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Inhabit

I vow to …..

Inhabit my prayers with your praise514_400x400_nopeel-e1476541854840

Inhabit my life with your promises

Inhabit my service with your compassion

Inhabit my words with your story

Inhabit my mind with your thoughts

Inhabit my home with your hospitality

Inhabit my time with the fruit of your spirit

Inhabit my relationships with your love

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body , I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”              Galatians 2: 20

(o help me, o Lord, to not stumble and drop these habits)

Chained but free

Each night we clip our dog, Maggie, to a chain.(not PC, PETA correct)

This gives her a chance to rest while we rest.

Last night my son fed and clipped her to the chain and walked back to the house. Later I went out to speak to Maggie because she was whining more than usual. As I approached her I noticed that her chain was dangling down from the overhead run line and she was in the barn totally apart from her chain. It was then that I noticed that she was clipped to a three foot section of the chain but not the entire chain.  An old connector in the links had worn and one chain link had separated from the whole and she was no longer tied to the barn.

Though she had been whining and feeling tied to her run, she was actually free. What kept her there was the weight of a three foot section of chain, not the fact that she was connected to the barn. She had been longing to be unchained  when she really was unchained..

How many of us are feel the weight of things that only seem to be what we think they are?

What could we be free to do and be if we only realized how free we really are?

What single link could be broken to fee you/me?

 

Glasses of Water

Water is Life

Drink glasses of water.

This is the answer to my question of what to do on my day off (or any day if I remember).

Life doesn’t cease most days. The outer life that is. But the inner life can periodically come to a grinding halt. At times it even begins to crumble.

Oh sure the face may not reveal it. The family and co-workers may not see it. But the inner well becomes dry.

Keeping water in my well is a habit that must be had.

So on my day off I will pour out less and drink many, many glasses of water.

From what well should I drink? I have nothing to draw with and the well may be deep. Where can I get this living water?

Scorched Earth

We’ve been contemplating, up close and personal, the current scorched earth policy of the church, and wondering where it all ends. Do our leaders anticipate that from the ashes of the church they’ve destroyed, a new and glorious church will rise, phoenix-like? Or will the ashes yield, instead, a golden calf?

Just wondering.

Potluck Worship

I’ve been thinking a lot about worship lately. What constitutes worship that pleases God? Is there a “right” way, or a “wrong” way, to worship? The clearest biblical direction we have comes from Paul in 1 Corinthians 14. In particular, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about verse 26:

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

What happens when everyone brings something to the worship table? I think it must be kind of like potluck. Sometimes there’s plenty to go around, and everyone takes home leftovers. Other times the pickings are slim, and folks have to stop at McDonald’s on the way home. There are always people who contribute more than their fair share, and people who consume more than they bring. Sometimes there are way too many desserts and hardly any casseroles, and sometimes everyone brings baked beans and the only dessert on the table is a plate of Rice Krispy treats (which are gone before most of the guests even make it to the serving line). Sometimes people bring things made with cracked wheat and soybeans, which only a few discerning souls can appreciate, and which embarrass the contributors’ children. And sometimes—I would say more often than not—things come together and everyone shares and goes home satisfied.

Likewise in worship, 1 Corinthians 14-style. I remember one Christmas season when two brothers, one a novice trombonist and the other a novice trumpeter, stood up to play a duet. Unfortunately, neither appeared to be aware, as they prepared to play from the same hymnal, that a trombone is a C instrument and a trumpet is a B flat instrument. Our family has told and retold that story, to the immense enjoyment of all, and my father always concludes his rendition by saying, “But they struggled manfully on.” Was God offended by that ear-jangling display of imperfection? I think not. If our sense of humor is part of God’s divine image in us, then I imagine that God might just have been laughing along.

Our church used to have potluck worship. As a teen I was part of the worship band, back when “band” meant a motley assortment of trumpets, flutes, a clarinet, a sax, an accordion and even a tuba. Most of the players were high-schoolers or people who hadn’t played since high school. Looking back, I can’t imagine we sounded like much, but we were always well received, by the grace of the good souls of the congregation. Some Sundays we heard from a woman who sang solos in a twangy, country gospel style. Other Sundays special music was provided by an ensemble that, I think, might be called “rockabilly.” The congregation went wild. There were also soloists and groups that performed more “highbrow” music, and this, too, was a valued part of the mix. There was a woman who composed and sang her own worship songs. And, of course, there was the bell choir.

