Category Archives: Ministries

Staying Connected Through Covenant Groups

One year ago our Bible study groups became Covenant Groups when they signed covenants together–commitments that they would be faithful in their participation in and support of our church. Since then, we’ve started a few new groups, experimented with in-home Bible studies, engaged in a few church-wide Bible study emphases together, and continued to seek God’s vision for our community.

Now it’s time to revisit our commitments from last May.

Our Covenant Groups fall under the “Connect” portion of our “Worship. Connect. Serve.” strategy. They help people form meaningful friendships,  apply Biblical principles to 21st century life, and provide outlets for service to our church and community.

If you’re not involved in a Covenant Group, we want you to be. We’re planning to offer new in-home and Sunday morning opportunities so you’ll have comfortable, accessible ways to get connected. We’ll begin promoting new opportunities soon, and we hope you’ll take advantage of them.

If you’re already an active member of a Covenant Group, expect to revisit your covenant commitments in the next few weeks.  Be prepared to recommit yourself to your group members and your church.

As a reminder, our covenant commitment is printed below. we’re building new relationships at Wieuca and great things are happening. ‘ll see you in your Covenant Group this Sunday, 9:30 sharp.

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He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
 -2 Corinthians 3:6

The goal of covenant making is to create a shared destiny with others in the faith, a destiny founded on the belief that it is through the bonds of love that human beings are transformed (John 13:34).  A religious covenant is a promise entered into by human beings who make commitments both to each other and to God whereby their futures are inextricably bound to one another.

The aim of this covenant is not the satisfaction of individual self-interest, but group transformation. This covenant relationship depends upon the understanding that the implications of this covenant are larger than what we alone can envision. Therefore, the strength of this covenant relies not only on the mutual agreements entered into by the undersigned, but also on the power of God revealed in Jesus Christ, in whom we place our faith.

Recognizing that we will at times fall short of our commitments and asking for the forgiveness of God and our fellow travelers when we do, we, the undersigned, commit to the following:

Once a day, I will pray for my church and my Covenant Group.

Once a week, I will study the Bible and will participate in my weekly Covenant Group as often as I am able.

Once a month, I will serve my church and my community through my participation on a ministry team, committee or other volunteer group.

Once a quarter, I will support the missions programs of Wieuca Road Baptist Church either through my participation or my donations.

Once a year, I will rededicate myself to God, to my church, and to my Covenant Group members by revisiting the above commitments.

We believe that the above commitments, along with God’s unfailing grace, have the power to transform our lives and our community.  We seek God’s blessing as we cheerfully attach our names.

Thinking Of You

No other time of year brings the same spectrum of emotions to the faithful Christian as does Holy Week. During Holy Week we celebrate at the gates of Jerusalem  we gather pensively in the Upper Room, we mourn at the foot of the cross , and we are awe-struck as we peer into the empty tomb. But one overriding question holds the varying emotions of the week together in tension: “Who is Jesus, really?”  Every Holy Week, if we think seriously about Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, we are forced to wrestle repeatedly with just exactly who Jesus is.

In John’s gospel, we are presented with what scholars call a “high Christology.” In the Johannine tradition, Jesus is described as co-eternal with the Father, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, light, truth and life. More than any other gospel tradition, the Johannine tradition emphasizes the divinity of Jesus and his identity as Christ, the Son of God and savior of the world.

But in the middle of all that high, conceptual talk about light and truth and life, we also get a remarkably human portrait of Christ. In John’s gospel, as Jesus prepares for his death, he has an intimate, extended conversation with his disciples—person to person, friend to friend.

This conversation, set right in the middle of Holy Week,  is commonly referred to as the farewell discourses because Jesus uses it to prepare his disciples for his departure.  The conversation begins in John 13 with Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and continues through John 17. If you want to know who Jesus is, there’s no better place to start.

So who is Jesus really?  Cosmic redeemer? Very God of very God? Co-eternal with the Father? Light and truth? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Easter is an especially appropriate time to understand Jesus that way.

But John also makes it clear that Jesus’ desire is to be a friend and confidant to you and to me. Even more, in the farewell discourses, Jesus demonstrates his human need–and understands our human need–for personal relationship and reassurance even as he prepares to take on the sins of the world.

