RICK’S BLOG


LOOKING BACK, GOING FORWARD

LOOKING BACK, GOING FORWARD

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This last weekend (December 1st, to be exact) 160 years ago a small congregation of 13 was chartered as FIRST CHRISTIAN CHURCH of Andersontown, Indiana.  They met as an “official” congregation in the Chestnut Grove Schoolhouse on Mounds Road.  This newly chartered congregation had been meeting, in fits and starts, since 1834, mostly in the home of Andy Steward, at 11th & Central.

As the village, town, and city of Andersontown (and later, simply, Anderson) grew, declined and grew again…so did the congregation. By 1861, a mere 3 years since their charter, the congregation had grown from 13 to 1168 souls.  A church building was needed and so, on the corner of 13th & Main (home of THE TOAST now) the first building was built, and the first “official” Pastor was called.

By 1880 the organ was installed and used regularly in worship and for special occasions.  A choir loft was built some 5 years later…and thus the legacy of art and music at Central was born.

The congregation was large enough now to move to a newer larger home.  In 1886 a lot on the corner of Jackson & 10th was purchased for $5000.00 for a new sanctuary.  Groundbreaking was December 1899, and the dedication was a short year later: December 1900.  With the move a name change was in order.  As there was another congregation in Anderson going by the name FIRST CHRISTIAN the congregation at Jackson & 10th chose to rename themselves CENTRAL CHRISTIAN.

A 52-day revival led by the renowned preacher, Charles Reign Scoville, the congregation grew in size from 463 to over 2000 members – the largest Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the world at the time. 

These were our beginnings, our roots.  Why is this all important to know?  Because HOPE (as we have learned) is based on A GOAL, A PATHWAY to the Goal, and the FAITH in God and ourselves as partners to reach the goal.  Did those 13 members in 1858 see this place, these people, this town?  In a way, I believe they did…or none of us would be here. 

It is vitally important to remember where and how God took us from one place to another.  Our vision is sadly short-sighted when it comes to dreaming, casting, and HOPING.  To look back and remember is sometimes a very good thing.

It is because of God’s plan, grace, love, strength, and protection that we are CENTRAL CHRISTIAN CHURCH today – what will the next 160 years bring?  That is up to the partnership between God and us…it all depends on HOPE: Goal, Pathway, & Faith.

 

For a more detailed look at CENTRAL CHRISTIAN’s history, click here:
http://www.central-christian-church.com/about-us-2/


INVITATION TO THE PARTY

INVITATION TO THE PARTY

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Ahhh, Christmas Parties; one of the best things about the season, as far as I’m concerned.  Any excuse to get together with friends simply to get together.  Alright, there’s the food and drink, and that’s nice too, but really, how often do we take the time simply to BE with our friends?  Not often enough, so it seems.

I’m looking forward to a few get-togethers during the next few weeks, various hosts and various types of parties and dinners, and various “gigs”, but in each case I was invited, and accepted the invitation.  It was simple.  I didn’t have to fill out a form, join a club, recite an incantation, it was simply an invitation from a friend.  Some parties I’ve attended over the years have been popular and sometimes people have worked hard at getting invitations.  Some parties have been quiet, improvised and spontaneous, some elaborate and well-planned months in advance.  But in all cases the people who attended were asked by the host and accepted the invitation.  They were invited because the host wanted them there.  They were invited because they were family.  And they attended because they accepted the invitation.

The chaos and tension between denominations and between believers is often about the discussion as to who is a part of the Kingdom of God, and who will “go to heaven”.  It is often a contentious debate which requires PERSON A to do what they are commanded NOT to do (according to the scripture), which is to pronounce judgment about PERSON B’s heart and behavior.  It is, for some, the bottom-line discussion which separates the sacred from the profane.  If PERSON A feels that another doesn’t fulfill the requirements (as THEY see them) it doesn’t matter how good and fine PERSON B is, they are obviously NOT “going to Heaven” so do not deserve the love of other self-identified Christians.  Now, I’m not talking about harmful and destructive behavior, I’m talking about theological differences and people seeing God from a different angle.  I’m talking about people who made read the same Bible but come to different conclusions than another.  To pass judgment on those types of things requires a knowledge that no human has: the ability to read hearts.  All of this requires an authority that is not given to humans: the authority to judge, which is God’s place alone.

