Some Thoughts On The Church

The reality is that the church has been its own worst enemy. Poll after poll shows younger Americans believing the church to be made up of judgmental hypocrites who seek to force some kind of fixed, ancient, tired dogma down their throats. They are fed up with rituals, traditions, and mindless ancient forms masquerading as authentic, relevant faith. They are tired – especially the millennials – tired of ideals compromised for political expediency. They are tired of seeing religion co-opted by manipulative politicians. They are fed up with the church, as they have experienced it. And who can blame them? I am afraid that we professionally religious types – that’s the folks who wear the robes and the collars like me – will have a lot of explaining to do when we get to heaven and see the mud that we have heaped up on the bride of Christ.

But I would suggest, that it is exactly because we have not been the church that we are supposed to be, it is exactly because we present a muddied version of the church, that confidence in the church is leaking like a sieve. We have not been what we are supposed to be. As a result, people are looking for eternity, for identity and purpose, they are looking for faith in the pretenders of our world and bypassing the only authentic expression of the body of Christ. This happens because we are presenting a stunted pretender claiming to be the church.

We need to confess where we have come up short. We need to quit relying on our own power and instead embrace the power of a Holy Spirit whose presence we celebrate on this day of Pentecost. We need to embrace the seeker, the questioner, and not be afraid to sit down over a cup of coffee and respectfully address our questions. We need to be unafraid to say, “I don’t know,” and courageous to point to the Christ that we do know. We need to present the church, in all its beauty and power, and not settle for the cheap church versions of our own making.

Thoughts on Memorial Day

It’s been 52 years. 52 years since I came home from elementary school without a care in the world only to find out that my father had been killed while engaged in flight operations off the coast of North Viet Nam. 52 years…..that’s a long time. 52 years…..you think I would have dealt and processed all the pain. Yet here I am in church yesterday, in the middle of announcements, unable to speak as I ask the congregation to pause in the midst of their Memorial Day celebrations to remember and give thanks for those who died while in service to our country. I couldn’t speak. I thought I was going to lose it. 52 years….you think I would have gotten’ over it. What a silly notion.

Its been 52 years of wondering what it would have been like to have my Dad at my sporting events, my graduations, my wedding, my ordination.

Its been 52 years of wondering if he would have approved of me going into the Marine Corps – he was a Navy aviator after all.

Its been 52 years of wondering what he would have thought of my wife, my college, my commitment to follow God’s call into fulltime ministry.

Its been 52 years of wondering how he would have related to our daughters – his grandchildren. Would he have taken them camping, shooting, fishing like he did with his children?

Its been 52 years of wondering what he would have thought of our political climate. As a man who believed in duty, honor, and service I can’t believe he would be too thrilled.

Its been 52 years of missed experiences, and yet he has been with me the entire time. I have heard his voice. I have sensed his presence.

He’s gone, but he has never left me. I will always be thankful for his love, his strong sense of honor, faith, and service. I want to believe that he would be proud – not just of me, but also of my brothers and sister. He taught us well. Our mother continued the lessons he began.

Memorial Day means many things to many people. For me it will always be a time to wonder…..and give thanks.

Loving Your Enemies

Loving our enemies begins with thoughtfulness and then leads to praying for their well-being. It means praying for God’s love and mercy for them. It means praying for their welfare, the welfare of their families, the welfare of those whom they love.

In doing so, in praying for our enemies, we are then placing ourselves in a position before God for God to bless us. And what might God bless us with? First and foremost, the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let’s face it, on our own, by our own will this is almost impossible. But as the Spirit fills us; as the Spirit turns our hearts from anger and hatred; as the Spirit moves us to what is right, what is noble…………then we are changed as well.

