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Do I Have to Wear the Church Mask?

August 25, 2010 19 comments

Maybe I am asking the wrong question.  Maybe what I mean to ask is, “Can I be me?”

I don’t mean the me who has bad days and tells other people everything is fine when they ask, “How are you?”  They didn’t really care about how my day was so it was appropriate to give a passing answer in return.

I don’t even mean the me who has messed up and desires to be authentic.  The church culture has talked about that until we can all parrot the standard lines.

I am talking about being me – the nearly 40 year old, white male who lives in 21st century America.  The guy who likes country music and watching baseball… maybe not at the same time.   The guy who has a lot of questions and opinions that may not match up with yours.

In short, can I just be me?

I mean, really, how can you ever expect me to be transparent and authentic about messy spirituality issues when I can’t be me.  Why would you expect me to share how my day is really going with people I think are as plastic as I feel when it comes to what I am ‘supposed to be’ inside the 4-walled church?

You see, what I perceive from you is this – I am supposed to be a better version of me on Sunday.  The version who dresses up even though it’s the weekend.  The version who has read his bible every day and prayed for every lost soul during the past week.  The version who likes every song the choir sings and amens all the points in the pastor’s 3 point outline.  The person who has invited all of his neighbors and the gas station attendant to next week’s churchy function.  You know.. that version that would never _______ ( you can fill in the blank).

What I perceive is that you really want me to look like all those people around me who have their masks on too.  Some of them we may need to remove the masks to see if they are still alive because I think I see ivy wrapping around their ankles and the bottom of the pew that they have been assigned to the last 20 years.  I think others are snoring behind their masks – they checked out right after the egg casserole was served in Sunday School class.

Can I share a few things about this mask?  It doesn’t fit very well.  I don’t really want to look like your church did 70 years ago and I don’t need the ‘religious’ version of self-help in 40 days because it just feels like plaster in the cracks of this mask.  You know what?  I don’t really want to be hip either because I forgot what that looked like 20 years ago.  I think some of the hip maskers  forgot what it looked like too because they really just look cheesy in their masks.  Of course, the lights and fog are a good attempt at disguise.

You know, it’s funny… you told me Jesus loved me.  That He wanted a relationship with me. Which version of me were you talking about?  The real me or the version you want me to be?

Hey.. don’t get me wrong.  I really like your Jesus and I am digging your bible.  I just don’t get your masks.

You are all beginning to look the same.. and the shame of it is, you don’t look much like your Jesus.

Do I really have to wear the church mask?

Categories: Questions Tags: , ,

Where the Rubber Meets the Road – Guest Post #3

August 23, 2010 6 comments

I apologize for not getting back to this series sooner.  But, fear not, we shall continue.  If you need a reminder of what has been discussed so far, feel free to visit these links:

Amy’s Response – Guest Post #1

Jason’s Respsonse – Guest Post #2

This week’s response comes from Randy Morgan.  I hope that you will be just as encouraged and challenged by his response as I was.

Introduce yourself in 25 words or less (we are all counting – some of us are borrowing our neighbors fingers or toes):

i am a lovable dissident.  the church we started 15 years ago has been spectacularly unsuccessful, and the process has shaped me into a desperate pursuer of jesus and kingdom.

If you blog, what is your site URL and what is the emphasis behind your blog?

i blog at randymorgan.wordpress.com.  description of the “emphasis” is probably best left to those that visit regularly.  my hope is that people on a journey similar to mine will find humor in my failings and encouragement in my quest.

