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“Was Bonhoeffer Gay?” and Other Adventures in Missing the Point 2K Kingdom People by Trevin Wax

“Was Bonhoeffer Gay?” and Other Adventures in Missing the Point

Kingdom People by Trevin Wax

[Shel: This article makes some great points we have talked about as well at Mercy Church.]

A new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Strange Glory, implies that the German theologian experienced same-sex attraction toward Eberhard Bethge, his friend and confidante who later wrote a biography of Bonhoeffer and oversaw the collection of his works.

The response to the biography has been interesting. In his typically understated manner, Frank Schaeffer wrote an article, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Was Flamingly Gay — Deal With It,” in which he predicted evangelicals would be up in arms about such an explosive claim.

In contrast, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reported on how different Bonhoeffer scholars and evangelical leaders have responded. Christianity Today gave a positive review of the biography, as did The Gospel Coalition, though the reviewers saw the biographer’s focus on Bonhoeffer’s sexuality as distracting.

The facts in the case of Bonhoeffer are clear: he was engaged at the time of his execution, and he wrote about the fact he would die as a virgin. No biographer or scholar claims that Bonhoeffer engaged in a sexual relationship with anyone, male or female, whatever his attractions may have been.

I believe the conversation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality tells us more about life in the sexualized culture of the 21st century than it does about Bonhoeffer. In fact, if we pay attention, we will see how Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy directly challenges several commonly held assumptions today.
Assumption #1: Life lived to the fullest must include sexual fulfillment.

Bonhoeffer lived faithfully – emphasis on fully – as a virgin. One should not miss the countercultural reality on display in his life.

Post Sexual Revolution, people often define themselves by their sexual identity. For this reason, many people see any restriction or moral restraint on how sexuality is expressed as oppressive, a dagger to the heart of a person’s life and dreams.

For the Christian, such an exaggerated view of sexuality is a pernicious lie. It feeds the falsehood that, without sexual fulfillment, it is impossible for someone to live a full and engaging life. In contrast, Christians believe celibacy is not a pitiable choice but a beautiful calling.

Bonhoeffer’s witness (along with evangelical heroes like John Stott, not to mention Jesus Himself) testifies against the assumption that self-actualization must include sexual relationships. His life challenges a culture that says you are your sexuality.

Sam Allberry, a pastor in the UK who experiences same-sex attraction yet believes homosexual behavior to be sinful, is familiar with the accusation often made against evangelicals, that adhering to Christianity’s sexual ethic contributes to teenage angst and suicide. His response is spot on:

“No, the problem is a culture that says your entire identity and sense of who you are is bound up with fulfilling your sexual desires. You are the ones who have raised the stakes that high. So that the moment you don’t fulfill your desires, you have nothing left to live for.”

Society’s view of a Forty-Year-Old Virgin is Steve Carrell. Christianity’s view of a forty-year-old virgin should be Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Assumption #2: Affectionate male friendships must be romantic in nature.

History is replete with examples of robust male friendships that are full of affection and expressions of love and yet are not sexual.

Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has made it more difficult to imagine passionate philos apart from eros. That’s why revisionist historians read romantic notions into Teddy Roosevelt’s affectionate letters to his closest friends. People wonder out loud about Abraham Lincoln’s sharing a bed with his friend, Joshua Speed. It’s hard for our society to understand how King David could weep so terribly over the lost love of Jonathan unless there was some sort of romance between them. And now, Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Bethge is put under the microscope of 21st century assumptions.

In fairness to the biographer, it is certainly possible that Bonhoeffer was attracted to Bethge, even though acting on such a notion was always out of the question. But it’s also possible, even likely, that Bonhoeffer’s friendship was, like many male friendships of the time, strong and affectionate, with a passion that did not include sexual desire.

The speculation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality distracts us from the greater loss of slowly disappearing same-sex friendships, the kind of love we see in literature between Sam and Frodo, relationships that many today can hardly conceive of, apart from some sort of sexual longing.
Assumption #3: Sexual attraction must define one’s identity.

Because our society has adopted the notion that sexual expression is wrapped up in our identity, some may think that getting to the root of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality is the only way to truly understand the man he was. But I suspect Bonhoeffer himself would dispute such a notion, and so would most people throughout history.

When we assume sexual orientation is fixed from birth and unchangeable, the question of identity naturally comes to the forefront: “Was he gay or not?” But Christianity rejects such a reductionist view of sex and identity. Everyone is warped in sexual attraction, at least to some degree. We are all sexual sinners in need of the grace and mercy of God. We are marked by our need for grace, not our longing for sex.

