Friday, May 27, 2011

No Thanks

This past Saturday we gave away about 500 gardens to families in the community.  The idea was to help families in need experience the love of Christ with nutrition and education.  It was a great day.  We had a wonderful time distributing gardens and blessing families.  Almost everyone who received a garden thanked us immensely...almost everyone.  

It's amazing how people can get angry at you for not meeting their standards while doing a free service for them. Several of the addresses submitted to us had errors.  People had either not given us their apartment numbers or moved and didn't tell us or something else.  We had to hold off on delivering about 200 gardens until we could settle the list.  So, that night we sent out a phone message apologizing for the inconvenience and asking for address confirmations.  No problem, right?  It's free.  It's going to be a little late.  Hope you understand.  

Our phones started ringing off the hook.  Many were happy to confirm addresses, but just a few weren't.  In fact a few were really upset that they had waited all day for a garden that didn't come.  I felt bad, but we had no control over the situation.  Our volunteers, many of whom sacrificed money, time and gasoline to help stayed out hours past the time they had committed.  We did everything we could, but in the end we had to stop to correct the incorrect addresses we had received.

Keep in mind that most people were completely understanding and just happy to be getting a garden.  Then there were those few who got upset with my assistant who was taking the calls.  Some people were just down right mean to her (Which, by the way really upsets me. Picking on Teresa is a lot like talking bad about my mom.  I start to get defensive.)  Of course, Teresa is awesome and maintained a tone of kindness and respect regardless of how she was being treated.  In fact, she was even kind to one woman who complained that we were delivering the gardens during "prime Saturday time".  As if to say, "You expect me to stay home from partying to receive this free stuff," forgetting that the volunteers were giving up their "prime Saturday time" too.  

I just couldn't fathom how selfish someone could be as to complain about charity.  When I thought about how our church members had sacrificed to pay for these gardens and given up their time to make the project happen, I got a little discouraged.  

Are people really experiencing the love of Christ if they react like that?  Are we really making a difference or just getting ourselves into a lot of work?  

Sometimes I forget why we serve.  Believe it or not, blessing people is not why we serve.  Sure, it should be a part of it, but it isn't the reason.  Ephesians 6:7 says "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men." While my acts of service benefit people, they are done to the glory of God.  I serve people, not because I want to deserve their thanks, but because God deserves glory.  When I start looking for thanks, I lose sight of the One I am really serving.  

When I really think about it, the fullest extent of Jesus' servanthood was not recieved with thanks but with violence and mockery (Phillippians 2).  

We are going to distribute those last 200 gardens June 6th (Let me know if you want to help).  It makes me feel good to know that every garden given (whether the recipient is overwhelmed with thanksgiving or callously unthankful) will bring glory to God.  That's why we do it, and its worth every phone call, every smile and every sunburn (which we had a lot of last week).  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Serve Elyria and Surrender

Serve Elyira is one week away, and I'm getting excited.  A lot of people tell me they are coming.  I never can tell what the turnout will be like, but I'm praying for over 1,000 volunteers.  We are going to need about that many to cover the projects we have set up in Elyria.

These past few weeks have been full of conversations about projects, volunteer requirements and materials.  It seems like every day a new need for materials comes up.  What makes it all so exciting is that every time we commit to a project or get someone to donate materials I remember that we have to have volunteers.  It hit me recently that I really can't know for sure how many people are coming.  I can estimate and encourage people to sign up.  I can even call up friends and remind them, but I won't know how many are coming until we all arrive at Ely Square on May 21st at 8:30am (Yes, I just slipped in a reminder about when you need to be there.).  I also have friends reminding me that there is a 30% chance of rain that day.  Every time someone mentions weather, I ask them to pray.  Pray for conducive weather.

Do you know what I'm learning from all of these things?  I am learning that I am not in control of Serve Elyria.  Yes, I'm planning it.  Yes, I've worked hard to delegate to leaders and get volunteers.  But, there are a myriad of things out of my control that could completely change the plans I have in place.  I am not in control.  I have stepped into that frightening and yet exciting realm where I am simultaneously obeying and relying on God.  This is surrender.  This is adventure, and I love it!

You might be waiting on something to look safe or planned before you step.  I talk to a lot of people who are waiting until they have enough money to pay for college before they enroll or are waiting until they have their debt paid off before they tithe.  We want to wait for safety before surrender, and it never comes.