Imagine Jesus wanting to share Holy Week with you.  Imagine Jesus taking the last of his free moments on earth to explain himself to you, to confide in you, to call you friend. In the gospel of John that’s exactly what Jesus does. The miracle of Holy Week is that the cosmic redeemer calls us his friends (John 15:12-17).

But he doesn’t stop there. Jesus concludes the conversation by praying specifically for the first disciples and then praying specifically for you. The last words Jesus speaks in John’s gospel before he is arrested are words of prayer for you. I  don’t know about you, but to me that’s pretty awesome.

You were the last thing on Jesus’ mind before he was arrested. Jesus prepared for the cross by praying for you. His prayer is printed below.  How will you prepare for the weekend?

“My prayer is not for them (the first disciples) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those who you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”  -John 17:20-26

May it be so. Happy Easter.

Love. Learn. Live. Evaluate.

40 Days HERO

From February 2nd-March 9th, Wieucans of all ages met once a week in homes scattered all over North Atlanta for fellowship and Bible study. Our six-week, in-home Bible study experiment used a study called 40 Days in the Word. We asked our 40 Days participants to fill out a short response form at the conclusion of our experiment. Since then, we’ve been pouring over the responses, and this is what your fellow church members had to say.

On a scale of 1 to 10, participants rated their overall experience as a 9, with the vast majority of responses clustered in the 8-10 range. Overall, 40 Days was a VERY positive experience for our members.

Similarly, with only one or two exceptions, all of our participants expressed an interest in participating in another small group study in the future.

When asked, “Was your 40 Days experience different from your Sunday morning Covenant Group experience? If so, how?” our participants shared some great positives from our experiment. Here’s a sampling:

“More intimate.”
“More structured.”
“More good, open discussion.”
“More time for visiting and more time for discussion.”
“Smaller, more intimate environment.”
“More personal. I felt more comfortable sharing.”
“More intimacy, and that’s GREAT!”
“Share lives more closely in small group.”
“More focused.”
“Discussion easier to understand, no ‘right and wrong’ answers.”
More engaging. I wish more people could have participated.”

When we asked what we could have done differently to improve the experience, we also got some great feedback. Participants wanted:

  1. More training for group leaders/moderators.
  2. A better sign up process.
  3. More varied meeting times.
  4. A choice in what to study.
  5. Smaller groups. More than 10 people is too many.
  6. Flexibility in scheduling. Every week is too much with everything else we have going on.
  7. More focused groupings by age/life stage.

We also asked whether the 40 Days experiment was an effective way to build and strengthen relationships with other Wieucans. Our participants’ responses were overwhelmingly positive. They used phrases like:

“YES!”
“Christian intimacy.”
“More personal relationships.”
“Stronger relationships.”
“Better acquainted.”
“Made new friends.”
“Rewarding.”
“Loving and caring people.”
“Bonding.”
“LOVE my small group.”

As we continue to evaluate our 40 Days experiment as a staff, we’re starting to develop a few takeaways based on the totality of these responses. Here are four.

Comfortable Communities

40 Days participants responded with a great hunger for intimate, personal relationships with one another that our current structure isn’t meeting. If one sentiment came through loud and clear from our participants, it was that Wieucans are craving more comfortable settings to build relationships. Small groups and living room environments have the potential to meet that need.

Scriptural Engagement

Almost without exception, Wieucans are looking for more opportunities to engage scripture as a community. Irrespective of age, Wieucans are craving more comfortable settings to take part in practical, Bible-based discussion and instruction. Their responses show that open, relaxed and easy environments foster discussion and encourage greater individual–and group–engagement with scripture and Bible study materials.

Better Organization

We can get better at organizing small group opportunities. Communication can be clearer. Registration can be more user-friendly. Facilitators and hosts could use more up front support. Variety of meeting times and study materials is important. Keeping small groups small is also important.  Now that you’ve told us what we can do better, we’re working on how we can do it.

Clear Priorities

We need to prioritize experiences that better grow disciples over experiences that don’t have discipleship as a priority or that are less effective as discipleship builders. If we value Christian community, growing relationships, and making disciples, our church calendar ought to reflect it.  If small groups are an effective way to do those things, we shouldn’t be trying to shoehorn them into an already full calendar. Instead we should be creative about making room for groups to grow and flourish.

