Posts Tagged ‘Church’

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Truly Unconditional Love

August 19, 2014

Hello friends,

It’s been a while. As in more than 3 years a while. If anyone bothers to visit when I publish this post I’ll be amazed. But I have something to say. I might have several somethings to say, we’ll have to see. Today it comes from the story of Vicky Beeching’s coming out. Yup, I’m going there.

There has been a lot of discussion around this. I think it shakes people in ways other Christians who have come out didn’t because she has been a part of so many different people’s regular worship. And this means that her coming out is personal for a lot of people because worship is so personal for so many people.

The backlash is incredible. So much hate masquerading as concern for her soul, her relationship with God. It hurts me. It hurts me more than if it were directed at me, I think. My cousin, who I will say is a liberal conservative Christian responded to a rather disheartening post with an incredibly profound comment. She said:

         “I have been wrong about so many things i was convinced i was right on in my life. Then i felt like God spoke to me pretty clearly that He really didn’t care too much about all the things i was wrong about, because more than likely, I’m still way off. He told me that He loved that i spent time being with Him and talking to Him; that relationship is the ENTIRE reason he sent Jesus. At this point, I would rather be wrong about what the Bible says on homosexuality, knowing that I have put every ounce of my effort into loving people with no strings attached. So if I felt that God spoke that to me, why would His desire for relationship with Vicky Beeching be any different? I think maybe He is a little less concerned about what she is getting right, and more rejoicing over her continued relationship with Him. I realize many opinions differ from mine, that is just where I am currently at.”

I love this. It’s exactly where I am at, although at the end of the day we may end up with different theologies the premise is identical. I can only speak to the relationship I know I have with God. I value the Bible. I value God’s Word. When I came out to myself, a weird idea to be sure, my relationship with God became stronger, better, more intimate than it had ever been before. I truly believe my realizing I am gay, my accepting my sexuality, was the direct result of God interceding on my behalf. I was blind, I was in such deep denial that he had to push his way through. And when he got through he wrapped me up in such intense love, such insane acceptance, that there wasn’t room for me to doubt myself. There was so much love from God for me that I could not have hated myself, nor could anyone else’s hate pierce that love. 

Over the years I have grown to truly believe that homosexuality does not go against God’s will. But more importantly because of the journey I took I am absolutely, positively, certain that God does not call us to judge for him. Our job, no matter what the “sin” may be, is to love. Love without question. Love without hesitation. Love with everything we have, even if we are utterly convinced that a person is wrong. 

God loves us all. Yes, God desires we grow closer to him. He desires that we do our best to live in such a way that we are living according to his will. But God desires relationship with us above all else. Who am I to judge another person and what relationship they have with God? I cannot know what is going on between you and God. I cannot know how the supposed “sin” in your life is affecting that relationship. It isn’t my place. It’s God’s. This doesn’t mean that we are changing what we view as sin. It doesn’t mean I am compromising on any of the things I believe. It means that I am loving. It means that I am letting God do his job, and I will do mine. It means that I refuse to be the person who tries to get in the way of the relationship another person has with God.

If there is one thing I can ask of a Christian it is this. I don’t ask, nor do I want, you to change your theology. I ask that you trust your relationship with God. I ask that you trust my relationship with God. He’s a good guy. He knows what he’s doing. If someday he convicts me that I am wrong, I hope that I will listen. But until that day I know that he loves and accepts me for who I am. You cannot change this, and I am certain he does not want you to. Love. It isn’t compromising your beliefs, it is trusting your almighty God to do his part and you do yours. 

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Church at Starbucks

August 12, 2010

I had an interview at Starbucks last week and then visited a church up in Michigan on Sunday. How are these two things related? It’s quite simple really- Starbucks has a better philosophy of church than most churches I have been to.

One of the very first things I was told during my interview was that Starbucks strives to be the “third place”- you have work or school, and home. Starbucks wants you to think of it as another place that is an integral part of your life. For some people, the closest the get to community outside of work, is at Starbucks getting their coffee or meeting up with people. It’s really sort of sad, but this is the way it is, and Starbucks is doing what they can to encourage this mentality among consumers, because it’s good for business. When people feel a connection to a specific place (ie: Starbucks or church) they are more likely to commit to that place. The best way people make connections to places is via relationships. Starbucks recognizes this and puts it to use to positively impact business.

