Where Do You Go to Church?

May 08th 2009

Where do you go to Church?  What do you say when people ask you that?

When I was a kid, going to church was the rule.  We went to church at First Baptist in Colman, South Dakota and then Ramsey Baptist in Montrose South Dakota.  It may surprise you to hear this — me being a pastor and all — but I didn’t always like it.  We went Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, and youth group, rarely did we miss.  But I do remember trying to miss… a few times.  You may remember “Wonderful World of Disney?”  It was always half over when it was time to leave for the evening worship service.  Where do you suppose I wanted to be?

Now let me proclaim, I am so thankful that my parents forced — yes even though my Father’s favorite line was “you don’t have to go to church, you get to go to church” sometimes forced was the proper verb — forced me to go to church all the time.  It created good habits in my life that were hard to break.

But I wonder if Jesus ever intended for church to be an address?  At Calvary we have four different addresses with six different worship gatherings, and I love them all.  But church is not an address.  In fact, I don’t think the church Jesus said he would built was ever meant to be stationary.  Perhaps we should stop asking, “Where do you go to church?”  Perhaps we should start asking, “Where is your church going?”

Okay — all of that to say — two weekends ago, I did not go to church.  I was a part of the church that is going to people all over our community.  Very simply, we cancelled our worship gatherings for the weekend and went out to serve.  It was a great way to worship and a great way to encounter Jesus.  Watch the video for a bit of a look at where the church in State College went one weekend in May.

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A Heart for Sacred Spaces

Apr 24th 2009

It’s one of my favorite stories because it grabs my heart no matter how many times I hear it or tell it.  Picture a South African woman standing in an emotionally charged courtroom.  She is listening to white police officers acknowledge the atrocities they had perpetrated in the name of apartheid.  Listen in as Officer Van deBroek acknowledges his  his responsibilty in the death of her son.  He shot her 18-yr-old son at point-blank range.  Your stomach turns as you listen to him tell how he and others partied while they burned his body, turning it over the fire until it was reduced to ashes.

The tears start stream down your face as you learn that eight years later Van deBroek and others arrived to seize her husband.  A few [hours] later, shortly after midnight, Van deBroek came to fetch the woman. He took her to a woodpile where her husband lay bound.  She was forced to watch as they poured gasoline over his body and ignited the flames that consumed his life.

Your tears are turning to anger.  You simply cannot understand how somebody could do something like that to a person.  Then you hear this small woman relate that the last words she heard her husband say were the words, “Forgive them.”

Now, van deBroek stands before her awaiting judgment. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission asks her what she wants to happen.  “I want three things,” she says calmly.   You are waiting for her to exact retribution.  “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.”  You are still waiting for justice.  She goes on, “Secondly, Mr. van deBroek took all my family away from me,” — you are eager to hear her bitter judgement — “and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for
him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.”

Your mouth drops open and almost as quickly your eyes start to leak.  “Third, I’d like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God and me. I would like someone to lead me to..(him), so I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real.”

As the elderly woman was led across the courtroom, Mr. Van deBroek fainted. Someone began singing
“Amazing Grace.”  Gradually everyone joined in, as a good heart transformed a courtroom into sacred space.

What is the capacity of our hearts?  What is our capacity to forgive?  What is our capacity to choose joy in tragic circumstances?  What is our capacity to love even those who heart us?  I guess when Jesus comes to live in our hearts, he expands our capacity.

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Apr 09th 2009

Al Lingren, tells about taking his 13-year-old son fishing a few years ago. It was one of those days when the fish wouldn’t bite and they had a lot of time to talk. Out of the clear blue his son asked, “Dad, what’s the toughest thing God ever tried to do?”

The question caught Lingren, a pastor, off guard. He didn’t know what to say, so like a good teacher, he answered a question with a question, “What do you think it was?” The boy first smiled and said, “Even tho you’re a pastor, you don’t know much about God, do you Dad?”