Respond to the following the scenario:
I am a skeptical seeker who has just read Matthew 25:31-46 and you are the first person that I meet at your church on a Sunday morning and I ask you to explain these verses and show me how your community applies them.

my stock, sunday school answer would have to do with the church taking a fresh look at our role in society.  but, to my thinking, the real answer goes much deeper than that.

my youth pastor came to me recently with an idea for a program to get students involved in service.  he was serious about addressing the biblical purposes for the church (worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, evangelism, etc), and he wanted to post a “needs list” on the wall of the church building so seniors and widows and single moms could sign up to have teens come over and lend a hand.  my youth pastor (all breathless and excited) said, “we can meet needs in our fellowship and teach our kids about service at the same time!”

i’m afraid when that i deflated his balloon when i told him he was missing the point.

one of the great issues in the institutional church is that our first impulse is always to establish programs to address symptoms (we’re hard-wired that way), and we never really address the actual problem.  its called legalism and it is systemic.

david (my youth pastor) has attracted a bunch of marginalized kids from low income, single-parent homes who come because we provide a place to hang out, and because somebody has demonstrated an interest in them (and that is his primary mission).  most have a vague understanding of who jesus is, but they are not yet believers and they are certainly not disciples.

so why would they serve?

my advice to david was to concentrate on leading these kids to a deeper understanding of jesus.  i assured him that when they finally arrived at a place of commitment—out of love for jesus and an appreciation of grace—that they would serve as a matter of course.  not because someone told them they should, or because it made them feel better.

for those of us who are christ-followers (sorry, tony, i really did not intend to be so verbose), i would argue that the story of “the sheep and the goats” was never meant to stand alone as a message to the church.  it must be folded in to the larger command to, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

as we develop christlike character, produce the fruit of the spirit, and pursue the knowledge of god, we will love/reach out to the disenfranchised as a matter of course.  we do the church and the kingdom a great disservice when we “get the cart before the horse” (mechanically try to obey jesus prior to genuine heart change).

…and show me how your community applies them.

in the fellowship i lead, our motto is “life-by-life.”  that’s the way jesus did ministry and we believe that’s the model we should follow.  we teach that real ministry does not take place on sunday morning at 10am.  we work hard to decentralize ministry responsibility and we encourage people to experiment with their gifts.

we demonstrate this philosophy by throwing the doors of our building open to the community.  everyone from local businesses to the girl scouts to scrapbookers use our facility (and we never ask them to pay).  it is literally open every night of the week. we believe that, besides being good stewards of the things god has entrusted to us, we are creating opportunity to connect relationally with people who wouldn’t normally come on a sunday.

What makes you come alive?

obviously, talking about this kind of stuff.

Cult of Personality

August 22, 2010 6 comments

Yesterday morning as I was driving to meet with a friend for breakfast, I hit the CD button on my radio and a Phil Wickham song began playing.   While I was enjoying the song, I was also wishing that for just a moment I could sing like Phil.

But then I had this thought, one day the personalities will disappear and there will be a great throng that will worship as one before God’s throne.

No more big name worship leaders.

No more famous pastors.

No more published philosophers making the media circuit.

No more TV programs hyping their brand of Jesus.

In short, no more cult of personality.

Just one throng worshiping for the one reason that unites them.

Categories: Life Thoughts Tags: , ,

Birds Of A Feather

August 19, 2010 2 comments

I am standing in line, somewhat patiently, as I wait to purchase the cup of ice and bottle of tea that will wash down the lunch I packed.  I notice the young lady with the long blond hair as she exits the line of a different register and joins another young lady with long brunette hair.

They are both well dressed in business attire but not so much that they look stodgy or more mature than their years.  Their attire speaks of young and preppy business women.  While their hair is of different shades, they wear it in similar styles: pulled back behind the head into some form of band or tasteful scrunchy which then allows the majority of their long hair to cascade down their backs.  Simply put, they are beautiful.  My guess is that my eye is not the only one that has been caught by these two.

The thought crosses my mind that ‘birds of a feather flock together’ because they are remarkably alike in dress and poise and at the same time beautifully different.  My guess is that to be part of their circle of friends, one would need to be equally impressive in appearance.

Let’s face it. The beautiful hang around with beautiful while the ugly hang around with the ugly. Birds of a feather.

As I am standing there considering this thought, I start to roll through the faces of my flock.  Great! Now I have a flocking idea of which feather I belong to.

Can turkeys fly?