Bonhoeffer’s identity was not defined by sexual attraction, but by his costly discipleship following in the footsteps of his King. Going beyond letters and writings and personal correspondence to speculate on the unspoken sexual longings of a figure from the past says more about us and our own preoccupations than about the person under scrutiny.
Conclusion

Evangelicals aren’t going to go crazy in responding the new Bonhoeffer’ biography. Why? Because the idea that Bonhoeffer may have experienced same-sex attraction doesn’t matter all that much in assessing his legacy. He was a faithful man of God who immersed himself in Scripture, read the signs of the times, stood boldly against the Nazi war machine, and died as a hero.

The best way to honor Bonhoeffer is to not to speculate about his sexuality, but to see how his example counters the errant assumptions of a sexualized culture

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When God Calls You to a Place You’ve Never Been by Debora Coty

When God Calls You to a Place You've Never Been
7/21/2014 Debora Coty

SHEL: A nice illustration...

http://www.charismamag.com/life/women/20863-when-god-calls-you-to-a-place-you-ve-never-been

I was hiking a mountain trail last week when something stopped me in my tracks. It was a sight I truly didn't expect to see.

There, at more than 4,000 feet above sea level, a snail was painstakingly making its way across the gravel road.

What in the world was a sea creature doing way up here?

Fascinated, I stopped to watch the little guy's tedious journey as he encountered obstacle after obstacle. (It was, after all, a gravel road.) His little neck stretched out as far as possible, his two antlers (or maybe they're called feelers) probed the gravel rocks—the side of a boulder from his perspective—blocking his way.

After careful analysis, he decided on his best route and gradually, by the teensy-tiniest increments, detoured to the left or to the right around the roadblock. He'd stick his long neck out, then constrict it, which effectively dragged his gigantic safe house after him.

If something spooked him (like a giant named Deb poking around), he immediately retreated into his safe house. At least he thought it was. Safe. I cringed when I thought of what a passing car would do to his place of refuge. Pulverize is putting it mildly. Probably a good thing he didn't know about cars; he might never venture from the bushes.

And then I thought about myself and how so many things scare me enough that I don't want to venture from the bushes either. I'd rather curl up in my (perceived) safe place surrounded by my comfortable shell.

But Papa God didn't create us to cower. We were made to journey. To cross dangerous roads. To stick our necks out, probe with our feelers, and reroute around the boulder blocking our path. Stretching ... probing ... adjusting ... moving forward. And to sometimes do it in places way out of our comfort zone; places we feel like we don't belong, places 4,000 feet above our natural habitat.

That's pretty much how my writing journey feels most days. Like I'm way out of my habitat. My feelers get a real workout trying to figure out a route around obstacles I've never encountered before, some I never knew existed.

And my safe house doesn't drag as well as it used to. Or maybe my neck's getting tired.

With all these thoughts swirling in my head, I drew inspiration from my little snail friend. He just kept on. Stretching ... probing ... adjusting ... moving forward.

Two hours later when I backtracked to check his progress, he was still doing it. Only now he was almost across the road. And that's where I want to be too.

So what's your goal? What motivates you to keep stretching ... probing ... adjusting ... moving forward?

Debora M. Coty is the author of 10 books and is a newspaper columnist, orthopedic occupational therapist and tennis addict. Follow her on Twitter @deboracoty.

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Mosul’s Last Christians Flee Iraq’s Hoped-For Christian Stronghold