Then the boy gave his answer. “Since taking science in school, I thought the creation of the world might be the hardest thing God ever tried to do. Then in Sunday School we got to talking about the miracles, like Jesus’ resurrection, and I thought that might be the toughest thing God ever did. Then after thinking some more and talking to others, I decided that no one knows God really well.  So now I think that the toughest thing God ever tried to do is to get us to understand who God is and that God loves us.”

This is our business.  We are in the business of helping the world understand who God is and how much He loves them.  We are in the business of becoming so like Jesus that when we get around people, they can’t help but bump into Jesus.  We are not in the church growth business.  We are not in the lift up Calvary business.  We are in the “serve others” business.  We are in the lift up Jesus business.

That’s why we are doing CityServe.  We simply want to take a weekend, to go out and do everything we possibly can to show people that Jesus loves them.  We are doing CityServe because we want Jesus to come into our city and we don’t want pple to miss him this time.

We are doing CityServe because Jesus loves our city, and compassion without service means little to those we say we love.  In Luke 19:28-34, there is this somewhat unique, almost strange detail included about Palm Sunday.  Jesus needed a donkey to ride into town.

So he sent his disciples to some unnamed man’s house, to get a donkey.  If the man asked them why they were taking his donkey, they were to simply respond, Because the Lord needs it.  The question I’ll leave you with is simply this… What does the Lord need from you to make it possible for him to
come into our communities?

If all he needed was a weekend, would you give it?  What if good deeds done with the heart of Jesus are the donkey that Jesus would ride into town.  CityServe is five Congregations giving a thousand people to work on 122 projects over two days.  That’s what CityServe is all about.

Don’t miss it!  Currently we have about 200 people signed up — need about 800 more!  Go to CityServe for more information and to sign up.

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Why I Believe in Jesus’ Resurrection

Apr 08th 2009

How can I know that Jesus was really raised from the dead by the power of God?  Why do I believe?
I could talk to you about the historical arguments for the resurrection.

– The fact that it is testified to by five independent sources, Matthew, Mark Luke John and Paul.
– The fact that the location of Jesus tomb was well known.  Both skeptical disciples and antagonistic  opponents checked the tomb and all agree, it was empty.
– The transformation of Jesus followers from a grief stricken, fearful, discouraged group to the bold, joyful force which initiated the explosive growth of a new movement which became known as the church.
– The fact that during Paul’s lifetime there were hundreds of eye-witnesses still living, anyone of whom could’ve been contacted for corroperating accounts.
– The conversion of Paul, a man deadset against Christianity until he met the resurrected Christ.
– The English journalist Frank Morison who dealt with most of the objections in the classic Who Moved the Stone? Although Morison had set out to discount the Resurrection as a myth, the evidence convinced him otherwise.

We could talk about all the evidence and yet I know that in every case except that of John, even the disciples did not believe until they saw.  Though I believe the evidence invites belief, it does not compel belief.  So why do I believe?  Like Philip Yancey, one reason is because in the deep cores of my heart I want the Easter story to be true.  Something within me cries out against the meaninglessness of a life which simply ends without purpose.  As Yancey says, “I suppose you could say I want to believe in fairy
tales.”  But as C.S. Lewis relates, perhaps it is the very presence of the hunger for something more which indicates that something more exists.

Why do I believe?  Perhaps more than any other reason for myself personally.  I believe, because like Mary & Mary, there have been too many times when I have trudged dutifully through the darkness, thinking God was gone, only to come once again, upon the empty tomb, the risen Christ, and the presence of God.  Like Peter there have been too many times when I have been given a second chance at life.

Why do you believe?

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700 Grocery Bags

Apr 03rd 2009

Last weekend at Calvary we gave away around 700 grocery bags.  Cool right?  Why, right?  We were talking about the only one of Jesus’ miracles to be included in all four gospels — the feeding of the crowd through Jesus and a young boy’s sack lunch.  Jesus has this incredible gift of multiplication — from 3 barley loaves and 2 bite size fish to 12 baskets of left-overs and a stuff crowd.

So we gave away 700 grocery bags.  I asked everyone to fill the bag and take it to someone in the community who is in need and then pray that Jesus would multiply a can of soup into an opportunity for someone to meet Jesus.