It seems churches are missing this very obvious thing. When you ask someone about their church they are most likely to tell you it’s name, where it’s located, about the pastor/preaching/style of worship, and about the programs. None of these things are church, and none of these things are what people are seeking in life. A lot of people make snap judgments about a church based on one or more of these factors, but none of these things are what is going to keep people connected, because at the heart of church is community and fellowship and CONNECTION.

In this world the greatest thing churches have to offer non-Christians is connection. Church is community, it is people “doing life together”, it is not worship, programs, pastors, or bad coffee. We cannot do evangelism with programs or worship, we must do evangelism by connecting with people.

And this is where the church should be far surpassing Starbucks, but we are not. Starbucks is not set up to seek authentic, deep relationships. The connections are brief, and remain shallow within that setting. It’s inevitable. Sadly, the church seems to take this same approach. We are too scared to be authentic as a whole, we are too worried about keeping up appearances, about maintaining the right friendships, about our kids being exposed to only good things, to commit to connecting with everyone around us. We only connect to those like us, the other people are relegated to superficial relationships. Which we can get at Starbucks without feeling guilty or having to give 10% of our money.

I walked into the church in Michigan on Sunday smiled at people as I walked past, and was “warmly greeted” by the designated greeters, and no one else. I had coffee after church and had no one come talk to me. I walk into Starbucks and am “warmly greeted” by the employees. Who proceed to ask me about my day or make other conversation as they get my drink ready. And if I should happen to be a regular, they know my name and my drink order and even if they don’t actually feel this way, act excited to see me. Come on churches, we can do better than this. We MUST do better than this or church will be happening more at Starbucks than in the places designated as such.

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My Christian Bubble

June 16, 2010

Church. Christian school. Christian friends. Christian entertainment. Christian bubble.

Homes. Workplaces. Tax collectors and sinners. The culturally shunned. Ministry.

There are a lot of people in our churches today that spend most of their time in the workplace with non-Christians, who socialize more with people the church typically shuns and deems unworthy, but many of these people live two separate lives- church and everything else. We have made a huge mistake in the church, at least the denominations I’m a part of. We have created a mentality that the best way to live as a Christian is to surround ourselves with Christian things and to separate our faith from the necessary “evil”. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t “evangelizing”. The problem is, we are functioning like our role is to be perfect little Christians walking through life in this bubble that “protects” us from evil. So instead of connecting with our co-workers, instead of building relationships with the people we spend the majority of our time with, we are creating this separation- we talk to you, we go through life together, but we keep ourselves clean by remaining in our bubble. We can’t get too close until you come over to “our side”. So I’ll tell you about my church, I’ll tell you about God, but we can’t really be friends for real until you become a Christian. But this is not how Jesus did it.

Jesus went through life “doing life” with those who were the “most sinful”, he spent his time ministering to the people who would never be permitted inside the walls of the temple, he didn’t create a bubble around himself, he bent down and washed the feet of the person who would that night betray him to his death. Instead of turning his face away from the most likely scantily clad adulterous woman he embraced her fully. And even as he shared life with all these sinful people in the sinful and fallen and corrupt world he did not sin.

I don’t think we are intentionally creating a bubble for ourselves. The problem is we know we are only human, we know that if we surround ourselves with temptation we will fall into temptation. I think this is a valid concern, but it is only valid because we are lazy. If my relationship with God is strong and focused on following him, and if I know how to hear his voice and how to look for his presence in various situations, and if I don’t need to look up specific Bible verses to know what to do but have studied enough to know God’s heart, then I have nothing to worry about or fear in truly opening up my heart and life to people and situations where I might face temptation. But this relationship takes work, I need to spend time and put effort into it. And we are too content to pray and read our Bibles for 1 hour a day to be willing to make our relationship with God what it truly needs to be in order to be able to effectively remove our bubble.

I’m guilty of it, and I’m working to change it, but I’m still lazy and it takes a lot of effort to get going. But the problem is, by intentionally keeping a bubble around me I am like the hovering parent who is still there when her son starts college, calling the school to excuse him from class, or talking to future employers to try and get him a job. As long as my bubble (hovering-parent) is there, I can never succeed in life.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Anne Lamott

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Judge and Jury

April 21, 2010

If your church is anything like mine you probably have a couple members of the church who stand at the doors and greet people as they walk in. Usually it’s just a simple “Good Morning” and a hand shake. If it’s a new person they probably say “Welcome”. Sometimes it’s a bit more. I think it’s a good gesture, a way of tangibly welcoming people new and old to the church. But I think it’s also a lie.

