Genuine

Last Sunday, my words were a bit more raw than normal.  I was jet-lagged, I had just spent 2 weeks in an impoverished country, I had met about 200 pastors who were sacrificing everything for the privilege of preaching the gospel, (most of whom lived in mud shacks and suffered routine opposition), and I was feeling the affects of a strong idealistic buzz. I actually tricked myself into sharing that stuff.  I had jotted a few things down over the previous week, but didn't really intend on sharing it with the general public.  When I walked up front, I took my points with me... but didn't really intend on sharing them.  Then, I pulled a fast one on myself, and started going down the line... point by point.  (the points are outlined on the previous post) So far, I don't regret being honest. Through all of this, one word is coming to the surface.  -Genuine. Not only do I want to be genuine, but I want the fellowship at ccCville to reek with undisputed genuineness.  I want to be as real as I can possibly be, and I want the same for my church family.   I would rather have 50 genuine people growing in their faith, than 500 luke warm Christians who left their old church because the new church had a better interior designer. I know how to institute and utilize the programs and methods to build up a decent head-count.  I know how to tweak and polish the presentation to create an impressive, feel-good experience for people on Sunday mornings.  I know what church shoppers are in the market for.  If we had shopping carts at the front door, I know exactly what kind of religious chotchke people would seek to put in them.  I know what it takes. I'm just not going to do it. The mega-church boom in America is more about Christian consolidation than it is about salvation or restoration.  They are giving the shopping mall Christians what they want.  Good things still happen in the midst.  People still hear the gospel.  Discipleship stil exists.  -I'm just not a fan. We don't need big crowds, hype, and a hearty dose of Jesus-sheen. We just need to be genuine. We don't need Christianese.  It's a lot easier to just say it like it is. We don't need to put on a phony spiritual front.  Yes, there are appropriate times when, in the process of serving the needs of others, we set our problems aside.  However, we need to find a compassionate ear of confidence and be honest concerning our faith struggles.  Faking spirituality might fool yourself, but it doesn't fool many other people. We don't need to have our selves or our agendas affirmed.  If you don't get to lead, sing, teach or administrate, it doesn't mean that you have no place in the family. Our purpose is not to make people feel comfortable or recognized.  Our purpose is to see God glorified. The goal of our fellowship is not a matter of "What's in it for me?".  We should be more inclined to ask, "What's in it for my brother and my sister in need?" Christian fellowship is not a place for people to meet out their power trips, or satisfy their control issues.  It's a place of humility, service and sacrifice for the glorification of God, and the benefit of one another. Our priority is not building (physically) but rather, building (spiritually).  Buildings are a convenience.  Communities of faith do not need such conveniences.  If the building goes away, the community... the family should continue on. Our live should change, not because we had a 'feel good experience', but rather, because we encountered Jesus. We need more than just Biblical bumper stickers and band-aids.  Everybody is preaching the same topical series.  A very unbalanced diet is being doled out to people and a shallow unstable faith is often the end result.  We need the entirety of the Word.  We need messages that are focused on Jesus, not on sex, money management and self esteem. We need to get over it!  Christians have hang-ups.  These hang-ups are usually a matter of tradition or culture, and not necessarily the Bible.  We have hangups about music, alcohol, clothing, entertainment, holidays, politics, and methods.  Convictions are great.  God gives us convictions for a reason.  We need to realize when our convictions belong to us, and not to everyone else. No more pettiness.  Christian fellowship should be a place where we are pushed towards maturity, not affirmed in our infancy.        


Reluctant Pastor

I just got back from India. While there, I did a lot of teaching, eating, walking and laughing.  In the midst of all of this, there were several opportunities to...
  • lay quietly on my cot and stare at the ceiling
  • walk through a coconut grove
  • just stand in one place staring out over the rice patties.
Quiet moments like this are frequent and few back in the real world.  Instead of being bored, I made a willful choice to enjoy the silence.  They ended up being great times of prayer, but not the kind of prayer we usually think of when we say 'prayer'.  There was no continual utterance of content flowing from my brain to God.  These were times to 'let my words be few'.  These were prayers of presence.  These where the phone calls where both parties are on the line, but neither are talking, and it's completely ok. I'm pretty certain that God reminded me of something.  I'm a reluctant pastor. I don't feel as if this is a rebuke.  I don't even have any shame in admitting it. I've always been reluctant.  While I was walking about amongst the Banyan trees and the rice patties, I began to ask a simple question.