If you got a grocery bag, pray, shop and give.  If you are uncomfortable with the “give” part.  Pray, shop and bring the bag to church this weekend or Easter weekend.  We’ll use the groceries to bless our Angel Food families and the local food shelf.  Buy canned goods, and other food that have a long shelf-life and bring your bag to the kitchen at 1250 University Drive or the lobby at Midtown.  700 bags of groceries, that could make a difference in someone’s life.  Who knows what God might do!

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Harvest Fields Prayer

Mar 19th 2009

for us, I would be grateful.  You probably know that for about four years we have been trying to develop a plan for some new facilities on this property we call Harvest Fields.  It is a beautiful piece of God’s creation just outside Boalsburg on the way to Harrisburg on 322.  120 acres with about 7 ponds and acres of forest.  I’m sitting in my office up the hill overlooking the valley — an amazing panorama.

Well this month we have overcome a significant wall impeding our progress — access.  The highway occupancy permit that we have long desired is finally in hand, well almost, but it’s okay, any day now it will be in hand.  We have been assured.

For four years, people have prayed and planned and designed, but before we take the next step forward, we (calvary leadership) have been feeling that we need to get away and pray.  Seek God.  Listen to Him and each other and ask Him to show us what our next step is.  So starting Friday at 4pm and ending around 4pm on Saturday, about 30 of Calvary’s leaders will get together to pray and listen and ponder and discuss and hopefully discover God’s next step for us.

So if you are one of the 5 or 6 people who read this blog… :) and you happen to read it before Saturday at 4pm.  Take a moment or two and pray for us.

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What is Your Superpower?

Mar 15th 2009

That’s the question on the front-side of a recent Seth Godin blog.  The question started me thinking about my youth.  I was a comic book collector, but I was not drawn to the standard super-heroes, no Batman, Superman or Spiderman.  I went for Jonah Hex — a cynical scarred confederate solider translated into an apocalyptic 21st Century.  I went for Nova, a randomly selected high school student, chosen by the last surviving Nova Centurion of the planet Xander’s elite Nova Corps, to inherit his power and succeed him in the rank of Nova Prime.

One of the questions we always ask the participants of Leadership Advance (a three day leadership/calling experience) is, “Who is your favorite superhero?”  Now you might think that this is a wasted question, but it’s actually there for a purpose.   I think sometimes God gives us a dream/purpose/calling/destiny/assignment but as we ponder the possibilities, it appears that superpowers will be necessary to accomplish the task.

Since superpowers are only real in comics, movies and the tv series “Heroes”…we pass on the dream.

But the reality is that God has shaped each one of us with certain strengths, gifts and abilities.  Everybody knew Superman’s powers, but the rest of us are on a journey to discover and use those strengths, gifts and abilities.  But the greatest superpower any of us have — is not spinach, think Popeye — it’s the Spirit of God.  God has this ability to use even seemingly insignificant moments grasped with seemingly mundane hands and bring about life-changing destiny-fulfilling transactions.  No moment/act is too small for the Spirit of God to use and no moment/act is too large for the Spirit of God to accomplish.

So… what is your superpower?  I used to think it would be cool to have x-ray vision, or to be able to fly.  But now I think that having the ability to love with a love that never fails would be pretty cool as well.  So… what is your superpower?

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Everywhere I Go I See Jesus

Jan 04th 2009

…and it’s breaking my heart. Remember the story in Matthew 25. Jesus is talking and he shares that story of the good guys (sheep) and the bad guys (goats). The good guys are the once who give Jesus water when he is thirsty and food when he is hungry. The good guys are the ones who give Jesus clothes when he is naked and a home when he is homeless. The bag guys ignore Jesus in need. The good guys and the bad guys both say, Jesus when did we see you in need. Jesus responds, Whenever you care for the least of these my brothers, you do it to me.

In Myanmar, a country that is over 80% Buddhist, a country where 90% of the people live on less than a dollar a day, everywhere I go I see Jesus… and it’s breaking my heart.

