My Idea of Church Must Just Be Radically Different

Lubbock got hit with almost a foot of snow in one morning!  It is such a rare level of snow storm for us here, to be sure.  However, it’s managed NOT to be utterly paralyzing like you might think.  Dangerous, yes, but not epic.

The roads were surprisingly passable yesterday.  But they remained wet and then froze in the deep freeze last night.  So, traffic this morning… beware…  Right?

Right.

So… many churches all over Lubbock either canceled or delayed services today.

Makes sense…. Right?

Yes.

Sorta.

I mean, the hospital didn’t close.  The fire department is still keeping us safe.  The police are out there watching over us.  They didn’t cancel or delay at all.

I am wondering about the church…

Do we need to gather for worship at times like this?  It seems a bit nuts, no?

Well, it wasn’t nuts for my wife, the nurse, to get up and out at 6:30 this morning and answer the call to be at work tending to sick babies.  And I recall a few years ago when we had a massive snow that actually did paralyze us and that the Sheriff’s office called in all hands, and the jail staff worked round the clock for 3 days and nights!

We saw this storm coming, this week.  We could have prepared.

I wonder why my church didn’t hit the stores and stock up on groceries, round up all the needy and poor people of our community, and take them in 2 days ago for a 72 hour worship service!  Why is it that people who said YES to Jesus and to picking up our crosses and follow him don’t see this?

I guess I just really must see church very differently from all the others.

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Snowed IN

So glad we have an IN to be snowed in to…

As usual, my thoughts and prayers are with those who find no room at the inn (or at the church) this time of year.  But even though the scale of the wallop is a bit of a surprise, the fact that we got it is not.  I expect our million dollar street ministries are taking people in their facilities just now.  I certainly hope so.

Actually, I don’t, at the moment, really know.  But I believe they do take care of folks under these conditions for emergency services.

As for this house, since I am kicked out of the charity services across town, we have 3 little toddlers taking refuge with us in the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners.  They have never seen snow before, and, praise God, they have this warm HOME to be in while we venture out to have a little fun before returning for hot chocolate and indoor fun.

IT’S A SNOW DAY!!!  in Lubbock, Texas today.

 

Is There Anybody In There?

Hello?  Hello!  HELLO!!  HELLO!!!

HELL… oh…

I have resisted writing a series of posts about, for, and as the door keeper at the House of God.

I say I “resisted”.

Well, I have.  Not that you noticed, but I have.

I think of Walter de la Mare’s poem, The Listeners.  (I definitely recommend my reader(s) check it out.  Here is the link.)

There is a sense in which this whole blog is an exercise in knocking on that door, prophetically, on God’s behalf.  Is God in there?  This is HIS House … No???

Yes.  The House of God belongs to God, the Master of the House.  He places a servant there to keep alert for the Master’s Return.  He instructs the servant to “Keep Alert!”  After all, the servant does not know the day nor the hour when the Master will Come Again (Mark 13:32-37).

In that sense, this whole blog has been a test of the theological Emergency Broadcast System.  It’s only a test!  If it had been the REAL knock, the servant at the door would be judged by now.  (Let the reader understand…(Mark 13:14))

Jesus is the Carpenter (Mark 6:3).  He builds The Carpenter’s Church (Eph. 2:19-22).  He comes there to live, to worship, to party with us (Luke 14:7-24; 15:2, 6-7, 9-10, 22-24, 32).

May the door keeper be found worthy!

“Behold!” says Jesus, “I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and party with you” (Rev. 3:20).

Perhaps the door keeper didn’t hear the knock?  Perhaps the door keeper fell asleep??  Perhaps the door keeper didn’t recognize Jesus when he came???

“When you [welcomed the Stranger] did it to the least of these brothers, you [welcomed Me] did it to Me” (Matt. 25:35-40).

Somebody, please, wake up the door keeper in there!  This job he does (or not) is VERY IMPORTANT.

Hello???

Is there anybody in there… in there… in there… in there….???

You’ve Heard It Said… “Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin”

It’s a nifty phrase, don’t you think?

It’s not in the Bible, but I get it.  It makes sense… sorta.  It helps to keep straight that there are standards of both behavior and LOVE that do not cancel out each other.  I don’t have to like your sin or endorse it, but I am supposed to love you.

Yeah.  I can handle that.

So if that makes sense, then surely you can appreciate the problem with saying, “Hate the Homeless; Love the Homeless Ministry”.

