You Can’t Depend on Church People

 

An old photo of the first church I ever attended back in our little country community. It was razed nearly 40 years ago. I was christened there.

An old photo of the first church I ever attended back in our little country community. It was razed nearly 40 years ago. I was christened there.

For most of last year, and up until just a few weeks ago this year, Dana and I attended a small, denominational church just two blocks down the road from our home. We stopped going there about six weeks ago, and returned to the church where we’d attended before.

As I rounded the corner in the Wal-Mart deli yesterday, I ran smack-dab into the preacher whose church we’d been absent from for nearly two months. It was the first time I’d seen or talked to him since we were there.

After a minute or two of awkward small talk, he said they sure had missed us there.

It put me in an uneasy position in a public place. If they’d missed us so much, why were we having this conversation in Wal-Mart instead of a phone call four weeks ago? Why was I now getting put on the spot feeling like the bad guy? If you really missed me wouldn’t you have let me know a long time ago?

I’m not mad about it. But it just wasn’t true.

***

I had another random encounter with a different church friend a few weeks after returning from the Camino de Santiago. We exchanged a few fairly impersonal pleasantries before he said how much he enjoyed following my pilgrimage and how he “couldn’t wait” to get together and hear more about it. Haven’t heard from him since. Don’t expect to. I don’t think he really meant it.

***

Two years ago we attended an Easter church service with a family member when just before the service began an older gentleman was walking around shaking hands with people. You could tell he was especially looking for those who hadn’t been there before. When he came to me, he offered this warm greeting:

“It’s my job to go around and shake people’s hands this week. We’re really glad you’re here.” So heartfelt. So genuine.

***

Four years ago my father lay dying in a hospital bed just as he’d experienced one of the most genuine Christian experiences/conversions/revelations (choose whatever word you like) I’d ever seen. And for the first time in 71 years asked to be baptized. When the church pastor of another family member arrived supposedly to lead the tradition representing my dad’s decision, he soon called my mom and me out in the hall to tell us the very last thing I ever expected.

Because my dad was bedfast, it would be impossible to “fully immerse” him in water. Anything less violated the pastor’s personal baptism doctrine. He was sorry. He couldn’t help us. And so he left.

I could share dozens more stories like this, and as you can imagine, have had a volatile relationship with church (little c) over the years. But never with the Church (big C). So this probably isn’t going where you might think. I love the Big C Church.

***

I had conversations with many people last year, especially along the Camino, who because of experiences just like this, have separated from the church. People said more than once “the church has a lot to answer for.” I’ve learned it’s SO not true. Jesus already answered for the Church in a big way. We celebrate and recognize His answer in our behalf through the coming week.

So much of my church philosophy changed when I changed the way I looked at church itself. As I grew and matured, I viewed it not so much as a place I go to receive, but much more as a place to give and serve. It’s more outward than inward. More about Him than about me.

This side of Heaven, the church is made up of people. We’re all imperfect. We’re going to let one another down on a regular basis. It’s no different than anything else we experience every day, and we have to look past the small stuff.  The church isn’t bad. Its people just aren’t that great at fully living out its mission. It’s been that way from the beginning of time, and will be that way to the end.

We try. We fail. It doesn’t mean we stop trying.

There were periods in recent years when I stayed out and away from church. I let the small distractions get in the way of the bigger reality, and after a time realized how much I missed being part of Church – not the traditions or the regal recitations or even the cheerleader messages or multi-media entertainment so much of the “church” now emanates – but the genuine worship that happens only in a collective group. I missed that.

Dana and I joined a church last week. After five years of not being on “church membership roll” whatever that means, it was kind of a big deal for us. We’re happy about it.

I had to learn you can’t depend on church people.

But the Church will never let you down. It’s perfect.

-30-

 

 

2012 in Review: A Few Favorite Reader Comments

blogger

Today marks my 230th post since taking up residency on WordPress in late January. Lots of great discussion. The posts will be fewer and farther between for the remainder of the year as we take on some new business opportunities thousands of miles away. The interaction with readers has been my highest honor during 2012. Here are some of my favorite reader comments from the year.

And special thanks to the blogging buddies represented in the three visuals below for their steadfast encouragement throughout the year:

www.project-40.com

www.ourcrowdedheart.wordpress.com

www.writingstraight.com

1. Very inspirational post. This is why you’re on my blogroll – in response to this post.project-40-logo12

2. If there were a way to better put this into words, I would, but can’t. So I’ll simply say thank you for writing this and making it available to a somewhat lost soul who’s often given up on healing and who so desperately needed to hear these words today – in response to this post.

