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Archive for the ‘Fall Season’ Category

On Mission

Every organization battles keeping its mission – raison d’etre = reason for being – the central focus of its business.  It is what drives corporate behavior and, in the end, makes it profitable.  We have seen the result of some American companies who have lost sight of their original corporate mission.

They got sidetracked into other endeavors and pursuits. Pretty soon, what they once were known for in the market place got lost to a competitor.  Not only did they lose market share, but they lost profitability.  You could name any of the U.S. automakers, banks, insurance companies, or even smaller ventures in the past 5 years or so and see the economic results from such missional blindness.

I do not believe it is any different for the Church.  It is an ongoing and constant battle to remind everyone the raison d’etre.  Why does the Church exist?  What is the Church here to accomplish?

These are important questions and will define the activities of any church fellowship. Most importantly, it will not be defined by what its creeds say.  Neither will it be identified by any “mission statement” or “vision statement”.  These are all good tools and necessary.  Instead, the behavior of its followers will dictate what it really believes, values, and holds to be its mission.

There is the often told story of the life saving stations along the Easter seaboard of the U.S. They were originally built and organized to save people and sailors involved in shipwrecks off the coast.  During the lull in activities, however, they became popular meeting places for social activities.

Pretty soon, the focus on saving lives in emergency situations gave way to the social activities. So much so, that no one bothered any longer to be on the look out for shipwrecks.  When one did occur, members were put out by how the emergency upset their routine and messed up their finely decorated life saving station.  Pretty soon, other life saving stations had to be built to replace those who no longer functioned in that capacity but were there only for decoration and celebration.

This can be a parable about the Church too.  It is a challenge to keep the focus upon the saving of lives in emergencies.  It is a terrible disruption to our comfort and convenience.  It costs money, time, and energy to man an effective life saving station.  Is it worth the effort?  Those who are saved think so!

The same could be said of the Church in spiritual terms. Yet, how many of our churches end up existing to serve only the benefit, comfort, and convenience of its members?  How many have lost sight of its real raison d’tre?

Deep Lake and Mount Adams, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Fall 2001

Deep Lake and Mount Adams, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Fall 2001 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I grew up in the Assemblies of God denomination.  When it was formed as a Pentecostal Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1914, its stated reason for forming and existing was “to be the greatest evangelistic movement the world has ever seen.”  Those gathered at that early meeting believed that the Pentecostal blessing being poured out upon its generation was to serve only one purpose: to proclaim the Gospel to every nation.

As an organization, its devotion was originally given only to world missions and evangelization. It was first and foremost a missionary sending agency.  And, so was launched one of the greatest missionary endeavors of the 20th century.  Nearly a hundred years later, that same denomination now finds itself struggling to recapture its original vision and mission or raison d’etre.

There are many Assembly of God churches that do not give anything toward world missions.  Friends of mine who answered a call to world missions and entered the Assemblies of God World Missions agency find it hard pressed to raise the funds they need for their budgets within 18 months so they can get to their field of service.  They are finding that many Assembly of God churches do not even have missionaries to their churches any more.  One friend of mine was informed by a former district official now pastoring that they do not have missionaries come to their church!  The denomination also now finds itself riding a wave of retiring missionaries with no new recruits in the wings.

The ministries of every local Assembly of God church, along with its District, used to be centered around fulfilling its mission to evangelize the world.

  • Women’s Ministry was called the “Women’s Missionary Council” and was an agency to engage women in the local church to sponsor and support missionaries.
  • Men’s Ministry had what was called “Minute Man” and M.A.P.S. (Mobilization And Placement Services) that placed resources and skilled laborers where they were needed all across the world.
  • The Youth Ministries were called “Christ’s Ambassadors” because they were considered to be the calling and sending place for young people into ministry and in particular to the missionary fields of service.
  • Children’s Ministries focused upon helping to raise funds for child evangelism and Sunday School for missionaries through its “Boys and Girls Missions Crusade.”  Every child had a “Buddy Barrel” that represented the barrels that missionaries would put their belongings into to be shipped overseas.

