Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Unbearable Loss

How can “the church” better serve families in crisis? Well, the first thing we have to do is actually care about families in crisis.

Sadly, I know many moms and dads who’ve suffered the unbearable loss of a child. My heart aches at the thought of their empty arms and broken hearts.

The Church is usually very kind to the families who’ve survived horrific loss. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a tiny bit jealous of the support given to them. Before you stone me, let me explain.

We went through a dark and tumultuous period when all three of our children rebelled in dramatic fashion. Our oldest son and our only daughter became addicted to the insidious drug, Meth. We found ourselves in the middle of a nightmare from which there was no waking relief. Eventually, our son went to prison and our daughter went to rehab for 7 ½ months.

We’d attended the same church for many, many years and all three kids were dedicated to the Lord by the pastor we loved. But when the going got tough, the church told us to go. The church washed their hands of us and we were asked to take our troubled kids and leave.

We walked through the fire of the next few years alone. I can tell you stories of amazing miracles, and we are so blessed to have had front row seats to God’s love, comfort, and handiwork. The aloneness, however, broke our hearts in ways we could never have imagined.

Because of our experience, I have reached out and walked with many a parent of prodigals through their painful journey. Every one of these families have their own horror story of how the body of Christ disappointed, disappeared, disapproved, or disowned these precious children of God.

The family of a sick or dying child has overwhelming needs—financial, physical, and spiritual. I think it’s admirable and wonderful when God’s kids rally together to help the grieving families navigate the challenging waters. I’ve seen the bank accounts of these moms and dads inexplicably grow, food appear on their doorsteps, yards and homes cleaned, and gifts delivered into their arms.

The parents of prodigals are lonely, broken, sad, and sometimes guilt-ridden. They suffer financial devastation, emotional breakdowns, and spiritual brokenness. More often than not, the body of Christ does nothing for these families except heap more guilt, judgment, criticism, ridicule, and pain on all the hurting people involved. Shame on us!

The only difference between the incarcerated and many of us, is that we were never caught. We’ve got to stop throwing stones. I know the needs are overwhelming, but we can do so many things to tell the parent of a prodigal you care. Pray with them, send their imprisoned child a birthday card, bring meals to the mom who is exhausted from searching for her missing child, or take up an offering to offset outrageous legal bills.

As I said, we’ve had front row seats to some of God’s most amazing miracles. We’ve seen the prodigal come home, and we were led 160 miles by God himself to find our lost child living among the homeless and addicted.

If you choose to walk alongside the parent of prodigals you too can have an all access pass to God’s miraculous handiwork. If you walk away or push them away you might just miss out on the experience of seeing God Himself.

Get off the pew and walk toward the hurting. Don’t walk away, but rather walk with them through the fire. You will see God’s face—I promise.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Picket Fences

Once again the Westboro Baptist Church has made national headlines. As usual, they’ve shined an unflattering light on Christianity.

The fringe church from Kansas is mostly made up of family members of the founder, Fred Phelps. To put it bluntly, they are wackos! The Westboro faithful travel around the country picketing funerals of dead soldiers. They feel that the brave men and women deserved to die because in fighting to defend America, they are fighting for a country that defends homosexuality.

This past week the Kansas Crazies picketed the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards. They had two reasons to slam Mrs. Edwards. First, they believe that her choice to have two more children after the death of her beloved son, Wade was a rebellious act. She should have—in their view—accepted God’s decision to leave her with just one child. Secondly, Elizabeth Edwards defended the rights of the homosexual community.

The Westboro group has been in my community a number of times to picket funerals of our local hometown heroes. How can they afford to travel across the country spreading their hatred? Well, they stir up anger and rage and invariably someone ends up taking a swing at one of the picketers. They then file an assault and battery charge in court and they win monetary damages!

A Christian is supposed to be a Christ-follower. Can you imagine Jesus walking up to the mourning Mary and Martha and saying, “Your brother Lazarus was a sinner and he deserved to die. Now stop your whining and shape up or I’ll see to it that your life is cut short just like that of your brother’s”? Of course not!

We are on the front lines of a real battle—the fight to defend our Lord’s reputation. Of course He doesn’t need us to do that for Him, but the world needs to see Jesus with skin on. That is who we ought to be.

As I see it, there are two ways to battle the Kansas Crazies. First of all, speak up. These people are NOT Christ-followers. They are radicals who are slandering the name of Jesus. Secondly, go out and be salt and light to a world in need of love and comfort. For every act of hatred perpetrated by the Phelps family, we need to offer up dozens of acts of kindness.

Some motorcycle enthusiasts have formed a group called, The Patriot Guard Riders. Whenever the Westboro group comes to town with their picket signs, the Patriots rally their members together to also attend the funerals. They line their bikes up, peacefully stand side by side, and form a loving barrier between the grieving family and the picketers. What an amazing group of men and women! They become a living breathing picket fence—surrounding the families with love and protection from the enemy.

Now get of the pew and be Jesus with skin on. Defend the defenseless, love the unlovable, bandage the hurting, and speak the truth! Get off the pew!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No Suit Required

“This pastor is changing things and we don’t like it. He wants people to stop wearing suits to church!”

A couple in their mid-40’s had only been coming to the church for a couple of months when they decided to go to one of the weekly dinners that are served on the large campus. They ended up sitting at a small table with a suit-wearing, sour-faced, ugly-talking older man and his wife. The crotchety couple didn’t waste time giving their tablemates an ear full.

They were, they boasted, founding members of the church and there are rules—ways of doing things around here. The new pastor, they said, didn’t respect the “traditions” of this old church.

The church I attend hired a new pastor/teacher eight months ago. The much beloved preacher he replaced retired after 44 years at the same pulpit. The outgoing leader was the only minister many in the congregation had ever known.

The new guy is a very young 48 years old. The man who retired was in his 70’s and he definitely came from a different era. His preaching style reflected his this-is-how-you-do-it confidence. No one could deliver a hellfire and brimstone sermon like the old-school minister.

Most of the staff pastors at the mega-church have been around for many, many years. They are used to doing things their way, and true accountability has kind of fallen by the wayside. A “good ol’ boy” mentality prevails.

So, in comes someone new and he’s ready to move the parishioners into the modern era, even if he has to drag the old-fashioned church kicking and screaming into the 21st century. He brings change to the table and, let's be real, change is met with opposition 100% of the time.

Pastor New Guy offers weekly “get to know me” gatherings. I’ve been to several of these small group meetings where people are allowed to ask questions, raise concerns, voice their objections, and discuss the challenges that come with this type of transition.

The husband and his wife raised their hands and asked the pastor the question, “Are you really telling men they can no longer wear suits to church?”

“What?” Pastor New Guy was truly shocked. “Who told you that?”

The visitors related the strange conversation they’d had only an hour before. They told us they were sitting alone at a small table where the dinners are served when the old man and his wife asked if they could join them. As soon as the gray-haired man learned the younger couple was new to the church, he began bad mouthing the new pastor.