So there’s a summary of our first level of analysis. Our goal is to continue to find creative ways to improve connection and community at Wieuca. As we digest this feedback and continue to ask for more, we hope to improve and expand our experiment. As we do so, we covet your prayers that God will continue to bless our community.  Your first chance to provide additional feedback is in the comments section!

See you Sunday.

Go To Where The People Are

John Dillinger said he robbed banks because that’s where the money was. Paul climbed the Areopagus in Athens and braved the dangers (prisons) of Rome to preach the Good News of Christ because that’s where the people were. Jesus traveled the shore towns of Galilee and taught in the Temple in Jerusalem because that’s where the people were.

As we seek to reach our community for Christ, it’s imperative that we go to where the people are; that we make it convenient for our community to find out who we are; and that we approach our neighbors through avenues with which they’re familiar. In 2014, that means we need to have a strong online presence.

Art Rainer recently posted an infographic created by WebDAM to illustrate digital marketing trends for 2014. You can see a portion of that graphic below.

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We are now one year into a renewed focus on our web presence. Because of a host of dedicated volunteers with an astounding array of talents, we have made tremendous progress this year.

In an effort to go to where the people are, our Marketing and Technology Team is committed to doing the following things as we enter the second year of our new virtual presence:

1. We’re committed to improving our video capabilities. In year two we’ll develop a system to produce simple, high quality videos to communicate with our members and to let our members share their stories directly with our community.
2. We will continue to build our Facebook and Twitter teams with a real focus on increased engagement and interaction as we seek to expand our reach into our city.
3. We will continue to fine tune our promotional efforts, working to find the right blend of print and digital advertising, and the right mixture of promotional and event-based community engagement to most effectively share Wieuca with the world.
4. As our video capabilities improve, we’ll make better use of YouTube as a third branch of  our social media strategy.
5. We’ll conduct an annual review of our website and prioritize needed updates and improvements.
6. We’re committed to praying that God will partner with us in our work and use our efforts to bless His church and our community.

God has given Wieuca people with tremendous gifts and talents. Many of them are serving on our Marketing and Technology Ministry Team.  Join me in praying that God will bless their work and leverage their commitment to make a difference for the kingdom.

What Do You Give Someone Who Already Has Everything?

We’re starting to ask some new questions at Wieuca. Or, more appropriately, we’re increasing our focus on questions that churches have been asking for a long time. What do we have to offer our community? Where is the real need in our neighborhood? How can we serve our church members and our neighbors in a way that makes a real impact for God in their lives?

The simple answer is that we offer salvation through Jesus Christ, a supportive community for Christian growth and discipleship, and an effective platform from which to reach the unchurched.  But our answers need to go beyond what we do to how we do it.  And they need to reflect a burning desire to understand those we seek to minister to. We need to know how  to share the burdens of our community and provide God-driven answers and support to help our neighbors meet the challenges of their everyday lives.

As churches seek to be effective outposts for God’s mission in their communities, they must engage in constant assessment. The questions we ask don’t change, but the answers change constantly.

The answers change because the giftedness and capability of our congregation changes. The passion and God-given mission of our particular kingdom outpost changes. Externally, the demographic make-up of our community changes. The cultural norms and religious identity of our neighbors change.  And assumptions about and familiarity with what it means to be part of a Christian community changes.

As we start to think with renewed focus about how to best serve our neighbors, let me offer my preliminary thoughts. First, like many congregations, we serve in a community where, for the most part, the physical and material needs of our neighbors are already met, often in abundance. Most people would look at a neighborhood like ours and assume that most of the families around our church lack for nothing. I don’t think that’s true, though.

We live in a neighborhood where families are often over-scheduled, over-stressed, and over-extended. To make matters worse, traditional structures of family support like stay-at-home parents and extended families are in short supply. Although we don’t always see it on the outside, we live in a neighborhood where families often lack the social support structures necessary to make sure that their mental, emotional and spiritual health needs are met.

What if we could offer to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of our community with the same abundance that their physical and material needs are often met?

