The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Archive for the ‘Spiritual Growth’ Category

Church for a new era

with 3 comments

Those of you following the life of New Oaks Church may find this story encouraging. Here’s Donnie Miller (pastor of the Trinity Family Church in Gardner, KS) telling of a change of direction:

A New Era begins for TFC

Donnie Miller

There was an energy level among the congregation on Sunday that I haven’t experienced for a long time. People kept telling me, through smiles and hugs, how much they love the changes that have just happened.

These changes have been a long time coming. Last spring, we began a numerical slide that has resulted in our Sunday morning worship attendance being between 2/3 – 1/2 of what it was a year ago at this time. Toward the beginning of that slide, after a very lowly attended Sunday in March, I spent a sleepless night talking with God and wrestling with my fears and hopes. My fear was that if we continued to “do church” as we were at the time, we might not continue to exist. That fear lead to a hope, a hope that TFC could stop focusing on “doing church” and become more intentional about “being the church.” At about 4 AM, I got a pretty clear picture of the changes we could make.

I began sharing those changes with staff, the board and then ministry leaders; everyone was on board with the ideas. Last summer, we polled the congregation to find out approaches were working and to gauge their openness to the potential changes. The surveys revealed an almost unanimous support of the structural changes our leadership was considering.

Discussion groups

In August, we took a big first step in introducing Discussion Groups to Sunday AM worship. To say these groups have been a success would be the understatement of the year. Every Sunday, over 90% of the congregation participates in discussion groups. This past Sunday, only ONE person skipped discussion groups and that was because of a family emergency. It was almost hard to hear the other members of my group over the dull roar of the conversations happening all over the commons. The introduction of Discussion Groups, as well as “Ask Anything” Sundays, have all been a part of our effort to take a more dialogical approach to Sunday morning worship.

Read the rest of this entry »

N.T. Wright’s definition of evangelism

with 3 comments

N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham

N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham

“When the church is seen to move straight from worship of the God we see in Jesus to making a difference and effecting much-needed change in the real world;

when it becomes clear that the people who feast at Jesus’ table are the ones in the forefront of work to eliminate hunger and famine;

when people realize that those who pray for the Spirit to work in and through them are the people who seem to have extra resources of love and patience in caring for those whose lives are damaged, bruised, and shamed;

then it is not only natural to speak of Jesus himself and to encourage others to worship him for themselves and find out what belonging to his family is all about but it is also natural for people, however irreligious they may think of themselves as being, to recognize that something is going on that they want to be part of.

In terms that the author of Acts might have used, when the church is living out the kingdom of God, the word of God will spread powerfully and do its own work.”

Surprised By Hope, p. 267  (h/t Lon Marshall)

Written by Monte

August 23, 2009 at 5:32 pm

In it but not of it (sermon for May 24)

with one comment

An older version

An older version - with the same problem!

My first regular job was in a small jewelry store in Burlington, Iowa. I was about 15, and I worked for the princely sum of $.65 per hour.  I’ll tell you about it in a moment.

First, listen to Jesus as he prays for his followers, just hours before the mob comes to take him to his death.

John 17:6-19 (NIV)
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.

They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.

That must have driven them crazy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s chill. We’re both partly wrong. (Sermon of 1 Feb 09)

with one comment

In the aftermath of  World War II, many European intellectuals (later joined by Americans and many others) were forced to ask this question:  how could this have happened? This referred to two world wars, and especially the Holocaust. [...] They diagnosed the sickness that had befallen Western civilization in general and “Christian” Germany in particular to be excessive confidence.

- Brian McLaren in Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope

Mark 1:21-28 (NIV*)

Arguing over a sales commission (Chicago Theater Blog)

Arguing over a sales commission (Chicago Theater Blog)

21They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

Strange thing to say, isn’t it?  Rabbis certainly did have authority to teach the Scriptures. But when Jesus spoke, something else happened.

And as if to prove it:

23Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24″What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Remember, we’re in Chapter 1 here.  Who else in the room would have even thought this? Virtually no one but Jesus himself. How shocked they must have been to hear it. What a statement!

And what a source! Jesus reacts immediately. First:

25″Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly.

Why would he shush, if it’s true? Why would an evil spirit say it, anyway? Read the rest of this entry »

The baptism of Jesus

with 4 comments

[This sermon was first posted in January of 2007. Rick Reilly's comment reminded me that many may be working on something similar, so it seemed good to update and re-post it.  Best wishes!  - Monte]
I have often thought of Jesus as pretty uncertainty-free: so totally God that humanity is just a minor irritation. So certain, so unsurprise-able, so un-swayed by what’s up.

For instance, I might think of his baptism like so: I imagine he becomes off-to-on aware that it’s time (click!), appears on the banks of the Jordan (click!), where the crowds part and everybody understands the obvious (click!), and he all but comes up out of the water with one finger extended for the dove’s perch. Of course he knows it all before it happens.

Doesn’t he?

We’ve been talking about the three audiences to the events of the Bible, especially regarding the gospel of Luke. Remember them?
1. The A.D. 30 Jews, who see it all first-hand.
2. The A.D. 80 or so Jews and Gentiles who first read Luke’s gospel.
3. And us. Now. Read the rest of this entry »

The main thing [readings for Sunday, October 26]

leave a comment »

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln famously said (or is famously said to have said) that if he could find a church whose credo was the golden rule, he’d join it.  He never found one.

Religious leaders confronted Jesus with a question of essence rather like that.  You’d think it would be the first thing Christians learn, and that for which they’re mostly known.

“Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

Jesus said, “”Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ 38This is the most important, the first on any list. 39But there is a second to set alongside it: “Love others as well as you love yourself.’ 40These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Is Jesus MIA? (Readings for September 14, 2008)

with one comment

Jesus Christ is, of course, what’s missing from Christianity.

We have positions aplently—”Biblical” positions—or so we’re told by experts. Perhaps we should call our religion “Biblianity.” For Jesus Christ, incarnated again in his ever-new Body, the church, and lived out through the love and acceptance of his apprentices for each other and the whole world—well, Jesus Christ expressed that way is rarer than Nazarenes at a bingo hall.

Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi

It’s not a new problem.  And those who don’t call themselves Christians often see it more clearly than those who do. For example, consider these insights of that spiritual giant Mohandas Gandhi:

  • I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
  • If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.

Imagine. He’s not suggesting proselyting, but rather simply that Jesus Christ lived-out in public and private is mighty appealing.  Which is, of course, just what Jesus did.

So in this week’s readings, Jesus explains one element of what that would look like.  Then Paul brings it home, expecting a new kind of normal for we who follow Jesus together.  Let him take your breath away.

Hope you get to hear it preached somewhere this Sunday.

Proper 19 (24) A; September 14, 2008

Hebrew Bible: Exodus 14:19-31 [Moses parts the sea]
or Genesis 50:15-21 [Joseph forgives his brothers]
Psalm: Psalm 114 [after Israel left Egypt]
or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 [Moses' song of victory]
or Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 [God is sheer mercy and grace, slow to anger]
Epistle: Romans 14:1-12 [Welcome the weaker brother]
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35 [How many times shall I forgive? Parable of unmerciful servant]

A Story About Forgiveness

21At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Read the rest of this entry »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers