Monday, November 30, 2009

Ministry With The Poor

Today I continue the Obsessed series of entries. Once again we are working from the chapter titled "Profile of the Obsessed" in the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Today's profile maker is, "People who are obsessed with Jesus Christ live lives that connect them with the poor in some way or another. Obsessed people believe Jesus talked about money and the poor so often because it was really important to him."

Being a United Methodist pastor I do my best to keep us with the global initiatives of the church. In the recent years the General Church put forth the four focus points for the coming years. Among the four points is ministry with the poor. I was thankful for the wording of with the poor and not for the poor, and I continue to be thankful the church is putting its attention on an issue which was so close to the heart of Jesus. I am regretful that it required an international initiative to get the church to pay attention.

Theoretically the church should have a disproportionate number of people in it who are obsessed with Jesus Christ. This would mean that the people of the church would not only see the need for ministry with the poor, but would be leading the way across the world. I cannot help wonder about the state of our General Church, and our local churches is this had gotten out of focus. I know in my own life when I have wandered away from being obsessed with Jesus, my compassion and connection with the poor has suffered greatly. Could it be that our churches are filled with a disproportionate number of people who are not obsessed with Jesus Christ?

Before you enter that comment calling me all kinds of names, let me further complicate the issue. I have no right to judge the station of another persons heart. I do not sit in the judgment seat, and do not know the hearts and minds of humanity. I do however, have the ability to look at the fruit of my own life, and the life of this thing called the church. If the tree comes up empty there are some conclusions I can draw. For the General Church to make a global initiative of ministry with the poor, the conclusion is we have not been bearing fruit in this area. I understand the countless number of servants who willingly and sacrificially give of themselves to this end. Blanket statements are always dangerous. Still the evidence remains that those of us in the United Methodist Church, and other churches, have not been keeping consistent with the Biblical mandate when it comes to the poor.

Great energy is spent on church and conference budgets, when people right outside our doors are going without food. Millions of dollars are spent training people about the global crisis of poverty, instead of investing the money on ministry which would work at come alongside the poor. I think we are obsessed, I am just not convinced it is always with Jesus Christ. Ministry initiatives look nice in print materials, and they can help people feel good about their church, but will they change anything? Only if it begins with finding ways for the people of the church to become obsessed with Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is a social service project which will die once it runs its course. When we connect with the poor as an extension of being obsessed with Jesus, we develop a lifestyle, more than a program.

Should we be in ministry with the poor, absolutely. However, it should not be because it is an initiative of the church. Our desire and work with the poor should stem from being obsessed with Jesus Christ, and believing to the point of living it, that issues of economics and the poor really are important to Jesus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Comfort or Obsession

Today's jumping off point from Crazy Love is, "People who are obsessed with Jesus aren't consumed with their personal safety and comfort above all else. Obsessed people care more about God's Kingdom coming to this earth than their own lives being shielded from pain or distress."

I want to be real clear, I do not like this statement. Not because there is anything about it which is wrong, I simply do not like the implications for my life. My preference would be to have everything work to be nice and safe. That life would not have pain, suffering and struggle as a part of it. The problem is, life does not work that way. Still many of us are on a quest to make life as comfortable and pain free as possible. More than once I have declined a situation because I knew it would cause me discomfort or even pain. I am not proud of that, but the truth must be told.

From an early age we are encouraged by well meaning people to be safe in what we do. Now I am not recommending that we stop wearing seatbelts and that we drive recklessly. I am not suggesting that we jump from airplanes without a parachute. There are some areas where safety is recommended. The trouble is we begin to sacrifice the call of God for the sake of safety. There are situations and places God is calling you and to right now, but we would rather play it safe. I cannot go to Africa, I might be in danger. I cannot go here or there, trouble might result. Whenever we find ourselves in these conversations, we are choosing to trust our own understanding more than God's. We are saying that God does not know how to take care of me.

One of the craziest statements going is, "The safest place to be is in the center of God's will.". For a moment lets look at some of the people in Scripture who were in the center of God's will. Esther, standing up to the king who could have her killed, and had a track record with that. The Apostle Paul, beaten, left for dead more times than I breath in a day. Jesus, crucified after receiving the worst beating in history. Does that sound safe? They were all in the center of God's will, but they were not safe. They were at peace, and they were cared for by God, but they were not safe.

