Monday, March 17, 2014

A Healthy Body

Over the past week, I’ve suffered from a few little aches and pains and fatigue that remind me that I’m not as young as I used to be.  My elbow has been twinging as a result of playing too much pickleball (a relatively new sport – sort of like indoor tennis – that is taking off at Grace Hills).  Occasionally, I’ll have a muscle spasm or stitch in my side for no apparent reason.  Saturday morning, I awoke to a flare-up of tendonitis in my left knee that left me hobbling around the sanctuary on Sunday morning.  Finally, last weekend’s late nights and early mornings, combined with a shift to Daylight Savings Time and a week full of stress and travel, has left me feeling behind on sleep.  A lazy Sunday afternoon yesterday was quite in order, especially the two (unplanned) naps!

Our bodies are wonderful combinations of flesh, bone, and chemical connections that God has fashioned to work together in an amazing manner.  Yet those very connections are designed to work within very specific tolerances.  I’m fairly sure that my tennis elbow developed from overuse of the muscles and tendons in my right arm by playing too much pickleball in too short a time.  I’m equally sure that my back spasms and tendonitis are affected, at least in part, because I’m carrying around a few (ok, more than a few) extra pounds.  And my fatigue?  Why wouldn’t I expect to be tired if I got less than 4 hours of sleep two nights in a row, followed by a week of travel and interspersed nights of interrupted sleep?


I’m no health expert.  I’m not THAT kind of doctor, nor am I a personal trainer, an expert in kinesiology, a dietician, or even an exercise enthusiast.  I don’t need to be to know something fundamental about the human body:  to feel good and maintain health, there are certain things we need to do.  We need to get an appropriate amount of exercise (without overtraining).  We need to get an appropriate amount of rest and relaxation (without becoming couch potatoes).  We need to have a balanced diet with good nutrition.  We need to maintain our bodies and pay attention to any warning signals we get (like pain, a grumbling stomach, or shortness of breath).  In short, to maintain the amazing organic system that is our body, we have to intentionally take care of it.

The same is true of the church.  Several passages in Scripture use the image of the body to describe the nature of the church.  Ephesians 4 speaks to the importance of unity and maturity in the body of Christ, and finishes in verse 16 with a beautiful image:  “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  This wonderfully organic image of the church, as a body growing and becoming healthy, reminds us that the same techniques we use to care for and develop our physical bodies are often helpful in developing, strengthening, and caring for the body of Christ.


Exercise:  One of the hardest things to do for our physical bodies is establish an appropriate exercise regimen.  Despite its difficulty, though, exercise is needed to develop and maintain a healthy body.  This is also true for the church; without spiritual exercise, or mission, the church is just another civic organization or country club.  Jesus tells us that we are called to follow him for a purpose:  to do the things he did.  We do this when we make disciples, when we care for the needy, when we share the Gospel message, and when we generally strive to make the world more like the world God wants it to be.  Those are important tasks that we do as a body of Christian believers, but they can be overwhelming in the same way that running a marathon can be overwhelming for a couch potato like me.  So how can we incorporate spiritual “exercise” into the life of our church?  By having mission and witness integrated into the life of the church.  When a church can offer several options for people to engage in mission, with varying levels of commitment and effort, the burden of missional “exercise” can be alleviated; it just becomes one more part of the rhythm of the church’s life.  It becomes part of the day-in, day-out life of the congregation, and the church is challenged to continue to grow and develop as a healthy body of Christ.

Rest:  A body needs more than exercise to thrive, because exercise without appropriate rest results in overwork, discomfort, and injury.  Indeed, a well-rested body makes for better and more productive exercise than a fatigued body.  Rest is a glorious part of the rhythm of life that God has built into our bodies, and the body of Christ needs periods of rest, as well.  There are busy seasons in church life:  Christmas and Easter, of course, but also other regular times of energy and effort such as VBS.  After such times of exertion, it is important that the church include a period of rest, with less programming and less demands on people, particularly in church leadership.  Such times of rest and recuperation allow the recovery of energy and creativity, and those periods of rest also serve as wells of strength for the church and its leaders to draw from in the next period of activity and mission.