As the Holy Spirit blesses our intentions; as the Holy Spirit blesses our thoughtfulness, as the Holy Spirit fills our hearts and minds with alternatives to reaction and payback, then our spirit begins to take on the flavor of God’s Spirit. We begin to change. Our emotions begin to shift. From reactive anger to thoughtful consideration. From faithful consideration to heartfelt prayers. From heartfelt prayers to changes in our spirit. We begin to love – even our enemies.

Payback?

Contentiousness and evil are expressed, not just with weapons, but even more often with words, aren’t they? Bullying – in person and especially online is at epidemic proportions. Conversation in the civil arena seems only marginally better. We excuse the worst kind of behavior – both in words and in action – with the excuse, “Well, this other group was doing it long before I started.” Sometimes it sounds as though our public conversation is coming from the playground.  

If my children were here, they could tell you of the lack of success that they had whenever they came to me, seeking to justify their behavior with the explanation that someone else had first done something equally bad. You can imagine my reply. It was typically some form of, “Well, that may be true, but in this family we……yada, yada, yada.” You know how it goes.

Today politicians on all sides routinely justify their verbal attacks, lying, legislative inertia, incompetence, and outright obstructionism by the misbehavior of opposing groups. Wow, if we don’t let our five-year old children get away with this argument, why do we let our politicians?

There is another way.

Paul suggests that we live in a world where we constantly have choices. Things come to us – things good and bad come to us as part of a cycle, a system, a course of action. When it becomes our turn, when we are up, are we simply going to join in? Are we going to enter into the cycle as a participant? Are we going to continue the course of events – maybe even accelerate them so that the brokenness continues?

Or, are we going to say no? Are we going to say, to the extent that we are able, that on this day and in this event, this cycle of behavior – at the very least – will not include me if not will actually stop with me?  Will the cycle of evil, the cycle of misbehavior stop with me or will it be encouraged or even accelerated by me?

No longer is mutually assured destruction a permissible course of behavioral action. No eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. No. Jesus radically elevates our opportunity. Not only are we not to meet an adversary with a negative – albeit defensive response, no. Now we are to act in our adversary’s best interest. That doesn’t mean caving. That doesn’t mean being a willing floor mat to be walked on. But it does mean acting and desiring God’s best for everyone we encounter, even those that oppose us.

It means being fair to those who may not be fair. It means being honest, even with those who are willing to be dishonest. It means rejecting the cynical notion that the ends justify the means. It means being willing to sacrifice for those who oppose you for the greater good of all.

We are called to break the cycles of evil as they come by us. Are you willing? How do yu see that happening?

Thoughts From Sunday

So what does it men to be salt and light today?

First, I think we have to be willing to make a difference. That means standing up, being counted, taking risks, and not settling for the lowest common cultural denominator. It means extending ourselves, being other-oriented.

Being salt and light can be simple and direct.

It means being willing to look into the eyes of everyone you meet. So many times we walk past the down and out and it is as though we don’t even acknowledge that they are there. We don’t want to make eye contact. Perhaps that eye contact might suggest to us some kind of connection or responsibility that we don’t want.

It means offering kind words instead of indifference and even silence. I have a friend who has worked in the service industry most of his life. “Jim,” he would say to me, “it is amazing to me how people think they can talk to us. Rude. Brusque. Dismissive. It’s like we are not even human.”

To be salt and light is to be generous with your time, your resources, your compassion as you recognize the image and likeness of God in the welfare mother, the addict, the homeless, the alternative kid.

To be salt and light means that you are unwilling to sink to what has become permissible in our public conversations – particularly on social media. It shouldn’t matter what others are willing to do. It shouldn’t matter what permission anonymity gives us on social media. It shouldn’t matter to what level other are willing to sink. We are people of God. We are salt and light. We should always talk or communicate as though Jesus is in the room or reading our post.  

The prophet Isaiah speaks of letting loose the bonds of injustice and letting the oppressed go free. So maybe being salt and light looks like politics that is less about power and control and more about equality, diversity, and the inherent dignity of every human being.

What does being salt and light look like for you?