Thursday, February 11, 2016

Why I Am Hopeful for the Church's Future

The following was part of an assignment submitted for a class I am currently taking through Pfeiffer University's graduate program in Practical Theology. 


            Depending on who you ask today, many are likely to say that the Church is dying. Often times, at least in my experience, by “death,” one means that the Church is loosing its top-down political and cultural influence in such a way, that they feel this loss of prominence is equitable to its impending death. With that fear being shouted from every corner, pulpit, diner, or legislative floor, it is hoped that it will lead to the mobilization of professed followers of Christ to “take up arms” and “stand for what is right.” I however, am of the opinion that the church is not on the decline, but rather as Ed Stetzer noted, it is “just being more clearly defined.”[1] It is because of this clearer definition, along with other reasons, that I am strongly hopeful for the future of the Church.
            One of the initial reasons that I am not worried about the future of the church, is because it is not our church in the first place, it is Jesus’ Church. In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, he noted that the Church, not that of stone but of people, is “built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (2:20). Jesus himself testified to this line of succession and building of his Church when he told Peter in Matthew 16 “you are Peter [rock], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” As a person of faith, I do not believe that anything God sets into motion can fail, so how foolish of me, and others, to believe that the Church would cease to exist. Jesus’ church is bigger than any building, denomination, political party, or societal prominence, because it is not easily defined by human boundaries nor does it belong to us in the first place.
            I also take courage about the future of the Church, because thanks to relationships and experiences I have had with Christian fellowships around the world, I know that the success of the Church is not tied solely to its health in the United States of America. As privileged Americans, we often can be trapped in cocoons of our own making, blind and ignorant to the rest of the world. It is in many of these other parts of the world where the Church is actually thriving, often in places without prominence or recognition. There are still certain people groups who have yet to have a chance to experience the Gospel in their own language, let alone, experiencing it at all for the first time in any language for the matter. The possibilities continue to expand and present themselves to the Church-universal for growth. So I am excited because I have seen the work that is being done by sisters and brothers in the far corners of the world to share and show the love of Christ to their neighbors. What may seem to be one area of weakness (America), may actually be just a way for us to the see the body’s strength somewhere else.
            As stated above, I agree with Stezer that what constitutes the “Church” is being more clearly defined. Where in the past people used to identify “culturally or congregationally” as Christian, today people are more likely to acknowledge their own apathy or lack of involvement by defining themselves as “spiritual” or as “nones.”[2] So the statistically recognized Christians that we are left with, though lower in number, are actually people who are committed and invested in the Kingdom of God. This decreased but authentic group will now operate from the outside looking in, and I think working from the margins actually benefits the Church. Operating from the margins means that Christians now have to think outside of the box in getting its message to the world because we are no longer speaking from a position of power and universal acknowledgement. The Church of the future will have to physically “act” as the Church rather than verbally proclaim such. If the Church was to become “persecuted” as so many Americans fear it will someday be, then I say so be it. Throughout its 2,000 plus year existence, the moments of great growth for the Church have be in light of accusatory notions from the outside. I think this is because the authenticity of who the followers of Christ are, and what the Body represents, shines a light of hope upon a broken world.
            So with some questioning the future of the Church, I welcome its future incarnations. I desire to see how the future generation of leaders will respond to the trying calamities of their culture. I look forward with great anticipation to how the Body will be mobilized to respond in creative ways to fulfill serving the least of these. I expect to see the Church spreading throughout a society like the yeast that quietly raises the dough to its full measure.  In so doing, the Church will not be weakened, but strengthened, because what lies ahead is not its failure, but rather its victory, which has already been proclaimed by its risen Lord.




[1] Ed Stetzer, The State of the Church in America: Hint: It’s Not Dying, Christianity Today, www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/october/state-of-american-church.html, Oct. 1, 2013, Accessed February 10th, 2015.
[2] Stetzer, Ibid.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Memphis Street Reach Days 1 and 2

The team from First Baptist Church, Monroe departed on Saturday afternoon around 3:30 bound for Memphis, TN. To help make the 10+ hour drive more palatable, we stopped in Knoxville, TN for the night, and drove the remaining 5 hours across Tennessee on Sunday to reach Brinkley Heights Urban Academy, which during the summer serves as the host site for Street Reach Memphis. SRM is a 20+ year old ministry birthed out of the hearts of the small congregation of Brinkley Heights Baptist who desired to see their community changed. Now they welcome mission teams from all over the country to work in the eastern portion of inner-city Memphis each summer.
Our team of 12 adults and students was assigned to a site known as "National" where we conduct backyard Bible clubs for children in the area. On Monday morning we welcomed about 65 children between the ages of 3-14, and on Tuesday, we joined with about 50 children. Our mornings consist of canvassing the area in teams to knock on doors and invite children to come to the park, while the actual club portion consists of opening games, rotation through stations of Bible stories and games, before finally serving each child a lunch provided by the area school system. When the club is over, our teams return the children to their homes.
Our afternoons provide us the opportunity to participate in a mission activity of our choice. Monday afternoon saw us participating in a prayer walk around our club site area, and then Tuesday afternoon we had the chance to work in a nearby laundromat providing free washes to customers and if they would like, a time of prayer. Our team from FBCM is here along with churches from Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, and Arkansas, all serving at different club sites all over the city.
We have had great weather, and even greater opportunities to develop relationships with area children through sharing stories about people who chose to follow Jesus. We certainly have been challenged in different ways, but also have seen the ways we have grown. Our desire to apply what we learn/experience in Monroe is strong, and we can't wait to see what else God does with us this week.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Corinth and Athens: Days 10 and 11

