Monday, October 29, 2007

Central as a Tag Team Effort

One of our primary goals at Central is turning attenders into inviters. One of my goals as a pastor is to help create a church that people feel comfortable and confident inviting their unchurched friends to! And I think we're getting there.

I honestly feel like people who aren't inviting friends aren't using Central the way it was designed to be used. Think of Central as a tag-team sport.When a Centralite walks into church they tag our worship team, greeting team, pastoral team, and say "go for it." And we do our level best to create an experience every Sunday where people can connect with God and grow in faith. When Centralites walk out, we tag them and say "now you go for it." They have a unique network of friends they can invite to church! Then they come back and tag us and say "go for it."

Sunday Reflections

What a great day at Central, yesterday! All told, 25 people were baptized yesterday (16 in the first service; 4 in the second service; and five in the afternoon!) Not to shabby!!! And the drama presentation in the morning services was powerful! Thanks to all that put that together! We were worried about the time all the baptisms were going to take (especially in the first service) but I really like baptising so the whole church can celebrate!

It was especially special (can I say it that way?)-- for we Prince's since Ben was one of the "Newly Baptised." That's how I referred to him the rest of the day:
"It is time for the "newly baptised" to come to dinner."
"Will the newly baptised please wash the dishes."
"Time for bed, "newly baptised."

It was a good, good day at Central!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Brazil came to Village Drive

Our neighbors, Matt and Jill, are hosting a foreign exchange student this school year from Brazil. We have come to know Guilherme a little because everyday Karla picks up the neighborhood boys after school. During these short trips from the school to our home, Karla has learned that Guilherme is a typical teenage boy. He likes basketball and girls. Not always in that order. She also learned that Guilherme is a little homesick. He misses his family and friends, he misses speaking in Portuguese and he misses Brazilian cooking.

We Americans just don’t eat like they do in Brazil.

Well, that got Karla thinking. We can’t bring his family and friends to Kansas, but maybe, just maybe we could bring a little Brazil to Village Drive in Olathe. You see, two of the friendliest people I know also happen to be from Brazil. Central members, Maria and Elson Pereira love Jesus, love people and love Brazil (in that order). So we thought, what would happen if Maria and Elson came to our house, cooked a Brazilian dinner, spoke in Portuguese to Guilherme and gave him a little “touch of home”?

Karla was now on a mission: make Guilherme feel at home. She talked to Matt and Jill. She talked to Maria and Elson. She worked on finding a day when we could all get together. She asked Guilherme what dish he missed the most. He said, “feijoada.” (Pronounced: faj-wa-da). Unless you are a connoisseur of Brazilian cuisine you may not know that feijoada’s main ingredient is pig snout, pig ear or pig feet. Gulp! I’ll be honest; this bit of information did not cause my sensitive American tummy to jump forth with anticipation and joy on our upcoming cross-cultural experience. Mercifully, Maria assured me that she could make the meal without the nose, foot or ear of Miss Piggy. (Kermit the Frog and I thanked Maria.)

Last night was the big “Bring Brazil to Village Drive” night. Everyone gathered at our house. Maria made enough feijoada to feed the entire nations of Brazil, Argentina and Chile. She also brought collard greens, rice and sliced oranges. Karla made a tasty desert. The feijoada was really good. (It won’t replace cabbage rolls on my favorite dish list, but I learned that if the Lord put out a call for missionaries to Brazil, like Isaiah I could say, “Here I am, send me.” And my mama could rest easy with the knowledge that her youngest cherub would not starve to death while south of the equator.) The night was full of laughter and eating. Sometimes the conversations were in English, sometimes in Portuguese and at times there was an English-Portuguese hodgepodge where I am not sure if anyone totally understood what was being said. It was a fun night.

As I reflect on our evening I am thankful on many fronts. I am thankful for the opportunity to get to know Matt and Jill and Elson and Maria a little better. Thankful that Guilherme was able to have a good Brazilian night in Kansas (And it will continue too. There may be enough feijoada leftovers to last him until he goes home in June). Thankful for a wife whose middle name is “Hospitality” and who was so creative in reaching out to our neighbors and Guilherme. And thankful to God who I believe smiles big and broad when we break through cultural, language, and any other barriers to share His love over a plate of feijoada and collared greens.

I am so glad that Brazil came to Village Drive last night.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Halloween on Wednesday Night

Halloween is on a Wednesday this year. That fact caused much discussion during our staff meeting. What do we do about our Wednesday Night activities on Halloween? What is the Christian response to a Wednesday Night Halloween? As you know, in some circles Halloween is far from a Christian holiday. In fact, a case can be made that in some places it is an anti-Christian holiday. On the other hand, many folks view Halloween as simply an innocent time for children to gather candy, walk in their neighborhoods and share an evening with their families while dressed up as Superman or Barbie. For most of the folks I know, the latter is true. They don’t view Halloween as a Satan worshipping gala, but a simple, fun family time.