3. Unpatriotic, left-wing, democratic garbage – in response to this post.

4. Steve, this is not funny. Obviously, you’re not the man I thought you were – also in response to the post cited in #3 above.

holly michael5. Your bucket list is not just a list. It’s a framework for how you’ll live your life. You’ve inspired me to create my own bucket list – in response to this post.

6. You’re a very blessed man, but I can see that you already know that – in response to this post.

7. Love your boldness,  Steve, but wasn’t the reader whose comment offended you also within his First Amendment rights? Don’t people have the right to say they don’t want to hear what you have to say? – in response to this post.

8. Thanks for this post. It really helped me understand SEO strategies – in response to this post.

9. Thanks for putting into writing what most of us are thinking – in response to this post.rhonda hardisty

10. I don’t like it. I love it. Best blogging advice I’ve seen on the web – in response to this post.

11. Your dad looks like a young Paul Newman in this photo – blues eyes and all – in response to this post.

Tomorrow:

12.21.2012 – What Time Does the World End Because I Have a Plane to Catch That Day. Seriously.

-30-

Should a pastor act like a CEO, calling the shots and running the church like an organization that he controls? Or should the living, present Jesus Christ be the One who is allowed to active control and direct the church?

Reblogged as an original work from my friend, Steve Simms of Nashville. Please click on the link below:

 

Should a pastor act like a CEO, calling the shots and running the church like an organization that he controls? Or should the living, present Jesus Christ be the One who is allowed to active control and direct the church?.

Let’s Pray About It (or just do nothing)

Keenly aware of his own shortcomings, Jack still liked to think of himself as a decent enough man.

Complex by nature and misunderstood by most, Jack walked around most days with an invisible guard that only few could permeate. Very few.

He didn’t necessarily like that about himself, but the circumstances of his every-day life reinforced his intrinsic nature. At least that was his excuse.

But made aware of an injustice against a brother or an urgent need, he could be provoked to radical 360-action in the blink of an eye.

Jack lived a busy life with a good day job and lots of peripheral interests. His phone would ring dozens of times during the day and he was selective in the calls he took, and the ones he let go straight to voicemail.

When his phone rang at 9:14 that morning, he only vaguely recognized the number, but it was familiar enough that he decided to take the call. On the other end was a welcome voice – an old friend wise in years and experience that called every couple of months just to check in on Jack.

He did it because he was a good man, and he cared.

“How ’bout a cup of coffee with old friend,” Simon asked, “… say around 9:45?”

It was impossible to say no to Simon, the man who had counseled him through tough times and even conducted the wedding ceremony for Jack and his wife Diane almost three years ago.

“See you then,” Jack said, knowing any visit with Simon was a time to treasure.

Simon arrived three minutes late whipping into the parking lot at breakneck speed. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, “I had three people come into the church and wanted to talk and I just told them I had an important meeting.”

Simon was an elder-emeritus at a church that over the past year had been on the brink of chaos. A split in the congregation had created deep wounds that compelled Simon to action and take the reigns to lead the healing process. It had become his full-time job. And it was beginning to wear on him.

Jack and Simon exchanged the normal pleasantries and talked about the important things happening in their lives, and Jack noticed an unusual burden on the man he so loved and respected.

“Are you okay,” Jack asked.

“I’m fine, just tired. I’ve made a commitment to the church to see us through until we find a new pastor and then I’m going into hiding for a while. I’m tired,” Simon said.

Jack shared with Simon his plans for a vacation adventure on his schedule in the coming week and Simon’s eyes lit up with curiosity.

“Boy, I wish my wife and I could do that. I need a break,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to live vicariously through you. Will you send me a postcard?”

Jack reached across the table and grabbed Simon’s arm. “This is what I want you to do,” he said. “Think about yourself today, forget everybody else, go and make a reservation to somewhere tropical and get out of here tomorrow.”

“Well you don’t understand, I’ve made this commitment and I’ve got to see it through, and I don’t think we could pull it off anyway.”

And Jack’s wheels started turning.

The conversation continued, the two parted ways, and as Jack drove away he determined to respond to call he believed came straight from God.

