Monday, November 24, 2014
I usually brush my teeth regularly, but on the days leading up to my appointment, I began to brush them a lot more. Like three times a day. I flossed extra. I made sure I was eating healthy snacks. I reduced my sugar intake greatly. I bought extra tooth polisher, and tooth whitener. I even fluoridated my teeth on my own. I did a whole lot of things leading up to my dental visit that I would not normally do, because I was nervous about the prognosis and the outcome from the dentist.
The thought occurred to me that many people, who have not attended church in a while, view visiting a church, with the same kind of nervous preparation. People who haven't attended church for a while will often do extra prayers before they attend, read up on their Bible, get their outfits in better shape, work extra hard on presenting their entire family in a best possible light.
People who haven't attended church in a while are often nervous about what the encounter will be like. Will the pastor tell me I need to do more work in my personal Christian "whitening" practices? Will I get beat up in the sermon, for not eating the right spiritual foods? Will the prayer time feel like a spiritual root canal? Will I be given a lecture about how I need to floss my soul more regularly? Will my visit to church be painful? Will it be unpleasant? Will it cost me a lot of money, since there may be a lot more spiritual surgical work that needs to be done?
And so, many, many people decide that they would rather just do without church, or God, or spirituality because they are worried about…
The Weekly Church Checkup
The truth is that some churches are a lot like a dental practice in the pain and guilt that they inflict on people who haven't visited in a while. I will never forget one church that I attended on occasion while I was a college student in Minnesota. When school first began, I went to church every week, but as the semester progressed, my attendance became much more fleeting. One morning I woke up, after a bit of a "crazy" (I was a college student after all) Saturday night. I told myself that I just needed God, and I needed church that day. What I could not face would be the phalanx of church people who would give me on the way in.
Sure enough, I was greeted at the door by a prying dental hygienist of an usher. "Well, well, well," she said, "we haven't seen you in while! Where have you been all this semester?" "Busy," I said. "You look like you might have been out last night. Kind of a crazy night, hugh?" "Not really, thanks for the bulletin. I'd like to sit in the back." "Those seats are all taken, there's a few in the front row," she said. As she guided me down the isle to my seat right beneath the pastor (not so different than being in a dental chair), I felt the glares of those who had perfect spiritual hygiene. As I sat down, she whispered, "We have a new program for college kids like you, who haven't attended church in a while, would you like information?" "Not really," I said. "Well, here's a brochure on how to keep your spiritual heart free from decay." I left wishing I hadn't come at all.
Church shouldn't be a weekly checkup, but a weekly affirmation of God's love in our lives.
Mission Street is striving to be that church. Our two main mottos are:
Come As You Are, and
No Perfect People Allowed
All For Now,
Monday, November 17, 2014
What has been on my mind is that in many ways, we can think of this central dictum in it's opposite form. Just as the "Word became Flesh" with Jesus, so, when Jesus ascended into heaven again, in a very real sense;
The Flesh Became Word
What this means is that when the Spoken Word (The Bible) is uttered, God is brought to life. When The Bible is preached correctly, with meaning, and truth and grace and hope, there is, in a sense, a living Christ among us.
The Flesh Became Word
I learned from my preaching professor at Fuller Seminary this past summer, Dr. Will Willemon, that the word Theology - literally translated "Theo - Logoi, literally translates as "God Speaks". I used to think that theology simply meant the study of God, but it really means, "The words of God," "The voice of God", "The utterances of God." It can also mean "Speaking about God." When we speak about God, we bring life to God, and we are theological.
The Reformers, Jean Calvin, Martin Luther, John Knox and others firmly believed in this central maxim.
The Flesh Became Word'
They believed in it so fully that it compelled Luther to advocate the mass production of the Bible in people's own languages, and dialects. Luther believed that the Word should be in the hands of the people. Knox knew that without public education, the "Word of God" would be misinterpreted, misunderstood, misappropriated. So, he wanted people of all economic backgrounds to be able to read for themselves - the Word. Knox wanted the Flesh of God made into Words in the very hands of all people. Calvin placed the reading of the Word in the very center of church - from a central lectern. This is why, today, in most churches, the sermon is still the central part of the worship service.