It is not that the names are or were important.  What was important was the raison d’etre – the centralized and focused mission of the whole church and denomination.  It used to be that hardly a month would go by without having a visiting missionary in a local Assembly of God church.  Now, months can go by.  And, if a missionary gets into a church service, they are given a “Missions Window” to highlight what they do.  This is hardly enough time to set a vision for world missions let alone give a call to people to answer the call to missions should the Lord want to work that way in their lives.

It is no wonder that the Assemblies of God is struggling to build its ranks of young people called to missions. There is hardly ever opportunity for them to hear a missionary, listens to God’s heart for his mission to every people group, and answer the call to missions.  Or, should I say, there is hardly a time for God to speak, show and reveal what he is doing and is wanting to do in his world to them?

This is only my experience in one denomination.  I am sure that the story could be repeated over and over again across denominations and churches.  I have heard the same stories among leaders of once dynamic mission agency churches – Salvation Army, United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist.  A spiritual lethargy and blindness almost seems to have invaded the Church.

Thankfully, there are some bright spots and active church bodies within the Assemblies of God and across the whole Body of Christ. Today, more cross-cultural missionaries are sent from non-Western churches than the U.S. and Europe churches combined.  The emerging and growing churches in the rest of the world are now missionary sending churches!  Upon the rising tide of missionary activity in the rest of the world, what part will the American and European churches play?

It will probably take another spiritual renewal and revival to bring the whole Western church back to being on mission for the Kingdom of God.  Rediscovering its raison d’etre will unite and activate its members toward something larger than social gatherings for like-minded individuals.  It will cause it to look toward the troubled seas of humanity again and to stand at the ready to seek and save those who are lost in the dark and turbulent waves of our time.  Truly, the hour is not too late.  The work is not yet done.  There is time to get back on mission.  Let’s  pray that we regain our sight to see the world as God sees it.  It’s not too late to get back on mission.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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After the Wheat Harvest, The Palouse, Washington State, Fall 2009

After the Wheat Harvest, The Palouse, Washington State, Fall 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Rigged Religious Resumes

It is becoming more and more difficult these days to identify the difference between the real and the fake.  Our televisions broadcast “reality” TV programs that are not really reality but staged events made to look like they are living documentaries.  A number of recent authors, who wrote and published personal autobiographies, are found out to have fabricated their stories, fooling their readers, not to mention the red-faced editors, publishers and enthusiastic promoters.

Prominent businesses and universities have hired individuals because of their stellar résumés, only to find out later degrees and experiences were fabricated to bolster the candidate’s image. Professional athletes who broke national records are discovered afterwards to not have reached those hallmarks on their own terms but with the help of performance enhancement drugs that made them stronger and faster.

The television news from major news organizations is acceptable to the public even when it is “staged news” or even fabricated.  Political candidates stretch and fabricate their past experiences to appeal to the desires of voters who willingly go along with the charade just to defeat the other party.

Is it any wonder that the generation coming after us is so skeptical and cynical towards our world?  Is it any wonder that the number one thing they crave is “authentic relationships”?  Is it any wonder that the next generation is more comfortable in the virtual world than the real world?

Unfortunately, the Church in the United States has not faired much better.  It seems that we have turned out a “plastic” faith.  A new Pew Forum survey on religion revealed that most people in the United States identify themselves as Christians – 78% in fact!  Protestants (51%) are still the majority of those.  If these Pew Forum findings are true of our American culture, then one has to wonder why these “Christians” do not have a more significant impact upon their culture.

One has to wonder how Pew Forum identified those who were “Christian” versus those who were not.  Incidentally, 25% of young adults (18 – 29) identify with no religion.  On the other hand, could it be that identification with Christianity for most religious people is more of an idea than a lifestyle?  We like the idea of being a Christian; we just don’t want it to cramp how we live.  We like how it looks on our “résumé”.