Let me say that again:

Hate the Homeless; Love the Homeless Ministry.

Not making sense?

Well it shouldn’t.  Because it doesn’t.

In fact, it has taken me a long time to catch on to it BECAUSE it doesn’t make sense, AND it’s not in the Bible.

Yeah.  I belong to a church that LOVE’s our Homeless Ministry alright.  We are major contributors to the work, alright, AND we offer Bible classes designed to educate our church on the issue and how to help it.  Some of our ministers even run a coffee shop where every purchase of your favorite latte raises money for the cause too.  We send our youth group to short term missions on the streets of Los Angeles, California every year.  And many from our church volunteer for a number of charity organizations that serve the homeless.

So, yeah, we LOVE the Homeless Ministry.

But…

Come to our worship services on any given Sunday and look around.  You won’t see a homeless person among us.  We don’t share our worship or our lives with THEM. No.  We have a (separate but not quite equal) church for THEM across town… where THEY are more comfortable anyway.  And if I offer a homeless person a dollar, I will come under scrutiny for it, but if I give a dollar to anyone else, that is fine.  If I point out that we have homeless people sleeping out even in our part of town and ask if we can open our door for them, I am emphatically told ‘NO!”

Thus we…

HATE THE HOMELESS; LOVE THE HOMELESS MINISTRY.

It’s worth noting.

It’s About Monarchy Not Democracy (Sorry America)

Jesus doesn’t come along the seashore preaching about the Democracy of Heaven.  He does not say, “Repent!  The Democracy of Heaven is at hand!”  No.  He says, “Kingdom!”

There is a lot of religion and politics these days that doesn’t seem to know the difference.  This seems odd to me since it was not so long ago that American Christianity typically made the mistake of assuming “The Kingdom of Heaven” meant “Heaven” – as in up in the sky, far removed from us “down here” on earth.

It seems a pendulum has swung.  There is a feeling that the Republican Party is the “party of God” and can do know wrong even if it champions a self-professed, unrepentant “pussy” grabber.  A feeling that God wants Republicans in charge and that they represent him because God is a fiscal conservative at heart who hates abortion and wants to end welfare.

No doubt a lot of us Christians are thoughtful enough to see through this, but the momentous wave of politics seems to sweep us up in it nonetheless, and somehow our critical thinking gets affected.

God against welfare?  Really???  Have you listened to HIS Word lately?

The two greatest commands in God’s Word are LOVE GOD and LOVE OTHERS.  The answer to Cain is “YES”, you are your brother’s keeper.  The King in this Kingdom is a Shepherd of the flock!  We are meant to follow wherever he leads, to depend on him utterly, and to share our blessings with one another fully.

As I see it, American politics AT OUR BEST (which isn’t that great, actually) pits love of God against love of others.  Republicans/conservatives lament the loss of prayer in school and legal abortions largely because they seem so contrary to the will of God, whereas Democrats/liberals are not nearly so beholding to the Judeo/Christian God.  On the other hand, Democrats/liberals seem to show far more care and willingness to sacrifice for the care of our needy brothers and sisters, whereas the Republicans/conservatives feel encroached upon by the needy and their claim on us through taxes.  And in the America God “blesses”, my participation in politics boils down to this dichotomy, which tears apart the will of God – the first and second commands which are meant to go together.

The church in America has tried hard to have it both ways.  But it’s not working.  The Kingdom of Heaven is a Monarchy, not a democracy.  When I was a kid, our approach to the needy was not so much to be our brother’s keeper, but to point their souls to heaven.  Now it seems we search for ways to make them fiscally conservative like us so that we can finally have the utopia we desire in democracy.

This is a serious mistake.

The King has spoken.  Listen to his Word.  Do as the King says.  Stop trying to reorder his world according to your desires, and trust the Shepherd King to order it beyond your wildest dreams.  Take him at his Word.  REPENT!  THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND!

Seeking Shalom in Lubbock

It looks like we will offer the “Seeking Shalom” class at our church again this winter.  (When will we ever repent?)  I heard it announced at church Sunday. Somehow it sounded like it was a new class, which strikes me as odd.  We even played a short video clip that I recognized from before, so I am sure it’s not new, but a complete rerun from last time.

I just can’t understand.  Even when plainly confronted… even when speechless and not having any defense…

I recall my face-to-face meeting with shepherds and quoting the class mantra interlaced with quotes from Jesus:

“I was hungry and you fed me…”/”Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom.”