Mosul's Last Christians Flee Iraq's Hoped-For Christian Stronghold Historic community comes to 'a real end' after ISIS ultimatum tells Christians to convert, pay tax, or die. Kate Tracy [ posted 7/21/2014 05:29PM ] Mosul's Last Christians Flee Iraq's Hoped-For Christian StrongholdSTR/EPA There are no Christians left in Iraq's second-largest city Mosul, across the river from the ruins of Jonah's Nineveh, after an ultimatum over the weekend left them with three choices: convert to Islam, pay jizya (a poll tax levied on non-Muslims), or die at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Mosul was intended by Iraq's government to anchor a future province in the Nineveh plains where Christians could govern themselves. This past weekend, ISIS gave Christians until noon Saturday to choose between the three options. "After this date," read the ISIS declaration, "the only thing between us and them is the sword." The New York Times reports that, while a few Christians may remain in hiding after this weekend, Mosul's once diverse Christian community has likely come to a "real end." The $250 poll tax ISIS imposed, prohibitively expensive for many Christians, sent more than 200 families fleeing Mosul even as ISIS militants confiscated their belongings, including cars, money, medicine, and food. Some journeyed 42 miles to Kurdish Tel Afar on foot, reports the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), while some of the families went to Kurdish-held Irbil, or Dohuk, which is 87 north of Mosul, reports CNN. After Mosul's Christian leaders did not attend a Thursday meeting ISIS called to notify them of Islamic rules to follow, ISIS leaders used vehicle loudspeakers to announce their ultimatum throughout the town, according to World Watch Monitor. Middle East Concern reports that ISIS earlier last week marked Christian houses in Mosul with the letter the phrase "property of the Islamic State" and an Arabic mark for "Nazirite." Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, said in a statement that the labels disrupted centuries of religious coexistence. "This categorization based upon religion or sect afflicts the Muslims as well and contravenes the regulation of Islamic thought," he said. "With all due respect to belief and dogmas, there has been a fraternal life between Christians and Muslims. … Together they built a civilization, cities, and a heritage. It is truly unjust now to treat Christians by rejecting them and throwing them away, considering them as nothing." Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Christian refugees have resettled in tent camps in Kurdistan, but the situation is less than comfortable. As temperatures reach 115 degrees, refugees have nowhere else to go and very few possessions, reports Al Jazeera. World Compassion, one organization offering aid to the refugees, is working alongside the U.N. to provide the Mosul refugees—and others—with food and other necessities. AINA reports that 15 Assyrian families, some not healthy enough to flee the city, converted to Islam. Mosul has grown increasingly dangerous situation for Christians since the ISIS takeover in mid-June, with militants destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, and removing the cross from St. Ephrem's Cathedral, where the Syriac Orthodox archdiocese has its seat in Mosul. Militants even took sledgehammers to the traditional site of the prophet Jonah's grave, The New York Times reports. "They did not destroy the churches, but they killed us when they removed the cross, this is death for us," one Mosul resident told the NYT. The Daily Beast reports that ISIS leaders finance their campaigns by selling looted antiquities on the black market, so many historic artifacts from Christianity and other religions will likely disappear as ISIS militants continue their campaign. "Those who claim to speak for a vengeful Allah take great delight in smashing idols wherever and whenever they can get to them," noted Daily Beast editor Christopher Dickey. "Theirs is a war of symbols." ISIS has come under international censure from religious leaders including Pope Francis, who expressed his concern for the Christians in the Middle East, "where they have lived since the beginning of Christianity, together with their fellow citizens, offering a meaningful contribution to the good of society." In the first reported case of its kind, ISIS militants carried out the death sentence that Sudanese mother Meriam Ibrahim escaped by stoning a woman for adultery in northern Syria, reports AINA. The U.S. Embassy responded to the stoning in a tweet: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms ISIL's barbaric stoning of a woman yesterday in Tabaqa." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the actions of ISIS in Mosul, saying, "Any systematic attack on the civilian population, or segments of the civilian population, because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity." In Baghdad, Muslims have shown support for their fellow Christian citizens by attending a church service with Christians, reports the NYT.

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Arminianism FAQ 5 (Everything You Always Wanted to Know…) July 14, 2014 By Roger E. Olson

Arminianism FAQ 5 (Everything You Always Wanted to Know…)
July 14, 2014 By Roger E. Olson 0 Comments

Arminianism FAQ 5 (Everything You Always Wanted to Know…)

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/07/arminianism-faq-5-everything-you-always-wanted-to-know/

This is the final installment of this series. I realize that I will not have answered every conceivable questions about Arminianism. “FAQ” means “frequently asked questions,” but not even every frequently asked question about Arminianism can be answered in one series such as this. Readers should realize that these are my answers, not necessarily the answers every Arminian would give. However, I have been researching, speaking and writing about Arminianism for well over twenty years now. I beg my fellow Arminians’ indulgence. If you disagree with something I say about Arminianism here, please don’t over react and go on a rant. Just state your own opinion and give your reasons for it. I am sure there will never come a day, short of the eschaton, when all Arminians cross every “t” and dot every “i” of Arminian theology exactly alike.

FAQ: Where is “prevenient grace” taught in Scripture? A: Of course there are individual passages that point to it, but the term itself is not there. It is a theological concept constructed (like “Trinity”) to express a theme found throughout Scripture and to explain what would otherwise remain seemingly contradictory. John 12:32 is perhaps the clearest Scriptural expression of prevenient grace which is the resistible grace that convicts, calls, illumines and enables sinners so that they are able to repent and believe in Christ and be saved. There Jesus says that if he be lifted up he will draw all people to himself. The Greek translated “all” is pantas and clearly refers to all inclusively, not to “some” (e.g., “the elect”). The Greek word translated “draw” is much debated. Calvinists usually argue that it should best be translated “compel.” However, if that were its meaning here, the result would seem to be universalism. However, belief in prevenient grace does not depend on proof texts. The concept is everywhere taught implicitly in Scripture. It is the only explanation for the following clearly Scriptural chain of ideas:

1) No one seeks after God (total depravity),
2) The initiative in salvation is God’s,

3) All the ability to exercise a good will toward God is from God,

4) salvation is God’s gift, not human accomplishment, and

5) people are able to resist God’s offer of salvation. All of that is summed up in the phrase “prevenient grace.” Arminians disagree among ourselves about the details such as who is affected by prevenient grace and under what specific conditions. All agree that the cross of Jesus Christ mysteriously accomplished something with regard to prevenient grace, but there is some disagreement about the necessity of evangelism (communication of the gospel) for the fullness of prevenient grace to have its impact upon sinners.

