Wednesday, October 19, 2011

OCCUPY what?

Occupy Wall Street has erupted into nationwide phenomena of outrage and marginality that is winning the attention of the media. It is as if a generation longing for meaning has locked in, not on a profound purpose or cause for justice, but a cultural  "happening" as it used to be called.
     They are developing their own rules, language and culture, but lack a cohesive sense of what it's all for. We know what they are against: power, big money, old money, The Man, corporate interests, the establishment... but they are less articulate about how to remedy the ills that so enrage them.
    Surely there are greedy people and corporations on Wall Street and elsewhere, and the hoarding of wealth is repulsive. These things do not escape the eye of the Lord. Micah 2:1-3 "Woe to those who devise iniquity, And work out evil on their beds! At morning light they practice it, Because it is in the power of their hand."

     The question is, to whom do we register our complaint? Surely it's not wrong to practice peaceful protest. But when we have a legitimate gripe, the one to whom we complain reveals a lot about who we believe holds the answer to the problem. In this case the plaintiffs obviously feel that Wall Street holds the power to fix our current crisis. This is misplaced confidence.
     To whom should we, as God's people, be airing our moans of malaise? Who holds the answers? The pages of scripture reveal that God's people have always turned to Him to answer their questions and concerns. This means that a more appropriate movement might be called "OCCUPY THE SANCTUARY" crying out together to the Father for deliverance and help.

Luke 18:6-8    Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"   

Psalm 9:9-10    The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You. 

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Kairos: an opportune time

Chronos and Kairos- two Greek words found in scripture that both get translated TIME in our Bibles, but which have very different meanings.
Time is not on our side, or so it would seem- we are always running against the clock. And yet each of us has been given a gift of time on this earth to use as we will. We are given total freedom how we spend it. We can choose to “invest” our time and build for the future, or we can “waste” our time and end up with nothing

Chronos refers to ticking time, the orderly and relentless passing of years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds. Chronos time is inflexible and always moving. We have no control over it, and there never seems to be enough of it. Chronos has dominated western culture and society has worked to gain control over it and manage it so that efficiency could be maximized and profits would grow.
Time is money in that type of world. It is seen as a resource to be exploited. There is an illusion that there will be more time to rest and enjoy life if our work time is carefully maximized, but the goal is never reached. Real rest seems always just out of reach because we can never really “save” time, can we? Where do you put all the time you save? Is it tucked away for future use?
In the West we feel that “our time is our own”, and forget that “Our times are in His hand”. If my time is my own why can't I regain or create more of it? The fact is that time is a gift, each moment an audacious endowment from God.

Kairos is different. Kairos refers to a special moment, an opportune time, God’s chosen season. Kairos is event oriented, not clock oriented. Some cultures, particularly in the southern hemisphere, live this way. They say that church services in many parts of the world have no real starting time. People gather and begin to pray and worship and eventually someone shows up to preach the Word of God- generally for two or more hours. The clock is a non-issue. They seem more aware of God’s timing and are more open to His special moments.

The Bible is full of Kairos moments- times when God was present and had set the stage for a divine visitation. Esther lived a Kairos moment and Mordecai said to her:
“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"   Esther 4:14    
Moses tended sheep for 40 years in the middle of nowhere until God shows up in a burning bush.

Saul was busy in the work of the Lord, or so he thought, until one day on his way to Damascus the Lord hit him with a two by four and called him into the real service of the Lord.

Jesus taught Martha about Kairos when she came to Him and asked Him to tell her sister Mary to help with dinner. Mary is in the Kairos- she sat and worshiped Jesus at His feet. Martha is in Chronos, worried that dinner would not be ready in time.

Redeeming the time. We are called to redeem the time, it is a scriptural mandate, but what does it mean?
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16
We could look at this verse in terms of Chronos and think it is our job to make every minute count. Be efficient in our use of time for the sake of the Gospel. Don’t waste a second! Could it be that it is Kairos time that is being referred to? In fact it is…How does that change the command? Redeem the opportunities, because the days are evil. It is not a call for greater efficiency, but greater awareness of the God moments that are open to us every day. 

My wife Faith described Kairos moments in her life as those times when God seemed to open a door or window and she stepped through. It is effortless and time seems to stand still. There is a great awareness of God’s presence and favor. I have the same sense in my own life.

