Thursday, March 11, 2010

Who is My Neighbor?

"Who Is My Neighbor?" is the question that a Jewish scholar asked Jesus. The question was in response to Jesus lifting up the commandment to Lover your neighbor as yourself. The scholar wanted to know who he had to love, whether there were people he didn't have to love. Today the question has a second meaning. Who is your neighbor? Have you met them? Would you recognize them in the store if you saw them? What are there names? What do they like to do for fun? Where do they work? How many families around you can you answer these questions for? My guess is that if you have lived in your home for more than 15 years, you can answer a lot of them. On the other hand, some of you may only know one or two families that well.

Somewhere in the last 40 years our culture turned inward. Front porches got smaller and smaller and backyards got bigger and bigger. Small chain link fences turned into 8' tall privacy fences. We know infinitely more about the characters on our favorite TV shows than we do about our closest neighbors. For many my age, the computer which was supposed to be a time saving device, has become a ball and chain. It has become our primary link to connect with others through programs like Facebook and Twitter. The age of neighbors and
neighborhoods has been relegated to re-runs of the Andy Griffith Show and Leave It To Beaver. I think people are craving face to face interactions but don't know a safe place to find them.

The real travesty is that the church has done the same thing. As members of our church have one by one moved away from the community our connection with the neighborhood right around the church has evaporated into thin air. Who are the church's neighbors? Are they old or young? Are they white collar or working class? Do they have kids? Where do they spend their free time? What do they worry about? What are their life goals? All of these questions and many more face our church like a giant white elephant.

We want to have more people come to our church, but we don't even know
who they are. Over the next few months our goal as a church will be to investigate, integrate, and relate to the neighborhood within a mile radius of the church. This Sunday after church take the long way home. Just drive around and take a look at the homes, the cars, the bicycles, and the people. Ask yourself, "Who are they?" Lift up a prayer for God's guidance as you open your eyes and really look around. Soon maybe we'll be able to come together and really answer the question, "Who is my neighbor?"

God Bless

Pastor John

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I was reading a list of top 10 reasons people skip church. Here are some highlights.
  • 10. I’ve been thinking Id like to go to church. But I don’t know anyone. And I don’t know what to do, where to go, what to expect when I get there.
  • 8. There are so many denominations ... even Christians cant agree among themselves about what the Bible means.
  • 6. Church is for good people who haven’t messed up. You don’t know where I’ve been or what I’ve done.
  • 4. I don’t need to go to church. I can worship God, even when I’m fishing/ hiking/ surfing.
  • 2. I don’t have time. Sunday morning is the only day I can sleep late.
  • 1. People in churches are hypocrites. (Or: You wouldn’t believe what a Christian did to me!)
There are lots of reasons people don't come to church; even those who say they belong to a church don't go but rarely. A big part of it is relationships. People go where they are known, loved, and welcomed. Too often the church gets in the way, rather than reflecting the love of Christ. Perhaps the church isn't reflecting the real need for hope, love, and healing that our culture and community are so desperately seeking.
For those who have no church, I think it's a communication or perception issue as much as anything. People don't know what happens inside those large grey walls. Ignorance is filled in with mistrust and weariness. People think that the people who have it all figured out (or think they do) are in there, so that's not a place for them. They know how messed up their lives, and families are. The reality, however, is that God is specifically looking for the broken, the lost, the poor, and those who mourn. The church is filled with broken people. The difference is the hope inside, that sustains, and heals rather than the hopelessness and brokenness of the world.
I don't know if you have seen the signs around your neighborhood. Big billboards along the 8 freeway said for a time, "Don't Believe in God? You're not alone." I thought about it for a second, and came up with my own slogan. "Don't believe in God? Then we are ALL alone." In God, and the example of his son Jesus Christ I find a source of unquenchable love, and infinite hope. Inside the church, I find a people who are seeking what I am, an ever closer relationship and trust in that divine love and hope. Give up your list of excuses, and start remembering why church is important. There is no better time than now.
God Bless

