Find Out Just How Welcome Jesus Really Is Where You Go To Church

Church hopping/church shopping.

I have written about it before.  We have turned church into the mall of God, essentially, and even the pastors have figured this out.  If they want to stay in business, they need to meet the customer’s desires and needs “where they are at”.  (The real Body of Christ is sustained instead by the Spirit of God, but a business posing as a church operates – below the surface – like any business seeking money and growth.)

Comfort.

We go to “church” where we are “comfortable”.

Stuff like: The preacher says what we like to hear; the music excites us; it’s a pretty building in a nice neighborhood; they give spiritual guidance to my kids; they have a men’s group that my husband needs.  It really might be just a matter of having friends there.  Or in a lot of cases, it “feels right” – maybe because it’s the denomination or the “doctrine” we grew up with, making us comfortable with nostalgia.

Comfort.

It is both a niche market (lots of small boutiques in the mall of God), and a big department chain (or a mega church you might see on TV).  There are lots of ways to separate you from your money and stay in business, but they are all fairly standard, and you can find them all pumping deep into your credit and debit accounts down at the South Plains Mall too.

Okay… I have covered all that before.  I reference it only to provide a richer context for what I want to say next.

How about you choose a church where Jesus is comfortable?  It’s not exactly, in the strictest sense, a biblical idea, but one worth pondering….  No?  Let’s consider it closer.  Surely Jesus is Lord where you go to church.  Right?  Surely he is WELCOME there!  Wanna find out for sure?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that the “least of these”/”stranger” is him.  He is basically describing a homeless person in need of shelter and care.  So if you were to skip your shower a few days, put on some shabby second-hand, dirty clothes, and show up at church on Sunday, how would he (you) be treated?

Surely you have heard the modern-day parable of the pastor who showed up to church like this to discover the church shuns him until he reveals his true identity and shames them.  The only part missing in that parable is that the revelation, the apocalypse, is not that the bum is really the pastor, but that the bum is really Jesus!  And that goes for bums who are not pastors posing as bums too.

Point being, you can do this exercise ever bit as much as a proverbial pastor can!  And you can determine whether Jesus is really Lord in any of these churches, in part, from this exercise.  You can determine if Jesus is really welcome there!

How will you know?

I expect that if you dress down like a bum and go in to meet a “church” who might potentially host you, one good indicator is whether or not the “church” makes you feel comfortable.  Does someone greet you?  Do they greet with sensitivity?  Do they invite you to stay and eat?  Do they invite you deeper into the life of their church?  Do you sense that you have access to their heart?

Or…

Do they ignore you?  Do they shun you?  Do they marginalize you?  Do you feel manipulated, engineered, and managed?

I know that here in Lubbock, Texas all across the spectrum of churches, the homeless are offered shelter at Tent City (no longer it’s name), at the Salvation Army, and for very specific people meeting very specific criteria there is the Family Promise and a couple other comparable services all on a very small scale.  Then there is the extremely limited Housing First program put on by the Premier Homeless Pseudo Church (not its real name) with a long waiting list while they plan to build more homes for the program (and meanwhile kick people out who don’t meet their requirements (not a “housing first” agenda, really, but a merit-based housing program posing as “housing first”).  After that, there is the jail, the mental hospital (if you claim to be suicidal), and on emergency cold weather nights, there is a barn at the Tent City facility.

Yep.  Jail, the hospital, and a barn.

No churches.

So meanwhile, the whole Jesus-is-Lord/Matthew-25 litmus test is too high a bar for Lubbock’s churches to pass.  But you could still test them and see.  Why take my word for it?

And wouldn’t you really want to go to a church where Jesus is comfortable?  Where Jesus is Lord??  Where Jesus is welcome???  When did taking up a cross and following Jesus become a matter of seeking my comfort?  Why am I going to a church where I am comfortable?  What would be the point of such a church?  I mean if you really stop and think about it… What would be the point?  Why bother getting out of bed on a Sunday morning to go to a particular church for that reason?  Are you gonna show up at the Great Judgment Day and show God your attendance card like a free pass?