FAQ: Doesn’t classical Arminianism really say the same thing as Calvinism when it comes to the sovereignty of God? After all, if God foreknew everything that would happen and created this world anyway, wasn’t he foreordaining everything simply by virtue of creating? A: This is a very good question but one based on a misunderstanding of divine foreknowledge. Classical Arminianism does not imagine that God “previewed” all possible worlds and then chose to create this one. God chose to create a world and include in it creatures created in his own image and likeness with free will to either love and obey him or not. God’s knowledge of what happens in this world “corresponds” (is the best word) to what happens; it does not cause it or even render it certain. Admittedly we cannot fully explain God’s foreknowledge without slipping into determinism. But the mysteries of free will (power of contrary choice) and divine non-determining foreknowledge are mysteries much more easily accepted than any form of divine determinism which, given the shape of this world, would inevitably cast shadows on God’s character.

FAQ: Can an Arminian explain the few crucial ideas that distinguish Arminianism from Calvinism for non-scholars? A: Yes. There are three of them. First, God is absolutely, unconditionally good in a way that we can understand as good. >(In other words, God’s goodness does not violate our basic divinely-given intuitions about goodness.) Second, God’s consequent will is not God’s antecedent will except that God antecedently (to the fall) decides to permit human rebellion and its consequences. All specific sins and evils are permitted by God according to his consequent will and are not designed or ordained or rendered certain according to God’s antecedent will. Third, salvation of individuals is not determined by God but is provided for (atonement and prevenient grace) and accomplished by God (regeneration and justification by grace through faith).

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/07/arminianism-faq-5-everything-you-always-wanted-to-know/#ixzz37UtF3Vkd

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The Myth that Religion is the #1 Cause of War

The Myth that Religion is the #1 Cause of War by Robin Schumacher edited by Matt Slick Atheists and secular humanists consistently make the claim that religion is the #1 cause of violence and war throughout the history of mankind. One of hatetheism's key cheerleaders, Sam Harris, says in his book The End of Faith that faith and religion are “the most prolific source of violence in our history.”1 While there’s no denying that campaigns such as the Crusades and the Thirty Years’ War foundationally rested on religious ideology, it is simply incorrect to assert that religion has been the primary cause of war. Moreover, although there’s also no disagreement that radical Islam was the spirit behind 9/11, it is a fallacy to say that all faiths contribute equally where religiously-motivated violence and warfare are concerned. An interesting source of truth on the matter is Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars that have been waged over the course of human history. Of those wars, the authors categorize 123 as being religious in nature,2 which is an astonishingly low 6.98% of all wars. However, when one subtracts out those waged in the name of Islam (66), the percentage is cut by more than half to 3.23%. religious wars bar chart religious wars pie chart That means that all faiths combined – minus Islam – have caused less than 4% of all of humanity’s wars and violent conflicts. Further, they played no motivating role in the major wars that have resulted in the most loss of life. Kind of puts a serious dent into Harris’ argument, doesn’t it? The truth is, non-religious motivations and naturalistic philosophies bear the blame for nearly all of humankind’s wars. Lives lost during religious conflict pales in comparison to those experienced during the regimes who wanted nothing to do with the idea of God – something showcased in R. J. Rummel’s work Lethal Politics and Death by Government: Non-Religious Dictator Lives Lost Joseph Stalin - 42,672,000 Mao Zedong - 37,828,000 Adolf Hitler - 20,946,000 Chiang Kai-shek - 10,214,000 Vladimir Lenin - 4,017,000 Hideki Tojo - 3,990,000 Pol Pot - 2,397,0003 Rummel says: “Almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of a myriad of ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people. It is though our species has been devastated by a modern Black Plague. And indeed it has, but a plague of Power, not germs.”4 The historical evidence is quite clear: Religion is not the #1 cause of war. If religion can’t be blamed for most wars and violence, then what is the primary cause? The same thing that triggers all crime, cruelty, loss of life, and other such things. Jesus provides the answer very clearly: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man,” (Mark 7:21–23). James (naturally) agrees with Christ when he says: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel,” (James 4:1–2). In the end, the evidence shows that the atheists are quite wrong about the wars they claim to so desperately despise. Sin is the #1 cause of war and violence, not religion, and certainly not Christianity. 1. http://books.google.com/books?id=XP_86itwp2IC&pg=PA27&lpg=PA27&dq=sam+harris+%22the+most+prolific+source+of+violence+in+our+history%22&source=bl&ots=sdpOO04g1D&sig=asL3JyvcaRp9zWRI9a4oVyoPU2E&hl=en&sa=X&ei=d9CKT92fGYqogweQgsXfCQ&ved=0CFgQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q&f=false 2. http://books.google.com/books?id=sF8wv_Y54j8C&pg=PA104&lpg=PA104&dq=encyclopedia+of+wars+%22Almohad+conquest+of+Muslim+Spain%22&source=bl&ots=VBRkLHXHj3&sig=XLT88ICr2Lu98L1_eldxRwMPgIY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=SdKKT4jLHIr1gAf8vNjiCQ&ved=0CCIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=encyclopedia%20of%20wars%20%22Almohad%20conquest%20of%20Muslim%20Spain%22&f=false 3. http://books.google.com/books?id=sK5CJFpb2DAC&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=stalin+42,672,000&source=bl&ots=Tw7FJG9OnR&sig=aSUiodXqC4euU2UTyVNlnFkwyRE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=fc2KT7rnNcipgwe9tL3mCQ&ved=0CFMQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=stalin%2042%2C672%2C000&f=false and http://books.google.com/books?id=mbnLn6A3q-4C&pg=PA178&lpg=PA178&dq=Zedong+37,828,000&source=bl&ots=-VlfCns1xy&sig=2TrcOYMxZTjr653ULLdNkIkltwU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=2c6KT-G7BYGXgwf63-3kCQ&ved=0CEsQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=Zedong%2037%2C828%2C000&f=false 4. http://books.google.com/books?id=N1j1QdPMockC&printsec=frontcover&dq=death+by+government&hl=en&sa=X&ei=WcyKT5TBDITiggfdpO28BQ&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Almost%20170%20million%20men&f=false