And yet it is so simple.  Who is a part of the Kingdom?  Who will be allowed to walk on the streets of gold?  God’s friends, who are given the invitation and accept.  It requires one to be a friend of God, not necessarily a friend of yours or mine.  It requires one to accept the invitation, given by God, not necessarily given by you or me.

It does Not require one to make a decision about attending, based on who else will be there.

There IS going to be a party.  WHO will be there?  Those who are friends of God, those who have been invited by God…those who have accepted the invitation.  This season, let us assume that ALL have been invited; sinners, seekers and saints…and treat them accordingly.  

After all, there are probably some who don’t believe you will be there either.


THE DEBT OF THANKS

THE DEBT OF THANKS

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Well, we’re coming up to one of my favorite Sundays of the Church Year…THANKSGIVING SUNDAY!

I don’t know why this has always been one of my favorites…it could be because Autumn is my favorite time of year, or that I always got to be with my cousins, etc. on Thanksgiving, or that Christmas is right around the corner. Whatever the reason, there’s something about Thanksgiving that speaks to MY heart and soul in a way that no other holiday does.

I’ve never really had an unbroken “tradition” related to Thanksgiving, each year has been a little different, some here in Anderson, some in Seattle, some in Chicago…followed by a little Christmas shopping the next day. This year, we will be in Havana (Cuba). I’ve had turkey, ham, lobster and even German food on Thanksgiving…who knows what it will be this year. So it’s not the “tradition” that I love so much.

When asked about their favorite holidays, recently on THE TODAY SHOW (NBC)…almost all the personalities working on the show said that theirs was also THANKSGIVING. When asked “why?” they almost unanimously replied that it was non-commercialized, a time with family and friends, and little else on the agenda.

Although I’m not a sentimentalist, that is probably what I love also; the time to just enjoy family and friends and reflect on how blessed I am to be surrounded by those whom I love.

“Thanks” is a word, according to the scripture, that needs to be said often, and out loud, to God and to our friends. Thanks in and during all times and in all situations. THANKS, at the beginning of the day, THANKS at the end of the day. THANKS for the small things and thanks for the larger things.

Why is an expression of gratitude so important to God? I’m not a super-theologian, but I know that when I say, “thank you” to God it reminds me that ALL good gifts come from Him; that I am not responsible for my own provision, really. I am reminded that my mere presence on earth is subject to His whim, and anything that is good in my life is because of Him. When I realize that I love Him more.

When we say, “thanks” to each other, we realize that we are not separate lives, each going about our own business on courses of our own, disconnected from the rest of the world…but in reality are “owing” one another…we are “in debt” to the ones we love, and even the ones who serve us that we don’t know…we are, in short, connected to each other and will not win the game of life without their help.

The one who receives the “thank you” is empowered because they are recognized. A “thank you” is like a little more fuel that cause one to go further, strive longer, jump higher and when we say “thank you” we are using the power of the Holy Spirit to fill and fuel another person for good.

That’s why the words, “thanks” and “giving” go so well together.

Give THANKS to the Lord, for He is good.” PSALM 136

“Give THANKS to each other, for that IS God.” (RV)


GOD'S GOOD NAME

GOD’S GOOD NAME

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In these last few months of campaign ads, I’ve noticed that God’s name gets thrown around a lot here in the mid-west, as endorsing or condemning persons or issues.  God’s name gets used to justify acts that are Godly or not.

Poor God.

The scripture has been used to argue that all planets revolved around the earth (including the sun) and anyone who taught differently was a heretic.  The scripture was used to argue that the earth was flat, that Jews were evil, that anyone of dark skin didn’t have a soul, that slavery was ordained by God, that women were not allowed to lead or speak in church or anywhere else, and we could go ‘round and ‘round about what the scripture is used to argue against, and for, these days.