Go look at Matthew 25 carefully.  It describes the Great Judgment Day in stark terms.  The poor stranger will be called to witness either for or against you.  He will reveal to you that he was Jesus all along.  And you  will look at that bum in the witness booth in desperation clinging to every word he says as will the Great King who separates the goats from the sheep.  And the mall of God will not prepare you for it despite all the comforts it promises you in the meantime.

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Welcoming and Eating with Sinners

This post is so important! I beg my readers to visit this blog!!! Please give this your attention.

One Day Revival

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.‘”

Luke 15:1-7

In the 21st century we are not quite familiar with…

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my theology in process: part III–Jesus

This post ROX!

. . . where do we go from here?

Who Do You Say That I Am?: Jesus and the Parable of the Prodigal Son

As I turn to Scripture, I am drawn to the paradox of Jesus: he is present among the masses and withdraws to pray alone in the mountains. His parables are simple yet cryptic. He is gentle and tells us his yoke is light, yet in a fury he flips the tables of the corrupt Temple moneychangers and tells his followers they must also bear the cross. He is the heavenly Son of Man and the son of an unwed peasant girl who together became political refugees as they fled state violence. Jesus sits at the right hand of God and is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. He is the Messiah, King, and Savior of the World whose public ministry lasted no longer than three years…

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CHURCH ZONING WARS – UNPOPULAR MISSIONS

Some towns, like mine, the problem is within the church. Some towns its the town. Either way, the lowly are way too easy to kick around.

Church Litigation Update

When a church as part of its mission in a community undertakes ministering to the forgotten or the hated, the neighbors might object with sufficient vehemence to invoke municipal machinery. Such legal machinery may be engaged to grind finely using rules with little substantive elucidation making them prone to subjective interpretation. Zoning is a favorite weapon.

In First Lutheran Church v The City of St. Paul, Memorandum Opinion and Order on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (DC Minn., 2018), the church noted a homeless “day shelter” lost its location after thirty-three years and offered up its basement for the “day shelter.” The church had many outreach programs to the poor and homeless. The church, to make sure it would not have a problem operating an adult day care program sought a Determination of Similar Use from the city. The city approved the application. The program began to provide day shelter…

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What matters most to God?

This post really gets me thinking… . How about you?

Fuel for the journey

stencil.default37-810x540Scripture: Luke 16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in…

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Memoir of a Christian Mystic (Three Mind-Expanding Days Getting High on Theology)

My career as a “Christian Mystic” was brief, but, I think, influential.  I was a Sophomore in Bible college, young and impressionable, signing loan papers just as fast as they put them in front of me as I sold myself in slavery to serve Jesus and to seek both a deeper spiritual life AND a career all in the same academic endeavor.  Looking back now, I recognize that like a dog I was a well-trained consumer, obedient to the leash of the modern marketplace of both ideas and consumerist whims.

Three days as a “mystic” – mentally trying it on for size, primping in the dressing room mirror of my mind, thinking outside the box (because it was not, in fact, a course offered in the course catalog, nor a pathway to graduation that my advisor could assist me with).  I was going to get to the actual heart of God, and not just be a supporter of more of the status quo.  On the contrary, I came dangerously close to re-inventing my identity in that mythical “leave-home” and “go-find-myself” sense of reinvention.  I didn’t want to “be anything but cliché”, but I certainly didn’t want to be cliché either.  I already knew, intuitively, that American “Christianity” was a tired enterprise more interested in looking and sounding “right” in its own eyes than in authentically representing Jesus to the world.  Suddenly mysticism presented itself as an exit ramp off this circle track.

Not unlike so many young idealists before me (in any array of fields of inquiry, not limited just to theology), I came to school with a very deep hunger.  And I fell in love with the “hardest” professor my department had to offer – the one that seemed to scare most of my classmates.  Actually, I liked them all, but this one challenged me at deeper levels and seemed to hold the promise of no-nonsense inquiry on that idealist’s pedestal I thought I wanted.  So I hung on his every word!

One day in a lecture he made passing mention of a novel by Chaim Potok called The Book of Lights.  This book, it seemed, was influential for my beloved professor, and I wanted details.  I approached after class and got the vital information.  Before week’s end, I was deep into it.

It turns out that all of Potok’s novels depict young Jewish men in coming-of-age dramas.  This one, a historical fiction novel, follows a seminary student in New York whose father was one of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb during WWII.  Gershon Loran finds himself entering Jewish seminary, shortly before the Korean War, where he is challenged by a professor of Kabbalah.  (This is way before Madonna made Kabbalah popular.)