I know there were some Sundays when my family left church feeling a little bloated from all the gas. I’m sure others occasionally went home thinking the meal had been too heavy. Sometimes the food was poorly prepared. Sometimes it was unfamiliar and people couldn’t appreciate it. But usually it worked. Things came together, and people went home satisfied. Few people were totally satisfied all the time, but there was enough grace and give-and-take that people rarely left the table mad or hungry. And I’m guessing that our God of infinite variety—not to mention humor—was satisfied as well.

These days, our church has dispensed with potluck worship. Now our worship is catered. The preparations are left to the experts. The product is uniform, and uniformly excellent. The table is laden with rich casseroles loaded with canned soup and sour cream, and everyone gets a large serving of dessert. Nothing unpalatable or unfamiliar is served. If the resulting meal is a little bland, or doesn’t quite satisfy, at least it was well-prepared and almost no one had to labor in the kitchen beforehand. If it all tastes the same, at least it’s free of embarrassing gaffes and other imperfections that might offend.

And what of those potlucks of yesteryear? The band has long since been disbanded (which was not necessarily a bad thing), replaced by the contemporary version of drums, electric guitars, keyboards and high-tech graphics. The country gospel singer and the rockabilly group attend other churches, or don’t attend at all. The woman who composed her own songs was told by the then-worship director that her talents were no longer needed. I hope she found a church that welcomes her contributions. The bell choir and those who favored a more classical style were labeled “irrelevant” and hidden away so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the community.

I hesitate to speak for God on this one, but it seems to me that we’ve lost something valuable and perhaps irreplaceable. We’ve lost the sense of community that happens when everyone contributes. We’ve lost the diversity that should be the hallmark of any worshiping community. We’ve lost the grace to overlook the imperfections and eccentricities that remind all of us of our shared humanity. We’ve lost many individuals who left because their gifts were no longer valued. Most unfortunate of all, I think we’ve lost the joy of creating something together: the corporate expression of worship that is wonderful and quirky, strange and beautiful, flawed yet perfect.

Who Stole My Church?

“The church,” says N.T. Wright, “is first and foremost a community, a collection of people who belong to one another because they belong to God, the God we know in and through Jesus.” This faith community exists for the two related purposes of worshiping God and working for God’s kingdom in the world. Having laid out these two primary functions of the church, Wright continues:

The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship. This doesn’t just mean serving one another cups of tea and coffee. It’s all about living within that sense of a joint enterprise, a family business, in which everyone has a proper share and a proper place.*

When people, particularly people who have been in the church for many years, lament that someone has “stolen” their church, I believe they are not referring primarily to the style of worship (though that is part of it). Rather, they are mourning the loss of these defining characteristics of fellowship that Wright describes as a fundamental aspect of what the church is meant to be.

The church I grew up in, while far from perfect, exemplified these qualities in many ways. It was a multi-generational church, with older adults teaching and serving as examples for children and youth, middle-aged adults mentoring younger adults, and programming (such as it was in those days) emphasizing corporate Bible study and prayer. Church business was conducted with transparency and integrity. There was a strong sense of corporate identity and mutual support and encouragement. Differences, disagreements and offenses, when they arose, could generally be weathered because of a level of trust and mutual respect that existed within the body. Without any orchestrated evangelistic initiatives or an excessive emphasis on outreach, the church grew steadily, in a sustainable and healthy way. The Kingdom of God quietly grew and spread.

Fast-forward 25 years. My childhood church features a slick, contemporary worship style, an efficient top-down leadership model, and a veritable orgy of outreach ministries. We are growing, so the statistics tell us, by tremendous leaps and bounds. The leadership would have us believe that those who are expressing grave misgivings about all this (the “Who Stole My Church?” crowd) are living in the past, holding on to a model that no longer works, longing for the comfort of “the old days and the old ways,” uninterested in reaching out, unable to reconcile themselves to new music and new ways of doing things. They are, the standard line goes, out of touch with the real world, unwilling to change, rigid, and stuck in the past.

