any economic recovery that does take place won’t result in many these jobs opening up in the U.S., only in foreign countries. We must give some sort of incentive to companies to bring these jobs back to the U.S. and create new jobs in energy and emerging technologies.

You should be aware that the unemployment figure published by the government is grossly understated. Instead of 9.5% or so, the real number is closer to 15-20%. The higher number includes those who are hard-core unemployed or unemployable, those who have stopped looking for work, and those who are under-employed.

(2) We have an ongoing trade deficit with the world. We import more than we export. Some of this is due to importing vast quantities of oil, and some results from the fact that not much in the way of electronics, clothing, appliances, shoes, and many other goods are made here any more (see item #1 above). We can’t continue on such a path or we will literally go bankrupt as a country.

You should be aware that the only thing that’s keeping this country afloat financially is that other countries are buying our debt instruments. We buy stuff from these countries and they balance things out by lending us money. A major lender to us in China. So funds flow out of this country to China and others in the form of interest payments. The scary thing is that we are dependent of China for some measure of financial stability. That should keep you awake nights.

So when you hear politicians saying that they’ll fix the economy, don’t believe them. Unless they’re willing to tackle the two big items mentioned above, their efforts will result in nothing. Any recovery will come about as part of the natural economic cycle. Given our systemic economic problems, such a recovery may still be years away.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

9/11: Lessons from Pearl Harbor

Below is part of the sermon I gave on the Sunday following the attacks on 9/11/2001. It’s a little long for a blog post, but you might find it interesting, especially the comparison with Pearl Harbor.

Lessons from Pearl Harbor

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, is another date that will live in infamy. Many of you were alive at the time of Pearl Harbor, and I’m sure you recognize many of the emotions associated with Tuesday’s events. Since some are calling this a “Second Pearl Harbor” I would like to draw some comparisons to that event 60 years ago.

I find it interesting that after 60 years there is still strong interest in the Pearl Harbor attack as we see by the recent popular movie called “Pearl Harbor.”

•Both Pearl Harbor and the recent acts of terrorism were unprovoked, and both caught the US by surprise.

•Both took place in the morning, and both involved aircraft. The first bomb at Pearl Harbor fell at 7:55 and the first plane hit the WTC at 8:45.

•Both involved substantial property loss. At Pearl, 18 ships were sunk or seriously damaged, plus damage to buildings. In NYC, the entire WTC complex and many nearby buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged.

•Both involved a substantial loss of life. At Pearl, 2,403 men and women lost their lives, all but 68 were military. We don’t know the death toll yet, but I estimate Tuesday’s attacks will probably result in 6,000-7,000 deaths. (266 in airplanes, 200 at Pentagon, and 5,500-6,500 at WTC) Most of these deaths were civilians.

•Both attacks were personal to Americans. Hawaii was an American territory and the attack was against our military installations there. Many knew servicemen who lost their lives or were in Hawaii at the time.

Tuesday’s attack was even closer to home, and involved ordinary people at work, like any one of us. Many people were personally touched by these attacks, knowing people on the airplanes or in the buildings. My company had an office at the WTC. We lost 5 employees. We could see the burning buildings from our office in White Plains, knowing we had people there.

•Evil as it was, the Japanese had a strategic objective in attacking Pearl Harbor. Their objective was to neutralize our Pacific fleet so it would be out of commission for several years. This would allow the Japanese to continue their conquests in Asia without US interference. The US had become increasing hostile to Japan and had initiated trade and oil embargoes against it.

For the life of me, I can not find any strategic objective to an attack on civilian buildings such as we saw on Tuesday. That’s what makes Tuesday’s attacks senseless and diabolical.

Pearl Harbor Strategic Failure

Interestingly, from a strategic point of view, the Pearl Harbor attack was a failure.
It failed in four ways:

1. The most important naval weapon, the aircraft carrier, was untouched in the attack. Not a single carrier was in port at the time. Within a few months our carriers had engaged the enemy in significant naval battles.

2. The second most important naval weapon, the submarine, was also untouched by the attack. The sub base at Pearl was only moderately damaged and was soon back in operation. US subs were attacking Japanese shipping all over the Pacific.

3. The enormous fuel depot at Pearl was completely untouched. Even if no ships had been sunk but the fuel depot had been destroyed, our fleet would have soon been rendered useless for a substantial period of time.

4. The Pearl Harbor attack united Americans as never before. I suspect the Japanese wanted to demoralize us, but the effect was just the opposite. We were resolved to defeat an enemy that was devastating Asia and had now hit our home shores.

