Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jack and Diane, cont...

My previous post was about "Jack" and "Diane". They had been high school, then college sweethearts. Diane was crazy about Jack and he adored her right back. Jack's mom was apparently less enthusiastic about the relationship, and one day she took Diane aside and informed her that she was "praying" Diane "out of this church and out of my family". Diane lost Jack, AND her church family. She was left hurt and angry. Jack and his family were what I call, "church royalty". You know the kind of family I'm talking about. Church Royalty are the "in" families - the kids are all plugged in and mom and dad are power volunteers. Their thoughts and opinions hold a lot of weight, and it's in the church's best interest to keep the "royalty" happy. I do know that the previous statement oozes cynicism, but you totally know what I'm talkin' about here. A few close friends supported Diane, but the church family let her down and she became seriously disillusioned with Christians, and sadly...with God. There are days when her negative feelings really bubble to the surface.

Diane is a brilliant actor, singer, and dancer. Yep, she's a triple threat and directors are thrilled when she walks into their audition. Diane thoroughly enjoyed working as an actor with the local theatre company, and for a time she did shows at night, and worked in the box office during the day. Groups would often come in and buy out a performance for a company party, a family reunion, or a benefit for a worthy cause. The theatre is a beautiful intimate space and it seats 150 audience members. It was the holiday season and the box office was especially busy when a church pastor walked in to make the final payment on his reservation. He had bought out the theatre for a performance of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever", and the church staff and a large number of parishioners were looking forward to a night out. Diane smiled and said, "How can I help you?" The pastor said, "Well, I know you told us we could invite 150 people to the show, but I have 10 more people who want to see the show and I'd like to pay for the extra people." Diane explained that the theatre only seated 150 people, and there was no way she could accommodate the pastor's request. He looked at Diane and said, "We are a church. We do NOT turn people away."

In Matthew 22, we read about how the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking Him about paying taxes. "Pay Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's." Of course it is noble that the pastor in this story did not want to "turn people away", but he signed a contract with the theatre for 150 seats and honoring that contract meant honoring God. What the pastor didn't realize was that he was furthering Diane's bitterness toward Christians. After what happened with Jack, his family, and her church, Diane lost her faith in God and God's kids. After his comment about not turning people away, the pastor who wanted more seats said, "you need to find a way to accommodate us", and he threw his check at Diane. He walked out of the theatre and Diane yelled out, "That is why I hate Christians!"

Come on believer, it is great to have a "we don't turn anyone away" mentality, but please respect the rules when dealing with businesses. When you act honorably, you are representing God in the truest light and salt way. When you act dishonorably, you're still saying something to someone about who God is, but it's not very nice. You might be talking to a "Diane" - a broken soul who is looking for a reason to trust again, or perhaps, a reason to keep NOT trusting. Either way, you are out there representing the God you claim to serve. Get off the pew and honor your contracts, as that truly honors God!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A lil' ditty 'bout Jack and Diane

"Jack" and "Diane" were two kids who had known one another since Junior High. They both grew up in Christian homes and they met at church. Jack and Diane started dating right around their junior year of high school and they were an awesome couple and so dynamic. It really was inspiring to watch those two talented and energetic personalities work together. They created an energy and synergy that was unmistakable wherever they went.

Jack and Diane were not without their faults and struggles - like the rest of us. Diane had a bit of a rough start in life. Her dad walked away from the family when she was just a little girl and her mom had remarried and then gave birth to Diane's little sister. The family floundered and searched for "something" for a long time, but finally found peace in having a relationship with Jesus Christ and a home in their church. Every once in a while, however, Diane still found herself missing her dad and asking questions that seemed to have no answer. Jack's family was wonderful. They welcomed her with open arms and Jack's mom even offered to mentor young Diane. Between Jack, his family, and the church, Diane found grace and solace. Diane and Jack both believed that one day they would marry, and after dating for a couple of years and serving as Junior High team leaders at church, they began dreaming about their future.

One day Diane was studying at Jack's house and when she left, she forgot one of her notebooks. The next morning she called the house and asked Jack's mom if she'd found the notebook. Yes, it had been found. Jack's mom said, "I'd really love to talk with you. Why don't we meet for coffee? I'll bring your notebook and we can chat." Diane was looking forward to having some alone time with Jack's mom and she remembered Mom's invitation to mentor her. This, she thought, would be a new chapter in her relationship with Jack and his family. They met at the appointed time and place. Jack's mom greeted Diane and gave her the notebook. Then, almost immediately, she pulled out her own notebook. She began to talk to Diane.

