Thursday, April 10, 2014

Act 12

I know God has written a Love story in which God is the Lover and we are the Beloved. 

And I know God woos us.  Relentlessly. 

And I know the church has abdicated its place in God's Love story to a committee.

And like anything relegated to a committee, the story is homogenized and pasteurized and once again, made safe for consumption.  For only the lowest common denominator will be acceptable.  The people Jesus exhorted in Matthew 23 did it to a song recently.  The original lyrics by John Mark McMillan, were changed to “Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss” from “Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”

When a child awaits the arrival of their parents, they have a barely-contained energy and Love within them that explodes forth in a rush as their parents walk through the door.  I’ll never forget moments like that when my children were young.  I’d walk in the door and I’d hear “Daddy, daddy, daddyyyyyyyyy!”  And a child would launch themselves into the air and into my arms planting a very messy, sloppy wet kiss on my face.

And someday it shall be when we see God face to face.

And so it was when the Prodigal Son returned home to his Daddy—a daddy who ran to meet him with an embrace and a very sloppy wet kiss. 

by Wayne Forte (www.wayneforte.com)
And such was the Love of the harlot who poured her perfume on Jesus’ feet, anointing him…shedding tears of Love and gratitude on them further blessing him…and then drying them with her hair. 

And such Love is killed in committee and if it comes out at all, it comes out “nice.”

And such Love—such a Jesus—was once killed in committee as well.

Why is the institutional church becoming a relic—an antique?  Not because of worship styles or unintelligible liturgies, but because of a lack of Love.

We mostly have well-meaning, well-intentioned people in our churches.  And some of them even have a passion inside them for God and making a difference in this world through Extravagant Love.  But once they gather in committee, the Love is tamed. 

We execute the dreams and passions of our church members.  We gather in the town square and place the necks of their dreams under the guillotines of our committees, beheading them to silence their voices.

What if we didn’t?

What if someone came forth with Untamed Love and an idea to bring hotdogs to the mobile home park in town and feed the kids and families there?  Imagine children gathering round to be fed…and to feel Loved!

What if another with Untamed Love posted on Facebook a need for a friend and the need was filled by their community without any committee involvement?  Imagine the smiles and happy tears of the person whose need was fulfilled!

What if another went in mission, without the blessing of the missions committee, to children with medical needs Loving on them sloppily, extravagantly, and wonderfully bringing healing to their bodies, and joy to the souls of those children and their families?  Imagine cleft palates being healed.  Imagine smiles being whole for the first time.  Imagine children feeling whole and Loved and “normal!”

Imagine.

And then know this:  we don’t just have to imagine such a thing.
Because these things are happening.  Now.  And without committees.  People with Love abounding in their hearts are shining in their communities and such things are occurring around us. 

And without the blessing of denominational churches.

If our denominational churches refuse to learn, they will fade leaving only a faint imprint like an image on a TV screen left on too long, once enjoyed, now an annoyance.

The wonderful story of the Woman at the Well in John chapter 4 is about the first evangelist.  And her unbounded, extravagant and oh-so-Untamed Love for Jesus was not neutered in committee, but instead evangelized an entire community! 

For the church to once again be the Church, we need to reclaim our birthright as the Beloved in God’s Love story.  And to do so, we must first accept and receive the Untamed Love of the Lover, and then share that Love with all those around us. 


We Love because God first Loved us.

Let it be so.  Let’s no longer just imagine such things.  Let’s stop voting on Love and asking someone to observe Robert and his rules of order regarding it. 

But if it takes speaking that language for you to hear, then hear me:
I move that we begin Loving our communities extravagantly, passionately, and ridiculously.

Do I hear a second?

If I do, then game on.  We’re not waiting for a vote. 


Saturday, March 09, 2013

Act 11


I know that while we pass the plates to fill our church coffers while sipping our skinny soy mocha lattes from the Holy Grounds coffee shops in our church lobbies, just across the street there’s a homeless man hoping to scrape together enough change to get a cheeseburger from the dollar menu. 

Coffee shops in churches aren't in and of themselves evil. However, I tend to think these, along with our church bookstores, t-shirts, etc. might be the very things which would bring Jesus to once again say, "You're turning my Father's house into a den of thieves!"

We have turned our temples into places of profit as those who are sometimes inside the doors of church buildings—but more often than not are outside of them—are literally starving to death.

How can they hear the Gospel over the growling of their stomachs?

And while I agree good things can happen over coffee in churches...our over-glorification of comfort and convenience for sale in our churches would result in tables being overturned by Jesus. 

A pissed-off Jesus is something I’d like to avoid.

What we have more and more are for-profit churches. The only "profit" of a church should be those whose eyes have been opened to a loving God by those who've fed them, clothed them, and loved on them SO much they're able to clearly hear the Gospel.

St. Francis of Assisi said: "Preach the Gospel at all times...if necessary, use words."