Poor God.

In an effort to justify our own prejudices and keep the world around us from growing, from expanding, from changing, we will use God as our excuse and translate the Bible into our own “language”.  We use His name in vain as we stamp it on all of our agendas with their conditions and clauses that keep people we don’t like at arms’ length.  It’s been happening for centuries and we still do it…even in church.

Part of the problem is that most of us have a picture of God that is too small.  We have a box that we put Him in, and He won’t be kept in a box.  When He behaves beyond the definition that we have kept in our hearts, we question whether that is really Him.  Is His grace really that large?  Is His Kingdom really that expansive?  Is His love really that unconditional?  Is His reality and His universe really that infinite?

I know that the God who is all powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, can’t possibly be hurt by this..He can take care of Himself.  However, He gets blamed for some really stupidly-human things.  The only people who are hurt by this “misuse” of God and His name are ourselves.

Praise God.

The answer, of course, is to give God back His good name.  That’s what PRAISE is, it is “telling Him who He is”, not because HE needs to know, but because WE need to be reminded.  PRAISE gives Him back His good name.  PRAISE is to be done in front of other people.  PRAISE Him, in front of the people, for the fact that He is NOT the one who says:

“Grace is only afforded to those who go to church.”

“Love is only given to those who follow the rules.”

“Your heart might be in the right place, but if you make the wrong decision or make one too many mistakes, I won’t love you anymore.”

No, He’s the one who says,

“My grace is sufficient.” 

“God so love THE WORLD…”

and “Man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart.” 

 He is the God who does not “label” us, but “loves” us.  The scripture is just one witness to God.  There are many others: the congregation, the Spirit, nature, for example.  And all those witnesses, combined, still don’t encompass the entirety of God’s being.  So who are WE to label HIM?  Who are WE to decide what HE says is good, what HE loves, what HE blesses?

Hopefully we, at Central, have gotten beyond the place where we use the scripture to do anything but find a foundation, a beginning of a wonderful friendship with the One who created and preserves us, who fills us with His own breath and shows us (when we are able to see) His Kingdom on earth, as we follow Him.  Let us never misuse His words to argue our own agenda because we have chosen to be the judge of our fellow travelers on earth

Let us never assume that God fits into our little box of godliness.  Let us always seek for the wonderful, the surprising, and the untamed God that truly allows us to learn for ourselves that He restores us to our original concept as His gracious gift, that ALL people are His creation and children, that His love knows NO BOUNDS, and that the earth is NOT flat.  It is part of a stunning universal dance that HE put in place…

…and that there is more to this life than we will ever know, until we sit down to dinner in the Age-To-Come.

Let us celebrate the God who doesn’t own a “label-maker”….but loves us because of who HE is, not who WE are.


EMILY

EMILY

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It all began as I watched her create her art, outside on my porch.  I was fascinated at her steady and strong work to create something both practical and beautiful.  To watch her delicate movements was like watching a dance…it was beautiful enough that I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

This was strange, because I had once been afraid of her.  That fear turned to fascination, then admiration, and then a mutual understanding and friendship.  Because I had never seen her as an individual, nor had I ever taken the time to notice her distinct gifts, personality and beauty.

In our imagined conversation I asked her for her name.  She told me it was Emily.  I expressed my thanks for allowing me to watch her.  She graciously, and somewhat blushingly allowed me within the confines of her workspace, but not too far.  I frightened her, she said.

“I frighten YOU?”, I asked.

She seemed shocked at my response and asked me to take a moment and look at myself from her point of view.  I was much larger, unknown, and she has children to protect and feed.  My presence alone is a threat not just to her, but to her entire family.  Having that “epiphany” I said that I understood, and kept my ground…a comfortable distance between us.

“But I’ve always been afraid of YOU.”, I said.

She smiled and looked at me as if I were a small child.  How could I fear her, she wondered?

“Because I didn’t know you”, I said.  “You are foreign to me, being even a different species”.

