Thursday, April 26, 2007

start my own church?

I got this email today from a person in my sunday school class that I teach weekly, totally unsolicited and so totally cool... I wanted to share...

I had an idea for you:

YOu could start your own church and call it the Messy Christian Church

and you could put up signs that say "We don't have the answers.....come join us"

..We are followers of Jesus...........and we stumble all the time.......come join us"

PS We even drink beer sometimes ;)

Premium Outlet Mall

Recently I went to my first Premium Outlet Mall. I wasn't sure what I'd find but hey, its an Outlet Mall, home of the fabulously low deal on stuff you gotta have. I walk the concrete, glancing from side to side at the brand names... Gucci, Vans, Ralph Lauren, and stores I haven't heard of before.
I walk into some store, either Burberry (spelling?) or Coach (cause I had no idea what they were) and it was a store full of purses, and wallets, and coin purses, and stuff. I look over to my right and on a table was a small coin purse. Now what was impressive about this coin purse was not the design. Nothing special there. It wasn't a fancy color. What was impressive was that this thing cost $103 and some change. And it pissed me off. Instantly. And I wondered why it made me so mad.
I thought about it. Initially because it costs so much and I knew someone would buy it. And I figure that person who bought it would place it inside a much larger overpriced purse and take it to church with them. And yes, that pissed me off as well. So much need in the world, so much good that would do, and someone calling themselves a Christian would spend money on this. And I was angry. I could not even use the biblical story where the girl poured the expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus and the disciples chastised her ... because it was done out of love. An extravagent love.
I probably waste money on stuff as well that could go to help feed hungry people or whatever. But that isn't what really made me angry. It is that we have been sold a huge lie. We are buying into an image that isn't real. The rise of Abercrombie, Tommy Hilfigher, etc. somehow makes us proud to show off how much money we spent on stuff and then advertise it to the world. "look at me - I have 'x' name brand this or that". It is either so show we can afford it, or to keep up with what the world considers hip, or some image we wish to portray.
Or maybe its class warfare. Honda Accords were the thing in the early 80s. When everyone started to afford them, they come up with Acura. Toyotas - Lexus, Isuzu - Infinity. You catch up with a Suburban? Not good enough cause now we have topped that with Escalade. You get my drift - same product, different label to separate the haves from the can't affords.
I have always had an aversion to labels. Whether it be on my clothes or attached to my person. Whether Jew or Gentile or Samaritan. If we as a culture really think that what matters is on the outside, attached to a label or defined by price tag, I can't see where we have made any progress.
And yes. Look around at church. You will see these labels. And its a shame. I think I'll have a chardonay and set in my sauna and think about it before heading out to the golf course.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I stand corrected!

I did the Santa Claus Jesus thing this week. I know, I know - HYPOCRITE! But hey, I was desperate and didn't know what else to do or where else to turn. All reason or semblance of sanity seemed to have disappeared, so what was a good soul to do? If you read my earlier post about Santa Claus Jesus, you know how I feel about it. But something had to be done.

Sanjaya. Sanjaya from American Idol had continued to mock my world. Caused serious doubts to arise in my mind about the hearing abilities of millions of Americans. I could not help myself. I went down on my knees and prayed. "Dear Jesus, please let this be the night. Please let Sanjaya get voted off of American Idol".

Now I wasn't completely off my rocker. I didn't bargain with God by offering this or that. Nope, just asked for something. Something simple. And it HAPPENED! Oh My GOD! Its true. Santa Claus Jesus delivered and Sanjaya is now eligible for TV GUIDE Chat.
Santa Claus Jesus. I stand corrected. ;)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Finding God in Anderson County

