Raise Your Voice…Or Not.

One of the things I often look forward to receiving in my inbox is the “Verse and Voice” from Sojourners. I often find an encouraging or challenging word. Today, they used a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that really made me think. Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

When I read that sentence, I found myself challenged in two ways.

First, there are times when I do find myself remaining silent on things that matter. I am in a field in which I need to speak about injustice, oppression, and the like. And, yet, when presented with opportunities to speak up, I often back away silently. I need to have the bold courage to stand up for and raise my voice on the things that matter.

On the other hand, there are times in which I boldly speak out about things that don’t matter. Take last Tuesday night for example. I was speaking forcefully and passionately about tables and chairs. The words I spoke were honest and truthful. But, in the long run, it was about something that simply does not matter. I could have directed my time and energy into much more important ventures. However, I let a simple matter momentarily steal my focus. I believe our lives begin to end when we waste our time speaking of things that don’t matter.

So, today, I’m going to do my best to remain silent on things that don’t matter and to have the courage to break my silence on those things that do matter.

Bad Service and False Hope

Today, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on how business and politics generally set us up only to let us down.

It all started when I was going to find a place to sit and enjoy my lunch at the Panera in Anderson. The first three open seats I found were absolutely filthy. I finally settled on the least dirty area of the restaurant. Emily also commented on how filthy the place was and asked, “Should we even eat here?”

Now, they could not have even used the “we are really slammed and haven’t gotten around to cleaning the dining room” excuse, as they were not busy at all. To me, it was simply a sign of incompetent management and a lazy workforce. When I go to Panera, I have certain expectations. I generally believe it should be cleaner than Dill Street or the Chug. That simply wasn’t the case today. Instead, because of our bad experience with the cleanliness of this establishment (which equals bad service in my book) we will not return to the Anderson Panera.

All of this reminded me of the false hope that had been instilled in my mind by some of our local politicians. We have been going around in circles with the Delaware County Auditor and Treasurer. In January, we met with them…they stayed late…they helped us iron out some very important details. We thought things had been taken care of. In the meeting we had, the Auditor and Treasure ensured us that the latest our issue would be resolved was February 19th. When I left the meeting, I had a great sense of hope that maybe there are some honest and trustworthy politicians in Delaware County. But, reality has set in.

As of Friday, they have not resolved the issue. It’s an issue that could easily be resolved…which is why they had told us it would be easily taken care of in February. In our meeting, they basically told us what we wanted to hear…the things that would get us off their backs (which in turn would get two State Representatives and one US Senator off their backs). However, much like the rhetoric that is spilled out during campaign season, their promises were nothing more than empty statements that equal dirty politics as usual. The biggest issue to me is that the government continually refuses to make any kind of admission to making an error. They blame everyone else…they pass the buck, claim that, they too are victims…and simply don’t follow through with their promises.

To me, if their hands truly were tied and they couldn’t resolve the issue in a timely manner, than that is what they should have told us. Instead, they lied to us. It is sadly unfortunate that political figures are not trustworthy. I wanted to trust them…I wanted to believe them. But, they made me look like a fool. So, I guess that’s shame on me for trusting someone that was “working on my behalf.

It’s no wonder why people and businesses are leaving Muncie and Delaware County. So much for a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Giving Up

Earlier today, I received a notice about a church having a rummage sale. That happens all the time. But, this one caught my attention because of the items being sold.

On the list of items: a baptismal, a cross, chancel furniture, hymnals, kitchen equipment, lots of table service items (plates, bowls, cups, silverware). It pretty much seems like they are cleaning house.

A few thoughts crossed my mind:

1. They have received a significant donation and are purchasing all new equipment.

2. They are shifting their focus and moving towards a seeker-sensitive approach to worship and outreach.

3. They have given up and have decided to sell every thing but the pews in order to extend the life of their congregation for a few more weeks.

In all honesty, I’m pretty sure thoughts 1 and 2 are far fetched. I suppose someone could have won the lottery and shared the winnings with the congregation. Or a sweet little old lady could have passed and left everything to the church. And, maybe the pastor was able to light a fire in the heart of the congregation and they are ready to try something new.