As I sat listening to this tale I was getting angrier by the second. Luckily, I didn’t have to open my mouth. Our lead pastor was plenty enough outraged.

“I didn’t say they couldn’t wear suits to church. I said they have the freedom to not wear suits to church.”

“If we hadn’t been Christians for our whole life, we might have been really offended by them.” The couple was being sweet about the ugly encounter.

“How do they know?” Pastor’s frustration was palpable. “How do they know you’re not a new believer? This is the way the ‘founding members’ of the church are talking to new attendees?”

No wonder the church stopped growing 10 years ago!

Listen up; Jesus doesn’t care whether or not you wear a suit to church! He doesn’t care about designer shoes, name-brand labels, or smart jewelry. Jesus just wants to love you like you’ve never been loved before.

Most of us have heard that church is a hospital for the sick and Jesus is the healer. A pastor friend of mine takes that analogy further. He says churches are like hospitals—you have to be extra careful to not contract an infection worse than the one you came in with.

Have you been infected with negativity, gossip mongering, pride, a judgmental attitude, or legalism? Get off the pew and take it to the great physician. Come to Jesus just as you are…no suit required! Get off the pew!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving all! I pray my American friends have a fabulous day celebrating all we have to be thankful for here at home.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mercy Acts

I had a wonderful conversation the other day with a young atheist whom I love very much and is a member of our family.

He was raised in the church, and his coming to atheism was not without much thought and study. I feel confident that he knows scripture better than I do—better than most believers in fact.

We were talking about the Ten Commandments and the young man said, “Jesus said the greatest commandment was to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart’ and the second was to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. Right?” I agreed.

He said something that rocked my heart and has awakened my purpose.

“Christians are so pious about loving the lord THEIR God in THEIR way that they turn up their noses and turn their backs on everyone whose love for God doesn’t look exactly like theirs. They’re way to busy ‘loving’ God—and proving how good they are at it—to REALLY love their neighbor.”

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, the “expert in the law” asked, “who is my neighbor?” The Bible says the man wanted to “justify himself”. I guess he wanted Jesus to tell him that his neighbor was the guy he had drinks with at the local canteen, certainly not a nearly dead guy he stumbled upon on the side of the road!

Jesus goes on to say that a neighbor is the person who shows “mercy”. Mercy is Compassion + Action. In three short verses in the book of Luke, Chapter 10, Jesus tells of eleven actions the Samaritan did to help the stranger.

Verse 33 says the Samaritan saw the man. He then took pity on him. In verse 34 he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. In verse 35 the Samaritan acted further. He took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

A neighbor is someone who notices a need and acts on it. The act of loving our neighbor should be a byproduct of our love for God. They should not be exclusive of one another.

Understand, we are being watched. Do you sit in the pew and piously love God while simultaneously judging others for not loving God as much as you do? Or are you getting off the pew and living out your love through your service?

Mercy notices. Mercy feels. Mercy acts. Those who show mercy are God-like neighbors. Now “go and do likewise”. Get off the pew!

Monday, November 22, 2010

WE Are The Mission Field!

There are few things in life about which I am ashamed. However, I am confessing now that I am ashamed of my behavior over the last several months.

I have allowed people to hush me.

My faith has been shaken—again. Not my faith in God (although that wavers occasionally), rather I have come close to losing all trust in the goodness of man.

Perhaps I have given humans too much credit. I really believe that we are called to be better people tomorrow than we are today. That was, is, and will be the foundation on which I built this blog. I sincerely want to be better Christ follower tomorrow than I am today.

I am more convicted then ever before that I do not want to be called a Christian. I am a Christ follower and proud of it. Christians can be mean.

There’s a sign at the end of the very long driveway leading away from the mega-church I used to attend. The sign reminds drivers that “You Are Now Entering The Mission Field”. I hate that sign!

The banner intimates to me that the church believes it is a cocoon, shielded from the ills of the world. We need only to share the gospel with the sinners outside of the compound. This is a sad fallacy. For we have all sinned and come way short of God’s glory. When we focus solely on the mission field “out there”, we neglect the hurting and the hungry sitting in the pew next to us. The mission field is you. The mission field is me.

I’m sorry for my absence over the last few months. I need to keep holding myself accountable to God. I have officially shut down the pity party and I’m gettin’ off the pew!

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Crisis

I haven't posted in over a week.

I'm struggling as I walk in darkness. I guess I'm having a bit of a faith crisis.

I hope you will stay with me and I write about my struggles. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's Prophesied

There are so many things wrong with this song.

Okay...even if you agree with the Biblical philosophy as spelled out in the oh-so-clever lyrics of this tune, the song is just an awful song. It's repetitive, boring, and the percussion patch is juvenile. Who told this poor guy he can sing? I feel so bad for the keyboard. What did it ever do to deserve this?

"...when Babylon the whore gets fried"? Wow.

Of course, this guy should know what he's talking about. He is, after all, the "Third Eagle of the Apocalypse". Really? William Tapley has produced a plethora of video instruction for us and has made it available on YouTube. He believes, among other things, that those who use condoms will not be raptured.

It's no wonder Christians get such a bad rap. This guy makes us look foolish, and he's not a true reflection of who Jesus is.

This is the deal, if we want to reach people with the amazing story of grace and perfect love, we've got to do better than this!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Excuse me, you've got a little God on you

The other day we were out having dinner. We were sharing lovely conversation, a basket of fries, and a great view. I ordered the Mahi Mahi sandwich and it was amazing.

I noticed a family sitting a few tables ahead of me. If I were to guess, I would say it was Mom, Dad, four adult (or nearly adult) children, and the oldest daughter’s boyfriend. They seemed to be enjoying the food and the view as much as we were.

About midway through our meal I suddenly realized someone was standing next to me on my left. “Excuse me”, the sweet voice was gentle and quiet. “Yes?” I looked up and realized it was the oldest daughter from the family table across the room.

“You have such a joy about you”, she said. Her smile was genuine and kind. “I don’t know about you”, she continued, “but I’m a Christian.”“I’m a Christian too.” I hope I didn’t sound defensive.

“Oh. Well, that’s wonderful. And isn’t it great that it shows in your countenance.”

We exchanged a few more pleasantries—“where are you from?’, "I've been there", etc…and she went back to her family.

I almost wish I hadn’t said I was a Christian. I wonder where the conversation would have gone from there.

I wished I’d said something like, “Oh, well my joy doesn’t come from God. No, it probably comes from my daily worship of and conversation with pachyderms.”

“Uh, oh. I mean…well…enjoy your meal.”