So what should we in the church do with a Wednesday Night Halloween? Ignore it? Go on with the usual programs as if Halloween night were any other Wednesday Night? Provide an alternative to the Halloween and call it a “Fall Fun Fair” or some such thing. Or cancel Wednesday Night activities allowing families to be at home or with their children trick or treating?

We have opted for #3, let me tell you why.

I think we can all agree that ignoring a cultural phenomenon is usually not the best tactic. To stick one’s head in the sand might work for ostriches, but usually it’s not so good for humans especially if they just got their hair done. To act like something isn’t happening, when everyone knows it is happening, paints Christians as out of touch (at best) and judgmental and mean-spirited at worst—neither of those are good options.

To provide an alternative to Halloween is a tactic that many churches have employed. It gives a safe haven for children, where parents do not have to worry about tainted candy, the lunatic fringe of our society or any other societal ills. I understand that philosophy; the only problem with it is that it keeps the Christians out of their neighborhoods and “hunkered down” in their churches. It seems in this scenario Christians are not trying to be salt and light, but rather are trying to run and hide.

And then there is the third option, closing the church doors and opening our house doors for the night. When I was a boy, we trick or treated. Halloween was not about Satan, it was about candy. Pure and simple. The more candy the better in my book. Well, on the street where I lived there was a family that was of a different religion than us, and they did not celebrate any holidays, including Halloween. So as we would be going door to door, their house was always dark. No lights. No activity. They were either in their basement or gone away, but they were not giving out any free candy. And because of that (and based on no other facts at all) all the kids in my neighborhood referred to the lady of the house as the “Witch of Rosslyn Street.” I don’t really think she was a witch. I never saw her broom or boiling caldron. In fact, she might have been a very nice person, but since she gave out no candy we labeled her as a Halloween version of Ebenezer Scrooge. For the children on Rosslyn Street, the man and wife were mean, cruel, greedy candy misers. Unfair? Probably. But that’s how they were viewed.

OK, fast forward to Village Street in Olathe where I live. Last year, on Halloween it was a wonderful cool fall evening. I set up our portable fire pit in the front yard, got some lawn chairs and a bucket of candy, and greeted the children as they came to our house. I met and talked to more neighbors in that one evening than I have all year. I was wearing a Michigan jacket (big surprise) and discovered that many in my neighborhood held various opinions concerning the Wolverines. (Some folks had ill founded and dumb opinions- i.e. mostly folks with ties to the state of Ohio, and some had well thought-out and reasoned opinions-- i.e. mostly people with Michigan roots). Many parents warmed up by the fire pit and as they did we talked and laughed and enjoyed the evening. It was a good night.

I truly believe that if I am going to make a difference on Village Drive, then I have to know my neighbors. I have to talk to them, be around them, and engage in life together with them. Halloween is the one day all year when my neighbors come to my door. I don’t have to seek them out, they come to me. It is the one day all year, when conversation is easy. Do you remember what Jesus said when the question arose about his hanging out with the sinners instead of the saints? He said, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders." (Matthew 9:12 The Message). If I can be so bold, I believe that Jesus would be handing out mini snicker bars to his neighborhood kids. And I believe that if we are going to be serious about transforming our society (serious about making more and better disciples) then we must be in our neighborhoods too.

I am currently reading a book titled: un-Christian. It was just released—maybe two weeks ago. Anyway, the book is about the perception that young non-church goers, non believers have concerning Christians. The authors have done extensive research and interviewed lots of people. The results are disturbing to say the least. Most young non-churched, non believers view Christians as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old fashioned (78%), out of touch with reality (72%) and insensitive (70%). I’ve got to tell you I don’t want to be considered any of those things, but like it or not that’s how we are viewed by a large portion of our society. To many folks, we are the “Witch on Rosslyn Street!”

There’s only one way to change such attitudes and beliefs. It’s one person at a time. It’s showing our non-Christian friends and neighbors that Christians can be real, sincere, loving, kind, non-judgmental, relevant, authentic and all the rest. So to that end, we are canceling Wednesday activities on Halloween, and encouraging our people to be in their neighborhoods. Talk with your neighbors. Laugh with them. Enjoy life together. And in so doing, hopefully you’ll be building some necessary bridges so that your involvement in making more and better disciples can occur.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sunday Reflections

Yesterday was a really good day. Both Morning services were terrific-- so far I've really enjoyed this sermon series: 8 Things I wish Jesus had never said. AM Church was good!

