We Are Not McDonald’s

McDsWe are not McDonald’s. Not that I have anything against McDonald’s. In fact it is because of McDonald’s that I was able to get eat lobster with the eating of a McLobster. The idea of eating an ocean going bug staring back at me from my plate does not appeal to me at all. But back to the point. We are not McDonald’s. That is, we, the Christian Church, are not a franchise. Go into any McDonald’s and you will find something very familiar. The food is the same. The service is hopefully up to the same standards set by head office. Even the decor ends up being the same in most locations. Go into any McDonald’s, or any other like franchise, and you will be able to predict what you experience. Go into any Christian Church, and you can not predict what you will experience. There are differences between the denominations. But even the denominational label does not give you much to go on as there can be, and are, great differences within denominations also. Every church is unique.

Why is every church unique? Is it the failure of some head office somewhere to apply certain standards across the board? No, the Christian Church was never meant to be an experience of franchise. Instead, the Christian Church is to be the experience of family. And just as every family across the globe is unique, so too is every individual Christian family. This diversity is wonderful and to be celebrated, and even enjoyed on those occasions we come together for wider ‘family re-unions,’ such as many of us enjoy here in Cobourg on Good Fridays.

This diversity does not mean there are no standards of course. The central confession of the Church worldwide today is the same as it was in the early days of the Church. The first Christians responded to the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus with the confession “Jesus is Lord.” And when they confessed and proclaimed this, they did not mean it in some symbolic sense. Despite our diversity, this central confession that “Jesus is Lord” still binds us together.

Now some may say, “but Clarke, this goes against the diversity of the Church you have just been celebrating as there are some fine church-going folk today that are not comfortable with the affirmation that Jesus is literally raised from the dead and therefore ‘Lord’.” Indeed some church folk have written off the possibility of miracles and so have thrown the miraculously conceived baby Jesus out with the bath water. But to be a Christian church and be uncomfortable with the miraculous resurrection of Jesus would be like having a restaurant called “the Greasy Burger Pit,” that refuses to have meat on the menu. It leaves us asking that age-old question, “where’s the beef?”

The Church: A wonderfully diverse family of families. Each is unique, yet it is not “anything goes.” We are not McDonald’s, but I’m lovin’ it.

Submitted to our local paper, May, 2014.
photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

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Feed My Sheep! (John 21:15-19)

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15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep (John 21:15-17 NRSV)

You may read the above passage and think: “I’m not Peter. I’m not a pastor. I’m not even a leader in our church, so why would this passage of scripture be important to me?” Here are three reasons.

1. All Christians need a dreadful reminder.

By the third time Peter is asked by Jesus “Do you love me?” he is frustrated and feeling hurt. The question is asked three times by a charcoal fire, not unlike the one by which Peter denied Jesus three times. It is a question designed to remind Peter that it was not that long ago that he was not acting like he loved Him. It is like Jesus is saying “are you really sure you love me? The way you acted back there would say otherwise.”

Here we do not have the “forgive and forget” that we might expect from Jesus. Instead we have “remind and forgive” which actually is much better. While “forgive and forget” might remove the penalty of our sin, “remind and forgive” removes the penalty of sin and spurs us on to remove the future potential of sin. Peter will go on to take care of the sheep, not just from a place of forgiveness, but also a place of repentance. The reminder of his offence is an invitation to do better. According to what we read in verses 18 and 19, Jesus knows that he will. Though you may not be Peter, or a pastor, or a leader, chances are good that you, like the rest of us, can truly benefit from our Lord’s “remind and forgive” approach.

2. All Christians want to express love for Jesus.

While we can and should express our love for Jesus through worship, prayer, and Bible study, we do well to remember what Jesus is asking of Peter: “If you truly love me Peter, you will take care of my sheep.” If we truly love Jesus, we will make His priorities, our priorities.

And His priority time and time again, and to the glory of God, is people. Jesus prayed in the Garden the night before his crucifixion “yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NRSV). And that will was to go through with the crucifixion, to bear sin of people. People are a priority for Jesus. We can commit ourselves to all manner of godly activities, but are we really about our Father’s will if people are not a huge part of our lives? You may not be Peter, or a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but if you really love Jesus, people will be a priority in your life.

3. All Christians have pastoral opportunities.

The word pastor comes from Latin where it means shepherd or feeder (Dictionary.com). Every Christian can think of people in their lives for whom they can be a shepherd.