Christian community is about more than sharing in religious instruction and spiritual experience. It’s about sharing life together. It’s about chili cook-offs and movie nights and small group fellowship and basketball games in the gym and family trips to the zoo and bridge clubs and senior safety seminars. It’s about helping people create space for God and family in their lives.

It’s about providing a supportive framework for families when the treadmill starts to run a little too fast. It’s about helping empty nesters adjust to new realities—and new freedoms—when children leave home. It’s about connecting senior adults to Christian communities that provide outlets for service and fellowship.

God is present in every aspect of our lives and God is honored when we mutually commit ourselves to building supportive relationships with each other. That’s what the “Connect.” portion of our “Worship.Connect.Serve.” strategy is all about.

We’re committed to finding new and better ways for you to connect with other Wieucans because we know that as we connect with each other we give God new opportunities to connect with us and grow our community. In the coming weeks and months, look for opportunities to get more connected to this community and help us as we dream about new ways for Wieuca to meet the often unseen but always compelling needs of our neighbors. Everybody wins—God’s kingdom included—when we invest in each other.

Leading Transformation 40 Days at a Time

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At our Fall Leadership Retreat in November and again at our leadership team meetings in January, we emphasized to our leaders that they had a responsibility to be more than managerial or technical or administrative leaders in our church. Our theme in November (re-emphasized in January) was “Leading Transformation.” We believe that God has the power to transform our lives and that we’re at a pivotal time for God to transform our church. Further, we believe that if we have any hope of leading in a transformative way, we must encourage spiritual leadership from all who lead our congregation.

So we emphasized the spiritual aspect of leadership at our retreats and meetings. Most people would expect Bible study leaders and deacons to be spiritual leaders. Not as many people would naturally look to the finance or property committee chairs, or to the church council, for spiritual leadership. And sometimes the chairs and members of these councils and committees don’t necessarily see their purposes as inherently spiritual.

But that’s exactly what we’re encouraging.  We’ve been asking our leaders, wherever they serve, to engage those they serve spiritually by emphasizing both a prayerful dependence on God and a relational intentionality in their interactions with their members.

Last Sunday we launched our 40 Days in the Word experiment. On Sunday afternoon, more than sixty Wieucans gathered in seven homes scattered all over North Atlanta for fellowship and Bible study. And guess what? Three of our four median adult groups were hosted by church council members! Another of our church council members has been an organizational Godsend to our efforts. Three others are actively participating in our 40 Days groups. That’s stepping up to the plate on the spiritual leadership front! The spiritual leadership of our church council members is worth noting and celebrating. I couldn’t be more grateful for the example they’re setting.

As we emphasize discipleship in 2014, we also seek to expand our leadership base. As Wieuca grows, we need a growing number of leaders; leaders to host small group opportunities like 40 Days in the Word; leaders to teach and direct Covenant Group Bible studies; leaders to serve committees and ministry teams; and leaders who are willing to serve our families through our deacon ministry.

To that end, we have a number of leadership training opportunities coming up. Let me highlight two. First, Joel Harrison, director of the Atlanta Metro Baptist Association, will join us on Feb 24th to lead the discussion at our February Leadership Development seminar. Anyone interested in helping to shape the future of Wieuca through leadership is encouraged to attend.

Second, we will be a satellite host for Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit (GLS) on August 14th and 15th. The Global Leadership Summit provides two days of first-class training and inspiration led by innovative leaders in business, government, academia and the church. Put those dates on your calendar and plan to attend. We’ll be beaming invaluable insight and real world leadership experience right into our Peachtree Room.

Remember these upcoming events and remember that God requires all of us who serve his church to become spiritual leaders of those we serve. And if you see a church council member this week, thank them for the example they’re setting in spiritual leadership. One of the best things we can do as the body of Christ is to celebrate our successes together and encourage our leaders. It helps us remember how much we have to be grateful for.

What Can You Do In 40 Days?

40 Days HERO

God created the world out of nothing in 6 days. With Noah, it took God 40 days to wipe the slate clean and begin again. Maybe the lesson there is that sometimes it’s easier to start from scratch. But in the 40 days of the flood God cleared out the clutter of a failed first attempt so that he could begin again with something new (Gen 7:12).