You have to admire the young girl’s chutzpa. She clearly felt that the Lord wanted her to speak to me. I actually took it as encouragement. I was having a good time, but there were some things hanging over my head and those troubles were causing me some worry. It’s nice to know that she saw joy overriding any angst I might have been feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I shared this story with a friend of mine and she said she wishes she had the courage to walk up to people and tell them they illuminate God’s radiant joy. My friend said she used to be afraid the receiver of her blessing might not think God had anything to do with it and she’d be embarrassed. Then, my friend says, God gave her an answer for those people, “Well, God is pursuing you because He’s all over you.”

Hmmmm…. I wonder how that would be received. I honestly don’t know. As a believer, I can’t readily put myself in an unbeliever’s hypothetical shoes. But, it sounds good.

What about you? Have you made a “cold” evangelical call to a stranger sitting at a table or barstool across the restaurant from you? Would you do it? What if you felt the overwhelming God-tug on the sleeve and you knew you needed to say something?

Well, God just might call you to get off the pew…uh…I mean, out of the booth, and go talk to the little old lady, or handholding couple across the aisle next time you’re at McDonald’s. What will you say?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Coming Soon!

While on vacation, I saw this sign...

And literally right next store-this sign...

Coming Soon!

Friday, July 30, 2010

What is your Holy Discontent?

You can bet that if it breaks your heart, it breaks the heart of God.

What is your holy discontent? What injustice do you see that needs to be righted? What makes you cry or boils your blood?

Look around your community, your workplace, your school, your neighborhood, or your church. What do you see that’s broken? Perhaps you see hungry kids whose parents are out of work, or older citizens who need a ride to the theatre or the mall. There are neighborhoods and districts in disrepair. Maybe your own children attend an elementary school in need of volunteers who will read to the kids or tutor a struggling student.

Now look around your church. It is there that you will find my holy discontent. I am so frustrated, sad, and angry about our bad behavior.

We Christians are really good at closing our eyes to the problems that are right in our back yard. Does your heart break when you see another family torn apart by divorce? Are you sick of gossip and spiritual compromise? I promise you—if it disappoints or saddens you, it does the same to the heart of God.

We can’t sit on the sidelines and watch other people do the work or play the game. We’ve got to speak up and reach out. It’s our turn to get in the game—to get off the pew!

So what is your holy discontent? You can’t just hope that someone else will say something. You need to teach that class, lay the foundation for that community program, or seek the funding to get that outreach off the ground.

I’ve got to speak up. You’ve got to speak out. We’ve got to stand for truth and honesty and charity and human kindness. The church is hungry and the world is starving.

What is your holy discontent? What is God calling YOU to do?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jesus wants to save us from Religion

How could being a Pharisee possibly be a bad thing? I mean, in Bible times the Pharisees were the pinnacles of spiritual goodness, weren’t they?

Our pastor taught a powerful message on Sunday and his thoughts about Pharisees have stuck with me.

The Pharisees want us to repent of our sins, but they refuse to repent of their religion. Jesus wants us to repent of our religion. He, after all, came to set us free from the chains of religious “have to’s” and give us hearts of joyful “want to’s”.

The Pharisees were once the spiritual giants everyone ascribed to be. The word “Pharisee” means “pure” or “separated”. These men had a hunger for God, a passion for God’s glory, a zealot desire to convert others, a commitment to spiritual disciplines, and were obsessed with all things holy. That sounds like a pretty good list of character traits.

The problem came when these learned and religious men decided to make rules that helped people be more God-like. They judged harshly all those who didn't play by the rules.

The law said, “keep the Sabbath”. The fourth commandment says we should not work on the Sabbath and neither should those in our employee. When the disciples picked grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the law. They were so consumed with the details of the law as they saw it, that they missed the principle of the Sabbath.

I love the word picture the pastor painted for us during his sermon on Sunday. He pointed to a chair. If the law had dictated we were not to sit in the chair, then the Pharisees would have demanded we not stand next to the chair for fear that we might be tempted to sit. They might go even further, and declare it unlawful to be in the same room as the chair or even talk about the chair. These Pharisee-mandated laws were meant to protect the weak people from their sinful nature, and to help the general population discern good from bad.

The Pharisees of today are no different. They go to the extreme in hopes of never giving the slightest appearance of evil deed or thought. They expect the same from us. If our life doesn’t look like they think it should look, they judge our purity.

Pharisees start out (I believe) with the best of intentions, but religiosity takes over. They hit us over the head with hard and fast rules. The Holy Spirit wants to gently guide us.

The Bible says to refrain from being drunk with wine. Today’s Pharisee would insist that we should never have a glass of wine with dinner, a cold beer with the guys, or a Cosmo with the girls. I have one friend who will not sit in the bar section of any restaurant for fear that someone will see him and get the wrong idea.

The Bible talks about being filled with the Holy Spirit and refers to a “prayer language”. The Pharisee believes that unless you speak in tongues, then the Holy Spirit doesn't live in you. You have also not received your intended gift from the spirit.

There are good and Godly people who believe with all their heart that it is a sin to use one’s talent for anything secular. Artists should stay away from Hollywood, New York, Chicago, local theatre, or nightclubs. I know a woman who played the piano for her church choir. She was called to fill in for the regular piano player in a friend’s band. The New Year’s Eve gig paid well, so she said yes. The Music Pastor found out she played with the non-Christian band, and he fired her. Pharisee!

The examples go on and on. Pharisees judge people who celebrate Halloween, go to dances, watch R-rated movies, smoke cigarettes, and swear.

If Jesus were walking among us today, he'd get off the pew and go to the darkest streets of Amsterdam, New Orleans, and Oakland. He wouldn't care who saw him or what they thought.

Jesus wants us to repent of our religion.

Now get off the pew!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Volunteer Burnout

Last week I spent some time with an old friend. It’s always great to catch up and reconnect.

My friend’s family has made a choice about how to serve and meet needs in their local church families. Yes, I do mean “families”, as they have attended several churches in their hometown.

My friends swoop into a church, get to know the people, identify a need that they are able to meet, fill the insufficiency, and then they walk away. They might not walk away from the church altogether, but they walk away from being put in a position to be taken advantage of.

Once they took their young grandson to the nursery at a church and saw that the room was in disrepair. Since this couple is particularly handy, they repaired walls, built shelves, put down new carpet, and bought new toys.

My friends have helped refugees, widows, and kids by painting a worn torn house, furnishing a room, or offering free short-term childcare.

I can understand why they choose to walk away after they meet needs. We Christians tend to take undue advantage of people. I know that statistically speaking, about 10% of church attendees are doing 90% of the work—both physical and financial. That’s a shame.

I know many people who keep their gifts and talents well hidden from their fellow parishioners. The reason is simple—they don’t want to get sucked in and then stuck in a black hole. We’ve been known to work people into the ground and push them to the point of volunteer burnout. That burnout leads to sadness and the kind of bad feelings that cause people to leave the church in a huff.

We use people. We’ll love you and show our gratitude for your faithfulness until we find somebody newer and flashier, then we’ll kick you to the curb.