Nutrition:  If I eat junk food all day, my body is going to rebel:  I’ll get stomach aches, I’ll have a lack of energy, and I’ll gain weight.  To operate in a healthy way, my body needs good and balanced nutrition.  In the same way, the church needs spiritual nourishment to grow and develop in a healthy manner.  Scripture and the person of Jesus is the source of nutrition for the church.  The church needs to get a steady diet of grounded and relevant sermons, informative and helpful Bible studies, and timely recommendations for Bible reading and personal devotions.  It also needs to receive encouragement and opportunities to engage in personal and corporate prayer, learning to hear and heed the voice of our Lord.  These practices nourish the souls of both the individuals who make up the church and the corporate body of the church itself.

Care:  When our bodies are hurt or fall ill, the prudent thing to do is to provide care.  A wound untended will get infected, a cough disregarded will become bronchitis, and a sprain ignored could lead to a more lasting injury.  Caring for our bodies when they are hurt or compromised is vital to our overall health.  This is true for the body of Christ, too.  Sometimes, a member of the body is hurt:  an individual loses someone close to them, or suffers an illness, or faces turmoil in their family or job.  Other times, the hurt is to the whole church:  the congregation experiences conflict, has a major financial problem, or is hit with ridicule or obstruction from an outside party.  In each of these cases, care is needed.  The church needs to do those things that promote healing:  rebuilding broken relationships, spending time with despairing members, working through conflict instead of ignoring it, and encouraging one another instead of tearing each other down.

When the church acknowledges its identity as the body of Christ, it draws from a metaphor that we know well:  our own bodies.  Like our physical bodies, the church body needs exercise, rest, nutrition, and care to remain healthy.  When those things are present, the conditions are right for the church to grow and develop as the body of Christ.  May all of our churches become the healthy churches that God wants them to be!

In Christ,


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Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Snowbound Sabbath Rest

Today is a snow day.  Not a “skiff of snow” or an inch of ice.  This is a good, old-fashioned snow day.  We’re talking about a foot of the powdery white stuff here.  The “I’ve got to put on my knee-high boots” kind of snow.  It started last night, and is still going on as I write this.  Its equal turns beautiful and depressing, magical and mundane.  And it has brought virtually EVERYTHING in town to…a…grinding…halt.  Other than some enterprising individuals going about with snowplows and some neighborly folks helping each other clear their driveways, almost everyone is huddling in their homes praying the power doesn’t go out.

This is in many ways an inconvenience for us.  Parents (who may not have had their work cancelled today) have to figure out childcare arrangements for kids out of school.  Meetings have to be rescheduled, events have to be postponed, dinner plans have to be put off, and even Valentine’s Day dates might not happen.  Some people will even see a hit in their paycheck as they lose hours at work.  In many ways, this storm is a problem.

Yet in one very important way, the very enforced nature of this snowbound reclusiveness is a Godsend.  Stuck in our homes, with little reason to go outside except to build snowmen and go sledding, this should be a day of rest – and God has designed us to need a day of rest.  Not only that, he has commanded it.  “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” we read over and over in Scripture, and some of us do that (almost) every Sunday morning by going to church.  Yet we seem to have missed a second emphasis of the Sabbath:  it is a day of rest.  In Genesis, we are told that on the seventh day – the prototype Sabbath – God rested.  In Deuteronomy’s version of the 10 Commandments, the Sabbath command instructs the Israelites to do no work that day as a memorial to their past as slaves in Egypt – in God’s new world, we aren’t slaves.

In our Western culture, however, work (and the things that work brings) are held up as the highest goal or aspiration; we might even call work itself, or the money and things it provides, an idol.  Thus we have a culture in which the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor alike have to work long hours, sometimes even two jobs, just to get by or get the things that "matter."  It was no surprise to me, then, that as I spoke with my neighbor while we shoveled her driveway, I discovered that her company expected employees with company laptops to work from home.  It wasn’t even a surprise for me to find myself feeling a little guilty if I didn’t do some work today.  So I started my day by catching up on e-mails, making phone calls, and getting some study in for my sermon on Sunday.

