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?