As a Bible student at a Christian university in West Texas, I had no idea what Kabbalah was, and even now, my knowledge of it is minimal.  But I learned from Potok that it is the domain of Jewish mystics, AND that most Jewish theologians (if we can call them that) hold Kabbalah in some disdain and people who embrace it in a lot of disdain.  Gershon Loran and his buddy become enthralled with it because of their challenging professor, but do so at great personal cost since it means they will not be taken seriously by both their academic and professional colleagues.  But as they look into it, they become ever more fascinated with God – especially with LIGHT.

I have not read the book in a very long time now, so I am sure my memory of it is skewed at this point.  But I recall (whether accurate or not) several scenes where Gershon and his buddy get caught up in a trance as they meditate on light – even mundane lights like the florescent lights in their favorite deli.  But I recall the stunning dramatic portrayal of Gershon’s guilt feelings about his father’s involvement in developing the A-bomb, which of course unleashed a flash across the sky the likes of which our world had never before known.  In particular, I recall Potok describing how farmers and ranchers all across New Mexico found dead birds everywhere that had fallen from midflight with their eyes burned out.  This was my vicarious doorway into Gershon Loran’s mysticism.

I applied these images to my own inquiry.  It was a very flawed application, and I knew it at the time, but like Gershon, I was drawn to it.  I had the challenging professor who introduced me to this book.  I did not want to take the usual, “respectable” path into Christian ministry either.  I was willing to embrace humility as a price to pay for a chance to SEE GOD.  And I was willing to risk it burning out my eyes.

I told a couple of friends what I was thinking about.  And in Bible college, the notion seemed extra cool to them.  I suddenly realized it had backfired.  I was trendy, not humiliated.  But like most novelties in the marketplace, my friends forgot it a week later.  I, on the other hand, became disappointed.  I didn’t know what to do with this brief, decidedly misguided, yet important experience.  It had cost me nothing, but it had seemed so full of potential… at least for a moment.

It was years later, and after diving deeply into the work of N.T. Wright, that I have come to view the core of my Christian theology, mission, and ministry is all about bearing the image of God.  This involves seeing him too, but to come full circle it is about bearing the image at root.  God made the humans, in Genesis 1, specifically for this purpose.  And the root of all the problems we encounter in creation since that time has to do with failure to bear his image as we were made for AND, as part of that, seeing his image in each other.

I gave up on mysticism way back then, and I still don’t pursue it now either.  But I have embraced prophetic ministry largely because of that little experience.  I have come to see the POWER of God’s image.  Just the mere image of God makes mountains bow down, valleys stand at attention, and crooked places straighten out – so says Isaiah.  The one bearing the image of God can walk on water!  The image bearer can stop the sun in the sky!  (Nature lovers take note.)  And if you kill an image bearer, the Spirit will resurrect him/her to New Life.

To be a Christian is to believe this stuff – AND to live accordingly in the here-n-now the life of the Age to Come as a witness to it (as a bearer of his image) for the present unbelieving age to see.

And to minister to this world, at least in part, is to discover this image and uncover this image in the lowly humble people all around me so that they too bear his image as a witness to the unbelieving age about life in the Age to Come.

It’s all very prophetic.

Almost mystical.

…Only What He Sees The Father Doing…

I have a two year old boy following me EVERYWHERE I go imitating EVERYTHING he sees me doing.  The responsibility of parenting weighs heavy on me.  This little person feeds from me, gets all his sustenance from me, learns from me, and holds close to me – MOST of the time.

A human in process of being.

His vulnerable need of me minute by minute, hour by hour bonds me to him and him to me.  I am devoted to him and him to me.  When I walk in the room after having been gone a while, it’s a celebration of reunion!  Joy fills the air.

And if I am too busy to celebrate in that first moment of entering his presence, it causes him anxiety and pain.

We have an agenda set by the Creator.  It’s not my personal agenda, but it sure is personal.  I sacrifice my personal agenda MOST of the time to attend to this little guy who watches every move I make and learns to make his way in the world by imitating me.

It is precious.  He is precious.  Love makes his way.  His way is Love.