And then…I read my devotion for the day.  I know, I’m supposed to do that first thing.  Usually, I try to do that – but today, it just didn’t happen until late morning.  Opening my Bible, I turned to Exodus 16.  Moses and Aaron have to deal with a crowd of whiney Israelites:  hungry, tired, and wondering if this was what they really signed on for.  The two leaders recognize that they need to not take the whining personally – and they also ask God to meet the need of the people.  Food is what God promises, and food is what God provides.

God provides it, however, in a particular way, a way that helps his people understand what it means to live the life he has made possible for them.  Food gathering and preparation in a non-commercialized society is hard work.  I saw this in my recent trip to Ghana:  people labored in the fields to bring forth a crop.  When it was harvested, hours and hours went into making the food ready to eat.  Shelled vegetables were shucked.  Corn was cut off the cob and roasted.  Beans were laid out to dry.  And making the dishes, like the staple fufu, took muscle and time.  All of this was similar in the ancient world in which the Israelites lived, and it was what they were used to.

What God is providing, however, is something that is more freeing than that.  There was still work involved in eating the miraculous manna and quail:  the manna had to be gathered each day, and the quail had to be caught, plucked, and prepared before it could be consumed.  Yet one day a week, the people were not to go prepare their food.  They were to make sure they had enough so they could take a day off…and the people who didn’t do that found that there was no provision of food on the seventh day.  God had already given them an abundance, and they needed to use that abundance to enjoy the rest that God wanted them to have.

Maybe, just maybe, this latest snowstorm can be seen in the same way.  No, I don’t think God caused the snowstorm so we would have to take time off; but I do think maybe God wants us to use the opportunity of this snowstorm to consider how we rest.  Do we view Sabbath as an opportunity to relax and enjoy the life God has given us?  Do we intentionally take time to rest and appreciate the gift we have received?  Do we revel in the blessing of being a child of God, freed from the idols of this world, including work and money and material possessions?  If we can’t honestly say yes, then maybe we need a few more snow days of Sabbath.

In Christ,

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Monday, January 20, 2014

WWJD? Christ at the Center

When I was a teenager, one of the things I did every summer was go to Eagle Eyrie for a Virginia Baptist mission camp with my family.  It was something I looked forward to each year:  I had friends from other parts of the state that I got to hang out with, the swimming pool was a lot of fun on a hot summer day, and the ice cream parlor was a sweet treat after worship.  I also enjoyed the official reasons we were there, of course:  to learn about how missionaries were serving God around the world, to engage in hands-on, local missions myself, and to worship together with Christians from around the state.

One of the things I remember from that annual camp experience and others like it was the plethora of merchandise that the contemporary Christian subculture promulgated.  Everywhere you looked, there were t-shirts “borrowing” secular symbols from the Reese’s logo to the Nike motto, “Just Do It.”  Perhaps most ubiquitous were the multicolored fabric bracelets with four simple letters emblazoned on them:  W.W.J.D.  This simple acronym stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” and you weren’t “with it” as a Christian teenager if you weren’t wearing at least 1 or 2 of these bracelets at all times.


The bracelets’ genesis was a Christian book first published in 1897 and updated regularly throughout the 20th century.  In the book, a church is turned upside down by the appearance of a homeless man in worship who dies in their midst.  Convicted by this tragedy and the church’s inaction in the face of it, the pastor challenges the church to do nothing without asking first, “What would Jesus do?” for an entire year.  Drawing from this challenging message, the W.W.J.D. bracelets were intended to be a constant reminder for Christians who wore them to be thoughtful in their actions and behave as Christ would behave – although for many teenagers, the bracelet became just another fashion accessory.

I bring up this Christian fashion trend of my youth to illustrate a larger point:  for the church of my life experience, the evangelical Baptist church in America, Jesus is uniformly and unalterably at the center.  His life, his example, his divinity, his authority, and his indwelling presence in the life of the church are all essential to Christian existence.

In my own church, Grace Hills Baptist, this cornerstone of Christian thought is visible in many ways.  Firstly, we call ourselves “Christians,” which means “Christ-like” or “little Christs.”  Our very identity and understanding of ourselves is tied up in what we believe about Jesus.  A commitment to and relationship with Jesus – that is what binds us together:  old and young, man and woman, Appomattox native and come-here alike.  Political affiliation, sports team preference, education level, cultural background – it doesn’t matter, because we all look to Jesus as the common thread, the thing that identifies us all.

