Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Turning the Other Cheek

Our politicians certainly don’t seem to want to ‘turn the other cheek’. I have had to shut off the TV and the Radio lately. Too many negative ads filling the air waves.

Likely their political advisors are correct in assuming that people want leaders to lash back, to fight fire with fire. No one knows who started the verbal volleys but they are likely to continue through this political season.

Actually, few understand this saying of Jesus that we are to ‘turn the other cheek’. Some people like Ghandi and a few very pacifist Christian groups take it to mean complete non-violence. “Lambs to the slaughter”, “non-resistance into the grave”, hardly something that appeals to many. Martin Luther King Jr. knew the truth of the power of non-resistance, not as a religious absolute but as a powerful tool in winning over your enemies.

In Matthew 5:39 Jesus said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Personally, I don’t believe that Jesus was talking specifically about non-violence although that is certainly within the context of these verses. One of my theology professors gave ample evidence of a Middle Eastern culture that identified a slap to the face as a disgrace, a blow more to the ego than to the head.

I believe that Jesus was teaching through the Beatitudes and in many of his other lessons that His followers have a great opportunity to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21), to love our enemies and do good to those that hurt us (Luke 6:27).

When we behave like Jesus would behave, we don’t become soft or weak. Instead, we bless and encourage and love others regardless of how they mistreat us or speak evil of us. Unfortunately, our political leaders don’t have lots of good examples to draw upon but there should still be hope coming from our local churches.

Some of these lessons that Jesus taught are hard lessons....but necessary if we are to truly change the world.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What a waste!

I've never liked wasting anything: time, money, gas, food, an education....

While you may think that is an admirable quality, for me it's been something I've had to overcome.

For example, my day-planner filled with to-do's, activities, schedules, business events filled my days and nights with what seemed like profitable things to do.

In the Gospel of John, there is a story about Mary of Bethany. John says that Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead was there at the dinner table. Then "Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment." (John 12:3).

The story goes on that Judas and the other disciples were indignant as the costly perfume could have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor.

At this time, 300 denarii was about a years wages. The picture at the top left is of a rare parfume called, "Clive Christian's Imperial Majesty." The bottle retails for about $215,000, considerably more than a years wages.

Jesus however doesn't share this criticism that the costly ointment had been wasted. He says that it had been used for the day of his burial. It wasn't wasted, it was appropriate. It wasn't a time to think about the poor that could have been helped but it was a time to focus on Jesus.

Mary had been criticized before for 'wasting' time with Jesus. Her sister Martha wanted Mary to help her with food prep but Mary chose time with Jesus. Jesus shows us that time with Him is not wasted.

Often, we fill our day with many pressing things while the more important things are ignored. What a waste! In 1 Cor. 15:58, the Apostle Paul tells us, "Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, unmovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that the work you do for the Lord isn't wasted.

This theme is consistant in the Bible. Jesus spent the first thirty years of His life in preparation of a three-year ministry with twelve men that would change the world. Moses spent forty years with Pharaoh and then forty years with his father-in-law Jethro before he led the people of Israel out of Egypt and to the promised land. The good samaritan delayed his journey and took the time to clean and anoint the wounds of the man left half-dead and then took him to a place where he could fully recovery.

At the end of our life, may we be able to look back at time spent with the Lord and in work we do for the Lord. If we don't, we may look back at our days and have to admit, "What a waste!"

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Customized Discipleship

Over the years, businesses intentionally embraced the masses and got larger and larger. In this pursuit, mass production and mass marketing led to a large and ultimately massive market. Customers that were initially attracted by the lower prices from these mass production techniques eventually lamented the sameness and the lack of uniqueness that was all too apparent in the companies’ products and services.

Henry Ford once said, “A customer can have a car painted any color that he wants as long as it is black”.

Some progressive leaders of these large companies discovered a new concept called “Mass Customization” whereby customers could still take advantage of the availability, low cost and high quality associated with mass production but at the same time could receive a product or service that was customized to the individual and specific needs of the consumer.

Recently, churches have gotten big—really big. Just a few years ago, we used to marvel at megachurches. We now have dozens of gigachurches, churches that serve tens of thousands of people each week.

These churches regardless of their size have one particular thing, one particular offering or service that needs to be very customized. That product or service is discipleship.

Very large churches do a great job in providing spectacular worship; they offer amazing programs and have built remarkable buildings. These are all mass produced offerings. Their worship attracts thousands; many of their programs require hundreds of employees and utilize thousands of volunteers. However, in order for these very large churches to turn out great disciples they also have to learn or acquire the art of Mass Customization of Discipleship.

Embraced small groups

For example, as churches have grown, in order to maintain intimacy and fellowship they have embraced small groups. Small groups are a great way for many people to grow in Christ, discover what it means to become accountable, to understand sacrifice, humility and community. Individuals and couples find their way into a specific small group that fits and meets their particular needs.

Not everyone is ready however for a small group. Many people on the path of becoming disciples need to heal, regroup, recover or possibly relearn some of the basics. Many churches have found opportunities to offer them medium size and larger group gatherings including divorce support groups, alcohol and drug rehabilitation groups.

Sunday school still offered

I’m very happy as well to see that all the success experienced in years past through adult Sunday school programs hasn’t been discarded. Many of our largest churches are offering new Saturday, Sunday and weekday classes. These class offerings range from some basic classes in the faith to more advanced classes in evangelism, stewardship, marriage and child development. All have been customized to meet the particular needs of individuals.

Here in South Florida as well as in many parts of the country, a large percentage of our visitors and new members have a Catholic background. In order for many of these individuals to grow as disciples, they want to understand some of the historical and cultural similarities and differences. Churches that offer these classes have designed a customized approach to a smaller but specific group with distinct and individual needs.

Mass Customization of Discipleship isn’t simply offering more but offering that which specifically meets the need of certain individuals, couples and groups. People are attracted to large churches because of the quality of worship, their excellent programing and ample facilities. As these churches continue to grow they need to find ways to minister and customize growth opportunities for various individuals, couples and groups.

Mass Customization of Discipleship maintains some of the advantages of economies-of-scale while creating opportunities for large churches to provide unique and distinctive ways for people from various backgrounds to grow, to learn and to become exactly who Christ wants them to be.

Reprint from Church Executive December 2011

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