Thursday, May 12, 2005

How to NOT Change the World

When I run out of insight, it's nice to know I can always borrow from someone else's blog! Sam Rima is a professor at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul. He is a nationally known expert in the area of leadership. Below I've quoted him from his blog today. He's commenting here on a speech given last night by Erwin McManus.

One of the comments [McManus] made that truly ressonates with me was, "If you really want to change the world, the last place you would want to be is in the majority of American churches." Our focus in the church has been trying to discover just the right system or formula to bring the organization that we hope will make us effective. We see the church in very mechanistic terms. In fact, we have organized the life and fluidity out of the church. The problem, as Erwin articulated it, is that our churches are TOO organized! We need to seek ways to create a little more chaos and disorganization. We have procedures and policies for absolutely everything! That is certainly true at FBC [that's Sam's church] ... we have organized the life out of the church!

Erwin also made the tongue-in-cheek (or maybe not!) comment that the most organized place on earth is a cemetary! Everyone is in their place; no one is causing problems; no chaos or confusion - just perfect order! His challenge was to consider:
(1) Whether our personal life and the life of our church are characterized by a faith that proves to the world God is truly alive. Are we taking risks for Him?
(2) Whether or not we are known by love - God's unconditional love. Do we and our church make people the highest value? Or are people simply seen as giving units, attendance figures, projects, or problems waiting to be solved? The essence of the church should be our love for one another and the world.
(3) Whether or not we are being a voice of hope to the world. Do we give people a sense of hope and encouragement to tackle the challenges and rapids of this life?

I appreciate what Dr. Rima said about mechanizing the church. I'm continually tempted to resort to a formula to bring the results I think we "need". But one thing that we've done "right" so far at Cedarbrook is we haven't let the cement set around anything. Nothing is set in stone. Everything is pretty fluid. It's that fluidity that keeps us walking in faith (and a bit of terror!) but it keeps things fresh and real. Thanks to Sam and Erwin McManus. (McManus is the pastor of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles and an author of some great through provoking books).

Monday, May 09, 2005

A Word of Hope

The following is an article that will be published in the Dunn County News this week. Maybe you'd like to consider forwarding it to a friend who is discouraged. Click on the link below (the envelope with the arrow)...

A reporter from the New York Times once interviewed Marilyn Monroe. The reporter knew that during her early years Marilyn had been passed from one foster home to another. So the reporter asked her, "Did you ever feel loved by any of the foster families with whom you lived?" Marilyn replied, "Once, when I was about seven or eight. The woman I was living with was putting on makeup, and I was watching her. She was in a happy mood, so she reached over and patted my cheeks with her rouge puff…For that moment, I felt loved by her."

Isn’t that sad – that after reflecting on a lifetime of relationships that a person can only think of a sixty second time frame that they felt loved? Marilyn Monroe was a success as a movie star but failed in life. After three broken marriages, she died in her sleep at the age of 36. I have to wonder if her death didn’t ultimately come from her never having been truly loved.

As sad as Monroe’s story is, it’s not uncommon. People tumble through life looking for someone, sometimes anyone, to tell them that they are valuable – that they matter. Psychologists tell us that our deepest need is to belong- to be intimately connected to others in relationship. The Bible puts it this way, “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

This sense of belonging is initially established through parental bonds. The bonding process begins right after birth when the baby is placed in the mother’s arms. Here, the child gains a sense of safety and security. As the child grows the bond is strengthened through different acts of love; the parents tuck them in at night, they look them in the eye and listen to their stories at meal times, the parents comfort their pain and wipe their tears and encourage them when their child is afraid. Plus, the parent shows up when the principal calls or, even worse, the police - about their child’s misbehavior. All of these communicate love to a child and helps develop a bond with them.

Bonding has to do with making a solid connection. It has to do with knowing that you are loved unconditionally – that there’s nothing you can do that will separate you from the love of your parent or loved one. Psychologist, John Townshend says…
The best way to define bonding at its core is to say that when I am bonded, I “matter” to someone. When we are bonded to another person, we feel that we make a difference to him, that our presence is desired when we are around and missed when we are absent. This sense of “mattering” is in direct contrast to feeling overlooked, forgotten, or even simply tolerated.” Secrets of the Family Tree, page 148.

As natural as bonding should be between a parent and their child, it doesn’t always happen. The cares of our busy life quickly distract us and it’s easy to communicate the wrong message to our kids. In a survey of hundreds of children, one researcher (Delmer Holbrook) came up with the top three responses that fathers’ give their children’s requests to do something. The number one response? "I'm too tired". Second place: "We don't have enough money" And third place: "Keep quiet". These statements may be true, but are nevertheless alienating to a child looking to be affirmed and embraced.

A child’s parental bond is foundational to their future emotional health. Without it, they are uncertain of their worth, and will look high and low to find the affirmation for which their soul longs. The longer a person goes without the affirmation they need the more desperate they become to satisfy it. Morals that were once held close may be abandoned to widen the circle of possible relationships. Coexisting with this search is often a drive to perform, to achieve, to somehow prove to themselves and others that they are valuable. But if they fail, the pain is often so great that they turn to something to numb the pain. Alcohol or meth are cheap and easy to obtain. But other, more socially acceptable painkillers exist like work, exercising, shopping or eating. It’s not hard to understand how Marilyn Monroe finally gave up the quest.

By now you are probably depressed, aware of this vain search in your own life or having observed it in someone you know. If you are a parent, you may have a string of regrets for having failed to bond with your child and affirm them in the way that they needed. But we aren’t without hope. Thankfully we aren’t one or two dimensional beings. We have a spiritual dimension that we often overlook. God can provide us with the “stamp of approval” that we may have lacked from our parents or significant others.

Many people find the thought of an invisible God meeting this foundational need for bonding to be ridiculous. It’s too personal for a distant God with better things on his mind. Not true. The Bible tells us that we are foremost on God’s mind and he’s waiting to prove that to you.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that God “longs to be kind to us” as if he is in a waiting room counting the minutes until we give him the chance. Isaiah also uses vivid imagery to communicate God’s word. To a people who seriously doubt God’s love and concern he says…
Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on my hand. Isaiah 49: 15,16

The Bible is emphatic. We matter to God. He desires our presence and he misses us when we are absent. He is waiting to bond with us if we will let him. How can God do that? First, he speaks to us words of love and commitment (like through Isaiah). Then he shows us his love like he did through Jesus. The Bible tells us that… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8. And finally,, God sends his Spirit, as an inner witness, to give us the assurance of His love and our value. Again, in the book of Romans it says, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (5:5).

I write today in hope of finding the Marilyn Monroe’s in this area who have given up the quest. You’ve exhausted all your options and you have resigned yourself to three painful options; enduring the pain, numbing the pain or ending the pain. I want you to know that there is a God who has your name written on his hand who is anxiously waiting to show you his kindness. He’s not looking for great religious acts but a simple invitation to enter your life and reveal the full extent of his love to you. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing God transform countless people in this way. Why not add your name to this list?