Another way Grace Hills sees Christ as the center of everything we are and do is the authority we give his words.  Regularly, the church’s Sunday school literature, sermons, and Bible studies focus on the commands of Jesus:  seek first the kingdom of God, love your neighbor as yourself, whatever you do for the least of these you did for me, proclaim good news to the captive, suffer the little children to come to me, go and make disciples.  The repetition and study of these commands and teachings insinuates itself into the minds and hearts of the congregation’s members, because they are the words of Jesus and, as such, are authoritative.  They should be remembered.  They should be considered.  They should be obeyed.

A final way in which Christ is at the center of Grace Hills’ identity and experience is the desire of the church to share Jesus with others.  As followers of Christ, and not just fans of Jesus as a historical teacher, we believe that Christ is still alive today.  We believe he calls us to have a relationship with him, not just a relationship of worship and awe, but also a relationship of intimacy and friendship.  For many of us, this relationship gives shape to our days and meaning to our lives.  It makes life full of joy and worth living…and we don’t want to keep that joy to ourselves.  This is why we support the work of missionaries in our community and around the world who introduce others to Jesus.  This is why we reach out to our friends and family to let them know what a difference Jesus has made in our lives.  We don’t do it out of a sense of manipulation or of self-perpetuation as a church.  We genuinely want as many people to have the opportunity to experience the joy and love and hope and peace that we have as possible.  We don’t want to force it – we just want to make an introduction.

Jesus is the center of what it means to be Christian – and he is the driving force at the center of what it means to be the church.  At Grace Hills, we hold this as a core, perhaps even the core, of our identity and purpose.

In Christ,

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Friday, January 3, 2014

An African Advent

This past year, I turned 31.  That means that I have celebrated 31 Christmases.  Each year, I enjoyed the traditions that my family and churches have observed:  going Christmas caroling, decorating the tree, enjoying Christmas parties, and of course eating all of those good Christmas snacks and meals.  Christmas Eve found me at my grandmother's, where we read the Christmas story, opened presents, and ate homemade chocolate cake.  Christmas is, for me, a combination of the celebration of Christ's birth and an enjoyment of nostalgic memories and familial warmth.

Leading up to Christmas, however, is a season the church has historically celebrated called "Advent."  This literally means "coming," and is a season both to celebrate Christ's first coming and to prepare for when he comes again.  In the process, the church has endeavored to be the presence of Christ in this world.

In my 31 Christmases, in my 31 Advent seasons, I never saw this as clearly as I did this year - because this year, I went to Ghana.

The Virginia Baptist Mission Board has a partnership with the Ghana Baptist Convention.  This particular partnership is focused on the region of Yendi in northeast Ghana, an area with a 95% prevalence rate of malaria - and a relatively low percentage of Christians.  More than Nets is a two year comprehensive project of the VBMB and Ghana Baptist Convention to reduce malaria in Yendi and plant Christian churches in the region.  (Check this great project out here)

I was one of a group of pastors and other committed Virginia Baptists invited to travel to Ghana in early December.  We had multiple aspects to our mission:  we distributed mosquito nets to combat malaria, we planted churches in villages without a Christian presence, we encouraged existing churches and baptized new believers, and we trained new pastors.

Net distribution was one of the primary tasks for our team.  Over the course of several days of distribution, we visited in the homes of Ghanaians and showed them how to use their new nets.  A simple net can protect a mother and several children from malaria for 3-5 years if they sleep under it at night - a tremendous protection in a region where so many are affected by this tropical disease each year.  Our team distributed 2,747 mosquito nets provided by Virginia Baptist churches.  Through these nets, the power of Christ literally is protecting the lives of men, women, and children in the Yendi province of Ghana.

Another important task our team undertook was planting new churches.  Yendi is overwhelmingly Muslim, but the vast majority of people in Yendi have a spiritual hunger.  Sometimes, we would show up in a village to distribute nets and be asked to plant a church by the residents.  Other times, our Ghanaian Baptist brothers and sisters would take us into a village, begin singing, and see the entire town turn out to see what was going on.  Over the course of the week, Christ opened the door for us to plant 25 churches - including one I was privileged to name Grace Hills Baptist Church.  In those 25 churches, 1,607 people expressed faith in Christ for the first time.  Just as Christ's birth ignited faith in the lives of shepherds and kings, so today Christ is sparking faith among the people of Ghana.
Those new churches need leaders, and our team helped train 40 church leaders who have been receiving guidance from local Ghana Baptists.  I taught a course on Genesis, and another pastor, Bill Booth, taught a class about Personal Evangelism.  In these classes, I saw church leaders - new Christians themselves - develop a deeper understanding of God's work in the world.  They will carry that understanding back to their churches and invest that understanding in the lives of their people.