However, I’ve come to find that these sorts of things just don’t happen too often in churches of less than 20. It is unfortunate, but it is also realistic.

Sometimes, I look at congregations around Muncie and I wonder when they decided to throw in the towel. I wonder when they decided to forget about their communities. I wonder when they decided to give up on reaching out and make themselves the overall focus of the church. And, it serves as a reminder that every church faces the potential danger of dying out when we become internally focused. All churches face the danger of just selling stuff off so we can pay  our electric bill for another month.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Unity

Sometimes, in the life of a church, you have to deal with items that are stressful. In the midst of the stress, the ultimate goal is to find unity. While we may disagree with one another, in the end, we have to find a way to bring about peace and unity.

One of the ways that I believe we experienced that this evening was in bringing together our leaders and allowing everyone who wanted to share speak their minds. Respectfully listening to and considering the thoughts and opinions of others is crucial. Why? Because often times, people just want to know that they are being heard.

Even when we don’t receive the results we desire, we have to respect the process that ultimately led to a final decision. It’s sort of like the Presidential election. Some folks didn’t vote for Barack Obama. But, you have to feel pretty good that we have the right to vote…to contribute to the process.

This evening, we dealt with an issue. Everyone in the room shared their thoughts. We voted. We accepted the results. And, now, we join together to move forward. We join together to “help others take their next step towards Christ…together.” We unite to do all we can to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We can now put this behind us and begin to focus on our next project.

 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

An Improper Focus

This morning, I am deeply troubled by events that will transpire later this evening. In the midst of tumbling stock markets, job losses, failing marriages, people losing their homes, massive poverty throughout the world, and people dying of treatable illnesses we will be spending time and energy on a minor, non-Kingdom issue. It is an improper focus. Unfortunately, because a minor issue has spiraled out of control, we have to take the time to address it.

I have been accused of taking the issue too lightly. I have been informed this is a very important issue that has a major impact on the ability of the church to function. And, I absolutely, whole-heartedly disagree!

The issue that is stealing our focus has absolutely nothing to do with making disciples for Jesus Christ. We could try and twist the issue in a manner to justify that it is about Jesus…but it would be quite a stretch. Our goals as a congregation are to increase our efforts and become faithful with our stewardship, outreach, and evangelism ministries. The issue we will be addressing this evening has nothing to do with these three areas. Again, we could try and twist it to justify that it is about stewardship, outreach, and evangelism. But, again, that would be some stretch.

What is disappointing and discouraging to me is that this non-Kingdom of God issue is interfering with our ability to focus on Kingdom of God issues. Tonight, while we will be spending our time discussing an issue that is entirely about personal preferences, people will die, people will receive foreclosure notices, people will receive pink slips, children will go to bed hungry…and we will be focusing on our personal preferences. People in our community and world are in desperate need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. And rather than discussing how we can get that message out, we will be focusing on ourselves…on our desires…on our felt needs (felt needs are things we’ve convinced ourselves are needs, but they aren’t).

Late last night, I received an e-mail that originated from a friend, mentor, and former pastor. In it, he encouraged people to open our eyes and realize when we are majoring in the minors. It’s in those moments when we major on the minors that we miss what God is truly calling us to. He warned us of investing our time and energy into the minors because it steals our time, energy, and focus from the things that truly matter…making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. He said that we stir up a lot of “sound and fury” that amounts to “simply nothing.” He said in majoring in the minors, we are “spending ourselves in debates that seem to have precious little to do with disciple making (Matthew 28) or feeding the hungry and clothing the naked (Matthew 25)”. I could not agree more!

He ended his e-mail with these words that I think we should all embrace, “Let’s invest ourselves in discussions that build up the Body of Christ, and point us beyond ourselves to a world hungry for the grace and truth Jesus Christ has to offer.”

When we think of it in this manner, we begin to realize how selfish and inwardly focused we can be. Certainly we can move “beyond ourselves.”