Last Sunday, after church, Lynn and I prayed for a woman who runs an orphanage in a very remote area of Myanmar, the Chin State. She has an orphanage in the mountains – forty one children. Because they are so remote, they have no sponsors, so they come to Agape Orphanage when they need help. It is the poor helping the very poor. The Nargis Cyclone hit them hard, so they have gone into debt buying food. Nobody will give them anymore credit. So she has not been able to buy food for a few months. Her children walk the fields looking for corn and rice that has been dropped behind in the harvest. For the last month, her children have been eating one time every three days. Joseph – the Agape Orphanage Director – asked Lynn and I to pray for her and her children. We prayed and the tears streamed down her face.

As we were praying, the thoughts going through my head were – I’m praying to Jesus who is eating once every three days in the mountains of the Chin State.

We gave her $700 — the $500 we saved from not paying extra for our baggage and $200 we took for personal expenses.  It will help for a couple of months.

After that prayer, as we drove to another mission, all I could think about was 41 hungry children and I kept asking Jesus, “Did I do enough?” Tears in my eyes — I can honestly say that I have never had such a strong desire to be rich. If Jesus really is to be found in the “least of these,” if you ever go to Myanmar you will see Jesus everywhere you go…and it might break your heart.

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Agape Orphanage, Christmas Day, and Walmart

Jan 03rd 2009

I didn’t take pictures.  It just seemed wrong.  On Christmas Day — not only did I preach to 1500 villagers, counting men, women and children — but you (Calvary) helped to feed them.  From dollars that you gave we we were able to give a meal and the rice for two more meals to everyone who attended.  (In fact that was probably the main reason they came, since my preaching is not really a huge draw in Myanmar!)

They received a box of cooked rice with 2-3 small pieces of meat — the meat was a luxury — and a small piece of bread.  They also received a bag — maybe a pound — of rice for future meals.

I watched them stand in line waiting for their free food.  (Those were the pictures I didn’t take.)

Actually I watched them push and shove and knock elderly people and small children to the ground as they were waiting for free food.

At first it disappointed me, then I remembered that they were hungry and I realized that they were afraid that the food would run out.

At first it disappointed me, then I remembered our Walmart Black Friday story.  One thousand plus people standing in line to get a good deal on a high definition flat screen tv, stampeding through the doors, trampeling and killing a temporary employee.

We push and shove and stampede for a $200 discount on a hd tv.  They push and shove and stamped for food.  I’m still disappointed…that those people are so hungry and so worried that the food will run out.  But I am so thankful that Calvary gave and continues to give.  I didn’t take pictures, it just seemed wrong, but the picture is stark in my mind.  I pray that the day will come when Americans won’t stampede for tv’s and Burmese won’t have to stampede for food.

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(NOT) Home for Christmas

Jan 02nd 2009

So there we were Christmas Day, walking up at the Seasons Hotel in Yangon — 10,000 miles from home.  We got a “Merry Christmas” greeting from two elderly ladies in the breakfast room — the only non-Burmese we would see on Christmas Day — Australians visiting another orphanage.  By the way if you google the hotel — don’t trust the description or the pictures, false advertising at it’s best!

Driving to Agape Orphanage, it hit me that Calvary’s last Christmas Eve service was just beginning. I love Christmas Eve at Calvary, it is always one of the highpoints of my Christmas season.  It’s one of the best parts of being home for Christmas!

But God had other plans for us this Christmas – Myanmar plans.

We drove through the gate at Agape and all the children were lined up to greet us, yelling like we were some kind of celebrities — or long lost family members returning after a long absence.

In Myanmar, while it is not against the law to have a church, it is against the law to proselytize. But at Christmas, a bit more freedom is given. So the orphanages use Christmas as a time to reach out to the neighboring villages. In December the orphanages we support hosted Christmas celebrations for close to 10,000 people – at each one the Good News was shared.

Former Muslim

I had the privilege of sharing at the Christmas Day gathering at Agape orphanage – over 1200 Buddhist Read more…

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