Ultracrepidarianism Is Killing The Local Church!

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Do you know what an expert is?  Well, listen to the word and you hear 2 words.  The first word is “ex”–“ex” means former, or once was.  The second word is (sounds like) “spurt”–a “spurt” is water under pressure.  Therefore, an expert is a has been who is under pressure.  So know that I am not an expert.  But I can see, think for myself and analyze with something rarely seen in our culture called common sense.

As established churches continue for the most part to be in a continued state of decline, many alleged experts (see the first paragraph) have offered a lot of ideas as to the causes of this direful situation.  I divide these alleged experts into two distinct categories.  I am sure you might could think of other categories.  But for the sake of this blog, let’s break it down into simple terms.

First there are the “Noobs“.  It has been a long time since some of these has beens under pressure, excuse me, “experts”, have served for any length of time in a local church, which leaves their inchoate input somewhat lacking at times in substance.  I once served under a bishop who had more time in the hollow halls (this is not a misprint, I said “hollow” not “hallow”; I said what I meant and I meant what I said) of academia than in the “field” of service in local churches.

The other group is the “Kabitzers“.  Unlike the Noobs who have only a little experience in the workings of The Kingdom, these have virtually none, zilch, nada!  They are the ones who believe their spiritual gift is to be a buttinsky.  They take great glee and find deep personal contentment in pointing out what others should be doing and what they aren’t doing right.  So let me share with you want I see is a serious malady in the 21st Century church in the good old U.S. of A.

Ultracrepidarianism has imbued itself, Nay!  Entrenched, Nay!  Built underground bunkers designed to survive a 500 kiloton nuclear blast, Aye!  Ultracrepidarians have built permanent bunkers beneath church basements with the intent of doing away with church as it should be, even though they say it is not their purpose.  Sneaky Ultracrepidarians!

I believe that the church, the body of Christ embedded in local communities, needs to make the conscious decision to step into a much bigger story, a deeper narrative, an epic journey that extends beyond their 911 location.  We need to clear out that path that is cluttered and obscured with our designs of what church should look like and embrace our Original Design.  What is that original design?  Oh, you precious soul, I’m so glad you asked.

It is to be a Kingdom of Servants.  Jesus only mentions the translated term “church” twice as He taught about the bigger picture:  The Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is about invading the territory of The Enemy, Satan; a territory He stole long, long ago.  It is about taking back what rightfully belongs to The Creator.  And the way God has chosen to fight The Enemy is through servants who are willing to sacrifice pride, comfort, and preferences in order to bring the One Thing that is missing in so many people:  Life As God Intends!  That’s what Jesus said in John 10:10 and see how different translations describe this Life:

I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. (CEV)

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (NKJV)

My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

(and my personal favorite)  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (The Message)

Jesus did not come to set up a Kingdom of Rules, Rituals and Traditions.  He came to bring back what was lost in Eden–Life in its fullest, more abundantly, rich and satisfying, more and better than you can dream of.  Life as God intends is a life of relationships with Him and each other.  To bring this life back to His Image Bearers, Jesus chose the form of a servant.  Servants serve–they serve The King in order to bring about the King’s purposes and desires.  And our King’s desire is for people to have “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

And to help those under the domain and dominion of the Enemy, we need to know them, I mean, really know them.  It begins when we accept them unconditionally.  Ultracrepidarians want to change them to be people like them.  Servants want to see them transformed into the Image Bearers of The King.  And they will be, they are, when we know them and help them find The Life.  The ways we help them find The Life are as numerous as human needs.

If they are illiterate or functionally illiterate, we teach them to read.  If they are hungry, we feed them.  If they are unemployed, we help them develop skills for employment.  If they are fatherless or motherless, we become fathers and mothers to them.  If they are in prison, we go to them with unconditional love and no judgment; after all, they’ve already been judged or they would not be there.

And if they need a Savior (and who doesn’t?), we show them the Savior by letting them see what The Savior means to us and what He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in us, for us and through us.  When a locally embedded Kingdom Cell (otherwise known as a local church) decides they are tired of a church-centered story and moves into the Saga Of The Kingdom, the Ultracrepidarians will not be happy and will try to make others unhappy with such a move.  But we need to push through this and hope they will shred and burn their Ultracrepidarian Membership Card.  But if they do not, then we need to persist.  We will probably lose some church member for doing so, but we will gain Kingdom Servants.  And after all, isn’t this what we should be doing?

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the Glory goes to Him.  Oh, and Ultracrepidarians, we know who you are but we also know The King!