Her movements were furtive sometimes, and seemingly aggressive other times…she startled me.  AND I had heard she loved and lived in the dark spaces, poison was her weapon…to say nothing of her startling appearance, which strangely, as we spoke together, began to work on me as more exotic beauty than ugliness.

She smiled again, pausing in her work.  She asked if I didn’t see any sort of aggression I might feel from her was merely an instinct to be aware of something that could, without even realizing it, kill her?

And once again I had an epiphany.  My fear and distance were based on untruth.  My hate was based on tradition and misinformation.

Had I but taken the time to know a single spider, I would have had different feelings about all spiders.

Emily weaves a silken stained-glass window each evening; it is a wonder to behold.  Practical (not only food for her family, but keeps a certain amount of bugs away from the house) and beautiful; new each night.  We not only now live in peace, we live in harmony…she has become a friend.

How many faces, seen through the years, have I written off because I didn’t take the time to see what they created, or to ask why they behaved with fear or aggression toward me?  How many people have I written off because not only did they not look or behave like me.  How many have I ignored because I did not understand them, I didn’t WANT to understand them.  How many people have I seen as different, and therefore inferior to me.  God forgive me. And God forgive us all.

“Emily” has taught me a great lesson in God’s charge to love even my enemies.  She has taught me that loving even the least significant (from OUR perspectives) you love God.

I let Emily know that I’d still be wary of her, if she were in my house…she said the feeling was mutual.

“For you were all baptized into The King, and have put on Himself.  So now there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female…you are all unified with The King, Jesus.  And if you belong to The King, then you are also Abraham’s descendants; heirs to the promise God gave to him.  GALATIANS 3:27-29


FROSTY PUMPKINS

FROSTY PUMPKINS

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It’s that time of year again, when I think about this poem (which someone also used as their audition monologue for our Alley Theatre this last weekend):

WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then the time a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock…”

My mom used to quote this poem, by local Hoosier James Whitcomb Riley, to me when I was young.  I never dreamed that I’d live in Riley’s part of the country, and experience the color of his words in this poem.   Not only that, but I’m kind of surprised that many people here in Anderson don’t know that he lived here (yes, here in Anderson) and was a reporter/writer for the ANDERSON DEMOCRAT (the 1877 Anderson newspaper).

Riley was despondent over the fact that he could not get his poems published.  And so this unknown poet wrote a poem, entitled “LEONAINIE” and signed it with the letters E.A.P.  Another reporter from a rival newspaper in Kokomo linked the poem to the poet, EDGAR ALLEN POE and it was immediately and widely circulated as a “long-lost Poe poem”.  This proved Riley’s point that only famous, published writers EVER got published, and those with just as much talent, but of no fame NEVER got published.

Riley announced the hoax after much national acclaim for “LEONAINIE” and was promptly fired from the ANDERSON DEMOCRAT, not because of the hoax, but because the Kokomo paper got all of the notoriety that Anderson thought it deserved.  Someone, however, noticed the brilliance of Riley’s writing style, and gave him a chance…the rest is history.

Things have a way of working out.  And although James Whitcomb Riley gave no claim to being a believer or follower of Christ, this story does remind me that Jesus also has a way of working through tangles that He Himself did not cause; through our own deception and convoluted lives to bring out something of worth, beauty, and quality.

When I look at the path we at CENTRAL CHRISTIAN took to get to the place we are now, I am astounded.  I have no doubts that I “all things work together for good, for those and with those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”, but sometimes, in the middle of dark times, and frustrating times (as was the case with James W. Riley) when one KNOWS that they’re not doing what they were MADE to do…God seems somewhat distant.

I’m here to tell you that God has better things in mind for you then you could possibly realize, His plans are always perfect, His dreams are bigger than YOUR dreams, and it’s always darkest just before sunrise.

James Whitcomb Riley made his own plans to gain fame, to achieve the recognition that he thought he deserved.  Sometimes I think like that also and rely on my own limited wisdom to move forward.  But in the Kingdom of God, we should always realize that God has ALL the answers where we have few, God sees ALL things where we see but a little, God’s plan is perfect for EVERYONE involved, not just us.