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having led a church into merger with a church plant I wish I would have had this list…..

Shel: having led a church into merger with a church plant seven and a half years ago,I wish I would have had this list. I learned it though through pain and experience... FYI #2 is HUGE in the how a church sees buildings and money - 1985!

Nine Questions You Should Ask Before Leading a Church Revitalization
500+ thomrainer.com by Thom Rainer

I am excited about the increased interest in church revitalization. I am heartened to hear from a number of Millennials who are sensing God’s call in this direction. As this emphasis grows alongside the great interest in church planting, I have more reasons to remain an obnoxious optimist about our congregations.

But let me state the obvious. Leading a church revitalization is difficult. Indeed, it can’t be done outside of God’s power. While I wish to discourage no one from moving forward in this direction, we must do so with our eyes wide open.

With that in mind I offer a checklist to consider. Here are nine questions you should ask before leading a church revitalization.

  1. Will I pray daily for my church and my leadership? I know. The question seems so obvious. But many leaders get so busy doing the work, they fail to take time to pray for God’s strength and wisdom to do the work.
  2. Will I see this opportunity as a mission field? In the recent past, leading an established church was typically leading a culture that aligned well with the leader. No more. Many churches in need of revitalization are acting like they live in the culture of 1985. Moving them to present realities is a culture shock to many of the congregants. Thus both the church and the community are mission fields. We need to approach these opportunities much like an international missionary in his or her new culture.
  3. Will I make a commitment for the long haul? While we can’t presume upon God’s timing in our lives, we do not need to enter the leadership of church revitalization as a stepping stone assignment. Change is often painfully slow, three steps forward and two steps backward. Some of the fruit of change often does not manifest until after the leader has been on the field for five years or more.
  4. Will I love my critics? Genuine leaders of churches in need of revitalization will have their critics. Let me say it again: you will be criticized. But how will you respond to those critics? Will you respond with the love of Christ? Will you pray for your critics?
  5. Will I be persistent? Leading a church to revitalization is difficult work. Sometimes, the only thing you know to do is to get out of bed and go to work each day. Because progress is not always noticeable on a day-by-day basis, it is easy to get discouraged. Stay with it. Stay the course. Be faithful.
  6. Will I be an incarnational example in my community? Will I be present and involved in the community where the church is located? Will I show my love to those in the community? Will I demonstrate Christ in deed and words in my community? Will I be an example for the church members to follow?
  7. Will I be a continuous learner about church revitalization? I am so encouraged about the new information coming forth about church revitalization every month. It reminds me of earlier years when we were getting good data and case studies of new church plants. You now have an opportunity to be a continuous learner in this field. Though I am certainly not the only source of information, I am committed to providing you ongoing information on church revitalization at this site.
  8. Will I be content? The Apostle Paul learned to be content in all situations, including shipwrecks and prisons. Will you be content in the Lord to move forward with church revitalization?
  9. Will I be a positive example and encourager for my family? If you are taking a family with you on this journey, they will need your support and encouragement too. Will you be there for them?