I’m ashamed of how we treat our own sometimes.

I think my friends are on to something wonderful—quietly meet the needs they are able to meet, and then move on. Jesus’ ministry was very much like that. He came to the people, assessed their physical and spiritual inadequacies, and He met them right where they lived. He then moved on. He didn’t stick around to receive accolades and praises because He knew it wasn’t about Him.

Jesus was about the work of The Father.

The physical Church cannot survive without faithful volunteers. We need to get off the pew and treat them with more kindness, respect, and appreciation. When body parts start abandoning the body, the other parts suffer.

Stop volunteer burnout. Get off the pew!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is Your Child "Worthless"?

Good Morning!

I've been out of town for a while and believe it or not--I was away from a computer. I need to get away from a computer more often!

I've got much to say, but for now, I wanted to share this video. Perhaps you've seen it. It makes my heart so sad.

This is how so many people in the world see us and how they skew what we teach our children.

There has never, ever been a single moment when I considered telling my children they were "worthless". Unbelievable!

We've got to get off the pew. We must leave the comfort zone that is our church, and reach out. If we are truly out there being Jesus with skin on, why would anyone view us in this way?

This video was produced by The Thinking Atheist. I have found that many atheists see Christians as people who do not, or will not think. We (so say the atheists) rely on faith alone, and therefore cannot back our beliefs with facts.

I believe Jesus was not only the son of God, but was a learned and brilliant man. We are people of faith, but we are also a thinking people.

I believe that the facts support our faith.

Get off the pew and be Jesus with skin on!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Covetousness in Disguise

“The pastor really needs to be more humble about the car he drives. He should be setting an example of good stewardship. Instead of flaunting his wealth.”

How many of you have heard these words? Maybe you’ve contributed to a conversation where this topic has come up. We have the right to call the pastor out on the expensive car he drives, don’t we? I mean we do pay his salary, after all.

I’ve heard variations of this kind of criticism spoken about the most affluent members of the church congregation.

“The Joneses just paid $3.4 Million for that five bedroom eyesore on the corner of Magnolia and Jefferson. If they gave one tenth of their yearly salary to African missions they could feed the people in four villages for 50 years.”

We roll our eyes at the greeter’s new red dress and decide she should strive to be more welcoming and less distracting. We gawk at the new diamond ring a well-known doctor gave his wife as they could have donated the money they spent on the oversized rock to cancer research. We call the father who gives his son a new Mustang on his 16th birthday “over-indulgent”.

When we make these kinds of comments and judgment calls, we are revealing far more about ourselves than about the person we’re trying to expose. We are making a weak attempt to disguise our covetousness with religiosity.

But wait! Surely we’re NOT covetous. We are merely showing great love and concern for our rich brothers and sisters and we want to spare them from trouble. Proverbs 28:27
 says, He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses. We would hate to see curses rain down on our good friends.

In Matthew 19:21 
Jesus says, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. We’re not jealous! We’re looking’ out for their heavenly treasure…yeah, that’s it.

We are so not perfect. Jealousy, envy, covetousness—these traits are a part of our human nature. We claim to be Christ-like while at the same time we are extremely judgmental and petty.

There may very well be people in your church family who flaunt their prosperity. Pointing our sanctimonious finger at their Jimmy Choo shoes and Calvin Klein duds won’t soften their heart.

Get of the pew of false humility and religiosity. Get of the pew!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

High on Rainbow Power

This double rainbow YouTube video went absolutely viral this past week. Someone even put music to it and took it to a whole new level.

Some of you might have seen "Hungrybear9562" on Good Morning America yesterday morning. He was interviewed by Bill Weir via Skype. Mr. Weir asked Rainbow Guy what he was smoking the morning he shot the video.

"I wasn't smoking anything. I was high on pure rainbow power."

You've got to admire the guy's unabashed pure joy! I want to know that kind of joy. I want to appreciate God's love and Jesus's friendship with the very same kind of fervor that Hungrybear has when he sees a double rainbow in his front yard. I'm not sure I'd post my fervor on YouTube, however.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dear God, I accept Your apology

Our 6 ½ year-old niece was prompted by her mom to say her prayers as she was being tucked into bed for the night.

“Dear God, thank you for this wonderful day...well not really. I accept your apology for making me stub my toe...”

Out of the mouths of babes. Don’t you just love the authentic honesty of a child?

As a Christ follower I believe that God is sovereign and that nothing comes as a surprise to God. He allows bad things to happen to good people for a myriad of reasons—so we will rely on him, so we’ll be a source of encouragement and comfort to others in the same situation, or to humble us or break us of our stubborn pride.

As a human I’ll admit—I sometimes feel that surely God made a mistake. He didn’t really intend for me to go through another difficult trial, or for that person to say that ugly thing to me. And, there’s no way God really expects me to be in that Bible study with that person, or those people!

And, about that toe I stubbed last week! Come on, God…what were You thinking?

I want to trust God, really I do. I want to be like James and consider it put joy whenever I face trials (James 1:2). I strive to trust that all things will work together for good because I love Him and I’ve been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

But sometimes…sometimes I wish God would say, “Well, it looks like I made a mistake. I meant for your neighbor’s house to flood and for his kid to rebel. My bad.” Sometimes I feel weak and overwhelmed.

But then I step back and try to look at the big picture. I know God loves me and I know He has a purpose for my life.

God loves ME and has a purpose for MY life.

I’ve tried to light a fire under my readers and get you to get off the pew. Of course, if you never get off the pew, you’ll probably never stub your toe on the stumbling blocks and detours that satan puts in your path. I get that. That’s why God invented BAND AIDS™

Now, wrap your toe, accept God’s apology…uh, I mean…trust Him, and get off the pew.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When Is Gossip Not Gossip?

When is gossip not gossip? That’s easy—when it’s prayer request, of course.

I’ve sat in many a prayer circle when someone will say something like this, “Hey you guys, we really need to pray for Bob and Carol. Bob has been coming home late and talking in whispers on the phone and Carol is pretty sure he’s having an affair. Their son is having trouble in school and it seems the marital problems are affecting the kids.”

Prayer request or gossip?

A few days ago I was at a company meeting. Our manager sat with me and five or six co-workers at a round table. We rarely work together, so this was an opportunity to catch up on one another’s lives and family events, solve work-related challenges, and go over our schedule for the next few months.

Ours is a service-oriented business and we handle hundreds of customers a day. At one point during a lull in the round table conversation one of my co-workers said, “Can I share something?”

She went on to tell a story about an incident that had happened a week or so earlier at the establishment. It seems she was not working on the day in question, but happened to be a costumer. She noticed another costumer wasn’t being served in a prompt manner, so she walked over to the gentleman and said, “Have you been helped?” “No”, the customer snapped (so the story goes), “I have not!”