The Lord knows the real from the fake, however.  We know that Jesus, when he returns, will identify those who belong to him and separate them from those who do not (see Matthew 7:18 – 23; 25:31 – 46; Luke 13:24 – 29).  Interestingly, there will be those who claim to identify with him, but he will not lay any claim that they are his.  He will deny knowing them.  Some are even Pentecostals who cast out demons and do many miracles in Jesus’ name!  Still, he says, “Depart from me.  I don’t know you.”

The troublesome problem is how to identify real followers of Christ.  The question for the Church should be, “How do we make genuine, authentic followers of the Lord Jesus Christ?”  Jesus seemed to make it pretty clear in the above parables just what he would be looking for in those he identifies as “true” or “real” disciples.

  • They do “the will of my heavenly Father.”
  • They put into practice Jesus’ teachings and lifestyle.
  • They feed the hungry and thirsty.
  • They clothe the naked.
  • They care for the sick and the prisoner.
  • They “enter the narrow door” by discarding all of life’s baggage to follow Jesus.

This list suddenly makes following Jesus hard!  It is easier for me to say, “I believe in you, Jesus!”  It is much harder to do the work of Jesus here on earth.  Yet, that is how he will identify his own in the last day.  They will be the ones doing his work.  In other words, the Kingdom of God is made up of individuals who do not just believe but who do the work of the Kingdom.

The Protestant Reformation recaptured this idea when it proposed the idea that there is a visible church” and “invisible church.” Simply put, everyone who is a part of the visible church may not be part of the true Church of Christ – the invisible church that only Christ knows.  Not everyone in the visible church hears the Shepherd’s voice and follows it.  However, the true Bride of Christ – the invisible church – hears her Master’s voice and does his work.  In other words, the actually number of true followers of Christ is much smaller than those measured by the Pew Forum or Barna Research.

Turtle River, Turtle River State Park, North Daktoa, Fall 2004

Turtle River, Turtle River State Park, North Dakota, Fall 2004 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Unfortunately, many church people are like the story of a man and his wife who were sitting in their living room watching a drama about a man who lost consciousness and went into a coma.  The husband says to her, “Just so you know, I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine.  If that ever happens to me, just pull the plug.”  So, his wife gets up and unplugs the TV!

Jesus set the example for us, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.  Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).  There is a day coming when it will be too late to try to do anything for the Lord so you can be identified as one of his when he returns.  May the heart-cry prayer of the Church become, “Lord, shake us out of “a vegetative state” and awaken us to the work we need to do in this generation!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Prairie Grass in the Wind, North Dakota, 2005

Prairie Grass in the Wind, North Dakota, 2005 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

September leaned into fall
clinging to the remnants
of summer’s warmth
remembering the distant blooms of spring’s color collage.

September resisted fall’s
persistent march toward winter
a deceiving warm invitation to
a cold death
costumed in ice and snow.

September announced change
to earth’s seasons
its harvest rains preparing life’s fruit
of blood, sweat, and tears for picking.

September called to us
and its night sky planets aligned
the moon rose and moved
east to west
while mars traveled
its easterly course.

September offered up memories
of seasons past and lost
as it rained
surrendered its future
by marking the end
by its rain.

September declared change in
its winds and skies
and it rained
to wash the land
and like tears
cleanse the soul
and like rain
wash away the dust
of a hot, dry season.

September tears rained
upon us as we celebrated
the ripened fruit
of our lives and bodies
and hungrily consumed
the fresh produce
of what we lovingly tendered.

Like harvest rains
mixed with dirt and sweat
September tears came
bitter and salty at first
leaving a thirst for something more
the reward of a good harvest and
a long Indian Summer before
winter’s first chill.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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This is a re-post of thoughts about worship that I had posted to my Facebook page this last summer (06-07-09).  I was going through old files on my computer and came across this again.  It  struck me as still so very appropriate for my life.  Before deleting it off my files, I thought I would post it here.

Unexpected things may over take you when gathered in worship of  the resurrected Messiah Jesus.  It does not happen often but, when the unexpected happens in the midst what is regularly expected and routine, a person cannot help but feeling that God revealed something special.  That is something of what happened to me this past Sunday.