We may be entering a new era of church revitalization. Some of the signs are certainly positive.

I would love to hear from you about the nine questions above. Are they helpful? What would you add?

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Thinking about Menards

Why do I prefer to go to Menards most days over Home Depot and Lowes? It has a less polished look that might appeal to grittiness, It's marketing, sales and logos are goofy, It has more or less the same stuff as the other stores (with a larger high/low end range).

So what is it?

I think it's their non-care customer care.

When I go into Home Depot I am assaulted by "can I help" rhetoric. Every associate. Every aisle. Now if I'm eating at a restaurant I appreciate well timed "asks" by an attentive server who is choosing to make the experience enjoyable.

At a hardware/lumber/home-project store/construction store I don't want to be pampered and have it implied that I have no clue (even if that is the case). Menards team people don't accost, don't chase, and usually act busy.

They get American guy culture: "look busy" (**except the bathrooms with no urinal stall dividers -messing with the guy-code, does not matter if you have six of them with no dividers that means at most only three are useable if its serious but really only two). So unless you really want help and seek it out - it's not foisted upon you. In fact they it make it feel like you are "breaking in" to their business just a little bit.

That is they project gruffly: "we are all at work, if you want to work together you will need to initiate."

That's Menard's. It's counter what consumer culture often sells us. BUT it's what we a need - space and time to fumble around just enjoying visioning and trial and error - they make room for that IN THE STORE environment.

Maybe I like Menards because it's also like Mercy Church. We don't spoon feed, emotionally dote and tweak, spiff up the facade to level of fakery you know is not how the actual work of living out a spiritual life is.

No one will make you do that project - but if you dig in - you will find many willing friends and spiritual family members.

*In full disclosure I will and do go to Ace, Lowes, Home depot often to price compare and certainly if some major appliance needs to be taken care of. They have some strengths that Menards does not have. AND if Im with the wife...well...

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Trevin Wax : Why Younger Evangelicals May Feel Uneasy In A Patriotic Church Service July 2, 2014

Shel: At Mercy Church we are part of three-streams of orthodox Christianity. These are the Evangelical, Spirit-filled and Anabaptist. We do not have the U.S. flag in our worship space except when doing some sort of special cross-cultural emphasis when we have it with other countries as a representation of mission-fields or intercession/prayer.

We were the first Anabaptist church in Sioux Falls so have a history and call to make clear the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the (passing) kingdoms of the world - while being a blessing to whatever local nation-state we are in.

As pastor of the largest Anabaptist community in Sioux Falls I feel an obligation to challenge our Evangelical and wider church community to keep Jesus at the center - and remind us that Jesus in the church is the "light of the world" and "a city on a hill" - NOT any nation-state.

Here is a nice write-up from the Evangelical side about the problem with doing "country-worship" in a church instead of more properly "country and service honoring" in Parks or civic buildings.

I disagree with some his #4 points (obviously) BUT a nuanced, healthy patriotism, checked by realizing we are Dual citizens as children of God, is a good thing.

Trevin Wax : Why Younger Evangelicals May Feel Uneasy In A Patriotic Church Service July 2, 2014

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2014/07/02/why-younger-evangelicals-may-feel-uneasy-in-a-patriotic-church-service/

The first time I ever questioned the appropriateness of patriotism in worship was when I was doing mission work in Romania.

After I had learned the language and settled into ministry in a village church, I remember asking a pastor friend why we didn’t do a special service in December that celebrated Unification Day (Romania’s national holiday). I also wondered why the Romanian flag wasn’t in the sanctuary.

The pastor looked at me funny and then said: “The only way we’d bring a Romanian flag into our sanctuary is if we brought in flags from all over the world.”

“To show you do missions?” I said, trying to find a reference point from my own culture.

“No, to show we are the church.”

The pastor’s point was well taken. The church transcends the state, a truth that should be proclaimed clearly in a worship setting.

Several years later, I attended a worship service on a Sunday morning, and we were singing patriotic songs. At one point, the congregation pledged allegiance to the American flag. My wife, who was a Romanian citizen at that time, did not participate in the singing or pledging, of course. Neither did a recently converted girl from overseas who was visiting that weekend.

In that moment, the oddness of the scene struck me. We were in a worship service with fellow believers, including one just-baptized, who could not participate. Something made me feel uneasy, but it took me a while to realize why.
Why the Sense of Uneasiness?

In my experience, I find that many younger evangelicals are turned off by ”God and country” type services. And many younger evangelical leaders in established churches find themselves in a quandary whenever July 4 rolls around.