Jesus gets in some conflict when healing a sick man on the Sabbath.  When his critics confront him for it, he tells them, “… the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing…”.  There is no doubt that Jesus paints himself with this same brush I use painting the picture of my boy learning his way in life from me in the Love we share.

Throughout most of world history, young men learned their trade from their fathers.  I expect most of them were farmers or in a trade related to agriculture, but a lot were craftsmen too.

Jesus was a prophet.  He was the Son of God (the Creator) AND the son of a carpenter (more like THE Carpenter, actually) – BOTH.  Such is prophetically symbolic and divine – intertwined with meaning and Spirit.

And learning your trade from your father surely was the natural thing to do – practically the design built into the rhymes and rhythms of creation, put there by the Creator.  A young boy standing there at the work bench watching his father measure, cut, hammer, trim, and then place the part into its fitted spot.  Watching a stack of supplies turn into a house at the Father’s hand, and taking the tool as soon as the father sets it aside to mimic his movements, to lay his head next to the line and close one eye and measure for straightness just as he saw his father do a moment before, and the motions, the rhythms taking hold all through his body even before he can talk or understand what he is doing.

This is what Jesus is referring to.  And if the son gets a little confused, he turns to his father to see if he is watching and to ask for directions – Do You see me Abba?  Do You SEE me???  I do just like you, Dad, like the Cats in the Cradle and the Silver Spoon, I wanna be LIKE You Dad… I wanna be JUST like You.

And the Father smiles, maybe even laughs.  He encourages the boy, maybe corrects and disciplines, but he is so proud.

And the boy finishes the project, with just three more nails and IT IS FINISHED.  And he stretches out his hands as if to present his work for review.

Look Father.  I made a Tree of Life.

And Jesus tells his confronters, “Even as the Father raises the dead to new life, so the Son gives life to whom he will”.

Cruciformed.

This is what it means for the Son to Only do what he sees the Father doing.  It means he bears the image of God building a home for the homeless in the Age to Come.

I hope I honor my Father like Jesus.  I hope I can teach this to the boy he gave me.

Speaking of Football…

I find myself in multiple layers of confusion about the rules our world operates under.  Some stuff about our social construct of reality I just don’t get.

We like to be winners.  Don’t we?  What is this torturous loosing streak?

I live in Lubbock, Texas.  Our team enjoys tremendous support in this town.  The fever for our team, especially during football season, is just stunning.  The crowds gather at the games and pack the largest venue in town EVERY TIME.  The enthusiasm is unparalleled.  One game the crowds wear all black.  It is a show of unity; our community is passionate about our team!  Another game the crowds wear all white!

It’s not just in the stands either.  Games will be televised.  But it’s not like we are sitting at home watching in our underwear.  No.  If you can’t make it to a game, go to one of the dozens of bars around town where it will be splashed across numerous giant TV screens in HD.  The bars are packed too.

If a game is on while you are at the grocery store, they air it on the intercom.  If you are stuck at home watching (or listening) no one finds it odd if you wear your supportive colors, wave your foam finger over your head, and dance around the coffee table spilling your beer as the team gains a first down!

I mean… the enthusiasm runs deep and gets really pervasive – weirdly pervasive.

Whole streets will get blocked off for parades, for parking, for “tail-gating”.  The overflow parking lot at the hospital will be used for park-n-ride shuttle service.  Traffic around the stadium will jam up the city for four hours a week.  The jail prepares for high-volume intake and booking (I know; I used to work there) as a matter of good business.

My god, I mean… my Football… if Jesus got one tenth of this attention and enthusiasm from our community, it would be scary!

And it all makes sense.  Right?  No one sees the slightest problem with this arrangement.  NO ONE.

But the thing that just hits me in the dead of the night is how poor of a team we have.  We don’t win national championships.  Not even close.

A few years ago, we had a coach who was building up our team, and we were on the cusp of greatness – getting into “bowl games” on New Year’s Day every year.  But they were typically the bowl games you never heard of until your team was in it.  We haven’t won enough games to do that, since our coach got canned.  (And I thought he could do no wrong!  It is truly ironic that he got canned!!!  (It was a deeply upsetting moment in Lubbock’s history, and major law suits were filed – even a book was written… hmmm.))

