Wednesday, January 23, 2008

At The Movies

Three currently popular Hollywood films deal with some pretty heavy issues.

There Will Be Blood is set in the early 1900's and is a story about discovering and drilling for oil in the American West and how that affected two men, an entrepeneur and a young preacher. It is a tale of unbridled desire and greed. Deceit, manipulation, and hypocrisy show up, too. I'm reminded of the pointed inquiry of Jesus in Mark 8:36, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

The movie Atonement is a drama about guilt and trying to find a way to deal with it. It concerns a young girl's misunderstanding and misrepresentation of some facts, perhaps in adolescent jealousy, and the bitter consequences that ripple out and impact several lives. The devastation that can result from one simple, brief moment of deception is vividly demonstrated. The painful tug of a tortured conscience and the intense efforts to assuage its gnawings are skillfully portayed here.

A little lighter but nevertheless still compelling is Bucket List. Two men, different in every way, are thrown together by sickness in the same hospital room. They each learn that their illness is terminal and that they only have a few months left to live. The bittersweet narrative has them teaming up and becoming partners in an attempt to enjoy the the short time they have remaining before they "kick the bucket". They draw up a list of all the things they'd like to do and then set out to accomplish them. There are lots of travels and exploits that keep them busy but along the way lots of discussions about life, death, relationships, unfinished business, and eternity come up, too. The film has you laughing and maybe shedding a tear or two as well.

I mention all this because it reminds us again that the secular culture around us, as dark and pagan as it is, grapples with deep matters of the soul and spirit. People are searching. They are questioning and looking for answers and sometimes their inner yearnings and longings spill out in the art that they create. We Christians need to constantly be alert and prepared to point them to the truth as the apostle challenged us in I Peter 3:15. Right now, as our friends and neighbors view these motion pictures, they're gonna be thinking all over again about these intensely spiritual concerns. We have a chance to move into their vacuum and void and offer hope and direction. Just like Paul did in Acts 16:30 when a desperate, almost suicidal man cried out "What must I do to be saved?" and just like he did in Acts 17 when he encountered the religious and philosophical confusion of Athens and presented the life-altering message of the Gospel that can transform the morass of godless thinking.

Of course we need to learn to be adept at asking questions, too. Questions that will open doors and springboard us into conversations about serious heart issues. That will move us beyond trivial, surface chatter about the weather and sports and politics and propel us into dialogue about those things that really matter, like what you do about sin and where can you find peace and how can you face death. Philip the evangelist, in Acts 8:30, asked one little cleverly placed question that initiated a chat and steered the discussion into fertile territory for a consideration of crucial topics. As a result, an Ethiopian government official became a Christ-follower and went back to his nation and made a difference. Sometimes an inquiry as simple as "do you ever give much thought to spiritual matters" can launch you into a talk that will enable you to sow a lot of seed and turn on a lot of light and may, just may, end up with your friend praying to receive Christ.

Let's always be sensitive to the opportunities right around us to bear a witness for Jesus. Even if it means using movie plots as ice breakers.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Working Together

Churches cooperating together in ministry is a good thing.

An old thing, too.

We see lots of evidences in the New Testament of congregations partnering with each other to get Kingdom work done. Apparently in those first century days many cities would have one church made up of many local, neighborhood fellowships spread out through an area and meeting in homes or caves or by riverbanks. It seems that these smaller, tangible expressions of that one church worked together much like our modern associations. It also looks like there was a beautiful collaboration between congregations in different cities. Rather than isolation or competition there was unity and a shared effort to evangelize the lost and disciple believers and minister to the needy. We can learn from that! There are insights to be gleaned from the lifegiving linkages among the earliest churches that can instruct us today about our joint labors as Peninsula Baptists.

If you check out 2 Corinthians 11:28 you'll find Paul, while writing about some of the hardships of his apostolic career, mentioning that probably his greatest pressure came from his "care for all the churches" which was an ongoing challenge. I guess you could say he was almost like a DOM. These various local fellowships would all have their struggles and problems and issues. He was concerned and burdened for them, and would pray for them and try to be a help. One of the obvious benefits of associational life is the mutual assistance and encouragement that comes through accountability and networking when our individual congregations go through difficult times. Knowing that others are praying for our church and that they stand ready to offer counsel and resources when we hit a snag is so comforting. We're in this great enterprise together!

You certainly see that in Paul's endeavor to motivate and organize all the other fellowships to raise funds to help the poor, famine-stricken Christians back in the original mother church in Jerusalem. Read it for yourself in I Corinthians 16:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 8-9. This massive gesture of generosity revealed a team spirit. It spoke of a commitment to see that all the churches were equally strong and equipped and prepared to do battle against our one common enemy, the Devil. Lots of fishing boats. Just one fleet. It makes little sense for congregations to try to go it alone in the hostile environment of today's culture when there is strength in partnership. It's foolish and a waste of precious time and actually sinful for individual assemblies to compete for numbers and dollars simply to look more "successful" than the church down the road when we're all engaged in the same task of pushing back the tides of evil and could accomplish a whole lot more by working with one another! Small and large churches, BGAV and SBCV churches, traditional and more contemporary churches , all standing arm-in-arm against the forces of darkness.

And don't forget the blessing that comes from simple fellowship with others in the united effort. The laughter and the occasional commiseration and the tears and the insights and the "iron sharpening iron" effect that comes when we're willing to bond together. Paul could tell you a lot about that, too. A glance at those points in his letters where he mentions lots of names of persons in various congregations that he knew and had been enriched by and impacted indicates that he realized that there is reciprocal benefit from shared ministry (Romans 1:11-12)in Christ. An association provides a structure for us to make many friends and constantly, creatively hone our skills and strategies in doing God's work. In Romans 16:3-4 Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila and notes their hard work and sacrifice and example-setting, and indicates that their labors were known and appreciated by "all the churches of the Gentiles" which says to me that we get role models and fresh vision and renewed boldness when we cooperate together.

Let's hang in there, Peninsula Baptists! In fact, let's deepen our ties.

It's a joy to try to be of some help during these days.