On the one hand, pastors want to demonstrate their gratitude toward those who have served their country well – heroes who put themselves in harm’s way for the good of their neighbors. They are patriotic citizens who love their country and don’t want to be seen as contributing to cynicism or apathy.

On the other hand, pastors express reservations about incorporating patriotic songs and anthems into a worship service. They worry that too many people are already confused about the relationship between Christianity and the culture, the church and the country, and that such services exacerbate the problem.

1. Extreme Experiences in the Past

Part of the unease may come from experiencing a sloppy melding of “church” and “nation” in the past. One doesn’t have to look hard to find examples of excess: services where promises given to God’s people are applied to the U.S.A., worship gatherings where paeans to American freedom ring louder than praise for salvation, sermons in which pastors preach the glories of America more than the glories of Christ.

But it’s unfair to categorize all patriotic services by these extremes. Many pastors carefully explain why it is good for Christians, as citizens of two kingdoms, to be grateful for the blessings of God upon our nation. The service doesn’t intend to wed church to state, but elicit gratitude for God’s good gifts. Other churches use patriotic services as a way of reaching out to the community. They may devote one part of the service to patriotic celebration, but then reserve the rest of the service to proclaim the kingdom that will never fade.

2. Decreasing Patriotism Among Millennials

Part of the unease may be rooted in a decrease in patriotism. Research shows that millennials are less likely to consider themselves “patriotic” than older generations. It could be that younger people, in general, tend to be less patriotic, and that this trend was also true of the Boomers when they were younger.

But I fear that the lack of patriotism among younger evangelicals today is not just generational, but a result of disillusionment, cynicism, and distrust. Is our generation so over-entertained and so comfortable that we don’t see anything in our civilization worth fighting (or dying) for?

3. Shifting Cultural Currents

A couple months ago, I wrote down some observations and reflections on younger Southern Baptists – trends people told me are true of younger evangelicals in general, not just those who affiliate with the SBC. One of those observations concerned an approach to political engagement, and speaking within the context of generational shifts, I made this statement:

Older Southern Baptists are more likely to see the U.S. as Israel. Younger Southern Baptists are more likely to see the U.S. as Babylon.

If this statement is true (and I admit it is a generalization), then it may help explain why many millennial church leaders feel a sense of angst regarding patriotic services in the church. As we witness the quickly shifting tides of morality in the United States, evangelicals who feel embattled in the cultural maelstrom are less likely to see the U.S. as the de facto “good guy” in all we do. The culture shift makes patriotic celebrations in church a sensitive issue.

4. Failure to Fully Appreciate Time and Place

Some younger evangelicals see any patriotic expression as a compromise with worldly power. Their approach is to take the flag out of the sanctuary, never sing a patriotic song, and never mention a patriotic holiday.

[Shel: I think these expressions are fine - OUTSIDE of the church and not in worship gatherings. Special gatherings, civic gatherings - YES if in the right place. I am not clear if he is back tracking and saying these should be part of church worship/buildings].

I think this overreaction has unfortunate and unintended repercussions. It lends itself to a Gnostic idea that downplays our embodied state (as humans) within a state (a nation). We are rooted in time and place, and this is according to God’s good plan.

Taking pride in one’s hometown or the beauties of one’s homeland should not be seen as a betrayal of God’s kingdom but a foretaste of the future, when God’s kingdom will indeed come on earth as in heaven. Too many of us look upon our situatedness with Nathanael’s skepticism: Can anything good come from Nazareth? The testimony of the Gospels is, of course, yes.
Moving Forward

Overall, I believe thoughtful consideration of what we communicate through patriotic services is a healthy development. Here are a few additional ideas to consider:

American believers should give thanks to God for the blessings of our temporary earthly citizenship, as long as we emphasize blessings of belonging to the eternal, multinational family of God.
When people in our culture are celebrating the benefits of earthly citizenship, American believers should seize the opportunity to communicate solid, biblical teaching on the distinction between earthly and heavenly citizenship.<

As American believers express gratitude for this nation, we should be careful not to diminish the value and worth of other nations.
Pastors and church leaders should make it clear that American believers have more in common with Arab believers in Iraq and Syria than they do with their unbelieving next-door neighbors.
There is something beautiful about a congregation that shows respect and gratitude to people who have served their neighbors well. When we recognize veterans or law enforcement officers, we are lifting up ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things for the good of their communities.

What about you? How do you handle Fourth of July services in your church?

How can we communicate our gratitude to God for His blessings to us and shine a spotlight on His grace that reaches people from every tribe, tongue, and nation?