Now, I have had opportunity to lead church services – more than I can number.  In fact, for the past several years, it has been a rare thing for me to be just a part of the congregation.  Lately, however, my worship experience has been as a non-leader, giving me an appreciation of the “other side of the pulpit”.  I sing amidst the congregation now.  I admit that I’m enjoying the freedom from always having the “leaders hat” on.

There, however, is a draw back from not having to lead week in and week out.  Duty supersedes attitude and feelings for the leader who models worship of God to the congregation.  As such, a positive reinforcement of worship because of leadership position is placed upon the worship leader.  In other words, I’ve come to realize that the position of leading and “performing” worship for others is good.

The tricky part is the expectation of pastors and worship leaders to think that the average person in the congregation will have the same sense of duty.  We spuriously expect everyone to have the same commitment and service towards worshipping God – week in and week out.  In fact, without the restraint of a leadership role, I’ve noticed that my attitude and service of worship can be lacking from one week to the next.

This past Sunday was a particularly “down” day in my worship performance.  The worship team at my church was doing a wonderful job.  Extremely talented, their love for God shines through their voices, instruments, and raised hands.  So, the fault was not with the choice of songs, bad instrumentation, or distracting performance.  I take the blame – 100%.  I was just in a spiritual funk.  Then the Lord gently shook me in two ways.

First was the young man next to me.  He is a developmentally disabled young adult.  He is a definition of kinetic energy with his constant jerks and twitches.  During the greeting time, he turned to me and loudly said, “Hi!  Good to see ya’!”  And, before I could return a kind, “Good morning!”, he was already turned around and greeting other people with the same brevity.  I smiled.  It was probably more of a condescending grin that offered some pity for the poor young man who lacked acceptable social graces.

We were returned to our places with music and invited to stand for singing worship to our Lord and Savior.  The typical high-energy first song rang out.  Somehow, it just didn’t capture my attention or heart.  I sang the song.  But the words tumbled out of my mouth hollow and lifeless.  Something was missing.  Nevertheless, I continued standing and following along with the rest of the congregation.  It is what we do after all.

Rarely in a contemporary worship service is a song sung just once through.  Our worship team played the bridge and we started a second time into the song.  It was at that moment that my pew neighbor broke out with enthusiasm in song.  Mind you, he cannot carry a tune; at least that I heard.  Yet, at the top of his lungs and with both hands shot into the air he sang worship to God.  He was giving it his all, to say the least.

Our worship team continued on with their next songs.  My friend, accept for regular moments of distraction and uncontrolled movement, lifted his hands into the air with others.  He sang with all his heart.  I’m sure that more finely tuned musical ears around me thought the sound was painful.  For me, it was convicting.

A developmentally challenged young man, for whom a moment before I pompously felt pity, schooled me in worship.  He wasn’t leading, but he was following.  And he did it with all his heart, all his strength, and all his mind.  I could not muster as much.

It was then that the Lord shook me the first time and said, “That young man loves me – a LOT.  How much do you love me?  What will you bring me to show your love?  What sacrifice do you have to give in worship?”  I was humbled.  I began to follow the example of my young personal worship trainer sent from the Lord next to me.  In that moment, I understood that in the Kingdom of God, he was the whole one.  I was the spiritually developmentally disabled one.  I stirred my own heart in worship to God.

Towards the end of our worship time, I felt renewed.  I sensed the presence of the Lord and his great love.  Our pastor came to the front to lead us into Communion – the Lord’s Supper.  He gave instructions and the invitation to receive the bread and juice.

Moss and Fungus on Tree, Walhalla, North Dakota, October 2004

Moss and Fungus on Tree, Walhalla, North Dakota, October 2004 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In our church, the congregants come forward to receive communion.  The communion servers work in teams; often as husbands and wives, but not always.  The first communion server breaks off a piece of bread and hands it to the worshipper saying, “This is Christ’s body broken for you.”  Then, the second server holds out the cup for the worshipper to dip the bread into the juice saying, “This is Christ’s blood shed for you.”  The worshipper then eats the juice soaked piece of bread and returns to his or her seat.