“I was thirsty and you gave me water…”/”Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom.”

“I was sick and you nursed me…”/”Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom.”

“…I was a stranger and you took me in…”/”Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom.”

You get the picture.

The words of Jesus vs. the words of this class.  There is a major, glaring, inconsistency.  I embarrassingly pointed it right out to the shepherds, face-to-face.

Yet still we persist.

I can’t imagine how anyone thinks they represent Jesus or thinks they will seek shalom by way of stopping the meeting of needs.  And my shepherds could not tell me either.  Just sitting there looking shocked when I pointed it out.  And a year later, they are still offering this garbage as a class to the flock and shunning me over it.

And the poor are kept at arms length again this year.

Hmmm…

It’s sad.  Sad, and bewildering.  Depressing, actually.  I keep having hopes for the church, but the church just insists on missing out.

What can be done?

Jesus “Ghosted” Me???

So I got involved in a conversation a few days ago about how sometimes lovers and friends break up by a method called “ghosting”.  It’s a term I heard around some lately, and here I had someone explaining it to me.  When one of the partners in a given relationship decides to end it (marriage, courtship, steady dating – or whatever), rather than officially announcing the end of the relationship, this partner just withdraws completely without explanation.

The explanation given to me suggested that the withdrawing partner, the dumper, thinks this will go easier on the dumpee.  It’s a not-so-subtle hint, though still a hint, that you can’t argue with or appeal against, a hint the dumper “thinks” makes the process easier.  And so you eventually come to realize you’ve been dumped after a few (or several) missed appointments.  No ugly confrontation.  No second chances.  Just “ghosted”.

After all, breaking up is hard to do.  It’s almost always at least awkward, and usually painful for one or both parties.  And this cuts right through all that messy finality.  It just moves on.

But I don’t think the dumper is making it easier on the dumpee at all.  I think the dumper is making it easier on the dumper instead.  It’s a very selfish way to break up, filled with indifference and smug superiority on the part of the dumper who has just insulated themselves from the ugly work of honoring the feelings and decisions of the dumpee.  It’s a violation of respect.  It is contempt.

I am not saying a relationship should never end.  Sometimes they should, but “ghosting” is disrespectful of the care the dumpee invests in the relationship.  “Ghosting” adds confusion to the denial and drags out the pain and the breakup for the dumpee to figure out over time, while the dumper moves on without the hassle of redefining the relational boundaries.  The dumper is too good for this, and the dumpee isn’t worth the trouble.

Feel me yet???

Just imagine if your wife of 15 years, with whom you share 2.6 children, a mortgage, two car loans, and three credit cards, suddenly doesn’t come home one night.  (Actually, plenty of people don’t have to imagine this; they know it all too well first-hand.)  An end to THIS relationship at all is devastating, but getting the stiff arm and/or getting “ghosted” from it compounds the problem like compound interest on a loan you can’t repay.  Just imagine a society full of this!  (No.  Wait.  You don’t have to.)

Would Jesus ever do this???

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus outlines a process for putting a person out of the assembly.  That nasal laugh that just irritates you so much that you want out of this relationship??? Well, you are supposed to confront the partner about it first and see if you can get that under control.  If you do, then you have saved the relationship!  If that doesn’t work, then you take one or two witnesses with you and confront the offensive partner again, and hopefully this time you restore the brother.  (If it’s not obvious yet, restoring the relationship is the underlying idea here.)  But if that still doesn’t fix the problem, then you take it before the whole assembly and work it out there!

NOW… I TRULY HOPE that if the complaint is an irritating nasal laugh, that some good brothers and sisters in the assembly set the offendee straight on this.  There are bigger fish to fry in this old world than irritating nasal laughs.  It really could be that the plaintiff in this case needs to reassess, maybe do some soul-searching and discover REAL issues hidden beneath the surface – and THEN restore the relationship.  But, assuming the problem is something way more legit, and assuming the offender cannot be persuaded to change, THEN the whole assembly puts this person out of the group.  The dumpee is now SHUNNED.

This process is ANYTHING but “ghosting”.

But my church, the Body of Christ I belong to, it seems, has “ghosted” me.  They cannot cope with my behavior or with the message I bring.  And I am all but out… and left to figure it out for myself.

