Friday, November 21, 2003

I went to a concert at Covenant Presbyterian with my son and Christian friends from our fellowship last night. We heard Derek Webb sing some of the new songs off his new SHE MUST and SHALL GO FREE album, which is all about the church. Everywhere I turn I hear the same message. People are calling for change, but it's not a rejection of church for an intensely personal and individualistic Christianity. That would be tragically self-centered and un-Christlike. I hear a longing for the total recreation of the church into something much more real, authentic, and God-focused. I also hear from many a recognition that the Christian culture which is televised, sold in stores, and pre-packaged so that we might be an enclave unto ourselves is an abandonment of our calling. We rightfully have seen the fall of Christendom - that we might rule the world (we made a mess in the process and tarnished the person of Christ) - and some are retreating to a segregated existence. The idea of aliens, sojourners, pilgrims, of being salt and light, and of an incarnational church seems not an option to those who wanted to rule. I guess it's "if we can't rule the world, we'll create our world where we do rule." There is another option, of ruling with Christ as he rules in mystery over a world seemingly not as responsive to his sovereignty as we would like. We can simply be the people of God and embrace all the distress of being foreigners in a hostile world. A world of enemies we will serve and sacrifice ourselves for, as Christ did not only for us, but for all.

Something else: One of Derek's unrecorded songs, "I Repent", was so compelling I include the lyrics for you. I pray that God helps you know in your heart the truth of Derek's words.

i repent

i repent of my pursuit of America's dream
i repent of living like i deserve anything
my house, my fence, my kids, and my wife
in our suburb where we're safe and white
i am wrong and of these things i repent
i repent of parading my liberty
i repent of paying for what i get for free
the way i believe that i am living right
by trading sins for others that are easier to hide
i am wrong and of these things i repent

i repent judging by a law that even i can't keep
wearin' righteousness like a disguise to see through
the planks in my own eyes

i repent of trading truth for false unity
i repent of confusing peace and idolatry
of caring more of what they think than what i know of what they need
and domesticating You until You look just like me
i am wrong and of these things i repent

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Saturday a number of us gathered to distribute food to the needy, a project we call United Neighbors. Our goal was to tell people that Jesus loves them, and to do that in word and with a gift of food. Equipped with addresses and maps, we loaded the 60 bags of groceries into our cars and split up to make our deliveries.

Without fail there is much to be gained from a discipline of Good Works. One thing we learned, is that though our first delivery was at 9:30 am and we continued until 11:30 am, we woke someone up at each residence. Some received us warmly, and others were not as friendly. They knew we were coming because they had returned a self-addressed stamped envelope requesting the groceries. But maybe they felt uncomfortable, or uncertain. We prayed with the people in every house and told them that God loves them. We were reminded of how many people who live right around us struggle to have what we enjoy every day.

We were totally surprised Sunday morning when a mother called our Upper Room at 8:30 am to see if someone could come pick up her daughter, a woman who is married with children of her own, one of those we had visited. Without even making "our church" or "inviting people to do anything" an emphasis, someone wanted to spend some more time with us. Maybe that person wanted to be with us because we hadn't asked anything of her.

Do good. God works.

Friday, November 14, 2003

I was blessed this morning with fellowship and community from an unlikely source - a call from someone I've never met before; a person who lives a good 700 miles from where I sit and write this blog. He wanted to know what our little band of believers is doing. He had visited our website, read what we say there, and wanted to find out more. What he and I found out quickly is that we are brothers in Christ (not because we traded and examined each other's doctrinal positions - as if community depends on facts we hold as true) but we share a common desire to seek Christ, know Christ, share Christ - all at any cost. He has the stripes to prove it too - fired from two churches for not sticking to the once-for-all received beliefs and practices as they were defined a few decades ago.

What I discovered this morning is simply more evidence of what God is doing. God wants to bring together those who are hearing the same call - a message about being totally focused on God through Christ and as experienced in the Spirit. A call to get Christ back in the center and to be the church, rather than focusing on promoting the church as an institution. To clear away where religion has obscured Jesus, and be bound to Christ and Him alone.

God is working and moving. He is speaking the same message throughout Christianity. He's not sitting back to see if it happens, God is making it happen! This is exciting!

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

What am I thinking? What am I thinking? Truly, honestly, deep down inside whatever the conscious mind really is, what am I thinking? Actually, I am thinking about what I'm feeling. I'm not always doing that, but that's what I am doing now. At least I'm thinking that writing what I am feeling would be a whole lot easier than writing what I'm thinking.

