What’s the good word? Well today was a day of mixed emotions. The title of this blog says it all, so here it goes.
The Good: We delivered half of the 750 books that we were able to secure for the school in Robit. It was amazing to walk into the book store and see all of these books sitting there. It was a bit overwhelming. We are already seeing the fruits of our labor with the kids we have already supplied the books for. Their test scores were up and all passed their exams.
The Bad: I saw the high school today and there was a HUGE disparity between what the high school students had and what the junior high students did not. They had a library full of reference books. They had computers (20 as a matter of fact), new buildings, and a new laboratory. I began to ask why, and I was told it was supported by the NGO (non government organization) Glimmer of Hope, who had secured the donations for high school. This really bothered me as I have always felt that there is an important foundation that needs to be laid in the lower grades. This leads me to the ugly.
The Ugly: If the junior high students needed computers, why couldn’t they use the nearly 13 computers the high school students WEREN’T using? If they needed lab equipment, why buy new equipment? Let them share the high school laboratory? NO! I was told. The high school was separate from the primary school. That prperty belonged to them and that was a decison that could only be made by the high ups in the education department of the government. So what’s the ugly? The school system is just as complicated and just as political as the system in the states. This isn’t rocket science. If there are 500 textbooks at this school and the school down the road (which I visited) has NONE, then take the excess there.
The Lord knows I have to work on my patience, and I guess this is his way of doing that! LOL! But I am determined to keep making a difference, through supplies, and the sharing of ideas. I did get a chance to meet those higher ups today (part of the good), and they were excited about the opportunity to work with Acts of Wisdom and improving the quality of educaiton for the students. And that’s the good word for today.
What’s the good word? Today was a day of days. It was great to be back out in Robit. To see the people I have become close to. To see the children growing up. To be seen by folks you have come to know and see them smile when they see you. It’s a blessing. But today was also a frustrating day. I am still trying to wrap my brain around the education system here. I was a bit thrown off guard to walk into shed full of books when I was told there weren’t any books. Come to find out, text books are given to schools by the government, however, it’s the reference books and workbooks that aren’t supplied. These are necessary for children to pratice and to study for their exams so that they pass. I was not aware of any of this. Let’s just say it was a long day of meetingssss and working through translators and it all was a bit much. I kept asking myself, “Why am I doing this again?” God calls us to ministry, but God never says it is easy. There’s a passage in Scripture where Jesus tells the disciples if you aren’t received in a town, dust the sand off your sandals and walk away. Translation: this won’t be easy. The Apostle Paul had many ups and downs in his ministry. He was chased out of towns, rocks thrown at him, boat crashed in a storm, thrown into prison, you name it. It wasn’t easy.
Then this happened. I was told by the school principal that because of our help in getting books for the second graders all of them passed their exams. ALL of them. 100%. They saw a big difference in the learning of the students because of these books we were able to get them. The school is now recognized by the regional manager of education that works for the government. I will meet him this week as he wishes to extend thanks and seek new ways of working together.
And then this happened. I heard a story of widow with three kids and one on the way. Her husband was attacked and killed by some bandits who had a vendeta against the man’s brother. In the course of the fight, their oldest daughter tried to fend them off, only lossing her life as well. I just broke down crying, not finding the words to say.
All of this to say, God’s work isn’t always easy. We may find times where we are asking “Why?” And then God will show up and show us why we are doing what we are doing. These people are the reason. Those kids. This woman. God showed me why and for that I am thankful. And that’s the good word for today.
What’s the good word? For some, you were baptized as an infant. Unaware of what is happening to them, unaware of the significant thing that is happening to them as God claims us as His own. The are some who were baptized as adults, fully aware of what was going on, but perhaps, just perhaps, not fully aware of the significance either. For the past two days we have been celebrating here in Ehtiopia the festival of Timket. Timket is the commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus. There were hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the streets for singing, dancing and celebrating. Today, on the actual day, thousands gathered at the baths of King Felisites, a king from long ago. After the priests blessed the water, all jumped in to celebrate.