Those leaders have already been hard at work.  Churches planted in the past year have been introducing people to Jesus and discipling them in faith.  One of the privileges of our trip was baptizing many of these new believers in Yendi.  I personally had the chance to baptize 32 new brothers and sisters in Christ in a river on the border of Ghana and Togo - in a village I had to reach by riding on the back of a motorbike along dirt roads.  Altogether, our team celebrated the baptisms of 277 people.  This Advent saw God's family grow larger and more vibrant.


The season of Advent is about the coming of Jesus Christ into our world - and I saw that happen with my own eyes in Ghana this year.  It was something that God made happen - but it was something that ordinary people here in Virginia are making possible.  Virginia Baptist churches are making it possible for Christ to come to new people...people who are made in God's image, people who are hungry for a relationship with God, people who are responding to Christ's love in amazing ways.

This is a ministry that is continuing.  More than Nets will continue for at least another year, and I would like to encourage you to support this effective ministry.  One way to support is through your prayers; especially pray for Emmanuel Mustafa, leader of this ministry effort, and the Ghanaian church leaders.

Another way to support More than Nets is by purchasing nets for distribution.  $10 will provide a net, pay for it to be transported to the home of a Ghanaian family, provide training for that family in how to use the net, and help finance church planting efforts in the Yendi region.  Could you give a net?  Or could you give a net a month through 2014?  Each net could save the life of 1-4 people for 3-5 years - a dozen nets could protect between 12 and 48 people.  You can find more information on the More than Nets Facebook page.

Please consider how you might make a difference in Ghana - and keep the season of Advent, of the coming of Christ, going throughout the year.

In Christ,

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Church by Any Other Name

At the end of August, my wife and I had the opportunity to travel to the United Kingdom on vacation.  After a tiring overnight flight, we landed in London and travelled by rail to Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, for the first weekend of our trip.  We toured a castle, ate at several nice restaurants, and did some shopping.  On Sunday morning, we walked about a mile to the city’s waterfront to look around.  A carnival of sorts was going on, almost like the 5-county fairs I remembered from my childhood, but on a slightly smaller scale.  There were some rides for the children, as well as a swimming area and a sand play area.  Local craftspeople offered their wares, and vendors offered culinary options from traditional Welsh dishes to Brazilian and Asian meals.  As we walked around, we discovered that this great celebration, full of young families enjoying a morning out, was connected to a sailing race that would take place later in the day.

Along the waterfront, in the middle of the festive crowds, was a small white chapel.  It was, in fact, one of the things we had come to the waterfront to see:  the Norwegian Seafarer’s Church.  For centuries, it had been a spiritual haven for the Norwegian sailors who crewed the fishing and merchant ships based in Cardiff, and among those who were christened there was the children’s writer Roald Dahl, author of such classics as “James and the Giant Peach” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”  Yet for 30+ years, this charming church building has fallen out of religious use, and today it is a combination coffee shop and art gallery, with no religious activity at all.


This state of affairs seemed to strike me at almost every turn on my trip to the UK.  In Cardiff, we saw two “functioning” churches, a Baptist church that held an English service and a Welsh service each Sunday (and which was locked behind iron gates the rest of the time), and a Catholic church that instructed people to use the side door for Mass.  In London, we stayed in a tourist and business district and saw few churches.  Oxford had several churches, but they seemed more tourist attractions than anything else.  And one of the books that caught my eye in a bookshop for the University of Wales Press was a text detailing the decline of the church in Wales.  Many church buildings are being repurposed, used as cultural centers and pubs.