Living in the Kairos moment eliminates fear and worry as you know that God is there and you are covered in grace. Jesus says it this way….
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.   John 3:8
Jesus came to this world in the ultimate Kairos moment- a supreme act of the will of the Father
Galatians 4:4-5   But when the fullness of the time (Kairos) had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
He will return in the same way- at the opportune hour appointed by the Father
Matthew 24:36 "But of that day and hour (Kairos) no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

A niche market for the Gospel- Flesh and Blood!

In discussion with several shepherd friends today our subject was the impact that electronic media is having on church life and how Marshall McLuhan's axiom "The medium is the message" is more fitting today than ever.
In light of how electronic media tend to disconnect us from each other to the point of disembodiment we wondered how an incarnate Christ would fare in a church where we are more connected to people hundreds of miles away than we are with those who are in the room.
If media is simply an extension of our selves is there a neglected niche market for real flesh and blood ministry? When the gospel is constantly presented through TV, DVD, Internet, Ipad/pod/phones, and big screens in church there may come a time when it will seem cool and novel to share truth with someone face to face, one on one with spoken language. At that point the obscure pastor in his humble little church will be positioned to capture the moment with a new medium, the gospel incarnated in a human being.

See this video

Rich Earl is author of Shepherds Balm, a weekly devotional for pastors and church staff.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Institutions Don't Nurture

I was surprised when I discovered the level of independence and self-sufficiency required in a life of ministry. Drawing from my life as a young athlete, I had romanticized the level of teamwork, support and comradery that I would experience in church work. I pictured my denomination as a team of mutually interconnected individuals rather than an institution with hierarchy, forms, committees and procedures.
This bothered me for years. I held some resentment that my overseers were not more attentive to my needs. They never called to check on me, rarely gave me an “Atta Boy”. I was starved for affirmation or for a mentor to take an interest in what I was stretching myself to accomplish for God and His Kingdom. It never came as I had hoped and now that’s okay.

Eugene Peterson in Under the Unpredictable Plant writes of a similar period in his life.
“I had discovered that spiritually and vocationally I was on my own. The people who ordained me and took responsibility for my work were interested in financial reports, attendance graphs, program planning. But they were not interested in me. They were interested in my job; they cared little for my vocation.
My deeper discovery was that I was mistaken to experience anything else. Spiritual direction doesn’t come from institutions. The institution has its necessary and proper place. I could not function well without it, maybe not at all. But I was quite mistaken to look for spiritual nurture and expect vocational counsel from the institution.”

We are on our own in some sense. Human institutions cannot love like flesh and blood. I am grateful for this perspective. If I had learned it earlier it would have saved me a lot of heartache and loneliness. My own denomination actually did much to promote fellowship and was very supportive when I had a specific issue that required their attention. But to expect the kind of warmth and concern that only another individual can provide was unfair and unrealistic.

Institutions don't nurture. They are incapable of it. Developing meaningful and mutually edifying peer relationships is part of the work of this ministry. There is no magic formula, and no one is going to do it for us. The choices are to retreat into our own little world or proactively reach out- lending a hand and finding a friend in the process.

Rich Earl is author of Shepherds Balm

Friday, February 18, 2011

FaceBook: A Marinated Perspective

When Facebook first went viral there were a number of articles and blogs which suggested how it might best be leveraged as a tool for reaching non-Christians and for marketing the church. I read some of these with interest, but did not apply much of what I read. Instead I decided to just experience Facebook for myself and entered it along with my “friends”. In the process I have learned that using Facebook as a tool does not really work. Facebook is a community, now 500 million strong, and I chose to be a part of the community. After a few years on Facebook I have discovered some things.

Recently I have been stunned at the quality of connections that can be made through Facebook. I have heard from a number of old friends from college and high school who never knew me as a follower of Jesus. They have seen my posts, which often reflect my faith in a non-preachy kind of way, and have contacted me to talk about “religion”. I just got off the phone with an old fraternity brother who was amazingly grateful and excited to hear whatever I had to say about the Bible or Jesus, or whatever. I had instant credibility with him because of our past association. We talked for an hour and he told me he would be going to Barnes and Noble to get the Bible and other book I recommended. He also gobbled up some links I sent. How often does that happen?

I have come to believe that using Facebook to deliberately market a church or to press Christianity is not its greatest use. Postmoderns, and that’s who is using Facebook by and large, prefer a less confrontational approach. Strident tones don’t hit the mark with them. Creative, thoughtful and pithy posts tend to draw them in. They also crave authenticity. Sincerely joining the community gives us a stake in it, as opposed to being interlopers pushing our agenda. Presence has power.