This basic truth gave new meaning to my preaching and speaking on Sunday mornings, when I discovered it. To be honest, I still have a hard time fully believing it. Taken to it's extreme, it means that whenever a pastor speaks in a worship setting about God, correctly, lovingly, truthfully, it is equivalent to God speaking Himself. That when sermon is preached, it isn't just a good point that is made, a thoughtful reflection that is offered, a helpful concept that is shared, but rather that there is some sort of Godly conveyance taking place.
The Flesh Became Word
This basic notion also has profound implications for all of us. Whenever we share hopeful things, truthful thoughts, graceful kind words to others, we are also participating in the Flesh Becoming Word. Whenever we share the truthful, loving, story of Jesus in our own lives (not someone else's story, but our own), we quite literally bring Christ back into the world through the utterances that come from our lips. And, the opposite is also the case. We also have the potential and the possibility of speaking Words that aren't Godly. Words that cut down, make small, hurt, inflict, belittle, and curse, eradicate the power of God from the world. Hurtful words have the impact of removing the Flesh of Christ from the World.
Let's Bring Christ Back into the World this Week through our Words. And then we will be able to see for ourselves that:
The Flesh Became Word
All For Now,
Monday, November 10, 2014
For example, I have thought, for some time now, that someone needs to write a book entitled; "Distances and Times in the Bible". Though the title of the book may not be a best seller (you can work on that), the content seems important to me. We often underestimate the amount of time it took, and the distances traveled in the Bible. For example, when the Bible says, "Jesus then went from Galilee to Judea" it doesn't give the impact of the distance traveled by Jesus and the disciples. The trip from Galilee to Judea is a good two to three day journey over rocky, arid, and mountainous land. Jesus and the disciples must have been totally winded after those journeys. No wonder the Pharisees were so annoying to deal with at the end of a long journey.
Another book I don't have time to write (but maybe I will someday) is the main focus of this blogpost:
The full title could be, Flex: How God Works Best in the Lives of Flexible People
A lot of energy and time has been spent on the best way for Christ followers to prepare their hearts to receive God's grace, mercy, and fruit. Many authors have pondered the exact posture that the human heart must assume in order to be most useful to God. The bookshelves filled with books on, "Listening to God's Voice", "Deep Contemplative Prayer," "Having a Holy Heart" are numerous. My big new idea is that, while all of these factors are important, they are not the most important thing. And here it is. Flexibility is the key! God works best in flexible hearts.
By and large the disciples were highly flexible people. Anyone who has gone on a fishing trip knows that the key to being a good fisherman has:
Flexibility. Some days you may catch a fish or two, some days you will not. Some days the morning will begin with sunshine on the water, and then storm clouds will begin to form and the torrential rains will begin to fall. Some days your fishing lines and nets will work perfectly, and then, all of a sudden, they will catch a snag, or a hole will emerge in the net, and you have to spend the whole day mending the nets. I believe that Jesus knew this as he was walking around the lake of Galilee and when he said to Peter and Andrew and James and John: "Come and Follow Me! I will make you fishers of men!" The fact that the disciples left their fishing professions right there and then, shows just how much they were able to:
Some of the most powerful stories of conversion in the Bible are really stories about flexibility. Take the story of Zacchaeus for example. Here was a very wealthy and corrupt man who had more money and power and wealth than any person could ever hope for. But then he met Jesus, and was moved to the core to;
To become flexible in his heart. Zaccheaus gave back 4 times the amount he had stollen through the years, and he followed Jesus. The other rich young ruler in the Bible, who came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit the kingdom of God, and was unable to be flexible, to give back his money.