My off duty co-worker helped the man and his wife. She then went on to tell us that she found the employee on duty (who, by the way, was not be at our company meeting) in the lobby chatting with a small child.

“So I was wondering”, my co-worker said, “did I do something wrong? Should I not have helped the costumer?” The manager praised her for stepping in to help on her night off, and all my co-workers assured her she had in fact done the right thing.

In just a few short minutes she managed to tattle on a co-worker, brag on herself, come off as humble, and get kudos and pats on the back from her peers.

Was she gossiping or was she being a tattletale?

Gossip is an ugly word. But only good and selfless people go out of their way to share prayer requests about other people, right? Surely my co-worker wasn’t trying to make our absent friend look like a slacker, right?

Look, I can’t judge another person’s heart, any more than they can judge mine. I do know, however, that we find all kinds of creative ways to gossip and tell tales about others. It’s human nature to want people to see us in a positive light, and the easiest way to do that is to draw attention to the ugly in somebody else.

So, how many ways are there to gossip? Share your thoughts and experiences.

Get off the pew!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Illegitimate kids needing a Father

An old friend and I had a short Facebook chat earlier today. We met when our families attended the same uber conservative church where he’s still a member. After catching up a bit, I asked about the church I had attended for over 13 years.

Me: How are things at church?

Him: Different. They’re dedicating illegitimate children now.

Me: Wow!

Him: Yeah. You know, they wouldn’t dedicate our grandkids when they were born.

Me: What changed?

Him: Several staff and “elite” church members had illegitimate babies born into their families and they wanted them dedicated. They had to wake up and live in the real world.

I have to confess—I was shocked (but thrilled) to hear that this particular church was now bringing unwed parents and their babies up onto the sanctuary platform for the dedication ceremony.

For those of you who aren’t churchgoers, when a new baby is born to Christian parents they bring the child to the pastor in front of the congregation. The parents agree to raise the child up to know God and the church members promise to pray for and encourage the family. The pastor prays over the child and his or her parents.

This particular church acted as if the babies born to unwed parents were unclean and contagious! Aren’t babies born to single moms just as important as any other new baby? They deserve to be dedicated to the Lord—don’t they?

When I attended that church there were a lot of very, very rigid rules. Divorced people could not teach Sunday school, musicians and actors were not allowed to perform in secular arenas, clubs, or theatres, and female staff members were not allowed to wear pants.

No, I’m not talking about the 1950’s. I’m talking about recent times. In fact, the only rule that has relaxed in the last few years is the one about woman and pants.

And now—babies born to unwed parents are being dedicated.

How sad it is that it wasn’t until church staff and “elite” family members began to be affected that the pastors finally understood the value of dedicating ALL new babies to The Lord. I hate to point out the obvious, but wasn’t Jesus an illegitimate child?

The Church sometimes fails to see The World until The World comes dancing down the aisle wearing sandals and dreadlocks and plops itself in a front row pew. I come back again to my purpose for writing this blog—to encourage you (and me) to be Jesus with skin on.

Jesus went into the world and walked with the lost, offered hope to the empty, and accepted people right where they were. He did not wait for them to come to Him!

Leaving that conservative church was a very difficult thing to do. Today I find myself wondering why it was so hard. Was I concerned that people might suspect I wasn’t “good enough” to be a member of that congregation? I think I was afraid that if I left the church people might suspect I had sinned!

I HAD to leave the church—the world was calling. You know the whole be-in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world thing? Have you met people that are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good? Well…that was me!

I’m okay with admitting that I’m far from perfect. I love the amazing people that I’ve had the awesome privilege to walk with, talk with, share with, and cry with. If not for my imperfections I might still be sitting on the pew in my comfortable piety and religiosity.

Get off the pew. The illegitimate kids of the world are looking for a Father. Get off the pew!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hell - through the eyes of a 10 year-old

“Imagine being 10 years old and realizing that this kind and wonderful man is going to burn in hell.”

That’s how my conversation with the 23-year-old atheist began. He grew up in a Christian family and he attended Sunday school and church each week. He believed every word of the Bible as it was taught to him.

When he was 10 the young man’s mom took him to an audition at the community theatre. He was a talented kid and he was cast in the role of “Boy Scrooge” in the stage version of the classic tale, A Christmas Carol.

The little boy immediately fell in love with the theatre and with his new extended family. The actors, the stage manager, the tech crew, and the director all took the kids in the cast under their protective and tutoring wings. The kids were called to a new level of excellence and they matured both as artists and as young people.

At some point along the way, my atheist friend learned that the director was gay. It’s not like there was an announcement of some kind, but there are few secrets in the theatre. A light bulb went off in the little boy’s 10-year-old Christian brain.

“Oh no! My director’s gonna burn in hell!”

The young man had been taught that homosexuality was an abomination to the Lord and was the worst of the worst of all the sins. Gay people—like all sinners—would die and spend eternity burning in the lake of fire.

He also knew that he had rarely experienced such kindness, consideration, and acceptance. The church can be a petty place for an artist. I wrote a post recently about how the misfit toys are drawn to a church’s drama department. The boy had experienced this firsthand and had himself felt like a misfit.

He knew he was called to a higher artistic standard than the one the church drama department had patterned for him.

He had watched his family be hurt and broken by church gossip and spineless spiritual leaders, but he still believed that God was the God of miracles and restoration. He’d watched the cliques’ form and the good church kids snub the prodigals. In spite of the bad behavior, he still trusted God.

He knew few people outside of the church and to some degree he assumed that gossip, lies, petty jealousy, and judgment passing was just a part of human nature. Now he was in a whole new environment where he was—for the first time—finding none of that. And yet…these new friends were sinners bound for hell.

It took the young man a few more years to really seek and search, and then allow himself to admit to his family that he was an atheist.

Listen, Jesus modeled for us the gospel of love and peace. He did not walk up to the woman at the well and say, “Hey, I know you’re a whore. Guess what? Unless you walk away from your heathen lifestyle, you’re going to burn in hell—for eternity!”

Jesus showed us that we are to love the sinner and to reflect who God is by accepting them where they are, and sharing with them the gospel of peace. Jesus went TO the lost and talked with them, walked with them, worked side by side with them, and loved them.

Jesus LOVED the lost.

He didn’t just hit them over the head with everything that was terrible about how they lived. Rather, He helped the sinner see how much better life could be with God. He didn’t focus on the sin. He lovingly lifted the veil from the eyes of the spiritually blind, and revealed God’s amazing plan for them.

Jesus modeled how to reflect God to the lost. He simply loved them, and people WANTED to have what He had.

My friend the atheist wants NOTHING that the Christian has to offer. Sad. So sad.

We’ve got to get off the pew and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Get off the pew!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Banish the term"Christianity"

Dan Merchant wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the thought-provoking 2008 documentary, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. In the film Mr. Merchant seeks to answer the question, “Why is the gospel of love dividing America?”