How is it that Football gets such passionate devotion from our “Christian town” but Jesus doesn’t?

I don’t want to be too harsh on football.  It is just a game, after all.  But wait!  Isn’t that the point?

You know???  I would think it is because Jesus is a loser.  A criminal executed for crimes he didn’t even commit.  Why give him the time of day at all?  But honestly, I mean if we can really  be honest about it, we have a losing team.  So that can’t be it.

So what is it?

Why is it that in a town as “Christian” and conservative as Lubbock, Texas that Jesus doesn’t have the unity of football supporters?  Why is it that our jail isn’t swelling with dangerous preachers like St. Peter or St. Paul or Jesus?  Why is it that people who can’t get into a game will still gather in bars around giant TV screens to show unity and support, to celebrate and worship football, but they can’t be bothered to get out of bed on a Sunday morning?

Did football die for you?  Does football love you?  Did football create this world?

What sense does this make?

I don’t really know.  But I do read from Bible scholars that the fastest growing religion during the time of St. Paul, St. Peter, and Jesus crucifixion was the Emperor Cult.  And let’s not forget, the emperor gave us games!  Gladiator games.

Sound reasonable now?

Are You Ready For Football???

Oh my!  The anticipation and excitement is building up as our community is on the cusp of another big football season!  The sports casters are telling us about the most mundane things from Cowboys Training Camp, about upper classmen returning to the Red Raider Team, and about how dangerous the summer heat is for our young athletes as they work out in it.

Football!

One of the three of the Holy Trinity in West Texas.  Yes.  It goes Money, Sex, and Football.  And as I posted a couple years ago, NOTHING GETS THE CHRISTIANS OF LUBBOCK TOGETHER QUITE LIKE A FOOTBALL GAME!  Not even Jesus (which we proved last Spring when we held a prayer service in the Jones Stadium and filled it only to half capacity, (I had one commenter then note that since it was televised, they estimated the other half watched from home.  But that is not a fair comparison really, because for FOOTBALL the Jones will be packed and EVERY BAR in town will televise it to their patrons who will pack those bars as well to worship at the altar of football for all they are worth too.))

Yup!  Football!

Who knows?  We might even win a few games this year!

You know who is gonna lose?  Well, probably us, mostly.  I mean if the past is an indicator of the future, then we will get all hyped up now for another losing season on the field.  But Jesus loses too.  Pastors will schedule services around games in some cases OR preach about football, and maybe wear supporting colors (syncretism anyone?).  The stadium will be packed with Atheists, Neo-pagans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and a few Jews (maybe even a Muslim or two), all people who can pay – all worshiping football side-by-side on a Saturday night, but most of whom won’t show up for church Sunday morning, and those who do will divide up to do it.

Oh… and the poor…

Yeah.  They are sports fans too. (Hey!  Who says that every choice the poor makes is a wise one?)  Very, very few will make it into the arena, but several of them will find a way to watch on TV or the internet.  Even more will listen to it on the radio.  And several of them will be displaced from the area they were squatting so that some rich Methodists can park -n- ride to the game.

Football!

Are you ready???

I know I can’t wait!

It occurs to me that if I were leading a series of classes teaching church people how to “find Shalom” as a means of helping the poor, I would devote a whole session to the idolatry of football.  Because as long as our community is pulled together at this altar rather than the altar of Jesus, our world ain’t finding God’s Shalom.

We are ALL made in His image

Sounds like more people should take this mission trip. I wish all my friends would find Jesus like this blogger. Amen. Perhaps this post will lead you to Jesus – Jesus on the side of the road.

The Search for The Lord in Everyday Experiences

I went on a trip last summer with my youth group to Denver, Colorado, where we worked with the ministry Dry Bones to help the homeless that lived in Denver. At the end of the trip, we had a time as a group to reflect on the things we learned. I wrote these lessons down, put them in an envelope, and handed the envelope over to the leader of Dry Bones. I received that letter months ago, but today I found it again and I found the lessons that I needed to be reminded of.

The main theme of that week was that we all possess unsurpassable value that can’t be taken away. God made us all in His image for a reason, He is the person who gives us value and life. So why do we see some people as lesser than, whenever God created us and Jesus died…

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