So today, as you experience the “frost on the pumpkin”, think of Anderson’s own James Whitcomb Riley (who is rumored to have visited Central Christian Church with a local friend) and remember that you have a destiny, God knows your gifts, let HIM decide when the world should notice…

…and it will be perfect for everyone!


CROSS PURPOSES

CROSS PURPOSES

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In my office at church I have a wall filed with crosses.  Some are big, some are small, some metal and some wood.  Some are hand-made, others a little more industrial.

When I moved into my office (2007) I had 5 crosses that I wanted to display, but that was too few to really know what to do with…so I went to HOBBY LOBBY, where there was a sale on “wall décor” (including crosses) and got the idea for a “wall of crosses” from their display…the beauty was in the way each item was a cross, but each significantly individual and unique…I purchased another 5 crosses to add to my collection.

Soon after, my Dad sent me 2 crosses that he had carved upon the occasion of me stepping into the pulpit at Central, I received a couple of “gift crosses” upon my installation and since then have received several more from weddings, etc.  I’ve also started collecting a cross when I travel, if I see an interesting one.  All that to say, my wall now is covered a bit and I’ll need to start moving crosses around to the next wall.  It looks like I’m trying to keep vampires out of the office, at this point.

As I write, I can look up and directly at the “cross wall” and see some beautiful crosses, some crosses that have a meaning because of who gave them, or where I purchased them…but they all have an “intrinsic” value because of their own beauty.

On one hand…The cross: an implement of torturous death.  Even the symbol of a cross could strike a deep and unfathomable fear in the people of Jesus’ day.  This method of execution was devised as to cause as much suffering as possible, while displaying the suffering as a warning to anyone else who might think of crossing the Roman government of the time.  The cross: a symbol, not only of state-sanctioned death, but state-sanctioned inhuman torture…an horrific symbol, one that Believers and Followers since have stared at daily without, perhaps, knowing the implications of such a symbol, or feeling the depth of terror that symbol would strike in all of our Believing and Following forebears.  To think that such a symbol would be carved with such love, worn as jewelry, and decorating a Pastor’s wall is almost morbidly-idiotic.

On the other hand…God, the “Spiritual Rumplestiltskin”…as I like to call Him sometimes, since He “turns straw into gold”…has taken the cross and actually re-created it as a thing of beauty, goodness and truth.  The mere fact that this instrument of torture and death, used on His own Son, has become a symbol for a beautiful gift of freedom and love is also unfathomable.  God, who takes the chaos and makes order, takes garbage and makes jewels, takes the broken things and makes them new…God, who currently is restoring the entire world to newness and prepping it for the Age to Come has done a wonderful thing with this cross.

We often hear, “Everything happens for a reason.”  Which, and I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, is NOT truth…well not the whole truth.  Bad things are generally not something that God plans, in fact the “reason” much, if not all, of the bad things in the world happen because we’re stupid and make BAD choices…THAT’s the “reason”.  What God does is take the bad and make it good.  God takes the tangle that we’ve created, and at our request, creates a tapestry. Wasn’t the evilness of the cross part of God’s “plan”? The sacrifice that needed to be made by His Son was necessary.  Were the evil plans and thoughts of those who eventually led Jesus through the streets and to Golgotha all a part of God’s will?  Of course not, and neither were any of those people involved mere robots or puppets without a choice…but God knew, because He exists “out of time” and could see what was GOING to happen (from our perspective of time) before it actually happened to us…and the evil became beautiful.  It is God to make “all things new”.  It is in His nature (and ours, for that matter) to “re-create”.

And so, I display my wall of crosses proudly.  This evil thing, this wicked idea to make another human suffer the pain and humility of inhuman death has been turned…as all things that are imperfect, wicked, twisted and evil will also turn.

When I look at my wall now, I try to remember the “journey” this cross made, from something designed to tortuously kill to something that is, for me, a gate to the garden.