Jesus took 40 days in the wilderness to prepare himself for his ministry; to fight his demons; to make sure his motives were pure; to get his priorities in line; and to make sure he had the strength and fortitude to make it all the way to the empty tomb (Matt 4:1-2).

In 40 days the Israelites found someone to slay their giant. David stood up to Goliath, a king was born, and a royal line established that would eventually bear fruit in Bethlehem (1 Sam 17:16, Luke 2:4).

In 40 days with God, Moses carved out the Ten Commandments (Ex 34:28-29).

For 40 days after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples, started the church and began a kingdom building process that continues to this day (Acts 1:3).

What can you do in 40 days? We’re about to find out.

40 Days in the Word begins Feb. 2nd.  For 40 days, small groups of Wieucans will meet all over Atlanta.  We’ll study the Bible together. We’ll eat together. We’ll get to know one another better. And we’ll build relationships that will help us become more like Christ so that our community looks more like God’s kingdom.

Several of our church leaders have made this experiment possible by agreeing to open up their homes and host these six-week small groups. They’re making a difference in the life of our church by agreeing to step out in faith and try something new.

Wieuca hasn’t had much experience with in home Bible study groups. While other churches have had great success with in home groups, this is something new for us. It takes courage to be the first to sign up for something when we don’t know exactly how it will work or what the end result will be.  But rest assured this won’t be the first 40 day experiment with an uncertain outcome. Just ask Noah or Moses or David or Jesus.

I hope you’ll be part of what we’re doing over the next six weeks. We have 40 Days groups for teenagers; young adult 40 Days groups for both men and women; and six host sites scattered all over North Atlanta open to anyone who’d like to participate. Space is limited, so you’ll need to sign up for one of these host sites quickly.

You can contact Matt Sapp to join a group or sign up in your Covenant Group this Sunday. Each group will meet for the first time at 4 PM on February 2nd.

Or, if you’d prefer, it’s still not too late to grab a few friends and form your own group. We’ll provide all the materials and direction you need to have a great six-week experience! Contact Matt Sapp at msapp@wieuca.org to register your group and receive 40 Days materials.

As part of our 40 Days experiment, you’ll be part of a group that lives out Wieuca’s mission of loving God, connecting people and changing lives. We’re setting the bar high. Community building and life transformation aren’t easy. But God can do a lot in 40 days.

2014’s Gonna Be Awesome

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“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”

-Romans 12:2 (The Message)

Good things are happening at Wieuca. As we start a new year, we have a lot to celebrate. Sometimes the new year marks a new beginning. Sometimes a new year marks a change of direction.  Sometimes a new year marks a shift in priorities.  And sometimes a new year provides an opportunity to expand the vision. 2014 is a year to expand the vision.

In 2013 we were intentional about harnessing God’s vision for our church, and we made some big changes to align ourselves with that vision. We re-launched our website and established new social media channels. We “re-branded” Wieuca with a new logo and a new look.

We thought about what worship and Bible study and service would look like at Wieuca in the future if we were faithful to God’s vision. We established covenants in our Bible study groups (Covenant Groups) and gave renewed attention to how our volunteer service teams (Ministry Teams) accomplish the ministries of our church. And in the process we clarified our vision and our mission and developed a simple strategy for deepening the faith of our members and reaching our neighbors (Worship. Connect. Serve.).

In 2013 we not only took some big steps forward in marketing and technology, we also built a full worship team for the first time in several years, and we took big steps forward in a number of our ministry areas surrounding worship. As God’s vision unfolds in 2014, our goal is to  take the next step in the process of becoming the people God has called us to be. And at Wieuca in 2014 the next step is discipleship.

As we build on the progress of 2013 we are ready to take the next step in God’s unfolding vision by focusing on the “Connect” portion of our “Worship. Connect. Serve.” strategy. We plan to do that in several ways.

First, we will renew our focus on Covenant Groups in 2014. We’ll return to the language and commitments of our Bible study covenants from last spring over and over again as the year progresses. Expect to see a more active and visible Christian Education and Sunday School Committee.  And remember that we approved the creation of a new Christian Education Director position in our By-Laws changes in November. Filling that position will help us maintain a relentless focus on discipleship over the next twelve months.