“It would only take about $2,500 to send Simon and his wife away on a surprise and well-deserved vacation,” Jack thought to himself. “And we could have him in Bermuda shorts within a week sitting on some Caribbean beach. I’ll chip in my share,” he thought, “and make a few calls to friends who love Simon the most and we’ll have him on his way before the sun goes down. Everyone would surely understand and be compelled to help.” He just knew it.

Over lunch Jack made a quick list of a half-dozen people to whom he could call and make the case. How exciting! What a great surprise for this wonderful man. A few calls here, a few calls there, start the chain call for the cause and the deal will be done.

Jack, the naive dreamer. Oh, the humanity.

“It’s a great idea and well-deserved, the recipient of the first call responded. My first thought is it would be better to do this later, but we’ll pray about it and see what happens.”

“I don’t really have time to give this the thought I’d like too, but it’s something we ought to do,” the second call recipient responded. “The timing may not be right for the church to pull something like this off. I think it’s something we’ll just have to pray about.”

“I’m glad you’re taking the initiative,” the third call recipient responded.”I want to pray about this.”

Let’s pray about it.

Jack saw the writing on the wall. He tried not to be angry, but it was hard.

“The timing’s just not right,” … the message from those he called kept running through his mind.

Maybe we’ll pray about it for another six months and Simon will be so spent that it’s too late.

Maybe instead one day we’ll spend thousands of dollars on flowers for his memorial service and talk about what a great man he was. “We sure did appreciate and love him. He was a great man,” we’ll say with our posthumous honor and glory.

“Let’s pray about it…”

Or just do nothing. That works.

Not.

-30-

Discovering Tozer

Two good friends recently turned me on to the works of A.W. Tozer, who in 1919, began 44 years of Christian ministry. His works are among the most insightful I’ve read. It’s as if they were written just yesterday.

Among the more than 40 books he authored, at least two are regarded as Christian classics: The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy. His books impress on the reader the possibility and necessity for a deeper relationship with God.

I wanted to share selected exerpts from the preface of The Pursuit of God, written June 16, 1948. See his insight just as it exists today:

“In this hour of all-but-universal darkness one cheering gleam appears: within the fold of conservative Christianity there are to be found increasing numbers of persons whose religious lives are marked by a growing hunger after God Himself. They are eager for spiritual realities and will not be put off with words, nor will they be content with correct “interpretations” of truth. They are thirsty for God, and they will not be satisfied till they have drunk deep at the Fountain of Living Water…

“There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, or anything unusual in their personal lives. They minister constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy…

“I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: ‘The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.’ It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table. The truth of  Wesley’s words is established before our eyes: ‘Orthodoxy, or right opinion is, at best, a very slender part of religion…

“Thanks to our spendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church  the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us…

“Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.  The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness ofr the very  God Himself in the core and center of their hearts…

~A.W. Tozer – The Pursuit of God

-30-

Is the Easter Bunny the Anti-Christ?

Last Christmas eve I attended a candlelight service where 50 or so people came together to prepare their hearts for the celebration of Christ‘s birth.

I’ve attended many of these services over the years at many different churches and I like them. I like that we sing the traditional Christmas songs; I like that kids come in their pajamas in anticipation of the wild morning ahead; and I like how it makes me think back to more than 2,000 years ago when the world received the miracle of miracles.

As I walked into the foyer for that particular service, one of the sweetest ladies I know was the first to greet me. I was prepared to give her a hug and wish her a warm Merry Christmas.

But before I could extend a hand and offer a warm greeting, she took the initiative with this:

“Don’t tell me Merry Christmas. Say happy birthday, Jesus.”

And she meant it.

I remember the strong movement a few years ago against the “Xmas” phrase. And for the record, it’s a movement I support. It does, in fact, take the Christ out of Christmas. But Santa Claus isn’t the devil, and neither is the Easter bunny.

For the last few years, I’ve noticed a similar trend. Among many evangelical Christians, Easter has now become “Resurrection Sunday.”

It’s certainly true enough. Among all things, first and foremost, Easter is the time when we recognize the one aspect that makes Christianity unique among all other religions. We serve a living God, not one who is dead in the tomb, or worshiped as a stone carving. Christ is alive, and it’s a belief I hold to be as true as the air I breathe.

So Resurrection Sunday – it’s a good thing.

But what of the extremity of this … because I like Easter.

Ninety percent of the references I heard in my church yesterday were to Resurrection Sunday – not Easter. That’s fine, but when did Easter become such a bad thing that we go out of our way to avoid the word?

