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!