RADICAL!: GRACE, Part 1

Well, there is more, much more to the Radical Message of the Kingdom of God.  When I think about this Radical Message I think about God’s Grace.  And when I think about God’s Grace, I think about Jonah.  Let me back up.  When I think about God’s Grace in its entirety, of course I think about the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.  But today I’m thinking about God’s Grace at work in the human arena of life as it actually happens to each of us.  That is why I connect the dots, from Jonah to God’s Grace.

There are a number of things we do in life in which we have only one chance to get it right.  For example, if you borrow money from the bank or from a friend and don’t pay it back, you probably won’t get another chance to borrow.  If a job promotion is tied to a certain project that you are doing at work, and you muddle the project, you probably won’t get another chance to do the job right, and you’ll miss out on the promotion.

Or, if you invited all your friends to your house for a big party, and then when everyone showed up you said, “I decided I didn’t feel like having a party tonight, why don’t you come back another time?”  I doubt if any of your friends would come to another one of your parties.  In any of these cases, if the appeal was made, “I’ll do better next time,” more than likely the appeal would be ignored and the second chance would be denied.

Another example:  Each Sunday I have one chance to deliver the message that God has laid on my heart that week.  What if, after I finished preaching one of those mornings, I was to say, “Folks, I think I can do better.  Why don’t we all stay an extra 30 minutes after the service, because I’m sure you’ll enjoy it more the second time around?”  How well do you think that idea would go over?  How many would stay?  I doubt even Debbie would stay.  She would say, “Listen, I hear it twice every Sunday.  I’m going home.”  That’s because everyone pretty much expects me to get it right the first time.  And, of course, I don’t blame them.

There are many situations in life in which we have only one chance, and even if you need a second chance, it’s just not available.  You had one shot, you blew it, and that’s all there is to it.  This is the way it is in many areas of life, and there’s nothing you can do.  The good news is that with God, it works differently.  With him, we get a second chance.  We don’t deserve a second chance, but we get one.

Enter the story of a Jonah.  God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach the word.  Instead, Jonah got on a boat headed for Tarshish, which is basically in the other direction.  Once the boat was in the middle of the sea, a storm came along and the boat started to sink.  When the sailors found out that they had a backslidden preacher in their midst, they tossed him overboard.

Believe it or not, getting tossed out was Jonah’s own idea.  Apparently he decided he would rather die than repent.  So he allowed himself to be hurled into the sea.  I’m sure everyone thought that was the end of Jonah, but God had other plans.  A great big fish came along and swallowed Jonah.

Then, the Bible says three days later, 2:10— Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.  The very next verse is one of the most encouraging verses in all of scripture. (3:1) Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time.  Jonah got a second chance from God.  He didn’t deserve it, but he got it.  This is God’s grace at work; this is what He does. Even if we blow it the first time, God gives us a chance to try again.  This is good news, because without exception, from time to time we all need a second chance from God.

There’s only one way to interpret Jonah’s behavior.  He sinned.  God said, “Go to Nineveh” and Jonah said, “No.”  In Jonah’s story we learn an important truth:  God Could Have Given Up On Jonah—Some May Even Say God Should Have Given Up On Jonah—But God Was Gracious To Jonah—He Gave Him A Second Chance.  The story of Jonah teaches us that God’s grace is greater than our sin, and there are simply some things our sin cannot change.

It is God’s nature to give a second chance.  Nothing can change that.  He forgives and lets you try again and again and as often as you need it.  Your boss, your coach, your teacher, your spouse may not give you a second chance, but God will—He Is The God Of The Second Chance.  His grace is greater than our sin.  We tend to think in human terms.  But God is not human nor does He think and react the way we humans tend to think and react.

We make the mistake of thinking that once we have blown it, we can never get back on track—God can never use us again.  The story of Jonah shows us this simply isn’t true.  If you have been running from God or even God’s plan and purpose, and you are now ready to come back, God is willing to pick up where you left off.  If you have blown it, it doesn’t mean you’ve blown it forever.  He will bring you back to the place He wants you to be, and He will forgive those sins.  Period.  They become part of the past, and there are some things your past sin doesn’t change.

And in the next post we will look at some of the things our past sin doesn’t change.  And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

A Post By Thom Rainer

(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)

 

EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHURCH MAY BE CLOSING SOON

We call it the death spiral.  I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe.  By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.

There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.

  1. There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
  2. The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
  3. The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
  4. The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
  5. The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
  6. The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
  7. There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
  8. Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.

Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.

Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.

Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.

You Are Gifted, But You Are Not THE Gift, Part 2 of 2

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Let’s pick up where I left off yesterday.  Every church of every tradition and size has only one mission from God:  To Make More Followers For Jesus.  This is why every church exists.  It’s not to serve us, but to give us a place to serve God through serving others.  The vision must be to serve the mission of making Followers for Jesus at all costs.  Folks, we have made church more complicated that it really is.  There is a simplified way to make followers for Jesus!