Pastor John

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Trust has become a four-letter word in our culture.  Often times, we feel like we can’t trust anyone, or anything.  We can’t trust our neighbors, so we hide our children and ourselves in backyards fully enclosed in tall wooden fences.  Many people don’t trust our government to protect, or defend us.  Many don’t trust Christianity, or any other major religion to provide a safe and honest foundation for themselves or their children.    Trust is hard to come by. 
Trust, however, is key to a strong healthy spiritual life.  The language of the church has been focused on belief.  A common question is “Do you believe in God and Jesus?”  In our culture today, beliefs have come to mean simply thoughts.  I think about God, therefore I believe in God.  Trust implies more than just thinking.  Trust implies a relationship.  To trust someone or something means that your actions, not just your thinking, change.  If I trust my neighbor, I will treat them with respect, not feel threatened by them, and maybe give them a key to the house when I’m away, in case of an emergency. 
Trust is something you earn and grow.  Trust is a result of belief in something that actually measures up to your expectations.  My role as pastor is to introduce and nurture a trust in God.  Not a trust in things not promised like no pain, no suffering, and no hardships, instead, a trust in a God who is always presence, through the good times and the bad, a trust in a God who loves us, and welcomes us back no matter how far we stray; and a trust in a God who is calling and guiding us into a deeper loving relationship with our neighbors, and even our enemies. 
Perhaps out of a trust in God, can come a trust in others.  Perhaps a revival of this kind of trust is what our society needs.  The church should be a conduit for that trusting relationship.  What we trust is reflected in our actions and choices.  What or who do you Trust?  Why?  How is your life different because of that trust? 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas 2009

Even as I am preparing for our two Christmas Eve services, I'm filled with the joy and love of the season. Our tree is decorated, and there are presents under the tree. I took time this week to
visit many of our shut-ins and personally wish them a Merry Christmas. Our Mission Possible Kids sent 236 Warm Fuzzy to brighten up the lives of children at the YWCA domestic violence shelters.
Our church adopted a family through the Good Neighbor Center and provided them with presents for Christmas. The youth raised funds to help homeless youth through Youth and Children Services have a better Christmas.

With all this going on this season there is a lot fill all our hearts with joy and love. As you sit down at family gatherings and football parties this weekend, please take a moment to remember all of those who are hungry, who are homeless, and
who are in the midst of families in crisis. Join with me in making 2010 a year we reach out even more to share God's love in real and practical ways. If we do, the blessings and joy of Christmas can last the whole year.

Merry Christmas & Hapy New Year

Pastor John

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Are you happy?

Are you happy? Are you happy 50% of the time? Are you happy 25% of the time? What makes you happy? What makes you the happiest? Despite the last year of financial melt down, our standard of living and average wages have increased greatly in the last 20 or 30 years. Despite this increase, our happiness scales have not increased at all. In fact, on average they have decreased slightly. With all due respect to the millions of dollars spent daily on television, radio, and print ads telling us to have more stuff, take newer and better pills, and eat new and varied food, doing these things isn't enough to make us happy.

A majority of the people I see are grandparents or great-grandparents. What do you think is the number one thing that makes them happy? It's grandchildren, right? My youngest daughter, who turns 4 this week, stands in every Sunday as a proxy grandchild for many of them. They see her and their eyes light up, they start talking in gibberish and acting silly just to get her attention for a few fleeting seconds. It's a joy to watch, and a joy for them to participate in this relationship with her. It's also a joy for her to feel so loved and appreciated.

My daughter doesn't care how much money these people have. She doesn't care how many cars they own, the square footage of their house, or the size of the 401k. It's the relationship that is important. Jesus, in his ministry, was all about relationships. He didn't just sit in the synagogue and teach, he went out, walked among the crowds, picked people with whom to have a meal. What was the response of the people? They followed him in droves of thousands. They yearned for a relationship, any relationship. Because of Jewish purity laws, many of them were outcasts, separated from good society, and forgotten. What Jesus offered them was a God who could and desperately wanted to relate to each and everyone of them.