I wasn’t surprised by any of this.  I know that committed Christian discipleship is on the decline in Europe and the UK, and I also know that many of the expressions of Christianity in the UK are consciously non-building-centric.  I’ve even taught a class on how the church is going through a period of massive change today, away from the patterns of faith which many of us find comfortable.  Yet I was surprised by how the actual sight of non-functional or repurposed church buildings had a visceral effect on me.

The closed doors, scaled-back worship schedules, and seeming cultural irrelevance brought home for me that there is no turning back.  The American church is on the same trajectory as our European counterparts, just not quite as far along the curve.  Yet there will come a day, barring some major change of direction, when it is American churches that are turned into bars and clubs and coffee shops and art galleries.  In many parts of the country, it is already happening.

The question that stays with me, though, is what the church is going to do in response.  Are we going to be held back by the forms and understanding of church that we grew up with:  “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and there’s all the people”?  If we do, there is a high likelihood that we will have to change that old Sunday School rhyme to something like “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and where’s all the people?”  Perhaps instead we need to learn from events “across the pond.”  The world is changing around us, and when the church doesn’t adapt, it gets left behind.  God doesn’t – he finds new ways to accomplish his purpose and spread his love in the world – but the church does.  Will we make a move now, transitioning how we do church so we are effective in a changing world?  Or will we hold tightly to our buildings and our church models and traditions until we fade into the sunset?

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Building a 10x10 Foundation for the Next 100 Years

Things have been busy around here!  Not only did I complete my doctoral program this spring, Grace Hills is gearing up for a big celebration and challenge.  In 2004, a group of like-minded Christians came together to found Grace Hills Baptist Church, which we celebrate each August - and this August begins our 10th year as a congregation!

As we begin our 10th year together in service to Christ, we decided to do a bit more than a 10th anniversary celebration next August.  Instead, we chose to celebrate all year long - by committing to a year-long collection of celebration events and mission endeavors.  In the conversation, we finally landed on the idea of building a foundation for the future.  Everyone in our church wants to see God continue to work through Grace Hills for many years to come.  That led us to consider:  what is required as a foundation for the next 100 years of ministry and mission?  We arrived at the following 10 building blocks that are vital to lay in our 10th year as a foundation for the future.

7 of these building blocks are congregational challenges:

  • 10 baptisms:  The Great Commission gives the church its marching orders, to make disciples by baptizing and teaching.  It is through the waters of baptism that we join the community of faith that is the church, both local and universal.  This is a foundational ministry practice of all churches, and is the first building block of our 10x10 foundation.
  • 10% of budget for mission:  Grace Hills is a generous church, contributing to the work of God locally and worldwide.  This building block is an ongoing commitment to give sacrificially to that work.
  • 10 new or renewed small groups:  The second half of how Christ said to implement the Great Commission is "to teach what I commanded."  Grace Hills already has a strong discipleship component in its Sunday School.  During 10x10, we are looking to begin 10 new or renewed (strengthened or reworked) small groups or Sunday School classes, particularly among children and young adults.
  • 10 new or renewed mission projects:  Grace Hills has a heart for mission, and has participated in many ongoing mission projects.  10x10 seeks to bolster that mission commitment through the addition or renewal of 10 mission projects, both in Appomattox and worldwide.
  • 10 celebration events:  We have been blessed at Grace Hills, and as we enter our 10th year we want to celebrate God's blessings!  To this end, 10x10 includes 10 celebration events, opportunities to recognize God's goodness to us as a church and as individuals within that church.
  • 10 times of sharing "God stories":  In Acts, Christ tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses, a task that we have received, as well.  10x10 incorporates 10 opportunities for the congregation to fulfill that task, sharing stories of how God has made a difference in the lives of the church, its members, and its community.
  • 10 new or renewed prayer opportunities:  Prayer is the primary way many of us interact with and communicate with God, and is a vital task of the church.  During 10x10, Grace Hills will renew or begin 10 prayer experiences, encouraging all those connected with Grace Hills to experience a deeper prayer life.