But it is not all that easy but it is really simple.  If we believe that Jesus is God’s Son, that He died on the Cross for our sins, that He arose on the third day, that He ascended back into heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of believers, and that this is true IN us, then we have to believe what Jesus told His first Followers is what He tells us:  Go make followers!  Listen, Jesus didn’t say, “Uh, folks, I would like for you to try to make more followers.  As long as you try, that’s good enough.”  No!  He said:  “Go make Followers!”  If we aren’t making followers then we are not the Church.  Some of you may be thinking, “Preacher, that’s hard to do!”  My response is this:  It’s NOT hard to do.  It’s not hard to do, if we remember 3 things:

 1.  Presence. (Verse 3—So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.)

We live with the confidence that He actually is present with us.  Only His presence gives us the passion, the desire to do what we are redeemed to do.  The Holy Spirit is who sets our hearts on fire.  If Jesus has never done anything for you, then there is no fire in our hearts.  But we can have a fire when we realize what God has done for us.  We can have a fire when we realize what God is doing for us.  We can have a fire when we realize what God will do for us.

And what has God done for you?  He has nailed your sins to the cross and you bear them no more!  What is God doing for you?  He is at work transforming you and your moments for your good and His glory.  What will God do for you?  Stay by your side until you as you live forever in His Kingdom!  To make another Follower of Jesus doesn’t take a committee nor a team, but the passionate conviction that God has been, is now, and will continue to be present and at work in your life.  The Passion To Make Followers Comes From Knowing The Presence Of Jesus.

2.  Power (Verse 4—There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.)

The source of our power is the Holy Spirit.  Have you ever been surprised or amazed by something you did or said?  Then afterwards you wondered, “Well where did that come from?”  Those are moments when HE has complete control of us.  It is so important that we stop relying on our abilities by living in His power.  Do you know why some meetings are irrelevant, dull and boring?  It’s because we have forgotten the real power of the Church.  Whatever it is that God calls you to do, He will give you the strength and power to do it.

When you feel the nudging and prompting of the Spirit to do something, do it because with His Prompting comes His Power.  God designed the Church to withstand the power of hell itself!  And this is the power that lives in us.  Did you hear me?  The power that conquered death, the power that hell cannot overcome, is the power that lives inside each and every one of you when you desire God above all else.  Remember the third thing:

3.  Provision (Verse 7—A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.)

To engage our heart in what God is doing, we have to know the Provision of spiritual gifts that are designed by God for the common good.  The gift God gives you is designed so that you are able to help others both inside and outside of the church.  The Work Of The Body Of Christ Is A Spiritual Work And Requires Spiritual Tools.  These provisions are not rewards for us being good, but they are the result of our God being awesome!  God Gives Us The Tools We Need Not To DO Church Work, But To BE The Church That Is The Body Of Christ In Your World.  You have to know your spiritual gifts.  God does reveal your spiritual gifts.  If you do not know your Gifts it’s your fault.

It’s not easy, but it’s not hard.  I know, I know, I’m sounding like a politician.  You’re thinking if it’s not hard, then it is easy, but if it’s not easy then it must be hard.  If you think it’s too hard to do the ONE thing God wants this place to do, then remember Genesis 18:14—Is anything too hard for the Lord?  God had just told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son within a year.  He was an old man and she was an old woman.  Looking at them, you would be right to believe that they were too old to have a child.  It was impossible for them.  But do you know what?  By the next year, they had a son.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is too hard for the Lord.  All you have to do is Trust Him with all your heart.

When you give Him all of your heart, over and over again, when you worship Him with all of your heart, when you listen to Him with all of your heart discovering the truth about God, the world and yourself, here is what you will discover:   God Is Making Available To Us His Presence, Power And Provisions  To Fulfill Our Primary Task in His Kingdom And That Is To Make More Followers For Jesus!

Failure To Do This Is Failure To Love God, Worship God and really, Failure To Know God.  Pursuing the heart of God means that after surrender, after worship, after studying The Word, we must be doing the things that will make disciples of others, which will bring them into this process of surrender, worship, study and doing!  This is the cycle of Kingdom Life.

You and I NEED His Presence.  You and I NEED His Power in order to be faithful to our Primary Task.  And You and I NEED what He alone can provide to be more than disciples of Jesus in name only, to be real Followers of Jesus by doing what HE wants done.

And the question for you in such a time as this, is Do You Have It?  To have it you must WANT it.  You and I must say:  I WANT Your Presence.  I NEED Your Power so that I can be found Faithful.  I MUST HAVE what You Provide for the Task You have given me.  Without it, you miss not only The Gift, but most importantly, the Giver…

 

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

 

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

We have always heard it said, “Make good choices.”  But this axiom may not be one we want to use to model our life.  Am I suggesting we make “bad choices”?  Not at all, but what if it looks like both choices are good?  The choices we make today will have an impact on us; if not immediately then definitely down the road.  Pardon me, maybe I should let you in on where I am.