Well, worship style is definitely a sore spot. But when people grieve the loss of “their” church, what they are really grieving is the loss of the very qualities that once made this church a thriving, healthy outpost of God’s Kingdom. Gone are the days when everyone had a place and a valued role. Now those roles are reserved for the talented and the moneyed.  Gone is the atmosphere of trust and a shared identity. Now we view one another with suspicion, fragmented into so many mutually distrustful interest groups. Gone is the sense of ownership the members have when they are allowed to participate in making decisions and setting the course for the church. Now The Vision is forced on its members from above, and the concerns and desires of the congregation are disregarded. Gone are the days when church leadership was honored and trusted. Now they are held in contempt by significant numbers of the congregation. Gone are the days when the church modeled integrity and honesty in its practices. Now church governance is conducted in secret, with no transparency and little accountability. (The flow of information to the Board and the congregation is strictly controlled. No opposing voices are allowed.)  Gone are the days when older people were valued and their wisdom and experience sought. Now their voices are silenced, and they are treated as relics and labeled as “rigid, inflexible and out of touch.” Gone are the days when the members of the body cared for and encouraged one another. Now people are treated as so many obstacles to be overcome or removed.

When we ask aloud, “Who stole my church?” that’s what we’re talking about. And that is the question that no one at the top is willing to answer.

*[N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, HarperCollins, 2006, p. 211]

Is Outreach Overrated?

For those of us steeped in an Evangelical tradition whose chief reason for existing is to get others saved, it feels almost heretical even to raise such a question. We have boiled the church’s mission down to this: share the Gospel so that others will believe in Jesus, resulting in a better life now and an eternity in heaven hereafter. To this end we’ve embraced the seeker-friendly model, believing that most means are justified if in the end we can just get unchurched folks through the door and in a position to hear our message. In an effort to throw off the church’s reputation for stodginess and irrelevance, we’ve embraced a goal of being “culturally relevant,” which seems to come down to lively contemporary worship (because of course all unchurched people prefer this style of music to the exclusion of all other styles—country, gospel, jazz, hip hop, heavy metal, classical, and, God forbid, hymns) and exciting family-friendly programming. Apparently we’ve bought the idea that all pagans have the same tastes (for lively contemporary music delivered in a concert setting) and are seeking the same thing (a better life now, and heaven hereafter). I’m willing to bet that the unchurched population is a whole lot more diverse than we seem to think.

 

On what basis have churches made outreach the linchpin of their existence? There’s the Great Commission, of course. Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey his commands. Off the top of my head, I can’t come up with any place where the Gospels record that Jesus preached a message of personal salvation resulting in eternal life in heaven. (Possibly Nicodemus and the thief on the cross.) What he did preach, and exemplify, was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” After his death and resurrection, the first believers—in defiance of all evidence to the contrary—banded together to live as though God’s kingdom really had come. They met together to learn and fellowship and pray. They cared for one another. They proclaimed the good news without fear, knowing that Jesus had already defeated both death and Caesar. They lived and proclaimed a new way of being human, of being the redeemed people of God in community, and inviting others to be part of God’s great redemptive plan that would ultimately restore all of creation to its intended purpose. Personal salvation, yes, but so much more than that. To be a member of God’s church is to be a participant in God’s great redemptive plan for fallen creation. To reduce our message to one of personal salvation is to make the message way too small.

 

Do our churches bear witness to God’s kingdom come among us? If our programming is bringing people into the church, what, exactly, is the message they are seeing and hearing? Do we value and care for people? (Many at my church would say no.) Do we conduct our corporate affairs with transparency and in ways that are above reproach? (Again, many at my church would say no.) Do we care for those in need? (Some at my church would say that we’ve actually caused some to be in need.) Do we preach and teach the Word of God? (Many at my church would say we preach a diminished gospel of felt-needs evangelism.)

 

Why do we stick with such a church? Well, partly from habit. Partly, too, because most of the options available to us aren’t much different. Mostly, however, we stick with this church because we believe that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. We’ve found pockets of people who love God’s word and want to study it, know it, and live it. We’ve heard of groups who sacrifice time and skills to help people in need. We see people whose hearts are broken by the church’s treatment of its members, and are working to care for those who have been hurt. We know people who are demanding transparency and accountability in the church’s dealings. In short, we have faith that God’s kingdom, small as a mustard seed, will someday rule the garden.