Why was Pearl Harbor a failure to the Japanese? I believe it was because God protected us so that we could be instrumental in defeating the evil of Nazi and Japanese expansionism. Without the involvement of the US, I don’t believe these evil expansionist empires could have been stopped. Because of US involvement in the war, Europe was eventually liberated and large parts of Asia were freed from the harsh rule of the Japanese Empire.

Current Attacks Strategic Failure

Do I believe the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were strategic failures? Yes I do.

Certainly they were successful in their execution and in causing short-term disruption. But from a long-term strategic viewpoint, I believe they will be shown, just like Pearl Harbor, to have been failures, by the grace of God. I’m not sure why these attacks, were carried out, but by almost any measurement, they will be determined to have been strategic failures.

1. They caused an interruption in the heart of our financial district, but there won’t be serious long-term effects. Life will go on pretty much as before.

2. They caused a disruption of business and commerce, but I am guessing that the effect on the economy will be relatively mild. Increased spending for the military may actually help the economy.

3. They have united America in a way not seen for 60 years. Philosophical and political differences have been set aside and a spirit of unity prevails. If the objective of those attacks was to discourage Americans, they did just the opposite.

4. Much of the world has rallied around the US in an unprecedented show of inter-national solidarity. The war against terrorism will be a united front because countries now realize all are vulnerable.

5. It will make the US more sympathetic to Israel and more supportive of its struggle against Palestinian terrorism.

Why were the recent attacks strategic failures? Again, I believe God will protect us from serious long-term harm so that we can be used as his instrument to fight against this new evil.

Although the death and destruction is more than we can bear, it may have been the only way we could be united as a people and have to resolve to do what only the US can accomplish in the world.

So the reason for the history lesson this morning is to show that God’s sovereignty always prevails, and ultimate good can come out of disasters, terrible as they are. Where Was God? You may still ask, “Where was God in all of this?” I saw God many times as I watched TV this week.

•I saw God in the firefighters who ran into a severely damaged building to try to save lives, losing their own in the process.

•I saw God in people helping their co-workers to get out of the building.

•I saw God in the dedicated rescue workers who went on past the point of exhaustion in the hope of finding somebody alive.

•I saw God in the reaction of Americans, who lined up to give blood, who sent in donations, who gathered at churches and synagogues to pray and comfort one another.

•I saw God in those people holding candlelight vigils and mourning over the loss of life of people they didn’t even know.

•I saw God in the encouragement people were giving to the rescue workers, including local merchants giving food and drink to them without charge.

•I saw God in those who called for us not to take out our anger on Americans of Middle Eastern descent or those who practice the Muslim religion.

•I saw God in Washington, DC, as those of all religions and political persuasions gathered in the National Cathedral as one to worship God in all of this.

•I saw God in the moving memorials held in Canada and countries throughout the world, honoring the victims and upholding the United States in this time of crisis.

Where was God in all of this? He was in each one of us.

What Happens Next?

Our job is just beginning. We don’t know what the future holds. The most important thing we can do is pray for our national leaders.
We should pray that our national leaders:
-Will be open to God’s leading and follow His wisdom.
-They will maintain a spirit of unity consistent with God’s direction to them.
-They won’t be driven by emotions or hatred.

We should also pray for leaders around the world, that:
-Those harboring terrorists will shut down the camps, and give them over to justice.
-Nations will back up their claims of support for the US with appropriate action.
-The community of nations will have a spirit of unity and mutual support.
-Terrorism will be stopped dead everywhere through the determined efforts of every nation’s leadership (including Northern Ireland and Israel).
-Pray in particular for Pakistan, which will probably be on the front line of any action and without whose support, our job will be more difficult.

We should also pray for the nation in general, that:
-No more terrorist attacks will occur on our soil or against our people anywhere.
-We will have a spirit of reconciliation and love for one another after seeing how ugly hatred can be.
-We as a nation will turn back to God and revival will take place.

We must realize that God will not support us just because we are Americans. I don’t believe God supports one nationality over another. He will support us if we are his people, called by his name, dedicated to him and committed to him.

Our money says “In God We Trust.” Now is our time to prove it.

Prayer is effective and is our main weapon against the evil we are fighting against, because that evil is of a spiritual nature. Ephesians 6:10-13 tells us that our struggle is a spiritual one: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

I repeat: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We may talk of military action, and that is certainly one weapon we may use, but the most effective weapon we have is trust in God and prayer. The best thing we can do in this time of national (and even international) crisis is pray to God and put our trust in Him.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thoughts on the Anniversary of 9/11

We commemorated the ninth anniversary of the attacks on the United States last Saturday. It brought back many memories of that day: witnessing the events on TV and out of my office window; my co-workers who died that day; the prayer circle we had at work as the towers collapsed; the sermon I gave that Sunday at the little church I was serving at that time; the memorial service we had at work for those employees who perished.