Where I serve in the Kingdom recently decided to make some staff changes IF the right person could be found.  We have a part-time administrative assistant to handle the day-to-day things and another person taking care of our financial records, but remotely thanks to this thing called the Internet.  Our Team given the responsibility for staffing decided to merge both positions into a full-time on-site position.  It is a great decision because we are going to change our membership and accounting software and we need to have someone “in-house” to take over these duties.

After listing our position in several ways, we received several resumes.  From our Team, I along with 2 others, were selected to be the interview Team and report back our recommendation.  The result is that both applicants interviewed great and either one has the potential to be just who we need and God wants.  One member of the interview Team leans toward one of the applicants and the other Team member leans toward the other applicant.  Vote is 1-1, so now it falls on me to be the Tie Breaker.  No pressure here, really, there is no pressure.  All 3 of us agree that either one would be an asset and both assured me that whatever my decision, they are good with it.  The 3 of us definitely have a high level of trust between us.

This has me to thinking about choices.  I must make a choice.  Now if one would be a bad choice and the other one a good choice, then my choice is simple and easy.  Now I must decide what is good and what is best and the line between the two is not very clear, at least to me.  So I have been doing a lot of praying, asking others to pray for discernment for me.  I can’t put off my choice, and thus our recommendation to the rest of the Team.

And this morning it has me thinking and thus I am writing.  Oh, there’s an irony that I haven’t shared with you.  Sunday I am beginning a new series of messages and guess what they are about?  The importance of our decisions and how they impact our lives individually and collectively as community, family and especially as the Body of Christ.  Now I am living out this series of messages.

Here’s the thing, what we are and who we are in the moment is the direct results of all of our choices.  Decisions shape and form what we are and who we are becoming.  Sometimes we make the wrong decision, choose the wrong option.  Like that rich young man who came to Jesus seeking that lasting and enduring life who opted for physical wealth rather than spiritual treasures.

In reflecting over my life, I sense that many times I made the good choice, but NOT the best choice.  How many times have we heeded the counsel that said, “Come on!  Do something even if it’s wrong!  Just do something!”  Every decision we make, each choice you make, is shaping who you are.  So we need to be deliberate in the process of making decisions.  Quick decisions are often called “Rash” decisions.

I find it rather humorous that we call them “Rash” decisions.  A “Rash” typically develops when our body doesn’t like what it has been exposed to; you know, like poison ivy or poison oak.  That rash becomes a source of great discomfort and then rather annoying.  Here’s what I am thinking:  How many times has our spirit become infected (not affected) with something that is contrary to its design and purpose?

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This pic says it all.  Choices impact our lives, but they also impact the lives of those around us.  I realize that often things happen to us that are beyond our  control.  People can do things to us that hurt and are definitely unfair.  Beyond our control!  But we still have a choice and that choice is in how we respond to what has happened.

When the choices are something bad or something good, then it is easy to see how they affect our lives and the lives of people around us.  But how many choices have we made that would be considered “good” choices, but not the “best” choice.  Over my 43 years as being a pastor I have seen a great tragedy–people accepting the “good” choice over the “best” choice.  The accumulation of good choices has a consequence.  We call it mediocrity.

Your everyday decisions are influencing not only your present moment, but your future as well.  This is why we need to make the best decision and the best decisions always come when we invite our Heavenly Father into the deliberations.  His desire for us is not to experience the good life, but the best life.  Back to my dilemma.  At the very onset of this quest, the Team made a very wise choice.  We were not going to simply hire a warm body, someone to do the work.  It had to be the right person, the person God would provide for us.  I am thinking about 2 very godly people right now, and I cannot know which godly person God sent us, until I ask Him and listen to what He tells me.

Personally, I wish God will put up a lighted billboard with a flashing arrow sign pointing to the answer.  He probably won’t do that; He has ignored that request from me in the past.  So I will seek and then listen, because THE Father Knows Best!  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  And it will when you make the best decisions, and best decisions always come from the heart and mind of our Creator!

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Tired Of Being Tired!

After just a short day of working in the yard, I had an epiphany.  Actually it was more like a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap up back of the head.  I am so tired of being tired.  I remember when (dear Lord, I am so sounding like an old geezer!) I would work all day in the yard and not be as tired as I was after only 3 hours.  I know that this body doesn’t work at 61 like I did when I was 21.  But dog-gone-it, I should not be that tired.  I knew which parts of my body I wanted in better shape.