I don’t hate the Easter bunny…and I don’t believe Jesus would either.

He’s soft, cuddly and has that really cute cotton tail.

My grandmother loved flowers. She particularly loved the Easter lily. I wonder if it should now become the Resurrection Sunday lily?

I’m not anti-Resurrection Sunday.

But I am pro-Easter.

Hop on Peter Cottontail. Jesus loves you too.

-30-

The Church “On the Verge”

(The following excerpts are notes I’ve highlighted from “On the Verge,” written by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson. Full credit for these observations goes to the authors. This book was written as an observation from a 2011 meeting of pastors from 12 megachurches across the U.S. who analyzed their ‘attractional” vs. their “missional”growth strategies.)

  •  60% of Americans report significant alienation from contemporary church growth models.
  • This means a greater number of churches are competing for the 40% who do relate to current growth models. The question posed is how do we reach the 60% who are alienated? Bringing them to church no longer works. We must take the church to them.
  • Jesus intended the church to be much more of a movement than an institution.
  • Christianity is designed to be a people’s liberation movement, a social force, a viral idea passing from one person to the next through the medium of gospel and discipleship, creating gospel communities in its wake, and yet by most accounts, most churches can be described as institutional in form and nature.
  • Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms not for the so-called sinners, but rather for the religious people of his day. It explains why he chose and empowered ordinary people and not the religious elite to take the gospel to the world.
  • Jesus is a big believer in the human imagination. His parables are a perfect example.
  • Imagination is soaked in possibility. It can see around corners.
  • In order for the church to move forward, it must continually look back to the original model of the 1st Century.
  • Organizations can, over time, develop into impersonal institutions that tend to impose conformity (that is, crush creativity). They can become controlling entities that resist the promptings of the Spirit and undermine the people dynamic of the gospel.
  • Again, 60% of America’s population (much higher in Europe and Australia) is increasingly alienated from the prevailing forms of the church. In missionary terms, it means they are culturally distant from us. We need to ask the question, what is the gospel for this people group, otherwise we simply leave them in the dust.
  • If we persist with the current status-quo, we are in effect asking the non-believer to do all the cross-cultural work in coming to church. WE are the sent ones – not them. What is church for these people?
  • The church doesn’t consist of its institutions; it consists of the people of God. We know this in our theology, but our practice is almost entirely at odds with this belief. We have so identified the church with its rituals, theology, denominational templates, symbols and professional clergy that we can’t see this remarkable truth.
  • God is not only the creator, but also creative and constantly creating and reimagining.

Enough to digest for now, I think.

—30—

Dark vs. Light (Part 2)

From the Genesis account we know the first thing God desires for us to know is that he created the heavens and the earth. He is the creator of all things. The most creative being that ever has been, or will be.

From that same account it is reavealed to us what God wants us to know about the first thing He spoke: “Let there be Light. And there was Light.” God spoke Light into being. And then, He saw that it was good.

That’s off the chart on my comprehension scale.

The Bible is thematic when it comes to the subject of Light and dark(ness). Some quick research indicates the word “Light” is mentioned some 237 times in scripture, while dark(ness) is cited on 222 occasions.

I’m beginning a self-study on what this means and my prayer is that it will bring revelation to a project on which I’m currently working.

Some quick findings after just a couple of days … the Bible describes Light as:

  • White & pure
  • Diffusive
  • Agreeable

And is illustrative of:

  • God’s glory
  • God’s purity
  • God’s wisdom
  • God’s guidance
  • God’s favor
  • The Word
  • Disciples
  • Wise rulers
  • Man’s soul
  • The path of the just

A few nights ago I was reading in John’s first chapter where he speaks to the witness of John the Baptist. Good stuff about the Light.

“There came a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through Him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man. ”

Did you get that … “every man.”

At some point or another in our lives, perhaps many times, the Light will enlighten us.

The question is, how will we respond? Given the opportunity to become enlightened, will we continue to walk in darkness?

This is going to be fun.

The “Spirit-Filled” … “Church”?

We Are Not Alone

My first experience with God’s Holy Spirit came at an age as early as I can remember, sitting as a young observer in our tiny little community Methodist Church as we’d go through the ritual of reciting The Apostle’s Creed. It wasn’t church if you didn’t say the creed in unision- even a 4-year-old could understand that well enough.

