Friday, March 21, 2008

a snow-bound Good Friday

The stuff of Holy Week and all the preparations for it has kept me away from the blog lately, I apologize.

Today the "first day of Spring" got a rather cold welcome, as one of the biggest snow storms of the entire season blew in last night. It will dump up over a foot in some areas by the time it's all said and done. It's as if the cold of Winter is trying to hold off the new life of Spring as long as it possibly can, smothering it under a frozen blanket.

Today is also Good Friday, the day Christians everywhere remember the death of Jesus of Nazareth on a cross. On that hill almost 2000 years ago, Death tried to deliver its knock-out blow to the Son of God. Followers who had so much hope for what might come in this man many believed to be their Messiah were struck with inconsolable grief when their Master, Teacher, Savior and Friend was brutally beaten and thoroughly killed. What glimmer of of hope flickered in their hearts faded away as the life of Jesus was snuffed out.

But, as a great preacher once said, "... Sunday's coming!"

Winter, the coldest season, the darkest season, the season in which everything green and living seems to die for good, cannot hold back the new life that lies dormant, waiting to spring forth, even through the snow.

The Life that came in Christ was the Light of the all... and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

belonging before believing

Last week I attended the Conversational Evangelism Conference hosted by Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in CA (which meant I got to spend a couple days earlier in the week in Fresno with my adorable nephew and precious god-daughter! …and their families of course). Speakers included John Ortberg, Todd Hunter, Mark Mittelberg, Becky Pippert, Garry Poole, Dan Kimball and Dr. Richard Peace.

So, for the next several weeks, I am going to switch my cyber-reflections from the issues regarding worship I have been processing since the Calvin Symposium in January to ideas that I encountered during this more recent conference.

As you can probably guess by the title—Conversational Evangelism—the focus of this conference was on a paradigm shift in approaches to Christian evangelism away from the formulaic, linear and propositional methods of the Modern era, with their frequent demand for an immediate decision, to a more organic, relationship-based, conversational perspective which fits better our emerging postmodern context and is aimed more at coming along-side others in a shared, God-ward, spiritual journey.

One of the most intriguing concepts I heard articulated was the mantra of those involved with the Alpha program (which we have recently reintroduced to First Pres.) – “belonging before believing.” The idea being that in the Alpha course (and perhaps in the church, too) people should be welcomed with warm hospitality and allowed to truly belong, relationally, without having to sign-on to statement of faith beforehand. This same concept was reflected in one way or another by just about every speaker.

While I don’t think this phrase should be a concept applied to polity issues such as formal church membership… I do really love this idea as a governing principle for the kind of unconditional love with which we who are followers of Jesus should be interacting with everyone else around us.

Just think about it… belonging before believing… isn’t that how our eternally gracious God has dealt with each of us? God has extended grace to us long before we ever professed faith with our lips, pursuing us with abandon until we finally heard the call and came to the realization that “we love because God first loved us.”

Could we be capable, as God’s beloved children, of extending that unconditional love in gracious, no-strings-attached relationships to those around us who do not yet know God’s love for them in Jesus Christ? Could we do that regardless of this person’s personal beliefs, background or behavior? Could it be that perhaps these people might be more open the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit if their stories have been listened to and their hearts of have been loved in such a Christ-like way?

Think about it and talk back… let’s start a conversation.