SALT

SALT

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After my trip to ISRAEL I’ve been “bulking up” on bacon!  I had 9 days without it on the trip, and suffered from withdrawal, I’m afraid.  One of the best things about bacon (and my other addiction, popcorn) is that I crave “salty and crunchy” things.  You can keep your sugar…even chocolate does not have the same appeal as bacon, popcorn, taco chips, mixed nuts…and anything else like that.

I like salt.  And although I’m trying to be very careful about exactly how much salt I ingest, since I’m of “that age”, I still like it.  And when I was researching about the properties of salt, etc found this very interesting fact:  Salt, though it, technically, has it’s own “flavor”, it is known more for “jump-starting” our taste buds, opening them up to accept MORE flavor, causing us to want MORE food.

Now I’ve been enlightened even more about Jesus’ words, “You are the SALT of the earth.”  Not only is salt a preservative and flavoring but it actually causes those tasting it to want MORE.  When we are truly the SALT OF THE EARTH we cause those around us to want more of what we have: life, light, peace, love.  And, as Jesus also says, when “salt has lost its flavor” (by sitting around being unused) then it is good for nothing but to make roads with.  Old salt kills, so if it is spread on grass or growth it will kill it, a great way to make paths and roads, back in the day.

It’s not used so much today, but SALT used to be one of the main preservatives of foods that otherwise wouldn’t last too long.  The fish from the Galilee used to be salted and shipped to Rome, where it was used as soldiers’ food while they conquered the world.

Another obvious lesson from this “physical metaphor” of this “spiritual truth” is that TOO MUCH salt doesn’t make the food taste better.  That’s a lesson in discretion, kindness, and benevolence.  How many times has the “good news” of Jesus been ruined because it’s been forced down someone’s throat, as opposed to “sprinkled with care” in JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNTS to make life flavorful?

SALT – the flavor-enhancer/attractor and preservative.

And so…if your “salt” is being poured out of the shaker each time you have any connection with those around you, they are getting a “taste” of the full life that you have from God.  It’s available to them as well.  However, if you keep it to yourself it not only becomes useless it actually becomes poison.  To not share the life and light of God is actually bad for YOU and those around you.

When Jesus said to His disciples, and the thousands of others sitting on the mountain, listening to Him teach, “All of you are the salt of the earth” He was speaking precisely of these attributes…it is a created attribute: we have the ability to make people hungry for Jesus, we have the ability to preserve TRUE life as first given to us by Him. 

All this reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures, a rare picture of the love of God compared to flavor:

PSALM 34:8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

 


OUR DAMASCUS ROAD

OUR DAMASCUS ROAD

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His Hebrew name was Saul, and his Greek name was Paul.  I’ve been reading his letters in the scripture for as long as I can remember.  My relationship with him is complicated.  I can’t really blame him.  Part of the frustration I have with Saul/Paul is that everything letter of his is partial, and fragmented.  We have his answers to questions we don’t have a record of.  He also didn’t write his letters with the intent of writing scripture.  He spoke to specific people at specific times and places, and although the principles behind and through everything he wrote can have application to us…the times are different and so are the problems.  In the end, though, people haven’t changed all that much.

The other day I was reading about the beginning of Paul’s life and his miraculous encounter with Jesus and subsequent change of heart.  I really saw something I hadn’t paid attention to before.  His work; seeking out the “People of the Way” within the synagogues, and brutally overseeing their banishment, to rupture and even deaths…was all because of his radical belief.  He was doing it in the name of God and the church.

On this day, as I read the story of Paul (at this point called, “Saul”) on the road to Damascus, doing the work of the Church (the heads of the Church commissioned him specifically) when he is blinded by a light, falls to the ground and hears the voice of Jesus,

“Saul, why are you persecuting ME?”

For all the times I have read this story it really never sunk in that Saul/Paul was persecuting those called Christians, according to HIS reading of the scripture, the belief of HIS heart AND with the full teaching and authority of the Church…all of which was PERSECUTING JESUS.

So, even today, can the Church and Jesus be at odds? 