Second, we’ll begin to experiment with home-based discipleship groups beginning Feb. 2nd with our 40 Days in the Word emphasis. We’re asking all our leaders to consider hosting six in-home Bible study sessions to reinforce our worship emphasis from Feb. 2nd to March 9th.  All you need is a DVD player, a few friends and a willingness to follow a simple guidebook for exercises and discussion. (For a testimony about the effectiveness of small groups, click HERE.)

Third, we’ll begin a church-wide Sunday morning Bible study emphasis leading up to Easter on March 16th called The Story of JesusThe series will last from March 16th until the Sunday after Easter. It will allow all Wieucans to engage God’s good news together and will follow our Sunday morning worship themes.

Finally, we will continue to emphasize the discipleship responsibility that all of our leaders have toward those they lead. All of our leaders (committee chairs, council members, deacons, directors, teachers, team leaders) should understand that they are more than administrative and managerial leaders. Each is a spiritual leader and has a responsibility to invest in the discipleship development of those they lead through prayer, encouragement and relational intentionality.

In 2014 we’ll grow closer to one another as we all grow closer to God. God’s vision is continually unfolding. As we become more like Christ in 2014, our church, our neighborhoods, our offices and our homes will begin to look more like God’s kingdom. That’s exciting!

God is preparing us to do great things together in 2014. We are here for a purpose. I look forward to loving God, connecting people and changing lives with each of you in the year to come.

We Earn Our Reputations, Part II

Last week I wrote about the impression we as Christians are leaving with the growing number of Americans who are unconnected to any religious community. When, through Google, they ask the internet about us, they are much more likely to ask why we are so mean, judgmental, close-minded and hypocritical than to ask why we are so loving, forgiving and kind.

So, if we’re living in a post-Christian world, what are we called to do to be Christ’s representatives to the unbelieving among us who are also increasingly unfamiliar with even the most basic tenets of Christianity? And how can we improve our reputations?

As representatives of Christ we often think we are called to be bold. And in a world that is increasingly active in challenging our belief systems, increased boldness would seem to be just what the doctor ordered. But what shape should our boldness take?

Many of us gravitate toward Old Testament pictures of God’s people being led into battle and emerging victorious because of their faithfulness and God’s favor. We’re tempted to beat our chests, attack our opponents as enemies and lay waste to those who would stand against our values, our beliefs, or our heritage.

We see ourselves as God’s champions, ready to storm every hill, accept every challenger, and welcome the fight with courage and bravery. We are all too willing to “put on the armor of God,” all too prepared to slay giants, all too ready to do our best Samuel L. Jackson Pulp Fiction impression and “strike out with great vengeance and furious anger” to snuff out the “iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men” (Ezekiel 25:17).

But this Christmas, I wonder if we should embrace a different vision of boldness. It’s the life and ministry of Jesus; a life and a ministry that began bundled up in a feeding trough and that somehow (imagine that) succeeded without our help, a God who came to earth not so that we could be His champion, but so that He could be ours.

As we approach Christmas, we would do well to remember how God first entered the world; not as one prepared for battle, or even as a skilled apologist or master of rational arguments, but as a baby in a manger; a savior who grew up to encourage love, hope, faith and humility; who said turn the other cheek; and who refused to engage at the level of his accusers even in the final hours of his time on earth. Paul teaches that God produces in us things like gentleness, patience, peace and self-control.

The Bible repeatedly warns against being quarrelsome and self-righteous. Perhaps the warnings are repeated because we tend so strongly in that direction. Often in the Old Testament, the worst judgments from God are reserved for those outside the faith. In the New Testament, Jesus reserves his harshest criticism for those within the faith community.

Nelson Mandela said, “”Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.” As followers of Jesus, we’re playing the long game. We don’t have to win today’s battle. But we do need to be remembered fondly tomorrow for the way we handled our critics today.

When it seems like the tide is turning against us and we’re losing the battle, it’s easy to think the answer is to redouble our efforts and step up our attacks.  What if we engaged the issues of the day with calm assurance, “armed with the hope that [we] will rise even in the end.”  We’re not called to win the battle. That’s why Jesus came. We’re called to announce the victory…and model what it looks like.