If you want a guarantee that you will not get your heart broken before you ask the girl of your dreams out, then you will never see her fall in love with you.  If you wait until you have your life in order before you surrender to God's call, you will waste your life.  And, (shameless plug coming) if you are waiting to see if something else comes up before you sign up for Serve Elyria, then you will miss out on the opportunity to lead your city as a servant (Mark 10:35-45).

I can't control the weather or how many people will be there May 21st, but I can tell you that God does Great things when His people serve.  I hope to see you (and 999 other people) in Ely Square May 21st.
Pray for great weather to serve and for 1,000 volunteers!

So, are you coming? Sign up here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Shouting Louder

Where: My living room with my baby girl (who got up early)
Listening to: Daylight is Here by David Swidrak
Drinking: Really weak coffee.  (We ran out!)  

Read: Luke 18:35-43
35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
 38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
 39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
 40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”
   “Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

God, help me to honor You with my heart before I honor you with my actions.  Then, let my actions bring you glory and draw me closer to you.

(Ask, Analyze and Apply)


I noticed something about this passage I have not noticed before: "he shouted all the more."  This blind man didn't just call for help from Christ, he went against what Christ's followers saw as proper decorum.  He asked for help and was called down, possibly because he was a beggar or maybe because he was interrupting something.  But, he didn't let anyone stop him.  He didn't mind being embarrassed or even being improper.  He wanted to be healed.  

I think I have a problem in that I let my fear of embarrassment stop me.  I don't always share my thoughts, because I'm afraid I will look foolish.  Sometimes I don't even share concerns, because I don't want to have conflict.  While attention to decency and order is very biblical, so is communication.  I need to keep this in mind.  

I have a lot of errands to run today.  In the process,  I'm going to go one step further to share what is on my heart with God.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hypocrisy and Influence

The Church in the West is losing influence.  

We can pretend like we don't see it happening, but we all know it.  The American Church is largely seen as an archaic institution whose time has passed.  "Christian" characters in movies and television are usually depicted as out of touch and judgmental.  Christian ethics are largely dismissed as old fashioned and oppressive, and "Christian" products are considered second-rate and uncreative.

When I speak to other Christians about our rapidly decreasing influence on culture, they consistently blame things outside the church: media bias, political bias, secular prejudice, etc.  Their answer to the problem usually relates to voting.  "If we could just get Christians to vote right..."  Every now and then they blame other Christians for not seeing more Christian movies (I'm sorry.  I'm just not that interested in Kirk Cameron movies.), but usually they blame "non-Christians" for acting like...well...non-Christians.  It's like we are surprised or something, as if we are the victims and the entire human populace is the perpetrator.

At first the logic makes sense.  Not that many Christians + whole bunch of non-Christians= no one cares what Christians think.  However, it seems that in every other culture the more the Church is ostracized by media and government, the more influential it becomes.  The church in China is booming.  The Church in Vietnam is growing so quickly that the government has done a complete 180 and wants to take credit for it!  Can you believe that?!  The church is growing so quickly there that the government wants on the bandwagon.  Missionary friends of mine in other undisclosed countries are seeing the gospel spread.

So, why in this country of religious freedom are we losing ground?  I have a few thoughts:
  • We have mistaken control for influence.  Somehow we fell into the notion that the only way to influence culture was to be "in charge".   However, the Church in the first century had no political control and very little media influence.  Few Christians held office in the Roman regime that persecuted them.  Yet, the gospel spread rapidly.  Acts 2:47 refers to the favor Christians had with the people.  Back then, Christians were good neighbors who cared for people outside of the Church.  If you needed food, you probably didn't have to ask the Church, because they were already there with help.  
  • We have mistaken hypocrisy for obedience.  How hard do we work to vote in pro-life candidates?  We fight hard, spend money, debate, candidate and vote to stop this horrible atrocity.  I'm not saying we shouldn't fight hard for the life of the unborn.  But, have we thought about why it isn't working?  I have a theory.  68% of all abortions are received by women who consider themselves to be Christians. (Don't believe me?  Click here) If Christians would stop having abortions ourselves, we would nearly eliminate the problem in one fell swoop.  No politics, just obedience to our own standards.  Ironically, we are spending millions of dollars and political clout to fight a problem that we are causing. 
  • We have mistaken legalism for sanctification.  We have a tendency to think that if our actions are "right" our motives must be too.  I think this topic deserves more time than I can give in a sub-point in the blog.  
So, how about you?  What do you think has contributed to the decline in Church influence and how do we turn the tide?  I'd like to hear your thoughts.  

(By the way, I'm starting an interesting book on this topic called The Church of the Irresistible Influence.)