Many people in this place and time have left the organized Church.  Ask them why.  The polls clearly show that many leave because they are tired of the dogma, the judgmental attitudes, the outdated liturgy, OR over-produced “Broadway-style” presentation called “worship”.  And yet, many of those who have left the Church still feel as though they have become hyper-spiritually-sensitive.  It’s not God they’ve left, it’s the Church, because the Church doesn’t seem to represent the God they understand speaking to them.  There is the other camp, those who say they grow weary of “Church-bashing” because after all the Church is the “Body of Christ” and you can’t have Jesus without the Church (the Groom without the Bride).

Personally, and those of you who worship with me know this, I am somewhere in the middle. My “passion” (to use an over-used term) is for the restoration of the Church.  I grieve for the “lost” also but, as Paul himself states, there is NO EXCUSE for not recognizing God where He is.  Most of the “lost” that I know are looking for a Home, a place where they find people who love them, and accept them and their belief. Home should be the Community of Faith, where Jesus sits in the big chair.  There, people who are seeking a home find unconditional love from the community.  When they question why people love them, they are introduced to the Head of the community.  But if the Church doesn’t have it together to begin with, then “the lost” are up a creek called “you-know-what”, without a paddle.

So, once again, can the Church and Jesus be at odds?

Of course they can!  I picture tonsils (yes, tonsils).  They are placed by God at the gateway to the body to protect against the onset of viruses and germs.  Sometimes they get so overrun with poison that they not only can’t protect the body they actually turn against and poison the body, and thus have to be removed.  And so it can be with a group of people who organize themselves according to like belief and preference and call themselves a “church”.  The very thing that should be a guard and protector, the way to Restoration, becomes itself the poison.

Yes, the Church has always been built of human stones, humanity is imperfect and the scriptures continue to tell us that the Church won’t be perfect until the Day of the Lord and the Age-to-Come. But is THAT an excuse to just let it go?  Far from it!  The world is filled with Believers & Followers doing the wrong thing because they are listening to themselves rather than to Jesus.  They follow their own logic based on a limited idea of God’s plan and behave according to what they believe the right thing is, thus creating God in their image: the big mistake of the Church leaders during the time Jesus walked in our flesh.

As soon as we individually (or the Church, corporately) rely on our own self-will, stubborn reliance on dogma, reluctance to open our minds to the “living and active” scripture-beyond-the-page, we will fail as the Body of Jesus the King.  It is faithful, sincere, humbling and desperate adherence to the heartbeat, voice, and hand of Jesus that brings us to the purity that is His own community of faith.

The Church’s own Road to Damascus will happen when a congregation treats the scripture like a book of charms, treat tradition like scripture, and treat Jesus like their own metaphysical Santa Claus.  It will happen when a congregation seeks out that which THEY label as sin while missing the “beam in their own eyes”, and the Light of God in EVERY soul.  And it will happen when a community of faith believes they are the ONLY community of faith and act accordingly.

There will be a day, and already has been for many a congregation, when the Light will blind, and the voice will say, “Church, Church, why do you persecute Me?”

Can the Church and Jesus be at odds? 

Yes.

Can the Church be restored with the Groom?

Yes, and She will be, either by Believers & Followers’ choice…or by the crisis to follow if the Church blindly puts Jesus behind their own human construct; their own “religion”.  The Good News is, we have the power to make the choice, with the help of the Spirit who leads us into ALL Truth.

We can avoid being blinded by opening our eyes.


FAITH & WORSHIP

FAITH & WORSHIP

Written By:

“I don’t believe in God anymore,” I overheard her say to a friend on the phone, while we were both in line at PAYLESS, “I just know too many hypocrites.”

I was so happy to have a theme for this week’s email that I didn’t turn around and say, “So if you saw a man walking on the streets of Anderson with bad hair, would you stop believing in barbers, too?”  Seriously, when John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Reagan (in an effort to appease the actress Jodi Foster) did anyone blame JODI FOSTER?  I know it’s difficult, because for many people BELIEVERS & FOLLOWERS are the ONLY reflection of God they see, but please, let’s not blame God for some of His wacky followers.

