Saturday, March 09, 2013
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I know that churches are not refuges or sanctuaries.
And I know that all too often, we have named our church buildings such names. Abigail Van Buren wrote, “A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
We need churches to be training grounds, arming warriors for the battle. We don’t need church buildings to be spiritual healing centers. We need M.A.S.H. units for that—treating warriors to get back into the battle. Because the kind of healing they’re speaking of is only a spiritual healing. Not that spiritual healing isn’t
important, but it’s someth
ing which usually takes time. Churches can be places where th
at can begin. They can be places where that can be fostered. But daily, we need warriors in the battle. And the most passionate warriors…the most effective fighters are the ones who are fresh in their faith.
I know that the woman at the well in John 4 was a woman warrior! I know she was overwhelmed by how Jesus was able to see into her soul, know her—her wounds and her failings—and yet offer grace overflowing. And her battle-readiness was not based upon months of training, but by her overpowering gratitude and love for who Jesus was to her. She was so effective, in fact, that a whole city was evangelized!
I know we often invite people into our churches, and then invite them to a “membership class,” where we inundate them with the different committees and ministries of our churches and ask them to sign up. I know that we often water down any passion which may have been there initially with our droning on about what our churches are doing. I know we emphasize our core values and mission statements more than we do Jesus.
And I know in the midst of this, we often abort the new life growing within these new believers.
And in doing so, we sin. We relegate these people to committee memberships deciding upon which color of carpeting to choose for the church lobby, rather than setting them free to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those who are in prison, do ministry to widows and orphans, and radically share in Whose name they are doing these things, thus leading them to know the only name which is above all other names…the only name by which they may be saved. Say it right now. Say it out loud, oh Warrior! Jesus. No, don’t whisper it. Say it out loud! For the entire forces of Hell are arrayed against you at this moment. JESUS!
For every moment of every day, there is a battle for our souls, and we have been blinded by God's enemy, and have been rendered as helpless children for an enemy who is at play in the fields of the Lord.
We often portray Jesus as “gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild.” We portray Him as some sort of hippie peacenik sitting around singing “Peacetrain.” Since when has the Wild Untamed God been on the defensive? Since when has the Warrior Adonai hidden from the fray?
The armor of God covers our front, because God assumes we will always be engaged head-on in battle.Friends, there is a battle for our souls. And we fight, not with flesh and blood, but in a spiritual battle. For if not a battle, then why are we encouraged to don armor? We are supposed to wear the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, a belt of truth, a shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and of course, shoes of readiness to share the gospel of peace.
I know that none of this armor covers our butts. And yet, that is exactly what we do. We live C.Y.A. lives (do I need to unpack the initials?) in C.Y.A. churches.
And I know we all too often long for safety, rather than sacrifice…for comfort, rat
her than confrontation…for rest, rather than the rallying battle-cry of onward Christian soldiers! To arms! To arms! We fight for and with the High King of Heaven! The Lion of Judah, the triumphant King of Kings is riding in upon a white horse with sword drawn…the God of the Angel Armies is on the move!
Some say the safest place to be is in the will of God. Horsehockey. B.S. It is the most dangerous place to be, because we will be attacked! But it is the right place to be! For we are eternal beings, created for forever and evil cannot overcome us, as we are Warriors of Light—Children of the Day!
I’m reminded of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy is speaking to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan: “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
No, Jesus isn’t safe. But He’s good. And He’s the King. And He is rallying His troops to the battle waged against His children.
And I know we often turn a deaf ear to His cry.
I know that instead of war against the spiritual forces of Hell and darkness, our “missions” committees vote to plant peace-poles in the memorial gardens of our churches. Rather than riding out to confront the evil of this world, we vote to send our pennies so others can be our Proxy Warriors, fighting so we can enjoy our lattes in the safety of our sanctuaries.
