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!