To find the answer to that question, Merchant put on a pair of white coveralls and stuck religious bumper stickers (both pro and con) all over his body. He called himself “Bumpersticker Man”.

Bumpersticker Man went all over America with a camera and a microphone, and invited people to check out his costume and share their thoughts about Jesus and Jesus followers. People all over the country openly shared their opinions and beliefs about God and the people who profess to be His kids.

Merchant found that most people who have a problem with Christians do NOT have a problem with Jesus.

When asked what Jesus was known for, the respondents said things like, savior, diversity, good guy, loving, saving the lost, dying on the cross, performing miracles (or magic), bearded, philanthropist, and sincere. One girl said Jesus was the “first punk rocker”.

When asked to give a word or two that describes who or what a Christian is, the answers were far different. The men and women on the street used words like, hypocrites, intolerance, hate, frightening, overpowering, rigid, scary, nothing good, psycho, out of touch, uneducated, etc…

We profess to be followers of the well-respected God-man who shared the gospel of love and peace. Even the people that profess to be atheists acknowledge that the mythical man called Jesus was supposedly a good guy.

So, why is there such a disconnect between who Jesus is and who His followers are?

Kip Jacob, the senior pastor of Southlake Foursquare Church in West Linn, Oregon offers the following explanation. “We don’t trust Grace. We feel like we have to be defenders of the truth.” Pastor Jacob goes on to ask, “What if the church was known not for what it’s against, but what it’s for?” Wow!

I went to YouTube and looked at tons of clips from the documentary, as well as several interviews with Dan Merchant. Everyone from Matt Lauer to the Reverend Robert Schuller treated Merchant with respect and kindness. The filmmaker deserves that courtesy because he shows respect to believers and unbelievers alike. He seeks to give a platform for open and honest dialogue.

I did find a video rebuttal to the film that I thought was interesting. A big man, with a full head of gray hair and a silver beard sat in front of his computer camera and recorded his thoughts about Mr. Merchant and Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.

The man calls himself “Curtlegger”, and he believes Dan Merchant should be worried about the day when he meets Jesus face to face. He’s pretty sure Jesus is none to happy with Bumpersticker Man.

Curtlegger believes that Jesus did not say people would know we are believers because of how we love the WORLD, but how we love one another—the unity between Christian brothers and sisters. He further insists that Jesus specifically told us NOT to love the world.

Uh…Mr. Curtlegger, how’s that love-within-the-body-of-Christ thing workin’ for ya? Our lack of love for one another is the single biggest reason the world does NOT see Jesus in us. We treat one another like…well…like crap!

If we love somebody, we go out of our way to learn the best of who they are. But we Christians aren’t very good at looking for the good in our pew-mates. We’re notorious for sitting on our religious high horse and perfecting our Pharisee impersonation. “Thank you God that I am not like that guy over there. His marriage is a mess and his kids are trouble!”

Jesus didn’t go around telling people he was right. He went around showing people God’s love. He didn’t just walk with the disciples and the believers, he hung out with people of the world. That’s right, Curtlegger, the WORLD! He loved. I mean He REALLY loved.

What if Christians were known NOT for what we’re against, but for what we are commanded to do…to love? Are you willing to banish the term “Christianity” in order to further The Gospel of Love?

Get off the pew. It’s covered with bumper stickers and titles. And you know what? It’s not all that welcoming. I don’t want to be a Christian. I want to be a reflection of Jesus!

Get off the pew!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Artistic Mediocrity

So…do you remember the “misfit toys” from the 1964 Christmas classic, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’? The misfits were badly built toys—they were mistakes. The toys didn’t fit, they didn’t belong, and no one wanted them.

Rudolph was a misfit. He and his red nose were teased and laughed at. What could that mammal and his bulbous schnoz ever do for the reindeer colony?

About fifteen years ago I started using the term “misfit toys” to describe church drama teams. I have never seen a bigger flock of odd birds in my life.

At the time I was working with a church drama director who gathered up the most un-actor like people she could find and created a drama team. She spoke truth when she said, “they need to belong”.

This week I’m working with a group of volunteers who are acting their way through a week of Vacation Bible School skits.

My team consists of guys and girls who are without a real job and therefore have the time to volunteer their talents, such as they are. Their talent as a thespian (or lack thereof) is not what bothers me. It’s their inability to commit and invest the talent they do have.

The young men and women who make up our little acting troupe find the following character traits optional: punctuality, preparedness, and proficiency.

When it comes to art in the church, Christians think in terms of the five loaves and two fishes that Jesus used to feed the five thousand. We bring Jesus a fish and we expect him to wave a magic wand and create a whale right before the eyes of the audience.

Please understand this…Christians with true talent and abilities would love to use their gifts to share God’s love and truth with the body. They, however, don’t want to compromise—nor should they.

God gave us many and varied gifts and talents. The truth is, none of us are misfits. We belong somewhere. God created us for a place and a purpose—the stage may not be that place, however.

Rudolph found meaning to life when he discovered his unique value. Without him, the light would never have been seen.

We would never let the mechanic preach the sermon, the accountant do open heart surgery, or the chef teach a college physics class. Get off the pew of mediocrity and set a higher standard for Christian art. Get off the pew!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Turf Wars

“The church is like an old girlfriend. I have a lot of good memories and I wave as I pass by her house, but I’ll never be in a relationship with her again.”

I ran into an old friend last night and that’s how he describes the church he attended for 30 years, but left some time back.

What is it about a church that stirs such high emotions? I mean it’s just a building, for heaven’s sake! It’s four walls and a roof. But when people leave a church—for whatever reason—coming back is nearly impossible.

The people inside the building become a gang and the church property is their turf. When you leave and go to another church, you break the gang code and an all out turf war ensues. It all looks like a scene from the musical Westside Story.

The Eastside Baptist Jets battle the Southside Baptist Sharks for membership, musicians, and AWANA numbers. Gang members—uh…I mean, church attendees—sometimes sneak over to enemy territory to do a bit of undercover snooping.

You can almost hear the Westside Story score swell up as the sleuth slips past the barricade—uh…door greeter—and takes his seat in the back pew. Get cool, boy. Stay loose, boy. Come back with answers, boy.

What kinda programs are they offering? Do they ascribe to the big class Bible-study philosophy, or are they a small-group kinda church? Do they have a choir or a praise band? And the bulletin…is the artwork on the cover traditional or avant-garde? Do they put the lyrics to songs up on the big screen, or do they use hymnals?

A friend of mine was edged out of the church she’d grown up in. A couple of years later she decided to attend the Women’s Retreat that was sponsored by her former church. The women’s ministries director called her and told her it might not be a good idea for my friend to go to the retreat. It might be, she said, “a distraction”.

They were suspicious as to why my friend wanted to come back to the old neighborhood. Turf wars.

My friend went to the retreat anyway. Guess what, not a single fight broke out! In fact, God did a healing work during that weekend.