Call it Prevenient Grace, but I received an email from my health insurance provider about a discounted rate for members to join local fitness centers.  A simple 6 minute drive from our home is one of those fitness centers.  It is located next to and operated by the local hospital–that’s good in case I have a coronary event.  They have a variety of exercise equipment that would help meet my personal goals.  And as an added bonus, they have a whirlpool.  I knew my aching joints and muscles would appreciate the treatment.  So, with the debit card information and a click, I joined the Keller Wellness Center.  So, what does my story have to do with the Kingdom Life?  Thank you for asking.  I’ll tell you.

When these thoughts first started fermenting in this mind of mind, I had an idea of which direction I would go–but now, forget that!  I’m now thinking about how this relates to the human tradition of what, in Churchian and Tenured Pew Sitters terminology, is called “church-membership”.  We see nothing in the New Testament about the necessity and value of “church-membership”, yet today a high value is placed on such a concept.  So high that a new group of people have been identified as the “Dones”.  These are the people who were once very active in a local congregation but now, for a variety of reasons, are “Done” with the church.

I’m not exactly sure of where and when this concept of “church-membership” developed, but I do remember what the early Body of Christ looked like and what they did.  You can find in it Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Oops, I just heard a Tenured Pew Sitter say, “Wait a minute.  There it is, church membership–“the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”  Very astute of you to notice that, but your application of the context is all wrong.  The Greek word for “fellowship” (or “church” in the KJV) is ekklēsia”  and it means:  “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place”.  There’s nothing here about catechisms to be learned or rules and boundaries to be observed.  The only stipulation was that God had called them out of their old life into His New Life.

This new life is not the church life, but the Kingdom Life.  And this Kingdom Life is all about sharing the life of Jesus with each other and with their communities.  Unfortunately, many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have taken this being “called out” to mean that we are now like American Express.  What do I mean by such a blasphemous statement?  Well it is like this, American Express had an ad campaign back in the 1990’s that said, “Membership has its privileges.”  Actually, it would not surprise me if those mad men (and women) of advertising were actually inspired by the American church.

For decades now Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have viewed church-membership as such.  You join and work your way up the ranks.  The more you conform (forget transformation) to the pattern, the more privileges you earn.  But church-membership should be more than earning privileges.  It is about aligning one’s heart, mind, soul and whole life to the principles of Kingdom Living.  Now let me show you how this relates to my recent “joining” the Keller Wellness Center.

I signed up and paid my monthly dues.  But what if I go in there and simply sit, watching others improve the fitness of their bodies?  How is that making my body more fit at 61?  And I even found myself doing something I loathed one day.  I was on an exercise bike, which is quite a feat for me.  For me to sit on a bike, it has to have at least a V-Twin under me; no pedaling for me.  But there I was just pedaling away.  I noticed one person working out on an elliptical and I thought to myself, “They are doing it all wrong!  Don’t they know how ridiculous they look?”  And now I hear the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear, “Well played, Tenured Pew Sitter, well-played.”

To be included in the ekklēsia” requires more than sitting.  Looking at the Acts 2 example and pattern it is about 5 things:

  • A shared life together where you get to know, appreciate and support each other
  • Remembering our living is to look like Jesus dying–caring more for others than for self
  • Loving others in ways that they experience the Life God offers
  • Worshipping God only, not our ways and styles of worship
  • And doing it publicly in ways that draws attention to Jesus, not yourself.

Membership does NOT have its privileges when it comes to the Body of Christ.  Membership has duties and responsibilities–like getting out into our neighborhoods and communities living out what we learned together in our gathering and sharing the life of Jesus–the Kingdom Life.  And shamelessly I want to speak to those who live in the vicinity of Sheffield, Alabama.  If you are one of the “Dones”, I want to personally invite you to Sheffield First United Methodist Church where others and myself are moving away from the story of “the church” and into a much bigger epic–the story of The Kingdom of God.

Sorry Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters.  Membership has NO, absolutely NO privileges.  It does have, however, great responsibilities and even greater joy, the joy that comes from living in a much bigger narrative, a life much bigger than any and all of us–it’s called The Kingdom Of God!

Remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Overlooking The Signs!

Has anyone ever told you of a place you needed to see but you did not have a clue where it was located?  Obviously you needed directions and inevitably those directions included certain “signs” to look for, either the ones mounted on a post or a particular place.  Miss that sign and you miss where you are needing to go.

In the last few years God has been taking me on a radical journey that has completely turned my understanding of church upside down.  Well, let me rephrase that:  it has turned my understanding of the church right-side-up.  And while I thought this journey began about 5 years ago, this morning I realized it started much sooner.  Right now I am recognizing that this journey started in 1990.  Who knows, maybe even further back than that.