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Note: This post is a feeble attempt at humor.  None of my ugly homely friends have been hurt in the production of this post. At least the ones who haven’t read it, haven’t been hurt… yet.  Oh.. what a sad, sad day for us turkeys.

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Categories: Just For Fun Tags: , ,

Did You Know That There is A 5:30am In The Day?

August 18, 2010 7 comments

If you answered the question that I posed in the title to this post in the affirmative, you are a sick, sick, sinful person.

My children returned to school today following what must have been the fastest summer vacation ever recorded in the history of ‘summerdom’.  At least my two girls would sign any affidavit to that affect if asked their opinion on the matter.  I don’t know how it happens in other places of the world, but in our little slice of heaven, we have to get up at 5:30am… ack.. I just threw up a little in my mouth as I was typing that (fingers can’t puke so my throat and stomach had sympathy pains).

The buses (by the way.. why isn’t buses pronounced in the same manner as fuses?  You would think that it should be spelled busses.. but I digress).. as I was saying, the buses pick our darlings up around 6:30am so you can see why it is necessary to rise up so early.  I must mention this odd fact as well: the first day of bus pickup is like waiting for the cable guy to show up.  Pickup time is in the neighborhood of 6:22am to 6:35am but evidently you can still be standing in the driveway at 6:49am with your school bag, lunch bag, clarinet, and cross country gear with no sign of the bus.

Eventually, instead of waiting for the cable guy…err.. bus driver to show up for my second child, we threw her 250 pounds of gear into the car and I drove her to school.  That was at 6:50ish am.  By then I had been awake for almost 1 hour and 30 minutes.  That is so wrong.  I am not a morning person as attested to my staying awake until 1am last night, or uh, this morning in order to encourage the Reds onto a win over the Diamond Backs.  I hate those West Coast road trips because they mean the games start much later here on the East side of the country and, historically, the Reds haven’t done so well on those trips. The only good thing about my 270 minutes of sleep last night was that it was preceded by a Reds win which moved them 2 games ahead of those ugly birds from Missouri.

If you are reading this, I would like to know if you are a morning person, and if so, why in the name of all that is good would you admit to such a sinful practice?!

By the way.. I have a few more installments for the Rubber Meets the Road series.  I will get them out but I have been taking a much needed break from technology.  While I haven’t been writing, I still have been reading some blogs that make me think so take a spin through the following links to see who has been on my reading list lately.

http://www.52prayers.com/:  Jessica has been visiting and writing on her exposure to different faiths this year.  She is a smart cookie and brings to fore some great points of discussion within our American-Christian context.

http://jamesbrett.wordpress.com/: James is a missionary in Tanzania.. but more than that, he is a great writer and I like the quick and easy manner in which he tackles matters of faith and life.

http://randymorgan.wordpress.com/ : I met Randy in blogland and then had the pleasure to meet him in person while on vacation this year.  I really respect his approach to creating dialog about bringing the sacred and secular aspects of christian life into meaningful, kindom-bringing, lifestyle.  One day I hope to be in his neck of the woods again so that I can visit his community of believers.

Coming to an End

August 7, 2010 2 comments

I have a few more entries for the current series that I am posting.  I hope to put the latest edition out this weekend some time.

As I have been experiencing the usage of electronic media to ‘socialize’, communicate, or even ponder, it has become apparent to me that not all experiences were meant to last or to be sustainable.  I think I am in that place where I feel ok about unplugging from the need to check message statuses, twitter updates, and emails about things that don’t really carry a lot of weight in the real world.

Over the next few weeks I will begin to pare some of these things from my life so that I can focus on what is immediately in front of me.  I haven’t fully decided on the fate of this blog and I am going to give myself some more time to think on it as I conclude the Guest Blogger series.

Maybe these thoughts were born out of, or at least came to a fruition, within the context of studying Matthew 25.

Let me highlight some things that came to light while I was reading and meditating on that particular scripture.