Come on people, “the church” is supposed to be “one body”. The building is just that—a building!

So, are you the old girlfriend, or are you the shunned lover? Do you know someone who no longer feels welcome inside the four walls that house your congregation? Get off the pew, break down the walls and barriers, and call off the gang fight! Say no to turf wars. Get off the pew!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No reconciliation for you!

I called and asked for a meeting with the pastor. It’d been several years since we’d attended the church, but the emotions were still raw and the pain was still real. My child encouraged me to once again seek reconciliation.

I’d always been open to restoration with the Music Minister and I had sought it on a couple of other occasions. He, however, wasn’t interested. So, I went directly to the big guy—the man who’d been leading the church for well over 40 years.

I walked in the office and sat down in the overstuffed chair. It seemed like I was 25 feet from the pastor. He had the biggest desk I’d ever seen in my life. A lot of granite had to die for that desk.

The pastor was familiar with my story. He knew we’d been forced to leave the church, but he wasn’t aware of all the nuts and bolts.

I had no interest in recounting all the ugly details—I only hoped for reconciliation and restoration. I’d do whatever it took to forgive and be forgiven.

The pastor’s words shocked me, although I’m not sure why. You’d think by that point I would have understood that the condemnation and judgmental finger pointing was a part of the church’s DNA.

The minister folded his hands, leaned slightly forward, and in his finest Southern gentleman drawl said, “We don’t have to reconcile with you. You work in the theatre and therefore, you are a danger to our reputation.”

And, there it is.

I don’t even know what to say to that. All I know is the pastor needs to step out from behind the behemoth that is his desk, get off the pew, and see that Christians live in the real world. We have many and varied talents, and sometimes Christians dare to work in film, television, and the theatre!

There are times when I seriously can’t figure out what it is about Christians that draw people to God. That day, sitting in the pristine office of an old Southern pastor, was one of those times. I didn’t see Jesus in his eyes. I saw a Pharisee who effectively said, “Thank you God that I’m not like this person.”

Get off the pew!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Around Whom Do You Revolve?

A new pastor took over the reigns of our fairly large church a little over a year ago. He had the full endorsement of the search committee and he quickly won over the church family. He garnered 98% of the member vote.

And now? Well, he’s lost a few supporters.

Change is met with opposition 100% of the time. But, the change that’s taking place now has turned into a disturbing trend. Most all of the outreach ministries have been seriously limited, or cut all together. Unless it directly revolves around the Sunday sermon, it will no longer be allowed at our church.

To begin with, any ministry that reached a specific group has been cut. There is no longer a “Men’s Ministry”, or a “Women’s Ministry”. All meetings, retreats, and celebrations specific to one gender or the other have been cancelled.

Gone are the monthly M.O.P.S. (Mother Of Pre-Schoolers) meetings, and all weekly Bible studies. The AWANA kids have been relegated to tiny broken down classrooms so the gym can be remodeled into a second sanctuary.

Small home groups—numbering no more than eight people—have replaced Bible study groups. They are all required to study the same material—material that is based on the pastor’s weekly sermons. The Women’s Ministries leader has been reassigned. She now writes the pastor’s sermon-based studies.

The church gym was originally built to accommodate the huge number of kids and youth who filled the campus several times during the week. It’s going to be remodeled so it can accommodate the many services now held every Sunday.

The latest casualty of the new regime is a longtime favorite—“Gospel Music” night. One Sunday evening a month a favorite singing group was brought in to share God through song and old-fashioned fun. The church is always full on Gospel Music night and is a particular favorite among the 50 and older crowd. Those are gone now too.

The new pastor isn’t getting rid of the much-loved music altogether, he’s just rolling it into a new Sunday morning service. If you want to hear the old-fashioned Gospel music, you’ll now have to sit through the pastor’s sermon as well.

Each of the now six services on Sunday mornings will feature a different style of music. The Pastor’s sermon will then be preached live, or will be shown via DVD.

Bible studies, concerts, programs…anything that happens on the church campus must revolve around the pastor’s sermon. Does this strike anyone else as odd—maybe even scary?

Our new pastor has completely cut off most of the other body parts. He clearly sees no use for the many gifts and talents of the family. He acts as if he doesn’t believe God can speak to the congregation through anyone that isn’t him.

God speaks to His kids in many and varied ways. God’s love and truth can be shared during a basketball game, a musical event, or a **gasp** guest speaker.

Is your church pastor-focused or God-focused?

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18 (NIV) Have we set our pastor up for a fall?

Come on people, get off the pew and take a hard look at the direction the church is moving. Get off the pew!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rhonda Gets A Divorce

Several years ago I sang in the choir with Rhonda. She had an amazing voice, a good heart, and was just as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside.

One day Rhonda shocked everyone when she left her husband. She immediately became rich fodder for the gossipmongers. Everyone had an opinion about Rhonda and her husband. People took sides and the battle began.

Rhonda auditioned for a part in a musical at the local community theatre. That’s when the tongue wagging really got out of control. Rhonda was “living in sin” and she was clearly a “girl gone wild”. The choir director kicked her out of the choir and she left the church filled with sadness and loneliness.

A few months later I was home alone when there was a knock at my door. It was Rhonda’s husband. He had no idea I lived in the house. He was a contractor who was going door-to-door leaving flyers in an attempt to solicit business. When he saw me he immediately opened his heart.

“I’m very sad about the way Rhonda’s been treated at the church.” He sounded so genuine. His words surprised me. Wasn’t he the victim? Hadn’t his wife walked out on him?

He continued. “It wasn’t easy being married to me. I moved Rhonda from town to town and state to state every six months or so. I oppressed her and never gave her an opportunity to explore her unique talents. I always made the marriage about me.”

I was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. I had listened to the gossip and I had participated in the harsh judgmental criticisms. I had assumed that Rhonda was being selfish.

Rhonda’s husband stood before me—he wasn’t playing the victim, but rather he was taking responsibility for the part he played in the destruction of his marriage. The fact that his wife had been the subject of unfair gossip and had been abandoned by her church broke his heart.

I’ve seen Rhonda several times over the years and I always go out of my way to listen—really listen to her words and her heart. She has shared her brokenness, her anger, her disappointment, and her loneliness. She has always thanked me for my kindness.

I saw my friend Rhonda last night. She is doing great. All the people who decided she was a woman scorned and therefore no longer worthy of their love and friendship—they are the losers. They’ve missed out on the friendship of a wonderful woman. They’ve missed out on seeing new growth come out of ashes.

Do you know a “Rhonda”? Yes, God hates divorce, but he loves His kids. I believe that our gossip and judgmental assumptions are responsible for putting the final nail in some of the marital coffins. It’s hard to see a reason to stay married to someone that everyone around you says is a horrible person.

We’ve got to STOP being meddling scandalmongers. If you know a couple whose marriage is falling apart please love them. As difficult as it is, I encourage you to not take sides, but rather to show both of them equal kindness.