"In my hand", Jack's mom said, "I have a list of all the things I believe you've done wrong in your relationship with my son." Diane was stunned. Wait! Jack's mom went on. "For months now I've been praying you out of our family, and out of the church." Diane had barely spoken a word. Her head was spinning. "Does this mean you won't be mentoring me?” she thought. This thought was fleeting, for she clearly knew the answer to that question. In what seemed like a flash, Jack's mom was gone. Later that afternoon Diane's phone rang and her world changed forever. "Diane, it's Jack." Fighting back tears, he said something about it being "over" and that they "weren't right for each other", yada, yada, yada. When she showed up for church on Sunday she discovered that she would no longer be serving as a Junior High team leader. There was no real explanation, but Jack's mom had indeed "prayed" Diane out of the family and out of the church. Well, maybe she didn't "pray" her out, but somehow Mom had made it happen.

Several years ago I was standing in the buffet line at a woman's retreat, and I heard one guest tell her friend how she was "praying my daughter's boyfriend out of her life". Hmmm..... Wouldn't it be better to start praying someone "into" the kingdom, instead of "out of" the church, or the family? I KNOW what it feels like to want your child to get away from negative influences, believe me! But I also know that every person who comes into our life is another opportunity to share the gospel - to be Jesus with skin on. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus tells us to "love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you". Pray FOR your enemies, not AGAINST them! The latter, the Bible tells us, is the way of the world (SIN), not the way of the Lord!

Diane's walk with the Lord was forever changed that day. The truth is, that was the day she walked AWAY from God. Get off the pew believer, and walked TOWARD your enemy. If you can't bring yourself to physically be in the presence of your persecutor, then you need to love them and pray FOR them, not against them. Get off the pew!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Celebrate Recovery!

Alyssa is one of the worship leaders at our church. Like so many of us who work, or have worked, at church she has had to find ways to deal with the inevitable gossip and hypocrisy that goes on every day among God's kids. Alyssa finds strength in our church's Celebrate Recovery program.

Celebrate Recovery is a ministry for people recovering from addictions. These brave and awesome people are not recovering from just drug and alcohol addictions, but anything that has gotten in the way of life - pornography, work-aholism, emotional and physical abuse, etc... CR address all our "hurts, habits, and hangups". Alyssa just loves the openness and transparency of the wonderful, authentic attendees. Yesterday Alyssa made a statement that has really stuck with me. She said, "I go to CR on Thursday nights so I can have the strength to face the congregation on Sunday." She says that being around people who have real problems and who speak openly about their struggles is what gives her courage to face the people that "have it all together".

Shouldn't it be the other way around? I mean, shouldn't going to church on Sunday give us the sustenance and strength to go out "into the world" for the rest of the week? Shouldn't the Sunday experience be one that gives us insight into how to love and accept the addicts out there? Alyssa is right! It is when we are around authentic Christians, warts and all, that we learn to love and minister to the hurting and helpless. Sitting on a pew next to the perfectly dressed "I've got it all together and you should to" pew-sitter doesn't encourage and revive us the way honest truth telling can.

Wouldn't it be amazing if our churches moved away from the "traditional" service and into houses of real celebration! If parishioners started openly sharing their "hurts, habits, and hangups" and talking about our daily struggles AND our daily victories, our churches would be a welcome respite from an oft crazy and over-whelming life! I want to be in THAT kind of a church. Get off the pew!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Yep, all the stories are true

All the stories in this blog are absolutely true. Many of them are about me, but the names have all been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. I LOVE the church and I LOVE God's kids, but the world doesn't always see us in the most positive light. We deserve much of the criticism. They are watching how we treat one another, and we aren't always very kind to our own family members. However, I totally believe that if we would accept our foibles and weaknesses and let God shine His light into that which has been hidden in darkness, we could attract people in a new and exciting way!

Get off the pew and let the world see your scars. Let them see your weaknesses. Let them see that we have to turn to God for strength and forgiveness on a daily basis. Show the world that we really believe that ALL things are possible through Christ who gives us strength! We don't offer the world a promise of perfection! We offer the world a promise of forgiveness and hope!

Get off the pew!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hurricane Church

Miss "V" was a worship leader in a vibrant, growing, exciting church. She is a gifted musician, has a beautiful heart and an unwavering love for the lost and hurting. Several months ago Miss "V" found herself in unfamiliar territory. She had an unexplained hole in her heart. She was unfulfilled in her personal relationships and she was in pain. Like so many of us, Miss "V" began looking for ways to fill that hole - a drink now and then with her church friends (yes, her church friends), shopping, selfish pursuits, etc... Nothing was filling the growing abyss in her heart. Finally, she turned to the church leadership and confessed that she was struggling. She asked for help and support. Instead, she was told that there was no room at that church for someone who was "weak" and "confused" - at least not in leadership. And just like that...she was no longer a part of the church family she loved and leaned on.