Why?

The answers were pretty basic.  Some called for action.  Some just left me in the dark. Today, Mike (my fellow traveler) and I shared the details of our trip.  Mike gave a verbal report and I pushed the 'play' button on a video that I agonized over for hours the previous night. Afterwards, I shared. I had to share this stuff today.  I couldn't tell anybody what was coming and I couldn't wait a week or two.  I was on an idealistic high and I needed to act before the buzz began to fade.  There was no recording today, so I've decided to summarize my rant here.
  • I'm reluctant, because there is something wrong with the way we, as the church, traditionally carry out our methods of worship and community.  I never wanted anything to do with pastors or churches.  "Church" felt like a pre-scripted production.  I didn't want a role in that drama.  In spite of what I wanted, this is where God led me.  There's something wrong with it.  I don't have a solution.  I have some ideas, but God hasn't given me the green-light on going rogue yet.  I'm here... but I'm here reluctantly.
  • Most churches in America are catering to the consumer mentality that we have all been brainwashed with.  We think the church should be our own spiritual shopping mall.  It should have all the cool stuff with all the cool brand names.  It should have age and gender specific programs.  It should be professional, glitzy and trendy.  I'm reluctant to be part of that world.  I don't want to provide the shopping mall.  I want Grandma's house.  I want to see the family come together, because they are family.  Some of my best memories were created on Sunday afternoons at Grandma Elsie's house in Forest City, IA.  Every week, that house filled up with relatives.  That's what I want for the fellowship I pastor.
  • We are supposed to call each other to a place of maturity and restoration.  However, it seems like the church is continually struggling with divisiveness, politics, self affirmation and pettiness.  Why do we tolerate this junk?  We coddle people because we don't want them to leave. We don't want people to get upset.  We don't want people to say bad things about us.  I'm a reluctant pastor, because I don't want to deal with this kind of stuff.  We don't have time to continue changing each other's diapers.  We don't have time for pettiness.  If someone looked at you funny or made you feel uncomfortable because they asked you your name more than once, guess what...  I DON'T CARE!!!  Nursery care stops at 3 years old.  The writer of Hebrews accused his readers of desiring milk over meat.  Unlike Paul, who gave the Corinthians milk, the writer of Hebrews wouldn't do it.  Instead, he warned them, (Heb. 5:11- 6:1-20).  Then, he gave them the meat anyways.  If you don't want to mature, there's a nice crowded shopping mall church or two in town.
  • I'm reluctant, because I hate the idea of having to support a facility.  Apparently it's a necessary evil that I'm supposed to accept.  I don't mind accepting it as long as we are not struggling to support our missionaries and local benevolence work.  We do have the cheapest rent deal in town. The church down the street pays double what we pay.  However, I'm not willing to keep on fighting the limited cash flow at the expense of building over ministry.  I'll gladly take a side job, but we'll be in a school gymnasium, community center or pick-nick shelter before we cut our missions/benevolence budget.
  • I'm reluctant to provide a comfortable setting for church attenders.  We are called to participation, not relaxation.  The gate is open and the pasture is freely accessible to all, but it can't be a comfortable pasture for the attenders.  Normal Christian maturity involves giving, service, compassion, and the willingness to share the gospel story out there in the real world.
I'm glad I went to India.  We planted a seed that is already growing.  Hundreds, and very soon, thousands of independent churches in India will be impacted in a big way because of the instruction we gave.  I'm thrilled. I'm also glad of the reminder.  I'm reluctant.  I'm okay with that.


Choosing Disbelief

I know a lot of people who don't believe anymore. There was a time in their life when they proclaimed a belief and a relationship with Jesus.