PM Church was good too. The teens led the service and what a fantastic job they did. Everything was great. The student led praise and worship, special song by a group of young ladies, skit and message from Pastor Cory were all great!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Practical Atheism

What is practical atheism? That is when we believe in God but we do life as if God doesn't exist. Here is what happens when we become practical athiests:

1) We believe our effort is more important than God's power!
2) We believe our private life doesn't effect our public ministry.
3) We believe we must please people more than we must please God.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Cabbage Rolls and the Church

Karla made my favorite dinner last night: Stuffed cabbage rolls. Yummy! The girl can cook a mean cabbage roll! I invited my neighbor to dinner, but when he learned what was on the menu, he responded as I suspect most people would and politely declined. Admittedly, it’s weird that stuffed cabbage rolls would be at the top of my pallet’s desire, but they are. Here’s what’s really weird, individually, I don’t like any of the ingredients in those tasty cabbage-leafed wrapped morsels. Here’s why:

· I do not like cooked cabbage. Cooking cabbage stinks up the house. It smells like what I imagine the post wrestling match locker room would smell like following an epic battle between Andre the Giant and the wrestling phenomenon of yesteryear, Bobo Brazil. In other words, it turns the house into a nasal nightmare. Besides the olfactory system induced nausea, cooked cabbage is slimy. I have lived most of my life on this principle: if it’s slimy and stinky, don’t eat it.
· I do not like sour kraut. Who came up with that name “sour kraut” anyway? (I heard that during World War II, sour kraut was called “Freedom Cabbage.” I guess the powers that be wanted something sounding more patriotic and less German.) Truth be told, the “kraut” is not really sour, it’s spoiled or fermented or in some way old and rotten. Rob’s Food and Life Principle #2: if something is rotten, don’t eat it!
· I don’t particularly care for smoked sausage. Have you ever seen how they make smoked sausage? Let’s just say, it’s not the most appetizing process. Food and Life Principle #3: if they take all the pig parts that no one in their right mind would ever eat unless they are starving to death or on the television show, Fear Factor, grind up those piggy parts, and put them in an edible tube, don’t eat it!
· I’m not a big fan of rice and onion and other “mystery items” in my hamburger. If rice and onion were that good in hamburgers, don’t you think McDonalds would be selling it that way by now?
· And the last and maybe least liked ingredient is Campbell’s tomato soup. I don’t eat Campbell’s Tomato Soup. Ever. “Mmm, Mmm Good,” it’s not, as far as I am concerned.
So there you have it, the ingredients of stuffed cabbage rolls on their own are sufficiently awful that even those gluttonous, hot dog eating champion guys would probably turn up their noses and say, “Thanks but no thanks.”

To further add to the oddity of stuffed cabbage rolls, I’m generally not a fan of mixing different foods together into one pot, thereby creating a casserole-like main dish. Did you know that the word “casserole” in Arabic means: “killing of the infidels by mixing nasty foods together into one entree”? (OK maybe that’s not an exact translation, but don’t be surprised if the next terrorist plot takes the form of some “mystery” meat in a covered dish at a church pot-luck.) I have long been of the opinion that hidden in the Book of Leviticus is an ancient injunction about combining food items into a casserole. But cabbage rolls are different. Cabbage rolls are tasty. When Karla mixes all of those ingredients together, a miracle of miracles occurs and the result is my favorite mouth-watering dinner.

Here’s why I tell you all of this-- I think the church (when it’s at its absolute best) is like stuffed cabbage rolls. Oh I’m not accusing anyone of being slimy and stinky like cooked cabbage. And I would never refer to anyone as a sour kraut or a smoked sausage. But like cabbage rolls, together we are better than we ever could be individually. To quote the title of a Rueben Welch book from a long time ago: “We really do need each other.” It’s true. We need each other to become the people, the community that God calls us to be. If we are going to “make more and better disciples,” then we need everybody, bringing their unique gifts and talents to the collective table in order to reach our world.

On our own, we couldn’t be the church that God calls us to be. We need pastors. But we also need laypeople. We need Sunday School teachers and nursery workers and youth sponsors and children’s workers and musicians and singers and greeters and old people and young people and teenagers and children, and well, you get the idea. We need everybody with their unique talents, gifts and abilities, using them for God’s glory—to reach our world.

And as we come together to form this even better than cabbage rolls combo, known as the church of Jesus Christ, the world will be blessed and forever changed! And that is what we are after—a place that flavors our world in a powerful, positive lovely way! Our world is hungry for an authentic community that truly lives by the words of Jesus—a place that loves God and loves each other. Let’s be like cabbage rolls, individuals who have come together to become that delectable place!

Wow, all this talk about cabbage rolls has made me hungry.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Pictures. Pictures. Pictures.

I thought I'd share a few pictures.
Here's my brother, sisters and mom and dad at the Big Birthday and Anniversary Bash last weekend in Michigan.

Karla and Ben visiting at Grandma's house. Grandma Reed was 102 years old in August!

Ben is cleaning our yard after some fine Centralite teen girls redecorated the yard for us. He doesn't look to excited about this does he?

Meeting with Jesus

WOW! We had a great day at Central yesterday!!! The Spirit of GOd was in all three services-- morning and night! I love it when we really meet with Jesus, we did yesterday!

Let the Party Begin

My busy fall just got a little less busy. I just hit the "send" button on a series of sermons that the good folks down at The Preacher's Magazine asked me to compile. When I agreed I thought it would be an easy little project, it turned about to be a huge big 78 page project. UGH! But it's in, it's done, it's over... and hopefully some too busy preacher next Lenten Season may be helped in his/her sermon preparation by using some of the info provided. But right now, all I care about is that it is done.... let the party begin!