Friends, the enemy isn’t simply at the gates…he’s in our midst. He’s in our sanctuaries. He’s penetrated our pews. And unless we stand up and fight, our church buildings will soon be relics, sold in short-sale deals to organizations needing a building. And years later, people will stop wondering what the building used to be and who used to inhabit it, and will have forgotten all of the committees, classes, and causes.
I know we need to fight. And in choosing to fight, we need to train to do so. We need to train the people we invite into our communities of faith. We need to tell them not only about the armor, but about the battle. We need to pray with them and for them, emulating this battle. We need to show them how worship is warfare, and evangelism strikes a fatal blow in the ranks of our enemies, and how prayer is a mighty power to wield…more s
o than any nuclear bomb, and more targeted than any guided missile.
I know we have been deceived by our enemy. And because of this, we have become our own enemy, and often act against the very God we proclaim to love.
“Yep, son. We have met the enemy and he is us.” Pogo (Walt Kelly)
I know we can change this.
To arms! To arms!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
The church as it was just after Jesus left the planet kicked ass. These folks were walking around healing people. And I’m not just talking about getting rid of the hiccoughs. No, they were making lame people walk. They were making blind people see. They were healing leprosy. I mean holy crap, they were raising the dead! And I’m not talking about dime-store illusions where people thought these things were going on. I’m not talking about faith-healers coming through town with their dog-and-pony shows and people planted in the audience who would throw down their crutches and “miraculously” walk for the first time in years “Hallelujah!” I’m talking about the genuine article. People were getting healed by being in the shadow of these early church members! And they were going after demons! Not just sort of maybe kinda suggesting that God bless people. No! They were actually driving demons out of people and freeing them up to live the abundant life which God intended.
Friends, the church has become a sanctuary of, for, and by wussies. I mean it. When I look around at most of the people with which we’ve packed our church buildings on most Sunday mornings, I see a bunch of very well-meaning, yet spiritually naïve people who have no concept of the spiritual warfare waging battle for their souls.
I know that we spiritual leaders, for the most part, stopped making disciples of Jesus a long time ago, and created pew-packers who write out tax-deductible checks, attend Bible studies, and try not to swear.
We took that which was never meant to be tamed and put a bridle on it and called it good.
And about that time, God took its temperature, called it lukewarm, and spit it out.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
I know that within the untamed chaos of nature, there exists an inherent, created order, ordained by God. And there is such an order intended for the church. But that order was created by God, and not us. And no mission, vision, core values statement pre-empts that order. The mission is simple: love God, love each other and bring that love to the ends of the earth without ceasing until everyone feels loved. Get it? I didn’t. I’m not sure I do yet. But I’m catching a glimpse of all I thought it was and now know it isn’t. I got in the way of God’s order on many occasion.
And I know that order has been the subject of many a church split. And out of such splits, many people lose sight of what God intended and consequently, don’t feel very loveable, very loved, or very loving. And out of such squabbles arose larger organizations called denominations which sought to guide individual congregations through oversight and leadership with well-meaning intentions.
And with what is the road to Hell paved?
I know that most well-meaning churches belong to denominations.
I know that denominations in and of themselves are not evil.
I know that denominations like to take control.
I know that denominations like to take credit.
I know that denominations take credence, making a well-meaning church, indecipherable in its meaning…no matter how well it was to begin with.
I know that denominations seek to stifle creativity.
I know that denominations seek to stifle individuality.
I know that denominations seek to stifle freedom.
I know that creativity, individuality, and freedom are threatening to the status quo.
And I know the status quo is the modus operandi of denominations.
I know that denominations seek to inspire conformity within a context which is either so bland and beige that it would blend into most suburban neighborhoods, OR is so inanely politically correct, seeking to offend no one, and effectually alienating everyone by celebrating the conformity of diversity, not the different God-flavors within each individual.
I know that denominations often seek obedience to causes and not to Christ. They seek to preserve the institution, rather than serve their Savior.
I have personally seen several congregations, and many people’s souls raped by well-meaning denominations which seek to preserve rather than serve. The swath of carnage left behind devastates communities and steals precious hope from the already hopeless.
