Saturday, November 1, 2014

Outreach or Outgo?

There is a lot of talk in churches these days about "outreach."  The word gives me a word picture of people reaching their hands out of the doors and windows to catch people and pull them in.  Think about it.  If you are reaching for something, you are usually standing in one place and stretching your arms as far as they will go.  As I am not particularly tall, I understand this well.  This is how I get most things out of my kitchen cupboards!

Notice that I said "most things."  There are quite a few things in my cupboards that are too high or too far back for me to "reach out" to.  In these cases, I have to get closer to the items myself.  I have to step on a stool or a chair or the countertop to get closer to the thing I'm trying to procure.  And then there are those times when I get the chair, take everything off the shelves, and then find that I don't have the item at all, so I actually have to remove myself from my house, get into my car, and drive to a store if I want it.

This is where we in the church tend to miss the boat.

The building I worship in is almost 200 years old.  It is on the historic register.  Architecturally and historically, it is a wonderful building.  But that is not enough to make someone want to attend services there.


The people in the church are warm and welcoming.  It is a small congregation, and everyone knows everyone else.  It is racially and economically diverse, reflecting the town it is located in.  We hear Biblical sermons every Sunday and have Sunday School and weekly Bible Study for those who wish to go deeper and learn more.  But these are not enough to make someone come to church rather than go somewhere else or stay at home.

All of the programs and events that we can invent will not make people think that it is worth their limited free time to remove themselves from their usual pursuits and step foot inside the church.

There are several reasons people don't go to church.  And most of these reasons don't have anything to do with our building, people, or programs.  If we want to reach people, to get a chance to tell them about the great hope we have in Jesus Christ, we are going to have to go where they are, both physically and culturally.

Some people haven't ever been in a church.  They have grown up completely without religion, and have no reason to think they need anything other than what they already have.  They figure they are good people, and that's good enough for them.  Why would they spend any of their time in this foreign place called "church" with people they don't know, and don't care that they don't know?  Why should they bother getting up on Sunday morning and getting dressed and driving around in the cold to sit in an uncomfortable seat with a bunch of strangers and listen to songs they don't know and a preacher who is talking about things that don't much sense?  It seems like a lot of work, and much more boring than their usual Sunday routine of sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast with the newspaper or the TV, or going out for brunch with their family or friends.  After all, they work hard during the week, and need this day to relax before the grind starts up again!

Some people have been to church.  Somewhere along the way they became disillusioned.  There are many people walking around out there who have been wounded by the church.  They have concluded either that the church represents a hateful god, or that the church is full of hypocrites who don't follow the god they preach.  So they either leave Christianity for another more friendly religion, or leave the church to worship God in their own way, without the distraction and the politics of the local church.

Some people are living in a way that they are sure the church disapproves of.  So they either go to church once in a while and pretend to be someone they're not, or they steer clear altogether.  I actually fit into the first category for quite a while.  I was a good girl growing up, and always went to church.  I even sang solos and was the treasurer for our youth group for a while.  In college, I started getting into a different lifestyle, and I spent less and less time at church and more and more time at parties and other places that I was sure wouldn't be accepted by the church.  I was a couple hours away from home, so I didn't see the people I grew up with except when I went home for vacations, so then I dropped right back into being the good girl, and went to church with my family.  When I went back to school, I went right back to my "other" life.  I had the "advantage" of knowing how to behave so that I felt loved and accepted at my old church, though I was really living a double life.  If I hadn't grown up in the church, though, I am pretty sure I never would have stepped foot into one during that period of my life.

Some people have been taught that the church is wrong, or even that it is the enemy.  These people will not enter a church no matter what wonderful thing might be going on in there.

I'm sure I've missed some reasons.  There are probably almost as many reasons as there are people.  And most people probably don't even think of why they're not in church.  It doesn't even show up on their radar.  You may have signs and advertisements and even television ads, but how many times do you skim over the things that you aren't interested in?  I am a musician, so I might notice a flyer for a concert, but I would totally not focus on an ad for a 5K race.  It doesn't even hit my radar.  However, the horse farm I volunteer at was hosting a 5K race, and that one I noticed.  I had a reason to see it, because it was related to something I was interested in.

The church has to stop working so much on "outreach" and start working on "outgo.'  We have to bring Jesus out to the people, rather than expecting them to come in to meet him.  I don't have all of the answers, here, and I can't give you a method for doing this.  It will depend on the people you want to reach, and the people available to reach them.  It will depend on the resources you have.  But I think the first thing to do is to find out who those people are.  What are they interested in?  What do they believe?  What do they need?  And what can you do to meet those needs and those beliefs and those interests and in the process lead them to Jesus?  Because it really doesn't matter whether they are in church.  It matters whether they are in Jesus.  We have to stop thinking of the church as a building or even a congregation, and thinking of it as the Bride of Christ.  One body, working together, ready to grow.