For beleivers, baptism is a beginning and a gift from God. In the beginning was a God who, like a divine artist, chose to create. And nothing existed yet, so God created out of God’s own self. God, in a great act of self-giving love, chose to take up less space so that there was room for light and water and creatures great and small. I’ve heard it said that all the water on the earth today is the same water that existed at the beginning of time. What evaporates returns to the clouds from which water in another form is then rained down again on earth. And that means that the waters of your baptism that were poured on your heads, are actually the waters of creation…the same waters that God spoke into existence at the very beginning. That is reason to celebrate.
God reminded me today that I am created in God’s image. God claims me and loves me, and God loves and claims you too. We don’t celebrate this enough, but perhaps we should. The Baptism of Jesus occurs during the season of Epiphany (a time we celebrate Christ being revealed in the world). It happens in three ways- through the revelation to the wise men, through Jesus’ baptism, and through his first miracle. And I am reminded that it still happens today. It is revealed through us. For me, Jesus was made manifest through the people of Ethiopia today and through this wonderful festival called Timket. And that’s the good word for today.
What’s the good word? I have had a series of ups and downs lately. Nothing big, but a series of irritations, so to speak. Truth is I was saying to folks, “I’m not letting it bother me!” Truth is I came out of my sabbatical telling myself that I can sweat the small stuff, the things that really will be inconsequential in the long run. But the REAL truth is, I really WAS letting it get to me. God has a way when we pray to show up. I had prayed the last two night on my nightly walk with our dog Aurora. And wouldn’t you know it, this morning flipping through the radio station, I heard a pastor tell this story:
What’s the good word? Another sabbatical book down. This one by Group called: Why Nobody Wants to Go To Church Anymore. In it, Thom and Joani Schulz use Barna research to get at this very question. The researched showed that there were four top reasons why:
1. “I feel judged.” Do you realize that 87% of Americans today label Christians as judgmental? That’s more than I thought. Fair or unfair, this is most people’s view of the church. Have you ever been judged yourself by someone at church? Have you ever formed negative opinions about people who came to your church? Is it possible for us to create an environment where people are welcomed and accepted…no matter what? I believe the answer is yes, but we have a ways to go!
2. “I don’t want to be lectured.” In other words, “You don’t care what I think or wonder about.” More than ever, people today want to participate in the discussion. This is especially true with the two younger generations Mosaics (1984-2002) and Busters (1965-1983). Think how un-conversation-friendly churches are designed to be. Sitting in chars or pews, facing a stage, and looking at the backs of people’s heads is hardly conducive to talking with others. And it’s not just about conversations, it’s about the questions they have as well. They also have stories to share. This is the challenge for me, how can I make my messages more engaging for folks? Faith is a relationship. Is it possible to create a church environment where people can fully expect to grow closer to someone every time they go? Is it possible for church to be known as the pale where we all go to grow relationships? I believe the answer is yes!
3. “Church people are bunch of hypocrites.” We can’t keep pretending we have it all together. WE can’t keep trying to putt on a perfect face. Perhaps it is why every Sunday, for those visiting us, I say something like, “If you have questions and doubts, you are welcome here because all of us are in the same boat. None of us have it all together either!” But here’s what I say to this one, Welcome to the club! We ARE a bunch of hypocrites. We’re ALL guilty of dying one thing and doing another. We are ALL sinners. Romans 3:23: “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Is this label fair? Unfair? Does it really matter? Is it possible to create a church environment where people find genuine authenticity on every level? Is it possible for the church to be the ultimate center for sincerity? I believe the answer is yes!