Thank God, He’s bigger than denominations.
Friend, do you see that? Several friends, gathering together in one another’s homes, eating together, worshiping, celebrating life together, praying for each other, and meeting each other’s needs. And what is this thing called? Love? Yes. Church? Shouldn’t they be one in the same? Whenever a few people get together and begin loving God and loving on one another without ceasing and loving on more and more people and feeling more and more loved…yes. Now that sounds like church.
And look over there, a bunch of younger people with two turn-tables and a microphone, dancing rhythmically to the unforced rhythms of grace. And what’s that? A neighborhood working together to collect food and money for a neighborhood family in need. And look over there! Children singing songs, holding hands, and dancing around wildly, untamed, and in the midst of it all, can’t you just see Jesus frolicking among them…with them. And look at that! A few friends gathering together over a cup of coffee discussing the ups and downs of their lives, and feeling safe to do so. They support one another. They encourage one another. They love one another.
These are all church.
What if congregations came in all shapes and sizes? What if they met in church buildings, yes, but in movie theaters, shopping malls, living rooms, warehouses, basements, bars, strip-clubs, and even on the internet? Could this happen? And what if, instead of over-arching organizations with emblems, agendas, and paid staff, they kinda watched out for each other?
Okay. I’m going to say it. I can’t hold it in any longer. We don’t need denominations. Let’s do an Etch-a-sketch folks. Let’s shake it all up, erase the thing we were working on before, and start over. And no animosity. No, we don’t need to condemn anyone or anything. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. No harm, no foul. Do over! Ollie-ollie-oxen free!
Yeah, that’s it. I think this would make Jesus smile. I really do.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
I know Jesus loves loving on people. And I know that He loves when we love on each other. And I know it breaks His heart when we don’t. And I know that while most churches have very good intentions, they do best at loving on each other, but not so good at loving on those outside their doors…those who are different…who don't dress the same, look the same, talk the same, or smell the same.
And I know that evangelism…sharing the Good News…is when we love on each other with Jesus’ love.
I know that evangelism does not constitute a welcome sign, nor cheesy sentiments on church signs inspiring guilt for those who are in bed crying out, "Oh God!"
I know these sorts of things only prove their point.
I know that flashy websites are not evangelism, but you should still have one…one that helps people to connect with one another and be the church…one which empowers people to be the church for one another…with one another…without restrictions and rules, programs and precepts other than “Thy will be done.”
Nor are coffee-bars in church, comfy seats, or even really good music evangelism. These things are nice to have if you like church, but they're still foreign to people who are not used to being in church.
I know that evangelism is an underprivileged child who received a box of genuine (not generic) Captain Crunch in this month’s visit to the food shelf. “Mommy, look! We got the good stuff!”
I know that evangelism is a distrustful, single mother desperately trying to take care of her family opening her front door to find a bunch of followers of Jesus there with hammers, screwdrivers, drywall, paint, and new carpet. Oh yes, church, do you hear that voice in your heart right now? It’s the voice of God’s Spirit speaking to you…calling you to this woman’s house to help her make it a livable home for her family. That dis-comfort you’re feeling is called conviction…and it’s a good thing. Embrace it…and now get out of your chair and make some calls…gather your friends…gather God’s church…and go. GO!
I know that evangelism happens naturally and is never forced because it is a response to the extravagant, raucous love of God.
I know that evangelism happens out of the overflow. So, if you’re not overflowing…then you need to ask God to fill you up. You need to be in worship…and not just in church services. No, dear friend, worship needs to become a lifestyle. In your cars, at your kids’ soccer games, at work, at home, at play, at rest, while out to dinner…let all you do be an act of worship! When your son gets a decent report card…worship God. When you wake in the morning and savor the first sips of your coffee…thank Him for the drink which is helping you to rouse to your day.
When you find that rare parking spot up front, say thanks and tell Him He’s awesome and that you appreciate all He gives. When you smoke a good cigar, raise the stub of it to the sky with a thankful heart when you’re finished. When you bite into that cheeseburger, when you make love with your spouse, when you’re dancing, when you’re crying…worship Him! Friend, do whatever it takes to overflow with God’s love! It’s up to you.