Ex-Teen-Believers

Some of them were teen-believers.  They embraced the salvation message and the youth group culture for a season, but were never grounded.  They never grew in the gospel.  The real, relationship aspect of the faith never integrated into their lives.  One friend faced hypocrisy in the church.  He bailed.  One friend faced criticism.  He bailed.  Others suffered tragedy and loss.  Since they didn't understand God, and had other expectations for Him, they bailed when He didn't run to their rescue.  Others went to college and immersed themselves in a culture that is intolerant to the faith.  They bailed.  Most of the teen-believers I knew back in the 80's, are not believers now.  The church taught them to get saved and follow the rules.  The church failed.  The church has been failing like this for many years.

Ex-Rightwing-Republican-Christians

Some people choose disbelief because they are disgusted by the Christian culture. They sympathize with another cultural mentality, embrace certain values and norms, and find identity with certain political groups and media outlets.  They group Christians into a generic sub-group of Republican, Fox-News loving, Gay hating capitalistic bigots.  In response to this, they group themselves into their own generic sub-group of Democratic, NPR loving, Gay affirming, socialistic reverse-bigots.  Some try to claim a form of faith which lacks the absolutes which are hated by their particular generic sub-group.  Some abandon it all together.  They jump from one generic sub-group to the other.  Jesus was not a redeeming Savior to know personally.  He was instead, a product...  a by-product maybe, of the insidious evil known as the Christian Evangelical Right. I confess, that in this area, I have a prejudice.  If I meet someone who claims either identity in their package form... If I see a person who, on Facebook, their Blogs, or elsewhere, spends a lot of time trumping their generic sub-group and criticizing the other sub-group... I automatically consider them to be un-thinking drones.  It's not good, nor right of me to do this... but it is a prejudice which pops up in my head.  Instead of thinking each point through... they buy jerseys and foam fingers, and yell loudly from their side of the stadium.

Ex-Non-Intellect-Christians

Some people chose disbelief, because they don't like the ideas of creation which were given to them by the church.  It was fine for Sunday School, but not college.  Evolution makes more sense than creation.  Billions of years makes more sense than 6 days.  Since the literal 6 day view has been so engrained into the church culture, it would be blasphemy to contradict Ken Hamm.  It would be blasphemy to consider the possibility that the Hebrew word for day could mean 'period of time' just as much as it could mean 24 hours.   I'm not saying that I believe, (beyond a shadow of doubt) that it's one over the other.  I could go either way... depending on the day.  However, I would rather someone consider an Old Earth view of creation over apostasy.  However, the modern evangelical church doesn't always allow this.  They proclaim, "It's my way or the highway!"  Unfortunately, without thinking for themselves... many choose the highway.

Ex-God-Is-My-Sugar daddy-Christians

What do you do, when you've read every one of Joel Osteen's books, and you don't have your better life now?  What do you do, when your belief in God hinges on the idea, that God will grant your every wish, as long as you practice super optimistic self-deceiving faith... and yet, your wishes aren't granted?  What do you do when a loved one dies?  What do you do when the car breaks down?  What do you do, when the parking spot you claimed by faith, is not there?  Some people become disenchanted.  Some people pronounce themselves faithless.  Many people choose disbelief.

The reality is...

If we decide to stop believing, we can find complete and total satisfaction. If we want to disbelieve, we will find all the proof we want to support our disbelief. We will find what we look for and we will be convinced that Christianity is a farce.

On the other hand..

If we decide to follow hard after God, He will give us complete and total satisfaction. We will find all the proof we want to support our belief. We will find what we look for and we will be convinced that our faith is the real real deal. This path requires faith, and makes all the difference. The other involves the lack of, or the abandonment of faith.  This faith also requires individual responsibility.  We shouldn't bank our eternal relationship with Jesus upon anyone's predefined conclusion or definition.  Who like's everything in a box of chocolates?  Nobody.  We go through it and find the ones which we like, and reject the weird orange creme filled things.  We will do this with chocolate... but often time, we won't do this with our eternal faith.  We won't break apart the package doctrine... the package culture... the package denomination... and take the personal responsibility that our faith requires to identify truth.  We either claim it all, or pitch it all. I struggle with doubt all the time. I have moments where I am thoroughly convinced that this whole thing is an elaborate story. They are moments. They never take hold. They come and go… all the time. If it's not real, I don't have any regrets. This is a good life. It's real though.