So what am I feeling? That is a lot easier to know, I guess because I probably believe that a thought should be something noteworthy, but a feeling just is what it is. But I don't think I really want to write about what I'm feeling because I start to think about what someone else is going to think of what I'm feeling. I guess it is easier to write about what I think, but easier to know how I feel - if that makes any sense. (By now it is obvious I just sat down to write something, anything - without any real plan. If this stream of consciousness thing doesn't work, I won't do it again).

Ok, let's be honest about the feeling part. I feel scared. I've always felt scared. Not knowing what the future holds, and being smart enough to realize that it often holds unpleasantries, is enough to make any sane person scared. What I feel scared about has changed a lot over the years, but I always find something to be scared about. When I was ten I was sometimes scared of other kids who picked fights, and I never wanted to fight. I was scared of getting in trouble. When I was in high school and college I would dread upcoming events - like some big test or very unpleasant requirement like having to give a speech in class. Now, it is easy to worry about the kids - are they going to turn out to be decent, functional people? I'd be happy with just normal - I don't need super-achievements. Just don't be an ax-murderer.

Now to be honest, I don't just feel scared. I would be terrified if I only felt scared. No, I also feel loved, and happy, and even secure. I feel secure about matters much bigger than the things I'm scared of. When I live all too aware of and focused on the little things, the bits and pieces about the future that are uncertain, my sense of fear can grow. But there is this really big and sure sense of ultimate comfort that reminds me that even if my worst fears come to pass, I'm safe with God. Where did that come from? I didn't get that reassuring peace because someone told me about it; I think it came through having lived through a lifetime of fears and discovering God's faithfulness.

Monday, November 10, 2003

It is much easier to talk about community, than truly pursue it. So much of the time even when we want relationships, to have close friendships and not to be alone, our own selfishness sabotages everything. Selfishness has to be one of the great barriers to community.

I suspect that selfishness comes in many varieties. These subtle opinions, personal likes and dislikes, and desires effectively create so many tensions and disputes that building community becomes a true test of patience and endurance. And I haven't even mentioned selfish expectations. Paradoxically, I believe that we might be able to have selfish opinions about what is best for everyone else. Is it selfish to be opinionated? It seems to be if I have little room for anyone else's thought to be accepted, or patience for it to be expressed.

I am thinking that only in desiring something greater than our selfish ambitions will we discover community. I don't think the answer is to desire community itself. We really don't build community. Community results among those who are bound together by something greater than everything that would naturally drive them apart. I imagine that one might experience strong community in a foxhole. Teams in any sport often have a strong sense of community. Our desire is not for any ministry or mission or goal to be what binds us together, but for the person of Jesus Christ. From Christ we will all learn selflessness and discover we are in community in the process.

I think that I am wanting community sometimes when I ought to simply want Christ.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A Matter of Excellence?
I know that in matters pertaining to church "events" the reasoning goes that "we should do things with excellence to honor God". I understand that thinking. But let me be perfectly contradictory for moment. (That's what blogs are for, right?) Our mantra that calls for excellence creates a "measuring mentality." Every event, whether a worship time, the delivery or content of a lesson, the organization of an activity, or whatever, is evaluated and critiqued. The theology of excellence leads us to monitor the presentation of everything. With so much feedback on performance, we ought to be wondering where our thoughts are during those times.

Rather than striving for excellence so that we might honor God (at least that is why we say we are striving for excellence - it wouldn't be for our own pride) maybe we ought to do things poorly to confess our own depravity. Sometimes I think we ought to do things poorly just to remind us that the "performance and execution" is not important. If there is an excellent presentation, everyone wants the next one to top the last. Every "event" is then critiqued so that we might "do it better." Better for whom? For God? Was the presentation/performance/execution not up to God's standards? Do we ever think that we could be up to God's standards? Maybe a discipline of doing things poorly would help us remember that it is what we are doing and not how.

There is a very true saying about food and affluence: The poor worry about the quantity of the food - will there be enough? People of the middle class worry about the quality of the food - is it good enough? The wealthy worry about the presentation of the food - does it have the right look?

Spiritually we are acting like the rich who worry about presentation. If we realize that we are spiritually impoverished then we will only be concerned with the availability of spiritual food and not its presentation. Maybe that is why in eight years in Tanzania I never heard one complaint, critique, or suggestion of how we needed to do something better or with more excellence when we came together to worship God. In American Christianity our "worship wars" are a luxury afforded to those who have so much we can actually fuss about presentation. If God would give us a famine of spiritual food, Christians would be seeking wherever they could find it without regard to the excellence of presentation.

Do you think this blog entry was excellent?