Okay, I totally get the fact that if you are in church leadership, you (we) should live a life above reproach. But, Miss "V" wasn't living in sin. She hadn't fallen. She hadn't killed anyone. She simply admitted that she was (gasp) human! She wasn't asked to simply leave her leadership role, but she was asked to leave the church all together. Why? We Christians have a tendency to shoot our wounded. When a racehorse breaks his leg, he is no longer able to pull his own weight (both literally and figuratively) and he is put down. I've seen more than a few spiritual racehorses lose their footing and suffer a break. More often then not, we shoot them.

On August 28, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the southern coast of the United States with devastating force. While the initial damage to New Orleans and other cities along the gulf shore were not crushing, the break in the levees and the ensuing floods proved to be catastrophic. The survivors of that deadly storm not only lost their homes, but they lost their neighborhoods. A house can be replaced, but a neighborhood? Counselors will tell you that the emotional recovery from a hurricane can take years and years, because replacing a neighborhood is much more difficult than simply rebuilding a structure. Hurricane survivors lose their grocery store, their pharmacy, and their local sandwich shop. They also lose the neighbors who shared their street for 10 years, or 30 years, or 50 years. When we lose our church, we don't just lose a building! We lose our place of worship, our social group, our volunteer outlet, the neighbors we pray for and wave at each and every week, and sometimes - our job. We lose our whole life! Hurricane Katrina swooped in, did her damage, and swooped out without stopping to help one single victim along her destructive path. Churches do the same thing. Like a hurricane, they cut a big chunk out of someone's life, then never look back to see the death and mayhem left behind. We're talking about lives here, people! Living, breathing, fragile lives!

Miss "V" is still suffering. She's looking for a neighborhood to replace the one she was forced to leave behind. She's still cleaning up the mess left by "Hurricane Church" and she misses her friends and neighbors. Be gentle with her.

We've gotta stop shooting our wounded. I'm not advocating letting sin run amok and without accountability, but we are dealing with real flesh and blood people. Are you, in your fervor to grow a church leadership who is above reproach, roaring like a hurricane? Slow down. Get off the pew and look behind you. Have you swept over someone who needs help getting up? Miss "V" will be a "been there, done that" advocate for God's grace, but only if we love her and welcome her back to the neighborhood!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

It's Not Gossip...It's Discernment

It's crazy easy to make big sweeping assumptions about the people closest to us. It's certainly easier to jump to conclusions then to actually communicate. This is a problem, and it's a particularly big problem in the church. Of course we don't call it "assumptions", we are Christians and we speak fluent "Christianese". When we are gossiping with believers about other believers we use spiritual sounding words like "gift of discernment" or (like one friend used to say) "spiritual antenna". My friend used to say, "Whenever I'm around so-and-so, my spiritual antenna goes up", and then she would go on to tell me how she suspected so-and-so of adultery or some other bad behavior. But it's okay because the gossip session always ends with "we need to keep the family in our prayers".

One afternoon, after months of conflict, I was finally able to get a woman who I had considered a dear friend to tell me what I'd done to upset her. She made many accusations, including this one: "One day you were walking towards me in the hallway at church. When you saw me, you turned and walked the other way. I have no choice but to assume you are jealous of me." What? What!!!?? No choice? Assume? Really?

Eliot Spitzer was the governor of New York and he had to step down in disgrace when it was revealed that he was a frequent costumer of a prostitute. The irony was that Governor Spitzer had been a vocal opponent to prostitution and had been trying to shut down illegal sex rings for years. Psychologists came out in droves to explain to John Q. Public that it is human nature to condemn the same flaws in others that we are trying to hide in ourselves. We think that by deflecting attention off of us, we will successfully hide our sins from the world.

Several years ago a much loved local pastor had to leave the pulpit when knowledge of an extra-marital affair came to light. Just a few weeks ago an acquaintance of mine told me that the pastor hadn't changed and was not repentant. I asked her how she knew that. "I just do!" That pastor, however, has become a public speaker who encourages others and helps people find healing and restoration. I am not inside the pastor's head and I can't begin to assume to know his heart. I do see, however, that what Satan meant for evil, God is using for His good and glory.

We don't know what motivates people to say and do the things they say and do. Heck, we don't always know what motivates US! It would serve us, both personally and corporately, if we were quick to communicate and slow to assume. Do you sit in your pew and point out the weaknesses, sins, and foibles all God's kids? We're just like you - sinners saved by grace. Let's stop pointing fingers at each other. Instead, let's give one another a hand of compassion and support. Let's get of the pew of gossip and onto the road of peace and restoration.