We Earn our Reputations

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I don’t normally get invested in celebrity gossip. I leave the Kardashians and Paris Hilton and the royal family to others. I don’t follow pop culture news stories or scandals beyond what’s written in Rolling Stone magazine (I wait expectantly for every issue). So when I heard that Paul Walker had died suddenly and tragically, I made a note of who he was (I remember him from Varsity Blues not Fast and Furious), and like many I’m sure, I took a moment to reflect on how quickly life can be taken away and then moved on about my day.

As the story developed, I kept seeing new bits and pieces of information about the crash and about Mr. Walker’s life, but didn’t pay much attention. But then for some reason, I was struck by the fact that I had yet to hear any mention of faith or church or God from friends and family as they talked about Paul Walker.

Let me be the first to say that the absence of talk about God does not equal the absence of God in Mr. Walker’s life or anyone else’s. After a little digging I discovered that Paul Walker grew up Mormon, attended an evangelical Christian high school and professed his faith as a non-denominational Christian.

In the wake of his death, I haven’t been the only one interested in Walker’s faith.  Several media outlets have reported Walker’s own statements about his faith and gotten predictable responses in the comments sections of their websites, an equal mix of challenging skeptics and atheists, Christians offering prayers of support, and others somewhat hatefully questioning the validity of Walker’s claims to Christianity. And now Westboro Baptist Church (if you’re not familiar you can see more about them here) has announced they’ll picket his funeral.

But for the most part, Walker’s faith has been a non-essential, largely unreported part of this tragic story.

The truth is we live in a largely post-Christian culture. In large parts of our society, any connection to organized religion is treated as an afterthought, a curiosity mentioned only as a footnote to the story of our lives. Here in the Bible belt, we’re the last to realize that the worldview familiar to us as regular church attenders is no longer the norm.

When the world shifts around us, the natural reaction is to act out of fear or anger to preserve that which is familiar and to defend the faith that is so important to us.  We want to quickly claim the moral high ground, appeal to tradition, point to days gone by when the world was a better, more ordered place, and argue that if more people would just follow our lead a lot of the world’s problems could be fixed.

But our culture no longer sees Christianity the same way we see it.  We can no longer expect that the larger culture will see Christianity through the lens of scripture and prayer and a personal relationship with Christ. The only way the larger culture sees Christianity is through us.

So when they describe Christianity as fearful, angry, defensive, hypocritical, judgmental, too interested in preserving power and wealth and institutions, or intolerant and out of step with the culture, they’re not describing Christianity; they’re describing us.

To those characterizations of our faith we want to scream, “NO!”  We follow a God revealed in Jesus Christ who is kind, compassionate, loving, and forgiving to a fault. Ours is a God of hope and peace, of joy and comfort, of promise and transformation. Our God accepts the outcasts, binds up wounds, heals the sick, comforts the afflicted, and brings good news to the poor.

If they would only read scripture, come to church and ask Jesus into their heart they’d understand, right? But many never make it that far because their first encounter with Christ is us.  And far too often we come across as angry, mean, hypocritical, judgmental and intolerant.

Think about the messages that those who claim to speak for the Christian community broadcast to the world on radio and TV.  Think about the messages that our non-Christian neighbors are most likely to hear from our most ardent Christian politicians.  Think about the way you express your own opinions on hot button issues around your office or at the PTA meeting. How do the loudest Christian voices address issues of race, class, sexual orientation, poverty, war, violence, crime?  How do you?

Are our voices worthy of the Prince of Peace? Would any non-believer conclude that the defining characteristic of God is love after listening to us?

We earn our reputations. If our church is going to reach new generations of North Atlantans, we won’t be able to rely on some pervasive cultural sense of who God is to do it.  For better or worse, people will get an understanding of who God is by looking at who we are. And the only way they’ll come through our doors and sit in our pews is if we give them a reason to stop googling why Christians are so mean, angry or hypocritical.  Those are tough questions for us to answer.

Instead, we need people to start googling why Christians are so loving, forgiving, accepting, and kind. The answer to that question is easy. Jesus. What a great starting point for communicating the gospel.