Monday, January 24, 2011

Zoolander School of Service Training - Trend #4

Serving others is great! And should be encouraged!! Yes! Finally a positive trend to discuss!

So Do Something. Do Good Stuff. Do Anything. 


Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller character in the 2001 movie by the same name) takes a jab at the popular rush to Just Do Something. The life-changing realization of this 'ridiculously good-looking male model' causes him to start "The Derek Zoolander Center For Children Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too" where "we teach you that there's more to life than being really, really ridiculously good-looking."

So Ben/Zoolander puts in the dig and we keep rushing out to pose for the camera while we are doing something good.

Are we a society of poser servants?
While serving others may be better than a hoarding greedy 'Me-first' attitude, I wonder if the inspiration and motivation to serve is as awesome as we all think. 

  • Could it be that people serve because it is popular?
  • Could the appearance be more important that actually helping someone? 
  • Could our posing for pictures be the motivation more than the one we serve?

I'm not sure. But Barna comments on the fourth mega-trend in current religion and Christianity:
Largely driven by the passion and energy of young adults, Christians are more open to and more involved in community service activities than has been true in the recent past. While we remain more self-indulgent than self-sacrificing, the expanded focus on justice and service has struck a chord with many. However, despite the increased emphasis, churches run the risk of watching congregants’ engagement wane unless they embrace a strong spiritual basis for such service. Simply doing good works because it's the socially esteemed choice of the moment will not produce much staying power.
To facilitate service as a long-term way of living and to provide people with the intrinsic joy of blessing others, churches have a window of opportunity to support such action with biblical perspective. And the more that churches and believers can be recognized as people doing good deeds out of genuine love and compassion, the more appealing the Christian life will be to those who are on the sidelines watching. Showing that community action as a viable alternative to government programs is another means of introducing the value of the Christian faith in society.
I'd be stupid to assume I know all that Barna thinks about this trend toward serving but it seems he thinks the church needs to jump on the bandwagon while it is trendy to serve. I have no problem with serving. We serve at Crosspoint/Encuentro. I am questioning our hearts behind the actions.

Serve as Jesus Served is Different
Jesus did not call His followers to serve and make a big deal about it. Scripture says if you bring attention to your service then you have your reward in full. So should be take lots of photos and promote our serving?

Jesus called His followers to self-sacrifice. Actually he said 'take up your cross and follow me' and he didn't mean take up your cross jewelry. He meant join me in humiliation, accomodation, crossing barriers of race, class and ability and join me in self-sacrificial, even death.

Is that what the rush to serve is all about? Or is Ben Stiller's Zoolander pointed social commentary.

(More) Biblical Service
We do not have it all figured out here. We don't. But we are aiming toward biblical service to the poor, seeking reconciliation and justice and making a practical difference.

The book that is leading our thinking is called When Helping Hurts: How to Allievate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... And Yourself. This is a tremendous resource and introduction into the problems and solutions of our modern rush to serve the poor. Read it and get into the training.

The way it has impacted us is that we don't start with our need to do something. 

We start with God's view of the poor, then develop relationship with real God's-image-bearing people who may need our help, encourage them to make changes based on their assets (not our view of what they need), then stay in long-term relationship learning together. I hope we learn to actually belong to one another and love one another.

Other churches have been doing this much longer and are more experienced disciples. The New City Fellowship Churches in Chattanooga and St. Louis help us enormously.

So Broken Pastor, Are You Against Service?
NO! I'm against self-serving service for the sake of the rich. It does more damage than truly helping someone.

I'm in favor of thoughtful, Scripture-directed Kingdom-of-God-service where the gospel of the Kingdom is proclaimed and to set captives free and actually, practically help the widow, fatherless, alien and powerless - without hurting them in the process. I want us all to receive really good news, alleviate real suffering and offer developing relief so people, families and cities change.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Easy Mac Trend Toward Insta-Spirituality

Macaroni in minutes. Just add water. A vacuum-seal package. Insta-food is normal. Speed is king.

But it's not 'simple'. It's someone else's highly-polished complexity in a serving-sized container. Someone else's hard work you ingest.