It is not unusual to see emotions shared during communion.  So many people receiving it once again experience the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love of God.  It can be overpowering.  It often moves more than one person to tears.

However, on this occasion, I could not but help noticing one of the servers.  She could not stop weeping as she broke off tiny pieces of bread and said, “This is Christ’s body broken for you”.  “This is Christ’s body broken for you.”  Over and over again.  Worshipper after worshipper.  The tears flowed as she broke the bread.  She understood the significance of the simple act she was going through – person after person.

It was then that the Lord shook me the second time and pointed out, “That daughter of mine understands the cost of this supper.  Because of that, she loves me – a LOT!  Do you love me that much?  How will you show me that you love me?  How thankful are you for what I have done for you?”  Once again, humbled by the example before me and the Lord’s gentle prodding, I was reminded that what I bring to worship the Lord is as important when I’m following the leader as when I’m leading the followers.

Both worship and communion were served fresh and made new to me this past Sunday.  I am thankful the Lord shook me awake so I didn’t miss any of it.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Walhalla Sunrise, North Dakota, October 2004

Walhalla Sunrise, North Dakota, October 2004 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The author Scott Peck noted that the ability to appreciate pleasant, unearned surprises as gifts tends to be good for one’s mental health.  Those who perceive grace in the world are more likely to be grateful and happy than those who do not.  Grace is available for everyone.  God’s grace is evident everywhere: in the nurturing touch of a mother, in the hug of a father, in the provision from a job, in the help from a friend, in the fellowship of a church, in the emotional connection of a song, in the words of encouragement spoken into the midst of trials, in the beauty of art work, in the wonders of creation and in the rescue and relief from emergency services.  Like rain, God’s grace flows over the earth.  It falls on the just and the unjust.

There is a story of about a Yankee who, on a business trip, had to drive through the South for the first time.  He stopped at a roadside diner in South Carolina and ordered eggs and sausage for breakfast.  He was surprised when his order came with a white blob on the plate.  “What’s this?” he asked the waitress.  “Them’s grits, suh,” she replied.  But I didn’t order them,” he said.  “You don’t order grits,” she explained.  “They just come.”  And that is very much like grace.  It just comes to us.  Unasked for and undeserved, the blessings of God flow in, through, under and over our lives.  As author Scott Peck noted, happy is the one who recognizes it!

Eagle Creek Pool, Fall 2002

Eagle Creek Pool, Fall 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

The Bible reminds us that God’s grace flows to those who are full of thanks and humble.  In fact James says, “God resists the arrogant, but gives his grace to the humble.”  Our attitude and posture are important in our relationship with God, especially when we are in need of his grace.  A good definition of grace is “God’s unmerited favor”.  Do you need God’s favor in your life today?  For what you are going through in life?  You can look to God, who will lavish his favor upon you abundantly.  However, it is important to be in a position of reception and readiness.  Otherwise, you may miss it.

I am thankful that God’s grace comes to me freely and most often when I do not expect it.  It reminds me that I am his and that he is still in charge.  He only asks that I remain humble and thankful before him.  This is a position of receiving something I do not deserve.  Why is this important?  Because arrogance shuts off the flow of his grace into our life.  It says, “No thanks.  I’ve got what I need.”  Self-sufficient pride closes our life to God’s unmerited favor.  Simply, our life or human vessel is already full – of our self.

Grace flows most easily toward humble gratitude.  Even as humans we find that it is much easier to be gracious and show favor to those who are humble and thankful.  An arrogant person repulses and repels the gracious help that is offered.  Is it any wonder then that God’s grace flows toward the humble?  So, in one sense, you may have your own hand upon the faucet handle of the source of God’s favor towards you.  Go ahead.  Turn it on with humility and thankfulness.  Let it flow.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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