In early 1990 a friend and fellow co-conspirator in this work of being a called out pastor, called me to let me know one of our former professors was about to retire due to the continued deterioration of his vision and that summer would be his last time to teach.  Dr. David Naglee was a professor of New Testament Theology and had a profound impact on me.  His insights and style of sharing those insights were amazing and opened my eyes to a new depth of understanding.  I did not need to further my education in terms of Tribal demands, but I wanted to sit at the feet of Rabbi Naglee one more time, so I enrolled.

The drawback, or so I thought at the time, was I had to take 2 courses.  The other course was called “Good and Evil:  A Christian Perspective On Suffering.”  Due to the short term nature of this summer semester, there were required readings and papers that had to be submitted 2 months in advance of these classes.  Rabbi Naglee’s reading list was enjoyable and I loved writing those papers.  But that other class, well, some of those books were heresy I tell you, absolute heresy!  So I accepted the assignment as just a necessary  evil in order to learn from this Rabbi.  By the way, he wasn’t Jewish, it’s just a term of endearment from me to Dr. Naglee.

About 2 weeks before I left for Emory we were taking a family camping vacation at a state park.  We had set up the camper and went to the grocery store for supplies.  When I returned the park ranger had left an emergency message to call a church member.  When I called Ronnie he informed me that one of our youth, a 15 year old cheerleader and honor role student, had just been killed in an automobile accident.  It now fell upon me to find some way to offer God’s comfort in the middle of a tragedy that just didn’t make sense.

But almost immediately I remembered (actually it was the Holy Spirit who reminded me) one of those books from that “other” course, that necessary evil I had to endure in order to sit at the feet of Rabbi Naglee.  It was Philip Yancey’s classic Disappointment With God.    Actually it was the only book I thought worth reading at the time from the list.  Yancey had taught me this:  If it is not Good News in the hospital, if it is not Good News in the nursing home, if it is not Good News at the funeral home, then it is not Good News at all.  But it is Good News because the truth of the Good News endures the hard times of life and even thrives in the tight, dark and difficult places where real life happens every day.

The Spirit flooded my heart and mind with words of hope that I otherwise would not have had IF I had not chosen to sit at the feet of Rabbi Naglee and endure that “necessary evil” called “Good and Evil:  A Christian Perspective On Suffering.” God knew I would be facing a hurting family, a hurting church, a hurting community and a hurting school that urgently needed to know there is still Good News in the middle of tragedy.  On the day of that funeral, the funeral home chapel was full, as were all their parlors, the halls and anywhere a person could squeeze in to stand.  Fortunately the Fire Marshall wasn’t there because that building had exceeded it’s maximum occupancy rating.

Looking back, I now see that God’s gracious presence and plan was already setting me up for even more.  Now I am looking for those signs, those moments that may not seem to be important to me or most and may even feel like a necessary evil, for I know that God is not finished with me and has much more to teach me.  Right now I’m thinking about Romans 8:28 and from The Message it goes like this:

He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

It is inevitable that living in a church-centered world we will miss one of God’s road signs in this Kingdom Journey.  The church-centered world and message will disappoint us because it is built around and upon human effort and human personalities.  But when we live in the Kingdom-Centered Good News, God is prepared for what lies ahead and is preparing us for those moments.  John Wesley calls this part of the nature of God’s grace Prevenient.  Prevenient is a big theological word like mahogany.  It comes from the Latin word that means “to go before”.

God is going before, ahead of you, and along your journey He has some well placed signs for you.  They may not make sense to you at the time, and may even seem like a necessary evil.  Just don’t miss them!  People, things and events are some of the means God uses to bring us into the life that is much bigger and better than we ever imaged.  Don’t give up, and don’t miss a sign, because…..

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.

(Philippians 1:6 from The Message)

Remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him, by becoming Great in the Kingdom of God!

Should The Church Be Neat?

(Again, remember that my perspective is from observing the western church at large, listening to other pastors, and from reading about other’s experiences and life lessons.  These musings are not about any single congregation.  Any resemblance to an actual church, currently in existence or now dead, is strictly a coincidence arranged by the Holy Spirit.)  Well, I must give credit where credit is due.  Today’s Kingdom Musings were inspired by a fellow blogger Brandon Andress and his musings Benefit Of A Doubt.  So, if you do not like my musings or are offended by them, just blame Brandon.

Most folks like things to be neat…well except hoarders.  So let me try this again.  Most folks like, want and insist that things be neat in the church on many levels.  Those who like, want and insist on neat in church do so because they genuinely and sincerely believe that it is absolutely necessary that we be neat in order to honor God.  They also believe, and again sincerely so, that neat is what we must have in order to keep God and the things of God sacred.  As a side note, right now I am wondering, “What does this say about sincerity?  Does being sincere mean that we are right?  And does it give us a free pass if we are wrong?”  “Well God, I sincerely believed I was right, regardless of what You said.”  Oh well, I digress to what might become another blog.