Let's start the conversation, and start the revolution!  Together we can reach the world, starting with our own communities.  What ideas do you have?  What has worked, and what hasn't?  What have you been through in your life that could enable you to help someone else who is facing the same thing?  Which group of people touches your heart?  Unwed mothers?  Immigrants?  Businessmen?  Farmers?  People who wear Nikes?  Your neighbor?  Your friend?  Your family?  Think about it.  Find out about them.  Where are they?  Find out, and go!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Favorite Things Cookies - Recipe


Okay, I had to put the song in there, as it influenced the name of these cookies.  They are a combination three of our family's favorite cookies - Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip, and Peanut Butter.  They can also be gluten and dairy free, if you use allergy-free versions of oats and chocolate chips, and would probably be very good with almond butter or sunflower butter, if you can't have peanut butter.  I haven't tried these options, so if you do, please leave  a comment and let me know how they work out!  I just like that they are super-easy, super-fast, and don't use a lot of dishes!

My Favorite Things Cookies
(about 20 cookies)
Ingredients:

1 c. peanut butter
1 c. sugar (white makes them a little crisper, brown a little softer)
1 c. oatmeal
1/2 cup (or more) chocolate chips
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Instructions:
  • Mix all ingredients together.  It doesn't matter what order - just stick it all in a bowl.  (I actually measure the dry ingredients first so that I only have to use one measuring cup.)
  • Form balls, place on an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten (I use my hands for this - it's kind of like working with chunky play-doh).
  • Cook at 350 degrees until browned - approximately 12 minutes.
  • Let sit on the cookie sheet for a couple minutes until they set a bit.
  • Remove to a cooling rack to finish cooling.
  • If there are any cookies left by the time they are cool, put them in a sealed container to keep them fresh.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Overcoming

Sometimes life seems so hard.  You look around, and everybody is going through something.  Death, or sickness, or poverty, or loss of someone or something precious or important to them.  The prayer list at church seems to grow by the week.  How can this be right?  How can God expect us to withstand the onslaught of trouble that threatens to plow us over and bury us?  Does he even know we're here?  Does he even care that we're drowning?

Do you know that God is there?  I mean, do you really know?  Or, as my pastor says, do you know, that you know, that you know, that God really is there watching over you?  Can you be sure?

There is a way.  We can know.  We are not all that we seem, just as our situation is not all that we can see.  Many times we go through life in only one plane.  The present.  The here-and-now.  The visible world.  But the Bible teaches us that there is more.  We are more.  The physical, time-bound life that we experience with our five senses is only a tiny part of reality.  In Ephesians 6, Paul tells us that we are not fighting against "flesh and blood," in this physical world, but against "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  There is a whole battle going on around us that we can't see, feel, taste, hear, or smell.

We are not simply intelligent animals, as some would have us believe.  God gave human beings a spirit, not just a body and a mind.  That is the part that is "in His image." (Gen. 1:26)  And as spiritual beings, we are alive in a way we can never experience fully in these mortal bodies.  We experience our bodies as finite things, having an inside and an outside, able to be hurt, sickened, and finally killed.  And we are right.  That is exactly what our flesh is.  Mortal, temporary, and imperfect.  But the rest of us - the spirit part - ah, that is something altogether different.  Our spirits are not mortal, but eternal.  They are not bound to this world, the world of touch and see, but are free.  They can soar to the heights of Heaven, or plunge to the depths of Hell.  And amazingly, our creator gave us the choice of which direction we wanted to go.

The truth is, that we are in a battle.  And it is bigger than politics or money or health.  It is bigger than starvation or homelessness or disease.  It is cosmic.  It is a battle for souls.  A battle for eternity.  A battle for ultimate power.  And the good news is, we know what happens at the end.  People are fond of predicting when the end will come.  I don't pretend to know.  But I know what will happen.  The book of Revelation tells me that there will be a great battle, but at the end, God will win.  One of my favorite passages of the Bible is Revelation 21:1-5: - Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

Did you get that?  God wins.  The second and third chapters of Revelation consist of letters to seven churches.  Each letter includes a warning, but each one also contains a promise.  The promise is always to "him who overcomes."  The promises are amazing.  The right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.  To not be hurt at all by the second death.  Some of the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it.  Authority over the nations, and the morning star.  White clothing and a permanent inscription in the book of life, along with acknowledgement to God and the angels.  To be made a pillar in the temple of God.   The right to sit with Jesus on his throne!  Wow.  What promises.  But how, oh, how, do we overcome?

Jesus told us how to overcome.  Much of the book of John consists of Jesus' last instructions to his disciples.  John 15:10-12 reads "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you."  Later, in John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

We are in this world.  We will have trouble.  When trouble comes, we should understand that it is temporary, for a moment, and our Savior knew that it would happen.  We need to go through it in order to overcome it.  And how do we overcome?  Only with love.  Love enables us to do the right thing.  Love enables us to endure the pain without becoming angry or abusive.  Love enables us to look beyond our sadness to help those around us who are dealing with it too.  Love enables us to see the needs around us and to live sacrificially to make life better for someone else.  Love enables us to pray into the night when we are tired and long for sleep.  And love enables us to keep our eyes on God, instead of on our troubles.

I know how easy it is to wallow in misery.  I am an old pro at throwing pity parties for myself.  Balloons, streamers, and cake all around!  But I know this is not what God wants for me.  When I'm focusing on my troubles, I'm trapped in this world.  I'm not experiencing the freedom that I know I have in Jesus, in my spirit.  So I'm going to have to change my party plans.  I am going to live in the joy of the Lord.  And I am going to overcome.  

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