There is a lot of emphasis these days within Christian circles on “leadership development.” That is good, yes, but sometimes I wonder if there are times we should use the word leader less often and use the word shepherd instead. Leaders get things done and that is good. But shepherds feed and tend the sheep and that is so important. Perhaps you do not feel like “leadership” material, but do you love and have concern for others? Then you are well on your way to being a shepherd. Whether you are a natural leader, or follower, watch for how the Lord calls and enables you through his Spirit to be shepherd to others. You may not be Peter, a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but are you developing a shepherd heart? Why not think and pray over who needs you to be, or better, for whom God is calling you to be, a shepherd.

“If you really love me, you will feed my sheep.” What a great insight for us all.

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Five Questions for Frustrated Fishers of Men (John 21:1-14)

The catch of fish

Frustrated with being a Christian? John 21 begins with a group of disciples who understand frustration as they have been out on the Sea all night with no fish to show for their efforts. But the darkness and frustration will soon give way to new possibilities when “early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore” (John 21:4 NIV). Has the Christian life become full of frustration for you? There are some questions lurking here which may help bring a new morning to your life and witness. Let’s take a look.

5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish (John 21:5-6 NRSV)

The miracle catch of fish is reminiscent of an earlier miraculous catch, which we can read about in Luke 5:1-11. What is significant about this earlier catch is that it leads directly to Jesus’ call of Simon Peter, James and John to be his disciples. Now remembering that all the disciples had proven that they were better at fleeing than following at the first hint of danger, here is a significant and symbolic moment of affirming the call. Despite everything, they are still called. Are you ready to affirm God’s call on your life, or are you about to call it quits? No matter the mess you may have made of it so far, He is still calling. You have not been uncalled. Its a new morning, hear again His call.

7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.  (John 21:7 NRSV)

We should look at Peter’s reaction to the miracle and the Miracle Worker in light of his previous reaction. The first time there was a miraculous catch Peter “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man'” (Luke 5:8 NRSV). This time, he was so excited and in such a hurry to be with Jesus he “jumped into the sea” (John 21:7 NRSV). Clearly Peter has grown in his relationship with Jesus. Are you ready to jump ship to get to Jesus, or would rather Jesus walk the plank and leave you alone? Does your worship and prayer life give the answer away? It’s a new morning, a deeper relationship with Jesus awaits you.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread (John 21:9 NRSV)

Another charcoal fire has been mentioned recently in John’s Gospel, but it is not one of warm friendship. It was the fire at which Peter was warming himself when questioned if he knew this Jesus who had just been arrested. He said he did not. This fire is different. This fire is Jesus’ invitation to breakfast, but more than that, it is Jesus’ invitation to experience grace. Going forward Peter, along with the other disciples, will serve Jesus as those who experienced deep grace. Is grace the fuel that feeds your service, or is your service a fire that consumes grace? Let’s not serve to earn favour or fame, that only leads to frustration. Let’s serve from our experience of forgiveness. It’s a new morning, you are not just a servant, but a forgiven child of the King.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty- three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn (John 21:10-11 NRSV)

Does the presence of bread and fish, and the miracle of so much being abundantly supplied remind you any other miracles? Yes, Jesus has done this kind of thing before, many times actually and we are reminded of the miracle recorded in John 6:1-15 where Jesus takes what they have: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish” (John 6:9 NRSV), and makes it more than enough to fill the need. Here in John 21 God is going to take what is available, a band of fisherman, and use them to begin a movement that will change the world. Are you making yourself available to God, or are you making excuses to Him? Don’t worry if you not gifted like that wonderful Christian in the next pew. God will take what you have and make it more than enough. It’s a new morning, God will use what you make available to Him today.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:12 NRSV)

While there is so much to be done and so much to get doing, there is time to stop for meal. We sometimes hear loud and clear the call of Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 NRSV). But we forget that he also said “Come and have breakfast.” Meals are wonderful things. Time to sit down without a goal to be accomplished, or a task to be done. Time to spend with loved ones. Time for nourishment for our bodies.  Are you taking time for meals? Are you resting? Are you having some downtime with your Christian family? Are you feeding on the Word of God? It’s a new morning. Stop fussing about and sit down for some breakfast!

photo credit: Edith OSB via photopin cc