Yeah, the small group that WAS meeting in my home?  I don’t get so much as an email from this group anymore, but I used to be included in ALL the group messages.  But now… without so much as a word TO ME about it, everyone else in the group SEEMS to know where to meet, yet I don’t.  When I reach out face-to-face with the involvement minister about some help with my foster kids, he tells me to “shoot an email” to him, but after months of no reply, I am left wondering.

It’s clear to me that at least SOME important players in my church ARE COMMUNICATING with each other ABOUT AVOIDING ME, but not letting me in on it.  On the contrary, when I show up for worship and bump into some of these folx, they greet me with a smile, a handshake, even a hug!  But it all proves very superficial.  The substance is gone.  I have been “ghosted”.

This happened to me before.  It’s not the first church to do this.  Thus it seems to be the preferred method of break up with churches too.

Not that there have been NO confrontations.  There have!  I confronted my churches, and went straight to leadership no less, with the WORD of God.  And I didn’t come complaining about the color of the drapes or the placement of the poinsettias in the sanctuary at Christmas time either.  No.  I came with the WORD of God pointing out how we are “ghosting” the homeless and how Jesus has WORDS of JUDGMENT about it (see Matt. 25, if you don’t already know this).  And the problem is that church leadership has no answer to this confrontation, but also no desire to get right.

I confronted the Premier Homeless Pseudo Church of Lubbock (not its real name), and leadership there decided to kick me out.  In fact, they made it quite official!  I was sent a letter outlining to me the fact that I was kicked out, AND THE LETTER WAS READ ALOUD TO THE CROWD OF HOMELESS PEOPLE THERE for worship the following Sunday so that they too would be fully informed that I am not welcome among them anymore.  (Of course, this “church” trumped up a charge calling me “divisive”, in order to justify themselves.  (Funny.  I was called “divisive” FOR COMPLAING THAT WE DON’T BRING THE HOMELESS IN WITH US!  The charge, more accurately stated was me being INCLUSIVE.)).  But that is the way power plays work.

But except for that anomaly, “ghosting” appears to be the way of the modern church in my experience.

So it seems I am “ghosted by Jesus”.

And one thing about getting “ghosted”, it’s a bit disorienting.

When Your Evil Is Stupid Too

You have probably heard of the show called America’s Dumbest Criminals, I bet.  Sometimes criminals are just so stupid that they are actually kinda funny.

But what a lot of people don’t give much thought to is the idea that there are really only TWO main categories of reasons for bad behavior.  (Any exceptions are just that – exceptions – and thus very rare.)

The two categories of reasons we do bad things are Evil Intent and Ignorance.  Evil Intent never gets excused, but sometimes Ignorance does – especially for minor infractions. (“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”).  However, Ignorance is a shameful thing to plea in a LOT of cases.  Most bad behavior resulting from Ignorance is still a matter of SHOULD-HAVE-KNOWN-BETTER.  Thus, even though pleading Ignorance might save you from paying consequences, you frequently are admitting to your own Stupidity, and thus a bit of shame is still attached.

But sometimes it’s both.  And that is extra shameful, and so we like to hold such behavior up to ridicule.  Thus we have a show like America’s Dumbest Criminals.

But you know the system is bad when you can so blatantly disregard the rules that no one calls you out on it – or if they do, you punish the whistle blower instead of the criminal.

And that is what we have in our churches today.  We hold to a mission statement like “Love God and love others” even pointing out how it comes straight from the lips of Jesus, but then totally disregard his words when he says “I was a stranger, and you took me in…”

Yeah, you really can’t plea Ignorance on this one.  And if you try, you should be called out as BOTH Evil AND Stupid, and should change this behavior before it becomes your shame.

“Love God and Love Others”

The church I go to has a mission statement.  A couple of years ago, leadership examined their mission statement and decided it was good but too long and cumbersome – that no one could remember it and recite it.  So they changed it.

After much thought and consideration, they boiled it down to these five, simple words: “Love God and love others“.

It’s a great mission statement on so many levels!  It actually is a distillation of the first and second greatest commands according to Jesus.  Basically, it’s biblical.  You can’t beat that.

Also, it is short and pithy.  It’s catchy.  You can’t forget it.  You could put it on a bumper sticker and still have room for more.  You can learn it and memorize it in the same amount of time it takes to tell it to you.

And I love it.

I totally approve.  And everyone else does too.  You could search all day and all night, but you won’t find anyone who disapproves.