Reciting the “creed” located in the section of the hymnal labeled “Aids for the Ordering of Worship,” and “The Rituals,” was an uncomfortable thing for a youngster. Some of the phrases – “conveived by a Ghost,” “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” “descended into hell” and “judging the quick and the dead” weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy. Didn’t they teach me in Sunday School that God was all about love? Scary stuff for a kid.

Fast forward 35 years later.

My first experience with a “spirit-filled” church came at a paradoxical moment in my life. There had been a divorce, my business had crashed, friends had abandoned me, and for the first time in my life I couldn’t “see” the future. The depression was DEEP. There was no vision and “without a vision the people perish.” I was perishing, that was for sure.

And so after years of “membership” in such upright denominations as the Methodist and Baptist churches, I joined a non-denominational church that prided itself on being “spirit-filled.” It was the lifelong church of my fiancee. I didn’t know what spirit filled meant exactly, but I didn’t really care either. All I knew was that at certain times in certain worship services, the environment seemed to be a little more dynamic than at others.

There were predictable moments, by which you could set your watch, when at the conclusion of the “praise and worship” (or music and singing) that the pastor would step forth to the elevated pulpit and stand with closed eyes in silence as if waiting to see if the Holy Spirit would descend upon the place we had gathered.

Sometimes individuals would break out in song, others would speak in tongues, others would stand with closed eyes and raised hands.

Other times, there would be NOTHING.

It was hard to understand what this was all about. But I went along for the ride – wondering.

It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I re-committed myself to the study of God’s Word and determined I would find the best way to read and comprehend the Word. Before, I had tried reading the Bible from beginning to end, I had tried flipping to random passages, I had tried focusing on the New Testament, Proverbs, Psalms, but it never really sunk in. Finally, I found a way that was best for me, but that’s another post down the line.

The method I found worked and I began to understand with crystal clear revelation what God had to say in His Word. It was profound and I am thankful beyond measure.  As I began to wrap my mind around scripture and learned lessons about “the church,” and what it means to “be the church” and that “I AM the Church,” I began to supplement my Bible study with the writings of such men as George Barna, Frank Viola, Kyle Idleman and Bob Buford.

The writings of these truly wise men enhanced the beginning of my spiritual journey, helping me to understand that “being different” wasn’t such a bad thing.

After all, Jesus was sort of a different dude.

Now, before going any further, I want to make this clear.

Can the Holy Spirit of God choose to descend upon a body of gathered believers in a church building at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning?

You bet.

The Mighty Creator of all things can descend on a body of believers just as easily as He can choose to rain down fire from hell.

Actually, I have see it.

Once.

Once, 10 minutes into a Southern Baptist church service (a group not exactly into “spirit-filled” notions and speaking in tongues,) I saw the church service come to a halt when one person chose to go to the altar and pray in the midst of the praise and worship. Another boy followed, then five more followed, then 15 more followed and for the next hour the service stopped and the Holy Spirit of God enfused the vast space of the “worship center.”

So, personally, I’ve seen it once. Why doesn’t that happen more often?

Let’s see what God’s living Word has to say about this:

  • “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot ennter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.'” John 3:5-6.
  • “For all who are beingled by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Romans 8:14
  • “Do you not know that YOU (emphasis mine) that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in YOU (emphasis mine again). 1st Corinthians 3:16.
  • “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you wee called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6.
  • “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with YOUR HEART (emphasis mine) to the Lord…” Ephesians 5: 18-19.
  • “It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” 1st John 6-8.

Is there a pattern to what God says about  the spirit-filled nature of OURSELVES?

I didn’t see a word in that scripture about a church building or a gathering time or carpet or choir robes.

My friends, the spirit-filled nature of God is in YOUR heart and it goes where you go, sees what you see, hears what you hear and says what you say.

If you are a born-again believer in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit permeates every cell of your body.

And if we are the Body of Christ, and Christ lives in us, then, my friends, WE are the church. You and me. And it doesn’t matter where we are on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. as long as you are in a growing relationship with the Christ.

Follow Jesus.

Serve.

Give.

Act with humility.

Pour out Grace.

Forgive, and accept forgiveness.

I’m not perfect with these things, but I’m trying.

If the Holy Spirit doesn’t “show up” in church on Sunday morning, it’s simply because we’re not taking him with us.

He’s there. In your heart.

Take Him along for the ride.

Because He wants to go.