This overheard conversation was on the heels of another that I was a part of, just a few days before, when an acquaintance stated that they had stopped going to their church because they don’t like the new Director of Music.  That all may be true, and her Director of Music may indeed be a moron…but is worship about the him/her, or the Pastor, or the sanctuary, or the worship style?

On the other hand, is WORSHIP/CHURCH-GOING and FAITH a “burden we have to bear”, like medicine, or in-laws, or spin class?  Absolutely not.   Worship, connected to our Faith, should unlock doors, unclip wings, open windows…and, in short, set us free!

Unfortunately, FAITH and WORSHIP are so strongly tied to individual paradigms, preferences, history and deep-seated emotion that it is difficult to separate all of that from what Worship actually requires.

You and I have songs which suddenly stir up a memory that causes us to feel secure, safe, loved – and we want to hear that song in worship (for some it’s AMAZING GRACE and others, PASS IT ON).  Music is something that makes worship wonderful for us.  However, does my pew-mate, who doesn’t have MY history or sentiment, feel the same way?  Of course not.   One congregation in which I ministered, had an extraordinarily-great Sacred Dance team; professional and beautiful.  Sitting on the same pew, experiencing the same worship moment of dance, one parishioner said that she had a problem with dance in the sanctuary because dance was “of the devil”, or so she had been taught.  In the same pew was a deaf worshipper who said that she was always thrilled when we had dance because it was the one part of worship for her that didn’t need to be interpreted.  The woman who didn’t enjoy the dance realized the truth that dance isn’t “of the devil”, but her paradigm and history with dance colored her perception of it in worship, it was generational and based on childhood experience and teaching.  The deaf worshiper, who had no other experience in church, had no such preconceptions.  The first lady wasn’t going to leave the church or stop worshiping because she didn’t enjoy the dance, and the second wasn’t defining ALL of worship by her emotional tie to dance, and limited personal experience of worship…both were wise in their decisions.

I like hamburgers, but I prefer Burger King over MacDonalds, when it comes to burgers.  On the other hand, MacDonalds has Burger King beat when it comes to milk shakes and fries.  They both sell burgers but the rest is up to personal preference, or what “speaks to me” (shakes and fries DO speak to me…BTW).  I prefer worship like ours at Central, with scripture, prayer, hymns from the hymnal, communion, pipe organ and some good tradition.  Down the street, however, is a church that doesn’t own any hymnals, the Pastor might read one scripture and the songs go one, one after another, for 30 minutes…after that the Pastor preaches for an hour…and the congregation LOVES it.  Both congregations worship (that’s the burger), but one congregation prefers their worship (burger) with ketchup and the other with mayo.  Is one right and the other wrong?  No.  If one is unhappy with their worship should they cease believing?  No.  Should they find a worship pattern that speaks to them?  Yes.  As long as they’re serving burgers¸ then it’s just a matter of finding the way one likes it prepared.

When a worshiper sits in worship unhappy and tense because they don’t like the songs, the pastor, the “style”, should they stop believing in worship?  Of course not.  What they don’t like isn’t “worship”, it’s the peripherals.

When a person labeling themselves as “Christian” treats another human being in a manner that would make Jesus wanna slap ‘em upside the head, should we stop believing in God?  Of course not, the problem isn’t God, it’s the follower.

At the heart of FAITH and WORSHIP are the same elements: Spirit & Truth or Heart & Mind.  Everything else is flexible.  Everything else is commentary.  Everything else is a “condiment.”

 

JOHN 4:7-26

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
“Give Me a drink,” Jesus said to her, for His disciples had gone into town to buy food.
“How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman? ” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.”
“Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again — ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well , of water springing up within him for eternal life.”
“Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”
“Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.”
“I don’t have a husband,” she answered.
“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’ ” Jesus said. “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
“Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, , yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus told her, “Believe Me, woman , an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah , is coming” (who is called Christ ). “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
“I am He,” Jesus told her, “the One speaking to you.”