I think the biggest thing that hit me was that neither the sheep nor the goats had any thoughts that they were missing the message of ‘feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the jailed’.  Both groups ask the same in question in different contexts.  “When did we do (or not do) these things for you?”  The simple fact was that there was no big program or scheduled activity for the church people to be busy at for Jesus when it came to these matters.  My opinion is that the sheep did these things as a natural part of the out-flowing love of Christ because they knew Christ and He dwelt in them.

Juxtapose that thought with the scripture in Matthew 7 where Christ says, “Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?”

I get the distinct image that there are going to be a lot of good intentioned folks some day who will stand before God and they will think that their busyness as VBS volunteers, church elders, soup kitchen workers, clothing gatherers –  or name any number of programs we create to reach the world in the name of Christ – will have meant something.  And yet Christ will look at them and say depart from me because I never knew you.

Are any of those things bad or wrong? Yes and No.  I mean, they won’t get you into heaven.. just look at those people in Matthew 7.  But, they are a means of showing love… just look at the sheep in Matthew 25 who didn’t know that they were even doing it.

So what do we do with this? I don’t know completely yet.. or may never know.

Maybe the American church needs to stop trying to create the next latest and greatest event/experience/program for Jesus.

Because He already did that on the Cross.  So maybe we need to be less about the glamor and more about authenticity.  Maybe we need more of Christ and less of man-made worship.

Maybe we need to learn to humble ourselves and worship God in all aspects of our lives as directed by scripture and the Holy Spirit.

But we don’t have time for that.  There is a program or discipleship class that needs our attention.

And I guess that brings me back to my thoughts on ‘coming to an end’.  I need to find time for the right things… the real things.

For the right reasons.

Categories: 2nd Chances Tags: ,

Where the Rubber Meets the Road – Guest Post #2

August 5, 2010 5 comments

We have already had some great discussion starters in the first installment of this series.  Take a moment and read-comment-evaluate Amy’s thoughts here.

Let’s take a read through Jason’s thoughts below.  Also, please take a moment and visit his blog and encourage him in his endeavors to raise awareness of the human trafficking issues that affect so many around the world and here in the United States.

Introduce yourself in 25 words or less (we are all counting – some of us are borrowing our neighbors fingers or toes):

A survivor in Christ living in Nashville, TN with his wife Amy and kids Dale, Eli and Julie. Swedish Fish addict.

If you blog, what is your site URL and what is the emphasis behind your blog?

www.jcwert.com is the URL and I blog on just about everything but mostly issues related to faith.

Respond to the following the scenario:
I am a skeptical seeker who has just read Matthew 25:31-46 and you are the first person that I meet at your church on a Sunday morning and I ask you to explain these verses and show me how your community applies them.

(Tony, before I give an official answer, this is kind of a loaded question.  I’d never lecture someone in a one-on-one situation and this feels a bit like that.  So read this assuming I’d have a little more conversational interaction with this person. :)  If this was a real deal, I’d likely ask their take before giving mine…)

There are a lot of different ways people look at those verses.  Some believe it’s the final judgment.  Others believe it’s Jesus separating people based on how they treat their fellow Christians.  To be honest with you, I don’t really know which one is right and we probably won’t know until that day comes.  I know that’s not likely the direct answer you’re looking for but it’s just me being honest.

Now, when I look at it, I see the way Jesus wants us to live.  We’re to care for those in need and put others ahead of ourselves.  I just think if we let Christ renew us to be more like him we’ll want to be doing the things that he tells the sheep they’ve been doing even though they didn’t realize it.

If you look at our church you’ll see all kinds of folks giving of themselves and I’m not just talking about how thousands of us came together after the flooding here in Nashville.  We have folks who give up their evenings in the middle of the work week to spend the night at homeless shelters to help the staff.  We have a hope center downtown to help the homeless.  If you look around the lobby you’ll see former addicts who’ve had help to get clean, we’ve helped homeless folks find places to live…you’ll find all kinds of examples of our following Christ’s commands.

You’ll also see us fall short a lot of times.  We’re not perfect nor are we going to be.  We just try to do the best we can, learn from mistakes and strive to be more of the kind of person Christ wants us to be in that passage of Scripture.