There is a reason that Jesus was so drawn to the ministry contributions of women in the Bible (Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary and Martha). I believe it is because, basically, when it boils down to it, women are more flexible than men. Of course, women in general are much more physiologically flexible than men. But I believe they are also more spiritually flexible as well. While I don't have the scientific data to back up this basic point on this Monday morning, one example of this is that women tend to live longer than men after their spouses pass away. If a wife passes away first, the chance that a husband will live on much longer is around 20%. On the other hand if a husband passes away first, the chances of her living long after her husband are well about 50%. Women are more flexible after periods of change and loss in their lives. Somehow, they are more able to pivot, to mold, to alter, to change to:
Having just started a new church development here in Camarillo three weeks ago, I can say without hesitation that flexibility is the key to success in a new church. On any given Sunday, the speakers won't work, the security guards are being persnickety, the computer system is down, the offering plates aren't in the place they should be, a key leadership person gets sick, or what have you. The successful new church is able to:
On second thoughts, maybe I should be more flexible and write this book after all:-)
All For Now,
Monday, November 3, 2014
One time when I told him that I was afraid of heights - that I had the tendency to feel a little dizzy and scared (I suffered from vertigo) when I stood at the top of a very high mountain, or a very tall building, he had great advice. Ranald said; "The difference between not feeling scared when standing on top of very high places (buildings, mountains) and feeling scared, is whether or not you have climbed them yourself or not. If you climb a mountain yourself, you will never feel scared when you get to the top of it. If you climb the stairs of a very high building, you will not feel dizzy on top. If, on the other hand, you take a helicopter ride to the top of a mountain, or you take an elevator to the top of a building, you will often feel frightened of the height at the top."
This advice, on it's face, may seem crazy. But try it, I have found it to be true.
When I was in college, I had a summer job at an oil refinery. One of my very dangerous tasks that summer was to climb the ladder of a very tall smoke stack (like 500 feet tall), and to reach out at the top and paint orange protective paint on the pipes that suspended high above the earth. Given that I have always been afraid of heights, I was petrified of this task. But once again, Ranald's advice proved to be true. When I climbed the stack, rung by rung on the ladder, and got to the top, I was less afraid than if I had been dropped on the top of the stack by a crane.
In both cases, what I think Ranald was alluding to was the basic notion that when humans invest themselves deeply in the ascent of high places, they somehow know intuitively how to get to the top, and how to get to the bottom.
Uncle Ranald's advice has proven true not just for mountain climbing or building scaling, and smoke stack scrambling, but also for life in general. I have always been a little suspicious of people who rise in life to quickly. Politicians, business leaders, executives, even pastors who go from the ground floor, if you will, to the top too quickly can often find themselves in a perilous place of leadership. Not having had the arduous task of putting one step in front of the other to get to the top, leaves the leader actually not appreciating the amount of work and effort it took to build the business or political empire.
Former Congressman John Dingle of Michigan once offered a few thoughts about our current President - Barack Obama (don't worry, this is not a political blogpost, but let me offer this illustration to make a larger point). He said, Obama just rose too quickly too soon in his political life. Having served only 2 years in the Senate, before he ran for President, he didn't ever really learn the difficult and intricate process of governing. Had he waited a few more years to run, and to learn (to climb, if you will, the mountain of politics, rather than be dropped on the top so quickly) he would have been a much more effective President.
Yesterday morning was our second Sunday for Mission Street. It was a wonderful worship service! Really special. People were so fed by the worship music, prayers, message, etc. Our attendance was 60 (which, by the way is 20 more than I was hoping for). As the leaders were assisting with worship, we were all aware of the climb we were all making in starting a new church. It's one step after the other. It's one bend in the road, and view point after the other. It's a beautiful journey. And because we are climbing the mountain ourselves, we won't find that we are dizzy, or afraid of the view, when the summit is reached.
The climb is the journey. The climb is essential. Being on top is not what is important. How you get there is. The journey is important.
All For Now,