We’re using a lot more than words these days, Francis.  Our churches are branding themselves with slick logos designed to appeal to the affluent.  Marketing campaigns aren’t just for Coca-Cola any more!  And God forgive me for my solicitation of such ideas in the past. 

I know the church is a struggling small business which at best is well-intentioned but poorly managed, and at worst is a well-managed, for-profit business which seeks to expand itself, its staff, and its holdings. 

The church should not care about expanding itself to meet a budget.  Its one and only concern ought to be expanding love in this world:  love of God…and love of one another.  And one does not need a multi-million dollar facility to do this.  One only needs the perfect love of God. 

Anything else is blasphemous.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Act 10


I know that the “healing” offered by many churches is only metaphorical, and is about as good as a band-aid on an amputated limb.  And in fact, might even be worse than no healing at all, as it as empty as an abandoned robin’s egg—a nice pretty blue on the outside—dried-up and rotten on the inside. 

Now, lest I be painted as a cessationist…or as one who is against the healing which can occur, I know this to be true:  Jesus can heal anything. 

Anything.  Did you hear that?  Anything.  You got it…He can heal it. 

 He can heal blinded eyes and ears which can’t hear. 

He can heal skin lesions and pimples. 

He can heal broken bones and broken hearts.

He can heal your addictions.  He can heal your pain.

He can heal your scarred past and your marred marriage.

He can heal your hopelessness.

He can heal this country.

He can heal this planet.

And yet, I know we’ve come to expect not so very much from the Very Much God of the universe.

I know God  loves to love on His kids, but His kids just don’t expect any love, and thus, don’t ask for everything, let alone expect anything. 

I know the “miracles” which we experience aren’t miracles at all—just the hype of over-emotional places of worship.

I know Jesus healed lepers, the blind, the lame, the bleeding, and the broken-hearted. 

I know Jesus said His disciples would do even greater things than He did.

I know they did.

I know we aren’t.

What the hell?

What would I give for the church to once again claim its birthright and be the church?  What would I give for a group of believers to abandon their committees, slogans, mission statements, logos, coffee bars, monogrammed Bible covers, and lighting schemes and instead, passionately love one another, and the world around them…passionately love God…and show up expecting God to move…expecting healing in their midst…expecting with joy for Love to abound?

What would I give for that?

My life.  All of it.  Every dream, every wish, every desire…I’d give all of these.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Act 9: Neoformation Manifesto


Act 9
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.”

Ick.

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!

Yes, 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

Neoformation Manifesto: Act 8


Act 8

I know we’ve wussified the church.

We’ve become just a bunch of nice people. Ugh! Are you kidding me? Is this what Jesus had in mind for us? A bunch of namby-pamby, Casper Q. Milquetoast, kum-by-yah singing wussies who’s only boldness is occasionally throwing an extra $20 bill into the offering plate without saying who it’s from or maybe getting really crazy and anonymously paying for the coffee of the person behind us in line at St. Carabuck’s Bros coffee? Passionate worship for us is an occasional half-hearted “amen, Pastor!” or maybe raising one hand to just above waist-level in church while singing “Shout To The Lord.”

Now, not that any of these things is bad. They’re not. They’re all fine. But when you think of the reality of the entire forces of wickedness, darkness and Hell—Satan and all of his fallen angels—arrayed against us with all their evil might to tear us down and bring us all to eternal damnation to attack the heart of our Father in Heaven, don’t you think we’re kinda missing the point?
We’re a bunch of wusses. Now, let me tell you what I really think.

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.

And what do we do in church now? We have bake sales. Since when is the Kingdom of God getting advanced by baked goods? Not that I’ve got any axes to grind against Aunt Mabel’s bars because God knows they’re good. But what on God’s green earth do her bars have to do with fighting against the forces of Hell which have an organized plan to steal, kill and destroy all of God’s children?

And at the denominational level what do we do? We draft political statements against global warming. “We, the people of the Holy Catholic-Luther-Presby-Methobaptistical Assemblies of Christ Church say that global warming is bad and all who drive S.U.V.s are going to “H. E. Double-hockey sticks!”

I know we’ve done our best to make the church safe, welcoming, inviting, appealing, comfortable, aroma-therapeutic, politically correct, environmentally friendly, smoke-free, user-friendly, drug-free, anti-war, pet-friendly, with messages (not sermons, mind you) which do their gosh-darned hidey-ho-neighbor best to not offend anyone don’t cha know.

Didn’t Jesus offend just about everyone? He offended their sensibilities, their practicalities, and their traditions. And in fact, still does today, which is evidenced by the fact that our governments (local, state, and federal) are doing their best to erase His presence from every aspect of our lives. Almost everywhere we go in public, everything is now smoke-free. And if we continue down this path, it’ll soon be Jesus-free as well. And who is behind the attempt to completely erase Jesus’ presence? The devil himself, whose greatest ploy is to convince us he doesn’t exist.

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 na├»ve 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

Neoformation Manifesto: Act 7


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

Neoformation Manifesto: Act 6

Act 6
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.