Well, I had some issue with the internet in our hotel here in Athens the past few days but I think I have it worked out, so this is a combined post that will serve as my final one for this trip.

Yesterday we drove over to ancient Corinth and were able to view the ruins of this city where Paul spent about 18 months of his ministry helping to establish the church there. We were able to see various structures that were left from the ancient city and learn about its storied past. On our way back to Athens, we made a stop at a sea side restaurant where we were treated to a full Greek dining experience that pushed some and delighted others. I personally enjoyed it! In the afternoon we were free to explore Athens, and a few of us visited the newly opened Acropolis Museum that was simply amazing. I also was able to enjoy a ride on the Athens subway which I have to say was pretty nice. 

This morning, our last of the trip before heading home, we got an early start to beat the crowds to the famed Acropolis. The word acropolis means "highest place in the city" and most ancient Greco-Roman cities have such places, but none as famous as the Acropolis of Athens. This large hill holds the famed Parthenon, an ancient temple for the city of Athens. We were able to look out over the entire city from this high place, and it was certainly breathtaking. Just next to the Acropolis is what we often call Mars Hill, where Paul preached when he came to Athens. Seeing this hill changed my entire reading of the passage because when Paul comments about the religiosity of the Athenian people, he is saying it while standing in the shadow of the Acropolis and the mighty Parthenon. 

After sometime at the Acropolis, we did a city tour by bus seeing various locations around Athens itself and learning about the history of Greece's largest city. After the tour we visited the National Archaeological museum where we were able to see historical ratification found throughout the city. In the afternoon we were free to experience the city and a small group of us enjoyed walking the streets shopping, eating Greek cuisine, and just immersing ourselves in the city. 

This trip has been a great experience,and much like Israel did for me last year, I will not read the stories of the Bible the same way again. It has been special because this is my final activity with the Divinity school, and I was able to share this time with some dear friends who I will miss terribly. With that said, we are all ready to return home and share with those we love all that we have been able to experience while in Turkey and Greece. Thanks to all those who kept up with my journey and has kept the group and I in your prayers!

Beroea and the Road to Athens: Day 9

Today we set out from Thessaloniki toward our final destination of the trip, Athens. It's a long ride, but there were a couple of stops that we made along the way. In the morning we made a stop in Vioria, which in Biblical days was known as Beroea. This is where Paul escaped to after the drama in Thessalonica ( Acts 17:10-15). Here Paul preached and taught for multiple days, enough that Jews from Thessalonica heard about it and came to Beroea to cause trouble for him. In the town today there is a site that commentates Paul's work in the town, including a statue of him, a beautiful monument depicting his ministry in the town, and finally a set of ancient steps that tradition says Paul stood on to preach. 

Next we had a special treat for all the history buffs in the group. We went to the small town of Vergina (vur-HEE-na) where we were able to visit the tomb of Phillip II. Phillip was the father of Alexander the Great, and was known for strengthening Macedonia, which would provide the stability Alexander needed to go about his conquests. The museum was unique because it is actually inside the mound of dirt that was constructed over the tombs, known as a tumulus. Also inside this tumulus was the tomb of Alexander IV, Philip's grandson and son of Alexander the Great. We were able to see the artifacts found in the tomb and learn about the accomplishments of Phillip. 

We made one other stop that I sort of geeked out at, and that was the location of the battle of Thermopyles. This is the site where the 300 Spartans under the leadership of King Leonidus fought the massive Persian army. They held them off and maybe would have won if they had not been betrayed. It was just really fun for me to see the mountain where this took place since me and all my teammates in college loved the movie 300!

It was a long day of riding. We finally made it to Athens and our hotel at 8:30. Tomorrow we ride the two hours over to Corinth to see all that there is there. 

Beroea and the Road to Athens: Day 9

Today we set out from Thessaloniki toward our final destination of the trip, Athens. It's a long ride, but there were a couple of stops that we made along the way. In the morning we made a stop in Vioria, which in Biblical days was known as Beroea. This is where Paul escaped to after the drama in Thessalonica ( Acts 17:10-15). Here Paul preached and taught for multiple days, enough that Jews from Thessalonica heard about it and came to Beroea to cause trouble for him. In the town today there is a site that commentates Paul's work in the town, including a statue of him, a beautiful monument depicting his ministry in the town, and finally a set of ancient steps that tradition says Paul stood on to preach. 