Joy comes from our relationships. It's what John Wesley, the creator of Methodism, called social holiness. He understood that our faith development and our relationship with God is tied to our relationship with those around us. Since Jesus spent most of his time with the outcast, and the poor, John Wesley also surmised that our social holiness needs to be directed to poor and outcast of our day.

Are you happy? Are you willing to open your hearts to others, thus allowing an opening for happiness to get in? Stop and talk to your neighbors. Stop and talk to the people you pass along the street. Stop and talk, laugh, love, and live. Experience true joy and happiness.

God Bless
Pastor John

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who Is My Neighbor?

"Who is my Neighbor?" Jesus was asked this question more than once. The most memorable time was when he responded with the story of the "Good Samaritan." If he was telling the story today he might call it the "Good Muslim." After the evangelical preacher, and the Catholic priest, and the mainline denominational pastor all passed on the other side. It was the Muslim who stopped and cared for the man. Who was the neighbor?
We have defined neighbor as those living around us, those who look like us, and those who act like us. Jesus defined neighbor on a higher plane. Neighbors show mercy. Neighbors don't just show mercy based on geography, race, gender, or moral standing. Neighbors show mercy to everyone. Evangelicals and mainline denominations alike have watered down the radical nature of Jesus' message, or one might say "lowered the bar."

Our theology is a theology of fear. We fear judgment so we either convince ourselves that the bar is easy just say the right words and you're in, or that there is no bar at all. The reality of Jesus' message is neither. It is, in fact, a very high bar. To date, the punishment for not attaining that bar has been 2,000 years of suffering, 2,000 years of war and poverty, 2,000 years of denial and self-righteousness, and 2,000 years of scapegoating and blaming. It's time to stop. It's time to step beyond the fray, beyond political groups, beyond religious bickering, beyond political power grabs, and beyond self-centeredness.

"Who is my Neighbor?" Jesus doesn't call us to blame others for not being good neighbors. Jesus calls us to the much more difficult life- changing experience of becoming a neighbor to everyone. In the Kingdom of heaven that Jesus came to proclaim, mercy reigns, not power, not control, not political influence, mercy. Don't ask, "Who is my Neighbor?" ask "To whom can I be a neighbor?" Then everyone will be your neighbor, and mercy will reign.

God Bless
Pastor John

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fear and Faith

Mark 4:40 "[Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’"

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” FDR

These words spoken by President Roosevelt came at the deepest darkest point of the Great Depression.  Perhaps, however, as we see ourselves in a similar economic situation today, these words need to be resurrected, and the connection between faith and trust restored.

Like the raging forest fires of recent days, fear is a destructive force that travels at will, and destroys everything in its path.

Which of these fires of fear are in your heart?

  • I fear losing attendance and budget, so my church has become irrelevant.

  • I fear Democrats/Republicans, so I fear anything the government does.

  • I fear strangers, so I scapegoat my fears upon their shoulders.

  • I fear my neighbors, so I suffer from isolation.

  • I fear homosexuals, so I create special categories to label and isolate them (within and outside the church.)

  • I fear for my safety, so I spend hundreds and thousands of dollars a year on security.

  • I fear the President of the United States, because he’s a Democrat, progressive, black.

  • I fear an imminent terrorist attack, so I live with constant anxiety, worry, and stress.

In the midst of all this fear, we must remember the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark, “Why are you SO AFRAID?  Do you still have NO FAITH?” (Mark 4:40 NIV, emphasis added)  Is our faith so strained, so shaken, so decayed that fear is the primary emotion driving our lives?    It’s time to face our fears, to strengthen our faith, to trust in God’s love, and to fight the flames of fear with the greatest of all fear retardants, unconditional love (Grace).

Like the fires that are still burning today in the mountains above Los Angeles, it is easier to start fear than to extinguish it.  But we must show at least as much dedication as the brave firefighters and smoke jumpers, in our untiring efforts to fight fear on all fronts, to build a containment line of love and faith around them, and stop their unquenchable rage of destruction.

God Bless

Pastor John