I remember in my youth, the anticipated journey each summer to Lakeview United Methodist Church camp, deep in the Piney Woods of East Texas. This was my escape valve from the life I was in at home. It was a good life. A normal easy going small town Friday Night Lights kind of place. But Lakeview, Lakeview was somewhere I could be someone different. No, not really different, but actually myself. Restricted at home by the labels of those who had known me growing up, who had attached conclusions about my abilities, intellect, odd fascinations with something other than the here-and-now, I longed for that week.
As we could not afford family vacations, every summer I would ride with a neighboring town's church, in their old gas-fume-smelling air conditionerless bus on the 3 hour jaunt through the meandering highways to the middle of nowhere. Crossing onto the camp property and over an old wooden bridge, there was a small island where you could see a large whitewashed wooden cross, proclaiming that this was a place where Jesus may be. It was also where a lot of pretty girls would just happen to be as well.
Nestled inside of this camp is an assortment of cabins. Girls on one side and Boys on the other, and never the two shall be found on the wrong side. Swimming pools, Tennis Courts, Softball Field and one of the neatest little chapels in the woods you could imagine. Towering over all of this were magnificent pines. Pines so tall they the would proudly rise to tickle the bottom of careless clouds floating past on the lazy summer days.
It was on such a day in this setting that I found God. I was walking along a path between the cabins and the chapel, and a sudden breeze on a windless day wound its way through the pine trees on my left, the pines twisting and swaying, their heavy branches loaded down with pine needles, and waltzed across my path. As suddenly had it arrived it was gone. No other wind, no other breeze. Just God walking with me, as if to show off and let me know he was there. It was surreal. I stopped in awe.
I went on to the Chapel, cutting through the hot hazy humidity known throughout the area, and no wind was to be found. I did not mention this to anyone else for fear of being labeled insane of course. But during chapel, the speaker asked if anyone had experienced this phenomenon and described it just as I had seen it. I and he were the only ones.
Years later I would find myself working in that same area, in a place where God was hard too see, and wondering where He was. Then this memory surfaces of my encounter with the living God who would take time to walk with me.
It was ironic. I had found Him there in my youth, and was searching for Him there in my adulthood.
Yes, I found God in Anderson County Texas. Or maybe, just maybe, he found me - twice.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Santa Claus Jesus

Facing The Giants. The movie made by a church and acted by church members. I had heard good stuff about it so I said, what the heck, its $4 to rent. So I rent. I watch. I get irritated. I continue to watch. Get more irritated.
Okay. If you haven't seen it and plan to, stop reading now!
This has nothing to do with the Church's intent. This is not a dis on their sincerity. This isn't even a reflection of the lacking acting abilities. I mean heck, they are doing what they think is a good thing for the world, according to their doctrine.
My concern is this: What happens when people who are not believers or those who are exploring this thing called Christianity see this film and ...
Well here's the thing. I call it the Santa Claus Jesus theory. You just ask Jesus for something and he gives it to you. In this movie, there are all sorts of little subplots. Need to win the big football game? Just pray the right prayer to Jesus and he delivers the win in this movie. Having financial difficulties? No problem. Just pray to Jesus and you will get an unexpected raise! Car broke down? Jesus knows it and he provides a brand new pickup truck for you out of the blue! Oh yeah, but the offer doesn't stop there, no sir! If you order now, you will also get the pregnancy you always desired - even after the doctors said it was impossible, absolutely free!
Good grief.
Now maybe you believe this theory of Jesus. Maybe you have always prayed to Jesus for, oh, lets see, that the hot girl will like you and go out with you. Or maybe your prayer is a little more important. Maybe you prayed that the test results will come back negative for cancer. Maybe your prayer is for your loved one to quit being abusive! Did it happen? Did the magic occur for you? Call me quirky, but I'm pretty sure I have seen two opposing football teams both praying on the field before a game, and be damned if one of them didn't loose anyway.
Matter of the fact, I have seen people pray that their loved one to be healed and you know what? Sometimes it doesn't happen.
Some people pray and what they want happens. Some people pray and what they want does not happen. Whats wrong with the latter? They must not have had enough faith! Maybe they said the prayer wrong.
Or maybe we are missing the point. The Gethsemane prayer, "Not my will, but thine", even when Jesus was asking to avoid what was about to happen, he understood that it wasn't about his will, but what God needed to do in the circumstance. Lords prayer: "Thy Kingdom Come, THY WILL be done".
Recently, this film was shown to a bunch of at-risk youth because the person showing it thought it would save them, introduce Jesus to them. But what happens to these youth when they do the magic prayer and; they are still poor? parents are still abusive? dad doesn't get out of prison early? According to the movie it should happen. Does this mean God doesn't love them? Does it confirm to them they are not worthy, just as society has told them. Or worse, does it plant the seed in their minds that Christianity is just a bunch of crap from do gooder people who have no idea where they are coming from. My concern is that instead of turning them to Jesus, it will drive them away.
Don't get me wrong. It isn't totally a whacked concept. I have experienced Santa Claus Jesus several times. Healing my daughter when it didn't seem probable. Unexpected monies arriving when I was desperately short on cash. Changing the heart of another person. I have also experienced the other side - where my prayer wasn't always answered as I had wished.
I think if this film had shown both sides of the isle, I wouldn't have had such an adverse reaction to its message. However, I am concerned what it will do in the long run, when Santa doesn't deliver as depicted.