Insta-spirituality is similar. Tastes good, fills up  but isn't good. Trends toward pre-packaged spirituality isn't spiritual growth at all. Barna describes the problem like this:
Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life. When asked what matters most, teenagers prioritize education, career development, friendships, and travel. Faith is significant to them, but it takes a back seat to life accomplishments and is not necessarily perceived to affect their ability to achieve their dreams.
Among adults the areas of growing importance are lifestyle comfort, success, and personal achievements. Those dimensions have risen at the expense of investment in both faith and family. The turbo-charged pace of society leaves people with little time for reflection.
The deeper thinking that occurs typically relates to economic concerns or relational pressures. Spiritual practices like contemplation, solitude, silence, and simplicity are rare. (It is ironic that more than four out of five adults claim to live a simple life.)
Practical to a fault, Americans consider survival in the present to be much more significant than eternal security and spiritual possibilities. Because we continue to separate our spirituality from other dimensions of life through compartmentalization, a relatively superficial approach to faith has become a central means of optimizing our life experience.
Not biblical faith. It's faith in something other than the God of the Bible. It's idolatry of pragmatism, trusting in one's ability to work the American system. It will lead you straight to spiritual illness and death as clearly as living on McDonalds will Super-size you. Judgment is built into the experience. 

If easy-made insta-spirituality is your faith in God, you are in deep trouble.

Counter the trend? With a Real Bad News/Good News Gospel. 
'Insta-spirituality says the foundational problem goes like this, "I need to overcome inconveniences and discomfort and God will help me."  

God says in the Scriptures the fundamental problem is much worse. God has a problem with you. It's your own personal sin. 

At Crosspoint/Encuentro we say this: you are a sinner just like everybody else. A sinner like a prostitute, pimp, alcoholic, corporate raider or murderer. Isn't that what Jesus meant when He said lust is adultery and calling somebody an 'idiot' is murder?

Sin is much worse than the sanitized versions we hear from I'm-trying-to-be-happy religious or spiritual people, right? And I am (the pastor) more sinful than I imagined too.

The Problem Needs to be Felt and Seen as Severe
The Law of God points out to us the depth and severity of our sin. That is a good thing in the long run.

Why? Because as we see the depth and severity of our own sin, we realize we need a stronger, bigger Savior.

Good News is Severely Good Gospel (Gospel means 'Good News')
Put personally, Jesus volunteered to become a man, lived the life I should have lived and allowed himself to be arrested, tried, convicted and crucified. And while He was dying, hanging on a cross as my substitute, God took all my severe sin - past, present and future - and put in on Him and punished Him in my place.

He died as my substitute and three days later was raised from the dead.

It took a severe price to redeem this severe sinner. It's the only real solution. It isn't cheap. It wasn't easy and it isn't instant. He's bigger than my convenience and my comfort.

And good news is offered to all who turn and trust what Jesus did for them.

How do we grow in the Gospel? Cosmic restoration.
Restoration means real effort, practical help, spiritual discipline and fighting emotionally challenging idolatry. Challenging presumptions about American life.

We aren't wasting our lives on nice. Or happy. Or comfort, retirement, successful careers. There's more.

- We worship. Weekly we put real effort into worship each Sunday. Our church will not take a Sunday off for convenience. Sunday's designated for worship. It's the way He designed us.
- We serve. Our Redeemer was extremely practical. He asks us to do practical, inconvenient, hard actions on His behalf. We practically help folks who aren't like us, welcome people of other races, cultures, legal status, ability and class. We serve without alerting the media.
All people are made in the image of God. So dignity is big. Help without hurting. No matter how the world treats them, with us they are honored.
- We pray. Twice a year we devote ourselves to prayer. Our intercession team prays weekly. Families and individuals pray together in our vocations and as we go.
- We observe the disciplines of historic Christianity. We give, read/study God's Word, meditate, observe silence and cekebrate. We repent and forgive each other. We learn our gifts and serve accordingly.
- Our eyes on the nations. Our mission takes 'real' Christianity to Smyrna, Atlanta and all the nations. Crosspoint/Encuentro plays a role in a world-wide enterprise.

Note: We also interact with friends and family, culture, art, music, movies, parties and have fun. Pretty normal people who aren't settling for the American dream.

Different than nominal Christianity
By faith in Christ's redemption we stand forgiven, cleaned, guilt-free and adopted in His radical family. 

God is shaping us into ambassadors and freedom fighters for His kingdom here on earth as it is in Heaven.   

Our hope and prayer is that Americans can think further ahead than the present. This return to historic Christianity is far more robust, significant and vital than this small present American situation.

If you would like to talk about what you can do to encourage real, vital, winsome historic Christianity, leave a comment.