This attack, which cost 3,000 innocent lives in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania, finally woke us up to the fact that there are radical islamists who want to change the world. They don’t want peaceful coexistence, but their goal is to establish a world-wide caliphate under their control. That doesn’t mean we are at war with all Muslims, because, as I’ve said before, most Muslims, like anybody else, want to live their lives in peace and just be left alone.

What we must realize, both the West and moderate Muslims, is that we are at war with those radicals who kill people in mosques, cowardly blow up innocent victims in marketplaces and along roads, and wreak havoc around the world. These radicals kill their own, desecrate holy places by killing worshipers in them, destabilize Islamic nations, and go against much of what their scriptures teach. They consider their acts part of a “holy war” but it is anything but holy.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims are the victims of these fanatical but powerful few. Let us pray to God for protection against these mass murderers, and pray that God will defeat them soundly. Let us put our trust in God, who said in Zechariah 4:6b: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (NRSV)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Koran Burning

There was something on the national news about the pastor of a small church in Florida who wants to stage a Koran burning on or about September 11. It’s too bad the media is giving publicity to this nitwit. As usual, the media likes to publicize negative things about Christians, but very few positive things. So this obscure nutcase is getting worldwide attention when he deserves none.

Apparently everybody from Hilary Clinton to the Pope have condemned this proposed book burning, and with good reason. It is a hateful thing to do, will inflame even more discontent in the Islamic World (it already has), will give Al Qaida a propaganda bonanza and a great recruiting tool, will give Christians a bad name, and may put our troops in more danger according to General Petraeus. Book burnings remind me of the Nazis, who staged them to get rid of those works they didn’t like. Does this guy really want to be in the same category as Nazis?

By doing this book burning, this pastor is bringing shame on Jesus Christ, whom he claims to serve. He reinforces the stereotype of a fanatical Christian, like those who shoot abortion doctors. I hope he doesn’t go through with this proposed book burning, because doing such a thing is certainly un-American and not in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ. I ask you, the reader, not to judge all Christians by the actions of a fanatical few. Many are saying we shouldn’t judge all Muslims by the actions of a fanatical few as well, and I agree. We may find fault with the Islamic faith in general (as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts), but that doesn’t mean we burn their holy scriptures, persecute them, or otherwise mistreat them.

By the way, I don’t think opposing the Mosque near Ground Zero is persecution, just being sensitive to the families and friends of those who died on 9/11. But when that opposition is motivated more by hate than sensitivity, then it isn’t good.

This pastor told NBC News, "Instead of us backing down, maybe it's time to stand up. Maybe it's time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behavior." How about this as a better idea: pray to God for strength and protection? Isn’t that’s what a pastor should be telling his congregation? Instead, this guy’s spewing hate. He should be defrocked.

Where’s Your Community?

I was speaking with a colleague the other day, and we discussed how today there is less of a sense of community than formerly. People may live in one community but work somewhere else. Many today don’t have their family support system. Mother lives in Florida, Dad in Michigan, sister in New Jersey and brother in California. People feel disconnected and alone even with texting, Facebook, Twitter, and free long distance calling.

A solution to this is to become part of a worshipping congregation. The congregation can become your family, supporting you during tough times and providing you with opportunities to minister to others. While that shouldn’t be the main motivation for joining a church, synagogue, or mosque, it is certainly a significant benefit.

Let me suggest that if you aren’t part of a congregation, check out a nearby place of worship. You may have to visit several before you find one that works for you, but it’s worth your time and effort. If you have kids, joining a church will be good for them. They’ll learn about God and the church will reinforce the values you are teaching them (and we need all the help we can get raising kids these days).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

More on the Mosque

More continues to be written on the controversial mosque and Islamic center to be built close to Ground Zero in New York City, including a recent piece in the Poughkeepsie Journal written by a pastor in our area.

In that piece, and others I’ve read, those opposed to the mosque are being called intolerant, and their opposition is assumed to be because of hate. While I’m sure that’s the case with some who oppose the mosque, labeling all who oppose it as bigots, hate-mongers, and (worst of all) intolerant is, in itself, hateful, intolerant, and bigoted. Why must we always demonize those who have opinions different from ours? It seems that when all else fails, call them names.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, most opposition to the Mosque is because its planners are showing a lack of sensitivity to the families, friends, and co-workers who lost people in the attacks of 9/11. The planners have a right to build there, but is it the wise and sensitive thing to do? Given that these 3,000 people died at the hands of misguided fanatics operating in the name of Islam, I would think that building a new Islamic center in that neighborhood is not a good idea. And we should always remember that the Qur’an considers non-Muslims to be infidels (see my earlier post).