Here are some things I try to remember when I post or comment on Facebook:

1. Be real. Share things that genuinely touch you, and that you believe will be a benefit to others.

2. Be concise. Brevity is the soul of wit. Long posts tend not to get read nearly as much as those short, snappy ones.

3. Be imaginative. Find things to say that have not been said over and over. Think about it before you post. There should be real value added to their lives by being connected to you. Make them grateful to be your friend.

4. Be interesting. Some say the great sin today is being uninteresting. That may or may not be the case, but it sure is better to create interest.

5. Be eclectic. Don’t be afraid to be different. Vary your posts between the silly, the profound and the personal. People will look forward to connecting with you if you vary what you say.

6. Be generous. Don’t expect others to comment and “like” your posts if you’re not doing that for them. That’s part of being in the community. Don’t be a voyeur, enter the conversation.

7. Be careful. Posting and commenting is fraught with peril. It is easy to be misunderstood when writing our thoughts. Objectively read over what you have written before you post or comment. Many times I have written something and simply decided not to send it at all.

8. Be sensitive- know your audience. Not everything you post will impress everyone on your friend list. Try to imagine how different sectors of your network will react to what you say. It’s okay to target certain segments, but make it obvious when you do.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Missional Coaching is working...

This is a follow up to my post from December about Missional Coaching with the unemployed in the Coal region of Pennsylvania.

Here is an example of how coaching can work in the everyday ministry of local pastors and laypeople alike. The result is that we reach people who might never think to set foot in our churches, but who can benefit profoundly from the principles found in God's Word and exposure to the people of God. Here are two examples of changed lives.

Jason (not his real name)- Jason was a frenetic and disoriented mess when he arrived at our first coaching session two months ago. He arrived flustered and with a backpack attached that looked like it was a part of him. He described a background of abuse and abandonment. After years in foster care he ended up homeless on the streets of California. A series of events brought him to our little Pennsylvania coal town. He was doing pretty well until he was fired from his job at a major store chain. When he walked in, he had no goals and was definitely in survival mode. Living alone in a one-room rental, he was desperate for a friend who would not let him down. He shared that his biggest obstacle was needing $12 to get a state ID card. He was so grateful when I was able to connect him the resources to get one, and he made a friend from our church in the process. He was so encouraged, and since that time I have watched him slowly come to life. Religion was not something he was looking for, having had bad experiences in the past. But after our second session he asked if he could come to our church. I said sure, and gave him a Bible. He loves to read and has now become a student of the Word and attends several Bible studies as well as church services. He has reached a number of small goals and expects to be employed again soon. His countenance has lifted as he senses that God loves him.

Diane (not her real name)- Diane came to our little town from Philadelphia with her two young children to live with relatives. Although she is only in her early 30s, she has lost all of her teeth and her self-image is very poor. The smallest obstacle will keep her from following through on what she knows she should be doing. In the past two months she has set some reasonable goals including getting her GED, finding a place to live, and getting a job. Her main goal, however is rebuilding her self-respect. She has an appointment to get her new teeth this week, which will be a dramatic step toward her goal. She has also secured an apartment to raise her children in. She will take her GED test this month. Her goal is to open her own Laundromat because she loves talking with and helping people. She is learning that obstacles can be overcome. Diane says that being held accountable and having someone to believe in her has made all the difference.

More to come....

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Missional community coaching in Pennsylvania's Coal Region

In an effort to combine the power of coaching with a missional/incarnational approach to ministry, a fellow pastor and I have volunteered to provide free coaching services for a local non-profit group in our city. We are only in the second week of this pilot program but we are already sensing that this is something God is blessing. I believe this is fairly new ground and am optimistic that it will open doors to bring transformation in our community.

Most of the clients are in transition and dealing with poverty and unemployment issues; the goal is to bring them from dependence to independence in their lives. Some are from a group working to help young people get their GED, others are from a cash assistance program that provides some training, and others are from an employment placement program. The other pastor and I will each be working with four clients each for four months and then gathering a new group.

We developed a flier offering Free Life Coaching to those involved in the program. The response was immediate, with over a dozen candidates filling out the packets to apply for eight slots. Interestingly, several staff members at this organization were interested in the coaching and said they would be willing to pay for it.

The prospect of providing coaching for those in transition is very exciting. Although we have been asked not to “proselytize,” we are permitted to answer questions and spiritual issues are on the table. The opportunities to share Jesus have already been well received and there is every reason to believe that will continue.

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