Friday, July 30, 2010

July e-update: Haiti & the widow's mite

This month, Jared shares insights about the Haiti trip with us.

"As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 'I tell you the truth,' he said, 'this poor widow has put in more than all the others.'”         --Luke 21:1-3

The story of the “widow’s mite” is likely a familiar one to us. It is found in the 21st chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and also in the 12th chapter of Mark. It is a touching illustration of how God is pleased with true sacrifice, regardless of the world’s standards. Great, but what does that have to do with Haiti?

I think this story ties in very appropriately with the trip two students (Joe Morris and Nate Luke) and I took to the devastated Caribbean nation this July. To begin with, we saw a great deal of poverty, and people in difficult situations. In a country with upwards of 80% unemployment, there is need everywhere you look. It is possible to see the widow’s faith in many of the Haitian nationals who gathered with us for worship on Sunday, and placed their meager offerings in the plate that was passed.

As richly blessed Americans who are rarely found in true need, the environment was eye-opening for those of us on the trip. It is simply overwhelming to see people living in tent cities with no immediate relief in sight. What could we possibly do to help? What could we possibly do of any value?

This is where this story of the widow intersects our story. In leading basketball camps for young neighborhood boys, throwing a birthday party for children at the orphanage where we served, or helping to paint a newly constructed building, we were simply offering up what we had. It didn’t seem like much to us, but God has the great ability to take our seemingly meager offerings and do big things with them!

So when we saw a young boy’s face light up in joy at accomplishments on the basketball court, or witnessed 16 boys come forward to accept Jesus after the devotional on the last day of camp, we knew that God was indeed at work. Though our offerings seemed small, having the faith to give simply of what we have is often all that is required to be a conduit of God’s love and grace in big ways.

I pray that in whatever circumstances you find yourself, you may also be able to see God at work through your offerings. We are thankful for the ways you sacrificially offer support to this ministry, and that we all get the joy of watching together the big things God continues to do on this campus!


Friday, July 9, 2010

Continuing to reimagine

I have neglected to post for a while about our ongoing summer conversations.  Sorry it's been a rather hectic time.

Two weeks ago Chip led a discussion re. Reimagining the Church Meeting in which Viola argues for a more open meetings (as in welcoming interruptions from members during worship times) of the church creating a dialogue with one another that enables and emphasizes the mutual encouragement/edification that the early church experienced as well as mutual expression of gifts.

Last week we discussed the chapter, Reimagining the Lord's Supper.  Viola argues that the supper really ought to be true to the practice of the early church, which, he argues, was a full meal or "supper" and not a "cracker crumb" and "shot glass" of juice. 

There are certainly things that could be addressed here for both of these chapters.  However, since these have already been discussed in group, I sense the urgency to move on to the next chapter for a couple of comments about, Reimagining the Gathering Place.

In spite of his initial comments regarding his desire to be constructive, the tone of Viola's writing continues to disparage the church in its current form and practice. 

Viola points to the common practice of home meetings of the early church (Acts 2:46; 20:20; Romans 16:3, 5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; etc).  These home-based church meetings are "normative" (p. 94) in Viola's view though he does acknowledge that on "special occasions" they met in the temple and Solomon's porch.  However, the Acts 2:46 text which he uses to support this assertion states that the church was meeting daily in the temple as well as in homes. 

Viola argues that the home is primarily an informal, nurturing environment in which believers may feel at ease and open to mutual participation and thus edification.  The lack of formality that is afforded in the home is seen to enhance the family atmosphere of the church and enable an "unthreatened and uninhibited gathering" where people can be themselves.  Conversely, Viola argues that the formal setting of most church buildings is not conducive to mutual participation but rather promotes a clergy centrality and dependence as well as a spectator mentality.

This is certainly possible.  The passive nature of many worship times in the contemporary church leads us to believe that being a Christian is about "observing" others do things rather than actively participating.  This is a danger.  However, it is also just as possible to be in someone's home and not contribute to the time together.  It is possible to sit passively and not engage.  The particular structure does not determine the atmosphere of the gathering of the church.  The people's willingness to welcome and submit to the Spirit and their engagement with one another in community has much more to do with the atmosphere of intimacy and spiritual authenticity than does a building (home included). 

It seems to me that the focus of the gathering place, rather than whether it means in someone's house, should be on how to enable God's family to be connected as family during the time they are together.

An important point that Viola does raise is the issue of building debt and upkeep.  A closing question to this chapter reads, "Does it bother you at all that Christians spend $9 to $11 billion a year on church buildings, and that many of these buildings aren't owned in the clear, but instead, represent great debt? Explain."  Yes, explain indeed.  However, rather than an issue of gathering place, this is an issue of stewardship.  And that, I'm afraid, is a discussion for another time.

What about you?  Do you think that it is necessary for the church to meet in a home?  In a church building?  Thoughts? 

Friday, July 2, 2010

June e-update: Reorienting

In these days of hand held GPS (global positioning system) devices, there may not be many who are familiar with orienteering with map and compass. I’m no expert. In fact I could probably easily get lost even with a compass in hand but a friend taught me the basics years ago. Though the GPS is much more accurate there is something rather endearing to me about the “old fashioned” way of charting one’s course using compass and map.

There are times, however, when you do need to get reoriented. There are times when you thought you knew where you were but the land marks you see don’t match with what’s on the map. This is very disorienting!

There are also times in the life of the disciple when we need to reorient as well. In fact the initial decision to follow Jesus requires a huge reorientation away from self toward Jesus as Lord. We recognize that we are not God and not capable of fixing our brokenness. We need Christ to be the center of our lives and it is only with Him in control that a true orientation is achieved.

This sort of reorientation is an ongoing journey in the life of the Jesus follower. As we grow in relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit speaks to us about the misdirected parts of our lives. Hopefully we respond to the Spirit’s prompting with obedience and gratitude and reorient ourselves afresh to Christ.

I have seen this in the lives of people over the years as they have recognized that the direction they were going just wasn’t right. One girl called and said, “I’ve been doing the bar scene and I need to turn back to Jesus and get connected with Christians, can I get involved in ROC?” She did. Another student confessed behavior from which he needed to repent. We prayed for God’s grace and healing.

You enable us to be present for these times of reorienting. Thank you for your partnership whether financial or in prayer. God continues to call people to Himself through ROC’s ministry and we are grateful, blessed and honored to be part of that.

In Christ’s peace,

PS Please pray for the Jared Ott (and Crystal while they are apart), Joe Morris and Nate Luke as they prepare to leave for a mission trip to Haiti July 5-15!