Need a word picture to get the idea of why building this mosque isn’t a good idea? Think of it this way: It’s like somebody wanting to build a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor. Even after all these years, I suspect most people would consider it unwise and in poor taste. So come on, you who support the mosque, what about the sensitivities of those who lost loved ones? Don’t you care about them?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Religious Freedom for All?

While many are defending the Muslims’ constitutional right to build an Islamic center close to Ground Zero in New York City, others are hard at work trying to eliminate all signs of Christianity from this country. It seems we have a double standard in this country: defend the Muslims but stamp out Christianity. Please read the following news item to see what I’m talking about:

Road Side Crosses are Unconstitutional

Since 1998, two members of the Utah Highway Patrol Association have organized the placement of monuments (12–foot crosses) on Utah roadsides to honor fallen troopers and had received permission of state authorities. So far, there are 14 crosses throughout the state, each bearing the name and badge number of deceased officers. Families of the troopers were asked if they have an objection to a cross or if they desired a different symbol. All chose crosses.

The American Atheists Inc. complained and won another battle last Wednesday in its ongoing "separation of church and state" legal crusade against Christianity. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with the atheist group that the crosses convey the message that the state prefers or endorses a certain religion and therefore is unconstitutional. Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel commented, "If this ruling stands, then the crosses, Stars of David, or other religious symbols in cemeteries are placed in jeopardy. To rid the landscape of memorial crosses would run counter to the First Amendment and place the government on a collision course with religion." [CitizenLink.com, Liberty Counsel].


From “The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing”, Aug. 27, 2010; Copyright © 2010, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

This is not an isolated incident, but this ruling is just one of many that are slowly eroding religious freedom in this country based on a misapplication of the First Amendment. You’ll rarely read about these in the mainstream media, but it’s happening all the time. Let’s start defending the rights of Christians and Jews in addition to those of Muslims.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bigotry Against Muslims?

With all the continuing controversy about the proposed Islamic center close to Ground Zero, some who don’t oppose that building at that location are accusing those who do of bigotry. I hope that those who do oppose it aren’t trying to deny the Muslims their constitutional right to do so, but are questioning the wisdom of building an Islamic center so close to where 3,000 people died at the hands of Islamic terrorists.

But then I have to ask myself, “Am I bigoted? Am I prejudiced against Muslims?” I like to think of myself as tolerant and open-minded, but not so open-minded that my brains fall out, and not so na├»ve that I’m not in touch with reality.

Most prejudice is based on ignorance. After 9/11 I decided to learn about Islam, about which I knew very little. So I read several books on the topic, which were enlightening to me. Now that I am somewhat familiar with Islam and the Qur’an, I have a better understanding of where Muslims are coming from. Sadly, it is a religion that is hostile to non-adherents, whom the Qur’an calls “infidels.” That doesn’t mean every Muslim is hostile to non-Muslims, but it does mean most Muslims were brought up with that mindset. After all, it is in their holy scriptures which they take very seriously.

Islam promotes violence against, or subjugation of, infidels. Given what I know about the Qur’an, I understand what Islam and Islamic culture are all about. I’m in favor of building bridges and all that, but I believe in doing so one must always remember what Islam teaches about Christians and Jews. Having said that, I believe most Muslims just want to be left alone to live their lives in peace. It is only the fanatical few who cause all the trouble, but that few are very dangerous as we all know.

You might be saying at this point, “Some pretty bad things were done in the name of Christianity in the past. What do you say about that?” I agree that some terrible things have been done in the name of Christ, his Church, and Christianity. However, Christ preached unconditional love, peace, and living a godly life. The New Testament encourages Christians to lovingly share the Gospel with others, but does not encourage forced conversions and killing the “infidels” (even though those things were done by misguided Christians in the past).

So we have a dilemma here in the U.S. Our constitution guarantees freedom to practice our religion yet we have adherents in our midst of a religion that is hostile to non-Muslims. Our soldiers have died overseas fighting Muslims who want to hurt us, and we have been attacked on our own soil by extremist Muslims. What do we, as a freedom-loving and tolerant people, do?

I believe we need to seek God’s wisdom. At its core, this is a religious struggle (Islamic religion and culture are inseparable). We should pray to God for guidance. After all, they’re praying to Allah every day, five times a day. Should we Christians and Jews be doing any less?