What we were talking about?  Oh yeah, people sincerely wanting “neat” in church.  Well, I must ask, “Exactly what does ‘neat’ look like for most church folks?”  One thing is that we must all believe the same things about the Bible, the world view, and God.  Established congregations typically see the Sunday School hour as the time to achieve such a sincere goal.  Each adult Sunday School Class is using the same curriculum for the most part.  This curriculum is selected because it comes closest to their beliefs, thus ‘neat’.  I have heard of congregations that felt their leadership needed to dress down a renegade teacher and class that was not using their approved curriculum.  One time I attended a revival service in one of my community’s church, in an ecumenical spirit.  I noticed a large sign board up front that listed 20 something things that everyone must believe in order to be a member of that congregation.  Neat!

Another thing about neat is that programs must be neat.  Translated, they must be tame.  We cannot have or do anything that does not clearly resemble what was done in 1950, 1960 and early 1970.  After early 1970, that was when things started falling apart.  Each room has a certain function and one can never use it for something else.  Space was assigned eons ago and though there is another class that is growing and run out of space, they cannot have the largest “Young Adults” classroom (which by the way the youngest is 76 years old) which, by means of attrition, now consists of less than a dozen members.  Their motto and mantra is “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  And if you cannot embrace this view, well, simply be quiet or go somewhere else, which is usually what they do.  Sadly, they leave not for another church, but give up and walk away from God’s plans.

And when it comes to people, oh yes, they must be neat.  By neat I do not mean just in how they dress…though for many in church this is very important.  I am talking about giving the appearance of having it all together for the most part.  We cannot have people who appear to have real problems.  It used to be that the divorced and alcoholics were the taboos that we never addressed in church other than to condemn.  Now it’s things like drug addictions, domestic violence, sex and sexual orientation.  We cannot allow someone obviously dressed like a hooker sit in here, even though she is struggling and tired of her profession.  We cannot have someone who looks and smells like they have been drinking all night inside the sacred sanctuary, even though he realizes that his life is meaningless and he is looking for a new purpose.  And we certainly cannot have anyone who is from the LBGT community in here, even when they are wondering if God could actually love them they way they are now, or even if they just come to see how the congregation would react to them, even hoping they react against them so they can show just how hypocritical the church is.  When people come into the sanctuary they should appear to have it all together because it is not neat when people come to the sacred building bringing in all their brokenness.  Nope, just can’t have it.  It must be neat and tidy.

But then, there’s this guy by the name of Jesus.  You know, the one they want to honor by keeping everything neat.  The church is called to be the Body of Christ, meaning, to be the presence of Jesus in our time, just as He was the Presence of God when He walked this earth in our human form.  This was what church looked like when Jesus was here as a human being.  Think about those who came to Jesus back then.  Allow me to give you a few images straight from the Bible:

23-25 From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God’s kingdom was his theme—that beginning right now they were under God’s government, a good government! He also healed people of their diseases and of the bad effects of their bad lives. Word got around the entire Roman province of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all. More and more people came, the momentum gathering. Besides those from Galilee, crowds came from the “Ten Towns” across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan.  (Matthew 4:23-25 The Message)

29-31 He touched their eyes and said, “Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. Then Jesus became very stern. “Don’t let a soul know how this happened.” But they were hardly out the door before they started blabbing it to everyone they met.  32-33 Right after that, as the blind men were leaving, a man who had been struck speechless by an evil spirit was brought to Jesus. As soon as Jesus threw the evil tormenting spirit out, the man talked away just as if he’d been talking all his life. The people were up on their feet applauding: “There’s never been anything like this in Israel!” (Matthew 9:29-33 The Message)

After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof (Wow!  Can you imagine the mess on the floor from the roof debris?) and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.” (Mark 2:1-5 The Message)

53-56 They beached the boat at Gennesaret and tied up at the landing. As soon as they got out of the boat, word got around fast. People ran this way and that, bringing their sick on stretchers to where they heard he was. Wherever he went, village or town or country crossroads, they brought their sick to the marketplace and begged him to let them touch the edge of his coat—that’s all. And whoever touched him became well. (Mark 6:53-56 The Message)

16-17 That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. He fulfilled Isaiah’s well-known sermon: He took our illnesses, He carried our diseases.  (Mark 8:16-17 The Message; by the way, this was on the heels of Jesus healing a leper who came up to Him, healing the servant of an officer in the Roman Army who said he wasn’t good enough for Jesus to come into his home but had enough faith that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word right then and there, and healing Peter’s mother-in-law.)