Now go…get off the pew!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Discouraged? Us too!

We went to the theatre last night and we shared our table with a couple we’d never met. We introduced ourselves and shared polite chitchat.

The more we talked, the more we realized we had a lot in common with each other. We’d graduated from high school around the same time; our parents had attended the same school, and even graduated the same year. Each couple had three kids. Our children were just about the same ages as theirs. We discovered we even worked in the same fields and had similar interests.

It wasn’t long before someone brought up church. The conversation went something like this:

Us: Have you ever been to this theatre before?

Them: No. This is our first time. You?

Us: We’ve been coming to see shows here for years. You’ll love it.

Them: The theatre seems pretty full tonight. Is the turnout this good every night?

Us: The Sunday matinees are hard to get tickets for as they’re always full. The after-church crowd comes straight from the service, gets here for the all-you-can-eat buffet, enjoys the show, and gets home in time to be in bed by 5:30. It’s the perfect Sunday.

Them: Sundays are exhausting for us. We’ve got to go straight home after church and take a nap.

Okay, we aren’t the most stimulating of conversationalists, I admit. But that’s how we discovered we were all churchgoers. Turns out we’ve even gone to the same church, but at different times.

It didn’t take long for the topic of Christian discord to come up. I don’t ask for it or encourage this topic—I promise. People open up to me. The fact is people are disgusted with the constant barrage of conflict and backbiting among believers.

The couple told the all too familiar tale. The older their kids got, the more involved with church activities they became. Since they were there all the time anyway, they began volunteering for this ministry, that opportunity, and before they knew they were overcommitted. They taught Sunday school and worked with the kids’ choir. That’s what you do when you’re a member of a church, right?

Church members like the couple we met burn their candles at both ends, then we (the church) see to it that they get burned out. We treat volunteers badly. They are often under trained and overextended. We set them up for failure and then spit them out when they fail.

That’s what happened to the man and his wife. They are content now to sit in a different church then the one they had poured so much of their heart and hard work into. These are two talented people whose gifts could benefit the kingdom of God, but instead their talents have been shelved.

We suck sometimes. We are wounding our own and shooting the wounded. It’s just not okay.

Churches would be perfect if there were no people in them. I’m not talking about the normal struggles and frustrations that come with working side by side with other human beings. I’m talking about the mean, vindictive, ugly, self-absorbed behavior that breaks the spirit.

A pastor friend of mine always says, “People are no damn good.”

I meet more and more believers who have opted out of the church machine. They’ve formed home churches, online communities, and small groups. They’re not isolating themselves, but rather they are separating themselves from the gossip, lies, arrogance, and self-promoting pompous pretentiousness that gets in the way of seeing—really seeing God.

Show one another love, appreciation, kindness, benevolence, sympathy, and gratitude. God’s family (like most families) is dysfunctional and far from perfect, and that’s okay! Selfless love can heal the bad stuff. Get off the pew and show God’s love for your brothers and sisters. Get off the pew!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One toke over the line...

Earlier this year I was in Los Angeles. On my way to the airport, I spotted this sign in front of a church.

That's one way to get 'em in the pew. I wonder if they served snacks.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Voting Day

Question…on voting day, do you care who or what James Dobson endorses?

Many voters color in the oval next to the name on the ballot solely because of the single letter that comes at the end of the candidate's name—“R” or “D”.

A few weeks before each election my extended family picks up a copy of the Christian Voter Guide and we gather for a “who would Jesus vote for” party. I’ll be honest—I’ve been known to **gasp** throw my support behind the unsanctioned candidate.

The primary election was held today in my state. One of the congressional candidates used to be the mayor of a nearby town. He’s an outspoken Christian who garnered the support of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

The man who followed in the candidate’s mayoral footsteps is now a radio commentator who also happens to be a vocal Christian. The radio show’s host has nothing nice to say about his predecessor and congressional hopeful. In fact, he’s been down right nasty, calling the former mayor a liar and a thief.

Christians stand on Biblical truth, armed with the sword and the shield, and we come out swinging. Christians can be so arrogant sometimes!

I wonder—if the two Christian men were in a political race against one another, which one would win the endorsement of religious leaders?

Should a candidate, proposition, or ballot measure be pulpit fodder? Is it okay for a pastor to offer his opinion or advice on political matters? I’ve known church leaders who feel very strongly about staying out of this controversial arena, and others who feel a duty to inform—even going so far as to put up proposition signs around the church campus.

Look, we have an obligation to vote and to vote our conscience. We ought not be sheep who blindly follow the spiritual leaders. God gave me the intelligence and wherewithal to gather the available information and then to cast a discerning vote.

Don’t be sheep. Get off the pew—ask questions, educate yourself, and vote with wise confidence. Get off the pew!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Third time's the charm.

A couple of nights ago we went to a wedding reception. Don and Deanne were first engaged in 1980, but they broke up and married other people. It’s so great to see them together now—happy and looking forward to sharing many years of happy love.

When we arrived at the reception Don’s dad hugged us, thanked us for coming, and said, “Someone from the church has got to reach out and love my son.” His words broke my heart.

Don’s first marriage ended when his wife left him for another man. Everyone who knew the couple was shocked and saddened by the completely unexpected turn.

When a couple divorces they have to divide the furniture, wall hangings, dishes, and towels. They argue over custody of the kids, dogs, cats, and goldfish. If all goes well, each partner walks away with half the shared physical assets and the kids continue to thrive.

The saddest element of divorce is the division of friendships. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so awful if the husband and wife could sit with a mediator and weigh the pros and cons of every person in their life, then amicably agree to split time and custody. It doesn’t work that way.

Generally speaking, friends and family choose sides and everyone dons weapons fashioned from gossip, assumptions, lies, and judgment. It’s a terrible phenomenon and there are no winners.

The church supported Don in his divorce. After all, adultery is a church sanctioned reason for ending a marriage. Don remarried a year or two later and he stayed in the church’s good graces. That all ended when he divorced his second wife.

After his second divorce Don lost most of the remainder of his friends. His pastor warned him to “never step foot” in the church again.

"I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. 1 Malachi 2:16 (NIV)

There’s no doubt God hates divorce, but I know that I know that God LOVES the divorcee. Loving a friend and standing by him or her when their marriage falls apart is (I believe) what God calls us to do. Divorce is not a contagious disease. You won’t need antibiotics if you get too close to someone suffering the ravages of a marital break-up—I promise.

Sin happens when we break fellowship with God. We then suffer through our anger, bitterness, depression, and all manner of emotional distress. The sadness is magnified when we suffer alone and the people who should be Jesus with skin on abandon us in our hour of need.

Do you know someone who is out of fellowship with God or with the church? Get off the pew, pick up the phone, and reconnect. Send them a card or letter—anything to extend a hand of love and support. You won’t get infected, I promise you! Get off the pew!