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12 Church Parking Lot Problems

Shel: We do not have a parking lot ministry - some of our greeters will stand outside to welcome people. Where is your church on this? By Chuck Lawless I know the topic of church parking lots is not attention grabbing. In fact, I almost did not write this post – except that I continue to see too many churches miss an opportunity for ministry that begins in the parking lot. Here are some parking lot problems I’ve seen, listed in no particular order. The parking lot entrance is not easily visible. Sometimes the location of the church building itself is not the best. At other times, the location is not poor, but the entrance to the parking lot is difficult to see from the road. Perhaps a line of trees blocks the view. I’ve visited other churches where the church sign is actually the obstacle. The landscaping is poorly tended. Frankly, it’s amazing to me that church members look past landscaping at their church they would never ignore in their own yard. Uncontrolled weeds, dying flowers, uncut grass, and old mulch are not a good witness to the community. Not enough parking is available. Generally, the 80% rule about church facilities applies to parking as well: when 80% of the parking spaces are full, it is likely that attendance will plateau until more space is available. Many churches, though, do not monitor these important data. No guest parking is available. The church that has no marked guest parking is inadvertently saying (a) we do not expect guests, or (b) we see no reason to treat guests in a special way. The former suggests a lack of faith, and the latter implies a lack of concern. Guest parking is available, but hard to see. When a guest pulls into a parking lot, he is not likely to know guest parking is available. Unless someone is directing him to that parking or those spaces are immediately obvious, he is likely to miss that benefit for guests. No greeters are in the parking lot. In many ways, a greeter in the parking lot is more important than a greeter at the door. Without being overly intrusive, parking lot greeters can welcome guests, direct them to an entrance, answer questions they might have, provide umbrellas when it’s raining, assist families with children, and help the elderly. The church has parking lot greeters, but they are not easily identified. Name badges are helpful, but they are not enough to identify parking lot greeters. Because the parking lot typically has a large number of people wandering around, greeters should be clearly identified by something like a vest. The traffic flow is poor, and no one is directing it. This problem is often more acute in congregations that have worshippers from multiple services entering and exiting at the same time. Parking lot attendants who direct the traffic can make a big difference. The walk from much of the lot to the front door is long, and the church provides no shuttle option. Obviously, this problem exists primarily in churches with large parking lots. Those arriving later than others frequently find open spaces only in the distant areas of the lot, and the walk is long. A golf cart might be a wise investment for this church. Churches miss the opportunity to have welcome centers outside the building. If the weather permits, setting up a portable welcome center in the parking lot is a good strategy. Not only does it avoid the crowd inside the building, but it also becomes an exciting central place to which to direct guests from the parking lot. The church provides no security in the parking lot. An unattended parking lot during a worship service is regrettably an open invitation for thieves. Security personnel can serve as a deterrent to crime while also being available to direct guests who come late to the service. They might also pray for the families represented by each car as they walk the lot. No one is praying for this ministry. This work is just that – a ministry – and churches should prayerfully and wisely recruit workers to do these tasks. Moreover, they should commission these workers and pray weekly for them as they serve God in the parking lot. Does your church have a parking lot ministry? What other problems have you seen? What effective ministry ideas might you share?

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Summer

This year at Mercy Church we are doing what we have never done before... a summer schedule.

One of things we become aware of as leaders is change is hard for all of us. Even when we know it is good.

One reason for our particular change here is that we have over the years, by offering two VERY different worship gatherings in terms of music, ethos, and energy - have connected with different people but have not connected different people TOGETHER as well.

Yes some of this occurs in small groups, and hopefully more so as we have been moving into homes and adopting a "mercy circle" approach of scattering in smaller groups during the week.

However, in the Sioux Falls context the worship gathering is still our biggest "front door" and therefore first impression to many.

For a church that has grown over the years from 15 adults (and not mothered) to over 200 + in part by merging in an older congregation - we sense a real need to increase the spiritual warmth and connectedness in our large gatherings.

It also true that in summer many are traveling during this extended holiday-season so there are practical volunteer/ministry quality reasons to offer one service with rotating worship styles instead of two different ones based on styles.

So:

1> This is a great time to get to know Mercy Church better. Join us at 10am when you are in town this summer. If you are a guest you are always welcome in our worship/teaching gatherings and our Mercy Circles (which meet less frequently - but sill do in summer contact chris@mercy-church.org for information on groups).

2> We also invite and encourage you to read through NT Wright's translation and commentary out loud at home (perhaps during dinner) on Galatians. You can order the book and study guide through our Amazon.com store.

Booklet:
http://astore.amazon.com/mercychurch-20/detail/0664227856/185-7273399-2529252

Study Guide: http://astore.amazon.com/mercychurch-20/detail/0830821899/185-7273399-2529252

We are calling this a summer of unity, of re-visiting mission and vision and of joy and play I pray and hope.

Exciting times as always to be part of the Mercy Church family - where depth, warmth and the Kingdom of God values matter most.

belong, question, share and grow at Mercy!

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