The other 3 building blocks are challenges for individual church members:

  • 10 acts of blessing:  Each church member is encouraged and challenged to undertake 10 acts of blessing during Grace Hills' 10th year.  These might be large or small, costly or free, but they are 10 concrete actions taken to bless someone else's life.
  • 10 new or renewed relational contacts:  Relationships are the catalyst God often uses for ministry.  This 10x10 building block encourages each church member to have 10 meaningful relational contacts, either with new people in their lives or with people they know as acquaintances, intentionally building a relationship that goes past surface encounters to a true friendship.
  • 10 books of the Bible read:  Scripture is vital to understanding God's will and growing in faith.  Over the course of our 10th year, each member of Grace Hills will be challenged to read ten books of the Bible, chosen from both the Old and New Testaments.

These 10 practices are basic, fundamental elements of any church.  However, by focusing on the basics and strengthening them as a church, we hope to build a solid foundation to build Grace Hills for many years to come.  In 100 years, Grace Hills wants to be a vibrant and effective outpost of the kingdom of God.  This is the 10x10 foundation that such a forward-looking ministry can build upon.

Do you want to join us on this journey?  We'd love to have you be a part of what God's doing through 10x10.  Join us for worship on Sunday mornings, mission work throughout the week, and Bible study on Sundays or Wednesdays.  Also join us by committing to the individual building blocks of relationships, acts of blessing, and Scripture reading.  And stay tuned to this blog; throughout the coming year, I will feature each building block and share stories of how God is moving in our midst.  Be part of God's work crew, as we build something at Grace Hills that will make a difference for God's kingdom!

In Christ,

PS:  be sure to come to Grace Hills on Saturday, August 10 for our 10x10 kickoff event!  We'll be doing 10 mission projects in the morning, celebrating with a community carnival from 1-4pm, and capping the day with a worship service at 4:30.  We'd love for you to be part of it!

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Why the New Pope Matters if I'm Not Catholic

In February, history was made:  for the first time in modern history, a pope stepped down from the papal throne.  Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by announcing his impending retirement, and last week he traded in his trademark red shoes for brown loafers.

This development, of course, has tremendous implications for Catholics around the world.  Who will the next pope be?  Where will he come from?  What is the direction he will set for the church?  All of these are important questions.  But an equally important question is, What does the election of a new pope mean for non-Catholic Christians?

This question first occurred to me during the last papal election.  At the time I was a seminary student, and I found the election process mildly interesting, but didn't really understand how it might affect me.  Yet one of my professors followed the conclave with growing interest.  Why?  He was concerned with the future of the Catholic Church, not just for itself but for global Christianity.  In his concern I learned that which decision is made in the Sistine Chapel has implications for all Christians, even Baptists in Virginia.  Why?

One reason is that the pope has an authority that makes him influential.  Benedict was an accomplished scholar before his election; upon his ascension to St. Peter's throne, his writings hit the shelves of Barnes and Noble and other booksellers across the country.  Curious readers of all denominations - including a friend in my own church - opened the writings of this pontiff.  Whoever the next pope is, his writings and thoughts will make an impact on the Christian theological landscape.

So, too, will his nationality.  There is currently much speculation:  will the next pope be a European or other Westerner, or will he come from the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America)?  As writers like Phillip Jenkins have testified, the Global South is the place of Christian growth, passion, and innovation, while the West is the seat of entrenchment, contraction, and stagnation.  A pope from the Global South would indicate a Catholic Church acknowledging a changing reality:  Christianity is no longer a Western-dominated and oriented faith.  Such an acknowledgement by the world's largest church would help confirm this new reality for Christians of all stripes.

The next pope's theology may also matter for non-Catholics.  Like all Christians, the Catholic Church is adjusting to a world where traditional views are being challenged.  Catholic orthodoxy holds such (Western) culturally-unpopular views as opposition to birth control and abortion, denial of priestly ordination to women, and absolute dissension to marriage between homosexuals.  The Catholic Church is hardly the only Christian community to hold such views, but it is the largest, most visible, and most stalwart.  What if the Church elects a pope who favors reform on any of these?  Such a move would have ripple effects across the Christian world.

Finally, the pope's position as head of the world's largest church automatically catapults a new pontiff to instant celebrity.  The pope is the world's most visible Christian.  His priorities and utterances affect public perceptions of all Christians...even in towns like Appomattox.

Who the next pope will be matters to more people than just our Catholic brothers and sisters.  It will have implications for Christians all over the world.  That's why I'll be praying for the cardinals in the coming week - and why I'll be watching for the white smoke with anticipation.

In Christ,

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