I think a more honest “greeting” would be, “Welcome to my church, assuming you agree to believe what I believe, follow the rules- written and unwritten- that I follow, act in a way that doesn’t make me uncomfortable, and never commit any ‘big sin'”. This may seem cynical, but I don’t believe it is untrue at all.

Jennifer Knapp came out last week and the responses from Christians who have responded have been largely judgmental and condemning. We seem to believe that it is our duty to determine who is and who is not going to heaven (news flash: God is the only one qualified and authorized to make this decision). I use Jennifer Knapp as an example because it is recent and many of you have probably already heard about it. But what about the guy who goes to your church and one day makes the decision to admit that he is gay? Or the woman who bravely steps forward and shares that tomorrow she is getting an abortion and would appreciate your prayers? How do we respond to these people? How should we respond to them?

I think that churches are starting to recognize that we are not responding appropriately to these situations. I think there is a shift that people in the church now think we need to accept women who are going to have an abortion or gay people or alcoholics or prostitutes. But the mentality is completely wrong. When I talk to people in my church about this they are all gung-ho about welcoming these people but they always say “we’ll love them so we can change them and make them Christians”. This is also not our job. That is another thing that only God is qualified to do, and if he chooses to use us that’s great, but it isn’t my job or yours to make someone a Christian. Also, loving someone so that they will change is not truly loving them.

Often I have heard the argument that Jesus didn’t allow people to stay the way they were. And while I agree with that I don’t think Jesus every required that someone change before joining him. It was through their relationship with him that they changed, not because he expected it of them but because they made the decision because of the relationship. We seem to lose sight of the fact that he unconditionally accepted an anointing- a religious practice- from a prostitute. Or that Jesus chose to forgive the woman caught in adultery and THEN told her to go and leave her life of sin, not the other way around. What about the guys Jesus called to follow him? There were no pre-requisites but that they follow. And clearly their transformations all occurred at different times and in different ways. They grew and were transformed because of the genuine relationship. Jesus did not associate with them in order to make them change, he knew that the message he had to share, the person he was and the God he was introducing them to would take care of that. And he’s God, he could have demanded these things but he didn’t.

So why do we think it’s our job to decide who is and who isn’t a Christian? Just because our understanding of the Bible says it’s a sin doesn’t mean we are right. And even if we are, isn’t it our job to love people and let God take care of the rest? Honestly, if we don’t stop acting as judge and jury to the world’s “sinners” we are going to run out of people to judge because there won’t be anyone left that will ever qualify to be a part of our “elite community” that certainly cannot be called church anymore. In fact, it may be far more accurate to call ourselves Sodom.

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Talking Action, Taking Action

February 11, 2010

Earlier this month a senator from SC spoke about many issues regarding energy independence and job creation. I’m not from South Carolina, and I’m not considerably passionate about energy independence, I support it, but I don’t really care that much at this point either. But I accidently stumbled upon the transcript and one line struck me as something that is far too true about many Christians.

“…going to be solved when Democrats and Republicans come together we all say it, all 100 of us, we never seem to be able to accomplish much beyond saying it”

As Christians we talk a lot about justice issues. We talk a lot about how we should be giving our time and our money and our resources to those in need. We talk a lot about how we should be working to free modern day slaves, fighting for the rights of sweat shop workers, working to provide education and medicine for HIV/Aids victims, etc. But that’s the problem. We talk and we talk and we talk.

I say to you, “What do you think about all the people dying of preventable Aids in Africa?”And you offer your opinion, and I mine. And we feel we have done our job. We are aware, and we are talking about it.

I’m not accusing other people nearly as much as I’m accusing myself. I like to be comfortable. I like to sit in my office, in my house, in my car and not have to sacrifice my comforts and luxuries.

It’s because when push comes to shove, I don’t care. I know I should care, I know I want to care, but I don’t. It’s only when extreme situations come into view- Haiti recently, for example- that I start to truly care. But that needs to change.

Lent is coming up soon. In high school my youth group gave up TV for Lent one year. That was tough, and I was going to do that again, but I realized two things. 1) I’m obsessed with Lost and not seeing it for 4 weeks or whatever didn’t seem realistic, I knew I wouldn’t make it. 2) while giving up TV is a good practice and provided a lot of “bored” time where I filled it with better things than TV viewing it doesn’t provide much value to anyone outside of myself.