The person who is obsessed with Jesus realizes this life is not about them. God calls people into dangerous situations. The church in America is at in interesting crossroads. It has been sitting at this crossroads for nearly 50 years. The comfort once experienced is starting to fade. People are not just magically coming to churches like they once did. The church is now called to go out into places and situations which are not safe for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Still, many in the church remain paralyzed by comfort and their desire to be safe. Obsessed people are willing to sacrifice everything, comfort, safety, and life for the kingdom. Until individuals and churches begin being obsessed with Jesus and not their own comfort and safety, we will sit at the crossroads, idling until we run out of gas and the car dies.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's In It For Me?

Today we continue the series on being obsessed taken from the work of Francis Chan in Crazy Love. Our jumping off point is this quote, "People who are obsessed with Jesus give freely and openly without censure. Obsesses people love those who hate them and who can never love them back."pg 132.

We have all heard by now that it is better to give than receive. For the most part that has become a cliche that people really do not believe to be true. Increasingly people are willing to give as long as they get something in return. We will give to charities so we can receive the write off to our taxes. We will take someone out for lunch this time and next time they will buy. When an opportunity to give arises we can easily get into a cost benefit analysis. The root question in that moment is, what is in it for me? This is the driving question of capitalism, and the consumer driven world.

When was the last time you gave with no chance of getting anything in return? Isn't that the truest definition of sacrifice, giving without return. The person who is obsesses with Jesus models Jesus in giving to those who hated him, and to those who could not pay him back. Think about it, the religious leaders of his day, hated him. Through the centuries there have been people who very openly and publicly have expressed their hatred and denial of Jesus. He died them. How about you and I? Can we ever repay Jesus for his sacrifice on the cross? I think not. He still did it knowing there was no way possible that we could repay him.

In the world of the church it is easy to thing about serving those who can benefit the church. If many pastors are honest that is why they engage in congregational care, because they do not want the people to get made and not contribute to the church. Many people give to the church financially and otherwise and expect in return the church will take care of them. We are back to the what's in it for me question again.

I wonder what would happen if people became obsessed? If people began to serve others, no strings attached, and the only hope is that they would themselves become obsessed? I wonder what would happen if people began to give freely and openly of their time, talents and treasures to the people they hate, or those that cannot pay them back? Is it possible to do away with the what's in it for me question all together? Yes, but it will mean being obsessed with Jesus more than ourselves. I believe this is not only possible, I believe this is already in the works. As more and more people repel the consumeristic faith of the past century, and begin to recapture the ways of Jesus this is happening.

May we all become obsessed with Jesus, give freely and openly. May we be so obsessed that we follow the lead of Jesus and give to those who hate us, and to those who cannot repay us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Welcome back, oh wait I guess that would be for me. It has been nearly two months since I have written here. I could come up with many excuses, but won't, just plain haven't been writing.

Over the last few days I have read the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. This is a good book and worth the time to read it. In chapter 8 Chan outlines a profile of a person who is obsessed with God. This has had a significant impact on me so I thought I would share it with all who are willing to read. Here comes the first disclaimer, I write not as someone who has figured out how to be obsessed with God. I write as a person engaged in the struggle to be obsessed. Perhaps you are in the struggle too, and perhaps we can struggle together.

If we are going to look at what in means to be obsessed with God we had better create a baseline for the word obsessed. The American Heritage Dictionary offers, To have the mind excessively preoccupied with a single emotion or topic, as a working definition. This definition challenges, haunts, and makes me want to give up at the start. We live in a culture that tells us we do not need to be excessively preoccupied with anything. In fact it is probably not healthy to be that way with anything. Yet we are challenged to be obsessed with God.

To be obsessed with God has many implications for our lives. Most of these implications will require us to re-order our lives. The things which have classically been held as most important, might have to come down on the priority list. To be obsessed with God means a total devotion to the ways and being of God. Over the next few weeks I will be using the markers laid out by Francis Chan to explore what it might look like to be obsessed with God. Please feel free to join in the dialogue as I am hoping to discover something along the way.