What makes you come alive?

Christ’s a given and so is my family…so those aside, I’m fired up about writing and fighting against human trafficking.  There’s no reason that right now in the United States tens of thousands of women should be kept in sexual slavery.  Most people don’t even know that we have slaves in the US.  Right now, in Nashville where I live, there are dozens of women being forced into prostitution.  It makes me sick and it’s something that I want to wake up the church to fight.  Imagine the way we could abolish sex slavery if churches not only rose up to speak out against it but took care of the women being abused for money.  Provided them a safe place to live, job training, etc.  We have the ability to make a huge difference.  We need to rise up and do it!

Where the Rubber meets the Road – Guest Post #1

August 3, 2010 13 comments

I have received a few of the entries for the Guest Post Series so it is time to officially kick it off and get it moving down the road.  I will be posting the entries as I have received them from the author which means the views and opinions will be that of the author.

And so we begin.

Introduce yourself in 25 words or less (we are all counting – some of us are borrowing our neighbors fingers or toes):

My name is Amy.  I am a believer in Jesus Christ, and a child of God thanks to His sacrifice.  I am a stay-at-home wife and mother of five children.

Respond to the following the scenario:
I am a skeptical seeker who has just read Matthew 25:31-46 and you are the first person that I meet at your church on a Sunday morning and I ask you to explain these verses and show me how your community applies them.

The following is how I would hope to explain to a skeptical seeker the verses recorded in Matthew 25:31-46:

There will come a day, nobody knows when (however in the previous parables we are told to watch and be ready) that Jesus Christ will return to earth to set up His kingdom and reign on it.  This passage describes some of that scene.  Jesus is speaking about the coming judgment of the peoples and nations of the earth.  He comes back to earth with all of His angels, in a glorious display and takes His place on His throne.

He will separate the peoples or nations of the earth into two categories.  He uses the illustration of shepherd, sheep, and goats.  Jesus being the shepherd (which He refers to Himself as in the book of John 10:11-16), and likewise refers to His people as sheep.  He puts the sheep (His followers) into His right hand and then the goats (non-believers) into His left.

He then proceeds to judge each group.  First He speaks to the sheep and when He does He is loving and kind and they receive eternal life and inherit the kingdom prepared for them by Christ Himself.  He tells them because they served others who belong to Him (brethren), they served Him.  They are accredited with righteousness.

He then speaks to those He has in His left hand and tells them they are cursed and they receive their punishment, eternal fire.  They were not His sheep, they did not follow Him, and they did not serve others through Him.  It’s possible that some of them have done some good things in their lives, but the only way to receive eternal life is through Christ.  The Bible is clear about this issue.  You can not equate good works or benevolence with salvation.  Jesus is the only Way to the Father (John 14:6).

The key factor of judgment in the passage is treatment of God’s people, by God’s people.  Inheriting the kingdom (eternal life) is not possible if you are not a child of God which you cannot become without a right response to God’s word (His Son, Jesus).  So while acts of kindness and compassion take place in the community through food pantries, or those who care for the sick, or take in strangers etc., the condition and motivation of the heart will be the starting point for judgment.  If I am personally presented with needs like the ones spoken of here, I would help in whatever way I could.  If the church as a whole is presented with these needs (food, drink, clothing, shelter, visitation) it would do the same.

I believe it is a natural result of Christ living in you that will cause you to recognize a need and fill it.  The good works of the righteous aren’t the root or what saves you; they are the fruit of God’s grace extended to us though undeserved. God’s word says that Jesus knows His sheep and they know Him.  It is critical to belong to Christ; you will not receive eternal life without knowing Him as your Savior at the very least.

What makes you come alive?

As for what makes me come alive?  I wish I knew.  I can say that I get very excited when I see God at work around me and in those I love…and myself.  It motivates me to keep going.  Life certainly has ups and downs and there are times when I just want to throw in the towel.  Somehow in those times especially, God reminds me that He is there, He is still in control, and that I am His.  He is my reason for living; He did give me life after all

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