And I know that all too often our churches do nothing to help us overflow, instead draining each of us in the service of the institution, so there is barely enough Good News left at the end of the day for ourselves, let alone those around us who are desperate. And for having been one of those who has recruited people in desperation to fill multiple slots, I must apologize to you, the reader, for having plundered your overflow.
Imagine the church with everyone filled to overflowing. Imagine what it would look like. The air would be electric. Walking into that place would be like getting in line to get on a rollercoaster.
And I do believe people would raise their hands in the air for such a ride as that!
And coming out of that church, you wouldn’t hear people saying simply, “Nice sermon, pastor.” No, you would hear people saying, “Wow! What a ride! When can we come back?”
I’d get on that ride.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Theft is unconscionable. To steal anything from anyone is such a claim of personal pride and a statement of conceit.
And I know that pastors have stolen the ministry from their congregations.
And I know that at times, I’ve been guilty of this as well, and for this, I’m deeply sorry.
But now, I know that I long to share it.
I know that I long to raise up leaders. Leaders who are self-less servants whose goal it is to raise up other leaders, sometimes even abdicating their own leadership, in favor of others who can do what they do better.
I know that ministry isn’t…until it’s shared…until it’s given away…and until it’s laid upon the altar of pride as one’s Isaac.
I know that it is time to teach our members how to administer the sacraments. Oh yes, I did! I said that. There is not one place in the Bible which suggests that the administration of the sacraments is relegated to the “professionals.” So, “professionals,” get off your high horse willingly, before you’re brought low against your will. It’s not like you were given a bag of magic “pastor-dust” with which to sprinkle the bread and the juice, and babies and folks who get dipped.
Heck, while we’re at it, let’s teach our children to administer the sacraments as well. Oh, mom, can you imagine your child shooting you with their squirt gun saying, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus, mommy!” Or papa, how about your child breaking off a part of their peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, handing it to you saying, “This is Jesus’ body, daddy…I broke it for you...have a drink of my Kool-aid, daddy, it’s Jesus’ blood…because He loves you so much, and so do I.”
I know that I cannot wait to see parents having communion at home; mommies giving communion to their children; fathers baptizing their families and vice versa.
Yes, I know in my heart, that theft is unconscionable. I know that seminaries serve their purpose to a certain extent. But I also know that seminaries steal our passion and dignify it…tame it…tone it down and try to make it “appropriate.”
I know that passion can never be “appropriate,” the moment it is, it has ceased to be passion. And friends, the church of Jesus Christ…if it is His bride, cannot help but to be passionate. If it’s not, then it’s not being true to Him…it is being an unfaithful bride…dare I say, it is not being the Church.
I know that the local church should be the seminary. Local churches which meet in churchy buildings…coffee shops…malls…schools…living rooms…and even on the internet…should be seminaries. And not just paper writin’ book-learnin’ seminaries. No, seminaries which prepare pastors for the battle which will be waged for their souls and reputations, the safety of their families, and for the eternities of those to whom they’ll minister. Seminaries need to tell the truth, that pastors are sheep sent out amongst wolves…and that some will be devoured by the enemy. Seminaries need to gird pastors for this battle, and put them in touch with others who are warriors so they may stand together.
Yes, local churches must raise up leaders who are passionate in their faith.
Local churches should teach the Bible and explore it, asking deep questions. And admitting they don’t have all the answers.
Local churches should teach people how to care for one another and stop depending on one pastor to do it all.
Local churches should help people to realize the “desires of their hearts,” and then set folks free to pursue them.
Local churches should stop programmatizing everything…and learn to improvise more. Then maybe once again, the Holy Spirit would have room to work. Maybe God would look at His church and say, “Yes! I can work with this!”
And I know that pastors…true pastors…are the ones among them who are equally willing to push the broom as well preach the sermon.