Friday, April 6, 2007

"where the spirit of the lord is..."

I was around the church proper my entire life. Liturgy, planned worship service, bulletins, greeter, etc. My view of what church was supposed to be like, including the proper clothing, is how I projected what a church should be well into my early adult years.

Somewhere along my journey, I began to question this stuff. I mean, its not that it kept me from going to church or participating in the planned events, even in leadership roles, but I started loosing interest in the rules and processes, and began to focus on the purpose.

Part of a creed we said every sunday morning went something like this, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the One True Church....". For some reason this morning, this phrase keeps circulating through my mind,"where the Spirit of the Lord is...." which brings to question: Just Where is HE? I go to my church now and am fairly convinced he isn't there. He used to be, but no longer. I can no longer find Him in the processes. In the regulations. In the Liturgy of service.

My brother (spiritually speaking) is pastor of a new emerging faith community called Journey IFC in Austin Texas. When he first told me about this new thing, meeting in a YMCA and naming it after a rock band (just kidding), I was a bit anxious about his prospects. Even better when I learned this faith community was going to move - no, not to a church with a steeple, but a warehouse in an industrial area. Just what was he thinking? Who would he attract with this formula of doing church? How would he make it financially? Aren't there socially questionable people hanging out in these areas?

I am an idiot.

I have figured out where the spirit of the lord is. He is there, in the warehouse. In an industrial area. In the hearts, minds, and soul of this faith community who is reaching out to homeless folks, seekers who have been labeled by society, and recovering Churchianity People like me. How do I know this? I've seen it. I have also seen a Jesus who would have been in the warehouse as well as the Temple. The difference is the people. One group is practicing Jesus. The other is practicing procedure.

"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the one true Church". The Lord is with those who need him and seek him. Can he come back to my church? Yes. Did he leave? Maybe, but he was asked to leave. I say lets invite him back.

Monday, April 2, 2007

from the mouth of a child...

I am setting at my dining room table saturday morning reading Max Lucado's "Six Hours One Friday", having a cup of coffee, as is my routine. My four year old daughter, who likes to get up early as well, comes and sets in the chair next to me, playing with something or the other and making small talk with dad. I am only partially listening, of course, cause I am engaged in the big people world of study for my sunday morning faith community, and reading....
but I hear these words, "Daddy, I see its shadow". I have to ask her to repeat herself because she doesn't talk very well at four years old. She was holding what looked like a medallion on the end of a string and saying, "see the shadow", while dangling it in front of her. Me being so smart, I decide this would be a good time to teach this little one something, so I ask her if she knows where a shadow comes from. She replies, "Yes - from light. But if you don't have light you don't have a shadow". Hmmmm... something struck me about that simple response from the mind of a four year old and got me to thinking, which is usually dangerous. Without Light, no Shadow. And it made me think about my own shadow. What was my light source? How far do i cast my shadow?
DC Talk song has a tune with the lyrics, "i wanna be in the light, as you are in the light"... and it went racing through my head. Yeah, I wanna be in the light, cause if I ain't in the light, then I ain't casting no shadow. And have you noticed that the closer you are to a light - the bigger your shadow is?
Man, if this won't preach - nothing will.
A cup of coffee, an early morning hour, and the voice of a four year old. thank you God