4. “Your God is irrelevant to my life. But I’d like to know there is a God and that God cares about me.” Most people don’t experience God at a typical church service. Most people crave something simple. They want to be reassured that God is real, that God is more than a historical figure, and that God is present today, and that God is active in people’s lives. For those searching, they don’t understand that God IS real and active in their daily lives. But hey, I want to experience God in worship just as much as you do. But sadly, reattach reveals that only 44% of people who attend church every week say they regularly experience God at church. Is it possible to create a church environment where people truly experience God all the time? Is it possible for church to be known as more in touch that out of touch? Is it possible for the church to be known as the most relevant place to go on Sunday? I believe the answer is yes!!
What if we, the church, acknowledged that we have to make some changes? OUCH! So what’s your view? Are these pretty accurate? Do you agree or disagree with these findings? I’ll post their four responses later. And that’s the good word for today!
What’s the good word? Today took me to visit Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas. This was one of the most hospitable churches I have visited so far. At the end of every meeting with each staff me member, each one closed our time by praying for me and praying for Messiah. Again, it was Small Groups that stood out to me, and it is something we will continue to press and improve on at Messiah. They aren’t something we do, small groups are who we are. One thing that stood out at me was that each Small Group leader is taught that their group is a mini-church. They are Paul’s out there and they are communicating with mini-churches, much like Paul did in writing to these churches in Ephesus, Philippi, etc. To me, that changes things totally for these leaders. We gather together for corporate worship, but each member is a part of a smaller mini-church. I think this helps us see Life Groups in a whole new way.
Now to my gripe and my praise. My gripe is this: So far at every single church that I have been to I have heard about “the experience” people get on Sunday morning. I have rarely, if at all, heard anything about what they are doing in their cities and in their community, and how they are out there making a difference, other than inviting others to come to church. One thing I have to say about Messiah, and I know I have heard from some that we should do more, but we get out there and support our community. We live out that “Be The Church” philosophy very well, and I made sure I tooted that horn while visiting. The question Bishop Mike posed to a synod assembly a while back, still sticks with me, “Forget the Sunday worship experience, if your church was gone tomorrow, would any one in your community notice?” OUCH! It’s about living out the Great Commission and going out in service. It’s a part of our purpose statement and it’s a part of who we are called to be as disciples. And I will stake a flag on that summit any day! And that’s the good word for today.
What’s the good word? A couple of things as I wrap up my time here in Oklahoma City with my visit to Lifechurch.tv.
We are on the right track. We need to continue to make decisions today that will continue the growth for tomorrow.
Life Groups: It’s not something we do, it’s who we are. They are a vital part of each growing congregation that I have visited to far and they need to continue to be a part of who we are at Messiah. They are crucial!
We need to continue to strive for excellence in all we do. Excellence honors God and it inspires people.
It’s all about welcoming and inviting. It is ever important for all of us to continue to be a welcoming community. I asked a staffer at Lifechurch, “If you strip away all the bells and whistles, forget the elaborate staging and big budget, what gets people to stay.” Their response was, “#1 a welcoming atmosphere when they arrive. #2 Relevant and yet challenging messages.” Disney has this down to tee. We as a church need to as well. Walt Disney always had a saying, “Every day is opening day for someone.” That needs to be our mantra. For someone on Sunday, there never isn’t a Sunday when we don’t have a guest, it’s that persons first time. We should treat every Sunday as if it’s our first Sunday.
And now to the inviting part. That picture up there says it all. It’s not up to an evangelism committee, or the pastor, or the staff, it’s up to the members. What I see in each of these congregations and especially this one, people are not afraid to invite others. They are proud of their church, and they take seriously their charge from Jesus himself to go out and tell others the good news. Are we willing to do anything short of sinning to reach others with that good news and invite them? I think this is a BIG key for us moving forward as a congregation.
Finally, I am realizing that my role is changing at Messiah. I should be focused on vision casting, staff supervision, preaching. Preaching is already taking up more and more of my time, and I feel we need to continue to offer excellent, engaging, and challenging messages/worship for folks. That takes time. We need to look seriously into how we can make this happen.
It was a really great experience up here, and I am thankful for this time and the time Lifechurch.tv took to show me the ropes and teach me a few things. It was certainly worth my time. And that’s the good word for today.