BUT…

But there is one thing I have come to learn about our mission statement where I go to church: Loving God and loving others, as far as WE are concerned, DOES NOT mean we open the door to the homeless poor of our town and give them refuge in the blessings we enjoy as a church.  No.  We “love God and love others”, but we don’t do that.

Hmmm…

And just when we had every simplified….

Being “Biblical” Means Opening A Bible (At LEAST)

I have come to see that being “biblical” about things does not matter to most people.  Of course if you are not even a Christian, then sure.  But even if you are, it means less and less all the time.  I find Christians discussing things without reference to a Bible all the time.  (I will come back to that.).

Still, I sense there is more to being “biblical” than just citing a passage of Scripture that SEEMS to support your assertion.  This means there are different ways and depths to being “biblical” if we get right down to it, some of more value than others.  But that is a case for another time.  At the moment, I just want to say that being “biblical” at all, is better than not, yet it is the starting place so few Christians, in my experience, even value at all anymore.

I grew up in a faith heritage that liked to call ourselves “people of the book” a long time ago.  Several Protestant faith groups prized this ideal, but few took it to the levels we did.  And while I see that the particular way(s) we championed that ideal had some fatal flaws in it, I find it ironic that even in my own faith heritage today, there is so very little sense of the ideal anymore.

Probably this is the result of reactionary embarrassment.  My heritage became hard to get along with, and largely because of the way we viewed being “biblical” and the way the dust settled between us and others because of it.  And so I recall when I was a kid that my Mom, for a time, taught the Bible class I was in, and did so mostly with a copy of Reader’s Digest in her hand and a few emotionally charged stories from her personal life (or occasionally in the media).  Very little attempt was made to “tie in” these things to the Bible study itself.

In my Jr. High years, this seemed almost refreshing, and I think the other kids felt it too.  But the fact that we very quietly set aside the Bible during Bible study time and favored emotional stories over it, I think represents a subtle shift in the larger church culture.  And it all happened in my “formative years”.

In more recent years, and since I received a formal Bible education, I have witnessed Bible study fads come and go – such as The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  You don’t hear too much about it anymore, but a year or two after that book was published and started making its splash, the publisher began offering the Forty Days of Purpose study guide, and soon there were Purpose Driven journals, coffee mugs, key chains, Bible covers… you name it, and it was suddenly Purpose Driven!

The book was Spiritual in nature and was peppered all through with Bible quotations, but they were stitched together in Warren’s theological construct, to guide a spiritual experience he developed, meaning these quotations were largely lifted out of their original context and planted back into this marketing bonanza context instead.

Around that same time there were other fads topping the Best Seller lists: Prayer of Jabez, Left Behind, Frank Peretti, and more.  For a while there, it was good to be in the Christian Bookstore Retail Business, and all these books were outselling the Bible.  And every Bible study I visited seemed to be “studying” one of these books.

It got worse.

I remember visiting a church in Seattle around that time that had jumped on another fad where the Bible class gathered round a big screen viewing of The Andy Griffith Show, and after watching a brief episode, we would have a discussion time about how to apply the lessons in it to both the Bible and to our lives.

And in each phase of this, the Bible itself got a little more left behind all the time.  It became a little more foreign, a little less helpful.  If I didn’t have a quote from Rick Warren and the context in which he used it, then I didn’t have much to say that resembled being “biblical”.

In more recent times, I joined a Bible class at church called Seeking Shalom that is intended to help us nice, white, middle-class Christians to understand poverty better and equip us to help the poor.  TO BE FAIR, there was several places in this study course where a Bible was opened and a passage analyzed.  So I am not claiming it was entirely devoid of it.  But there were several sessions where it was omitted in favor of some insight originating elsewhere, and some of these insights became the guiding light around which we attempted to attach some Bible bits from time to time.  (We effectively did for ourselves what Rick Warren had done for us in the past, I think.)

I remember a session where the concern was that if we air drop food to these starving people, we will put local rice farmers out of business.

Think about that a minute.

It sounds really wise and all, very insightful. . .

. . . if your guiding principle is to grow an economy.  But what if your guiding principle is to be “biblical” in some sense?

Do we see Jesus feed hungry people?

Yes.

Does he show any concern about putting local rice farmers out of business?

No.

But this is how we spend our time “Seeking Shalom” as a Bible class where I go to church.

I think we need to “get back to the Bible”, as we used to say.

I fully concur that just that simple phrase alone does not really address the problem.  But I am also sure that gutting it of its meaning is a greater disservice.

Think about it.