Look carefully at these passages and get that mental image of what these scenes looked like.  Close your eyes and get this image and do not open them until this scene is etched into your mind.  OK, now that your eyes are open, think about your church on Sunday morning.  Close your eyes again and get this mental picture clear and focused.  Now that your eyes are open (and the Holy Spirit certainly hopes they are now open), does the Sunday morning reality of your sanctuary look anything like the sanctuary of Jesus when He was walking our earth in our human form?

If it does, then I want to say this:  “Hallelujah!  Praise God!  I thank God for you every day!”  And if it doesn’t, I have nothing to say but I do have a question and I hope this question haunts you in a good kind of way (meaning you will not rest until you find the answer and change the current reality):  “Why doesn’t it look like that?”

Remember, Love God with all your heart, Love others the way HE loves you, and make sure ALL the Glory goes to HIM!

You Are A 5-Star Prospect!

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Today is Groundhog Day.  But yesterday was an even more important day.  Why? Today is Groundhog Day.  But yesterday was an even more important day.  Why?  Today is Groundhog Day.  But yesterday was an even more important day.  Why?  OK, enough reference to Bill Murray and the movie Groundhog Day.  But that movie does have something to say to this left-handed, right-brained Kingdom pastor.

Yesterday was a most important day for us in the South.  If you are scratching your head wondering what was so important about yesterday, I would suggest you move out of the South and go back to where you came from.  Just kidding!  It was National Signing Day!  For those of you reading this but are unfamiliar with this significant day I will explain it.  It is the day when 17 and 18-year-old boys who have been offered the opportunity to go to college for free, cleverly disguised as a Football Scholarship, can publicly announce where they will attend college–to play football of course.

These young athletes have been carefully analyzed by so-called experts and assigned a rating called “stars”.  They range from being 1 star players to 5 star players.  The goal of every football coach is to get as many 5 star prospects as possible.  The belief is that the more 5-Stars that you have, the more likely you are to have a successful football program.  Now what does all this have to do with the Kingdom Life?  Glad you asked.

Sometimes we, the Church, get caught up in evaluating (that’s a nice way of saying “judging”) people in how much someone has to contribute to success in life.  All of these high school players are evaluated based on past performances with the assumption that these past performances will be expressed in the future, which is at a different level.  And what I have observed is that some 5-Star athletes turn into 0-Star athletes because their past performances were not enough at the next level.

Case in point from the Bible–Samuel’s trip to look for a replacement king.  Samuel is at home of one Jesse because God told Samuel that’s where the replacement king would be found.  Consciously or unconsciously, Samuel brought with him a 1-5 Star rating system based on external appearances, similar to the “experts” judging of athletes past performances.  Samuel picked a 5-Star at first, but God corrected him.  And for Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who engage in the same process, I love to quote this passage:

1-samuel-16_7

Here’s the Kingdom Truth for anyone today who has ever been rated (that is “judged”) by a set of external criteria:  Talent can only get you so far in life–and it is not enough to get you to where you need to be.  This is for those “5-Stars” who think they have it all and are great for the company, family and even the Church.  Some of those 5-Star football athletes fail not for lack of talent, but for lack of heart, resolve and determination.  They never reach their full potential.

And if you are one of those who have been rated a “1-Star or less” there is a Kingdom Truth for you.  You are not bound to your past IF you are willing to give your heart to Jesus.  Yes, God sees your stained and painful past.  He saw it all as His Son was nailed to that cruel Cross.  And that was more than enough to cover over, pay the price and wipe away the debt for anyone, everyone, and even you.  We call it Grace.

And now back to my opening reference to the movie Groundhog Day.  In that movie Murray keeps looping back to the morning of February 2 until he realizes that there is more to life than what he had been doing.  He can only move forward to February 3 if he decides to make a difference in the lives of others.  And though the movie never says directly that it is about living life for The Kingdom of God, to me at least, the reference is clear.

Groundhog Day, both the date and the movie by this name, remind us that our future cannot be determined by mindless events, or human predictions.  There is another future out there for us–a future that is hopeful and truly makes a difference in the lives of other people.  And we can become a part of this when we shed the “Stars”, or lack of “Stars” put on us by others, and realize that when God looks at our heart, the very heart that bears HIS Image, and knows what we can become when we give Him control of our whole life.

His presence, through the Holy Spirit, makes all the difference in our future.  Oh, you may not make the headlines at ESPN, but you will make the headlines in the hearts and minds of others who finally see Jesus through you.  God has something special for you.  Do not think to highly of yourself, or too low.  He knows you are a 5-Star even when the world has written you off.

#MessyGrace

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