Next we had a special treat for all the history buffs in the group. We went to the small town of Vergina (vur-HEE-na) where we were able to visit the tomb of Phillip II. Phillip was the father of Alexander the Great, and was known for strengthening Macedonia, which would provide the stability Alexander needed to go about his conquests. The museum was unique because it is actually inside the mound of dirt that was constructed over the tombs, known as a tumulus. Also inside this tumulus was the tomb of Alexander IV, Philip's grandson and son of Alexander the Great. We were able to see the artifacts found in the tomb and learn about the accomplishments of 

We made one other stop that I sort of geeked out at, and that was the location of the battle of Thermopyles. This is the site where the 300 Spartans under the leadership of King Leonidus fought the massive Persian army. They held them off and maybe would have won if they had not been betrayed. It was just really fun for me to see the mountain where this took place since me and all my teammates in college loved the movie 300!Phillip. 

It was a long day of riding. We finally made it to Athens and our hotel at 8:30. Tomorrow we ride the two hours over to Corinth to see all that there is there. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Phillipi and Thessaloniki :Day 8

Location of Lydia's Baptism (Acts 16)
Today we continued following the path of the Apostle Paul. In the morning we drove to ancient Phillipi. We began in the lower village of what today is called Lydia. It is so called because this is the location where Lydia, Paul's first convert in Europe was baptized (Acts 16). Here we saw the beautiful riverbank that now commemorates this major event, as well as went inside the beautiful Greek Orthodox Church on the site. It was an exciting time as the workers and priests were anxiously preparing for St. Lydia's day which is ironically taking place tomorrow.

Following our time at the village of Lydia we rode the half a mile over to the ruins that have been excavated from ancient Phillipi. Excavations began here in 1914 so there was much for us to see.  Much of what was visible of the city's structure are ruins from 2nd and 3rd century prior to its abandonment in the 5th century. There were several structures remaining from when Paul would have walked the streets but the highlight was the Roman cistern that is traditionally said to have been Paul's prison that he and Silas were set free from (Acts 16:16-40).

Roman Cistern that was Paul's Prison in Phillipi
Next we rode a couple of hours west to the town of Thessaloniki. Unlike some of the other biblical towns that we have visited that are nothing but ruins, present day Thessaloniki is a massive modern city. It is Greece's second largest city behind only Athens, with a population of about half a million people. Because of the growth, there is not much to see from the time of Paul, and the only ancient ruins are sections of the city wall that were rebuilt in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. However, at this site my roommate for the trip, Thomas Farrow, pastor of First Baptist Clinton, led a wonderful devotion from Paul's journey in this part of Europe, reminding the group, and me especially, that we aren't called to be celebrities, we are called to be servants.  
View of Thessaloiki from the Acropolis

Tomorrow is our last long bus ride of the trip, when we will make the roughly five hour drive south to Athens. The good news about that is we will be able to stay in the same hotel for our last three nights, rather than moving from place to place each day. It is hard to believe how fast this trip has gone by. It certainly is a bookend moment for me personally because it is my last act with CUDS. It has been a great experience so far, and I am really looking forward to visiting Athens and Corinth. Good night from the beautiful Thessaloniki! 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Crossing Over Into Greece: Day 7


The actual horse used in the Troy movie,
and it was just outside our hotel in Canakkale
Today was basically one thing, traveling! We left our hotel this morning along the Aegean Sea in Canakkale and were able to ride the ferry across Darnels Strait. We continued driving for about three hours until we reached the Turkey/Greece border. After going through border control, we had to transfer from the bus/tour guide we had been using throughout Turkey to a new bus/guide for our time in Greece. It was a unique experience but it was necessary. We said goodbye to Funda and hello to Dora, our guide for Greece.

After about two hours, we made it to our first stop, the town of Kavala. During Biblical times, this town was known as Neopolis, the location where Paul first stepped foot onto Europe to further the Gospel
.
Picture depicting St. Paul's arrival
The town has changed much since that time due to conflicts with the Ottoman Empire of Turkey where the city was leveled. We saw a Greek Orthodox Church that had a beautiful painting of Paul's arrival to the area, and claims that at its front door is where Paul would have actually stepped foot onto the ground. This is because the water at the time would have come up to where the church now sits. After seeing this site, we spent some time walking along the water front town and enjoying the beautiful Sunday afternoon.

We got to our hotel at about 6:30, the earliest we have made it to our hotel on this trip thus far. Tonight we will rest, and tomorrow we will head to Philippi in the morning before heading to what was Corinth in the afternoon. It is hard to believe that our trip is already halfway over, but I feel like the best is yet to come. Blessings on you all from Kavala, Greece!
Port in Kavala, Greece