Instead I have decided to take a different route this Lent. I will not be dining out during Lent. This is both a personal sacrifice and it also has value for others (because the money I save by not eating out I will be donating). And this is all well and good- but I don’t think this is doing much beyond the “talking” stage. I want to do more. I can talk and talk and talk about justice, I can even give my money toward justice issues (and this is important for sure), but it’s not enough. Because it’s still allows me to keep these things distant. I’m not getting my hands dirty so to speak.

I’m not sure how slowly my actions will come along. But in addition to giving up something for Lent I am making it a goal to take action during Lent. Where can I begin to DO something to make a difference instead of just talking about it? Where can you?

And yeah, I guess technically I just talked about not talking. Oh well.

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The Rock

February 3, 2010

There’s a song I got from a free iTunes sampler of country music that I actually listen to. It’s not uncommon for me to download a bunch of free songs that end up getting deleted shortly thereafter, or at least not listened to ever. The song is “The Rock” by Tracy Lawrence. I’m not sure what to think of the song actually. I like the sound of it, I like the idea of it, but there’s just something that bothers me about it.

The Rock

Outside Savanna, Spring of 1844, They drove the last nail in,
and opened up the doors. Jedediah Moore, was the first to be baptized,
saw him married here and buried here when the Yankees took his life.

Ive felt the pain, of people fighting their own demons, and the presence,
of the power that finally freed them. I’m a bright and shining beacon,
giving shelter in the storm, every saint and sinner, I greet with open arms.

(chorus)
I am the Rock, I am stained glass and stone, the foundation that this
town was built upon and Ive been standing strong and steady all these
years, held together by the faithful gathered here

I’ve heard the words of deliverance and damnation, and the sweet sound of redemption and salvation. Entire congregations, with their voices raised in song, while the Angles in my rafters rejoice and sing along.

Repeat Chorus

And as long as there’s a God above and people still believe, my walls will never crumble, and I will always be…

The Rock. I am stained glass and stone, the foundation that this town was built upon and I’ve been standing strong and steady all these years, held together by the faithful gathered here

Outside Savannah, Spring of 1844, they drove the last nail in, and opened up my doors.

 I like the idea behind it- the church is the foundation of the community, the church is a central point of life for the people, the church is a constant in a world of great changes. It’s a nice idea. But is it reality? Should it be reality?

 I think there was a time when the church as an institution was very much central to the identity of the community. There was a time when schedules were formed around the church’s calendar and not the other way around. But those days and times are long gone.

 As nice as it sounds I don’t think it is any longer something we should strive for. I think that today faith is much more fluid than it used to be. There doesn’t seem to be the “church life” and the “rest of the time” life that often defined many people’s lives. Now it seems there are far more people who are learning to live as the church in everyday and not set aside time specifically for that.

When I first heard this song I thought how nice it would be to get back to a place where the church as institution is once again central to the identity of a community. From a church employee perspective this would certainly make my job easier, but I don’t really think this is what we should be striving for. Instead I think the institutional church’s task today is to equip people to go out and live as the church. Stained glass and stone are great, but our role isn’t to be a place for people to come, but to go out and find the people.

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True Love

January 26, 2010

At my Bible study last night we somehow got talking about evanglism and the proper way to go about doing it in our world today. The general consensus among the group is one that I think has been adopted by a majority of Christians today. We should befriend non-Christians and then after forming a relationship we should evangelize them.

I think this has largely been my mindset if not my action over the years, but last night it made my skin crawl and I suddenly felt uncomfortable with this philosophy. We should not be out trying to be-friend non-Christians so that we can make them Christians. We should be out befriending everyone we encounter, no matter if they are Christian or not; whether we like them or not; whether we have anything in common with them or don’t.

And we should live our lives as Christians. We should be a good example, we should show the love of Christ to everyone all the time. We should be living our lives in such a way that everyone we enounter notices a difference. And we should be attempting to befriend everyone we encounter not with the intention of making them a Christian, but with the intention of showing them God’s love. That doesn’t mean waiting three months and then telling them all about God and Jesus and salvation. It means that we live every day, every moment sharing that with them through our actions, and being ready if they open the door to show them with words.

I can think of little worse than going out trying to make friends with “non-Christians” with the intention of making them Christians. That is not our job, that is not our duty, and that is not how we show the love of God. I don’t see any stories of Jesus going out and finding the “tax collectors and sinners” and being their friend so that later he could tell them about God. Everything we see Jesus do is about loving the individual as an individual. Not with a higher purpose, but just truely, honestly, purely loving them. That is true evangelism.