Thursday, September 25, 2014

Country Club or Hospital

When we were kids my sister and I would often spend time at my dad's church office.  They had this super powerful electronic stapler that we were clearly and strongly instructed to not get near or touch due to the potential of bodily harm that such a device posed for two little kids.  These instructions had a clear understanding that failure to follow the rules would carry with it dire consequences. 

Due to the fact that I was always super obedient and the perfect child(and the favorite one which is clearly demonstrated and confirmed by our mother....) I followed this rule.  My squirrely little sister on the other hand....well....lets just say she was not as perfect as I was(and am).  One day she happened to stick her thumb into the opening, causing the stapler to launch a staple right through her nail and thumb.  Realizing that she had broken a rule that carried consequences she kept it to herself and quietly whimpered in the corner holding(and hiding) her thumb. 

For a few hours that day she kept it a secret, avoiding our parents and clearly being sad.  Finally, upon going back home my mom held her and asked her what was wrong.  My sister tearfully said she didn't want to say because she didn't want to get in trouble.  After some convincing and promising that she could tell mom anything, she finally revealed the heinous injury.  In the blink of an eye she was rushed to the ER to have it removed. 

The worst part is that she didn't even get in trouble.  I though at least a few spankings were in order.....because I love my sister and wanted her grow up to be a responsible adult!!  But we did learn a valuable lesson; when you are hurt mom and dad are a safe place to share your hurt and you won't be "hurt" more for sharing what happened.  Even if your pain was due to your own choices!

When you are hurting where can you go to weep? 

Sadly, for too many people, Church is the last place you think of.  Even if you go there for help it is common to have help be given with a heaping dose of judgment.  You are already hurting enough, and the last thing you want is someone telling you that you are just getting what you deserve. 

Here is the worst part about churches and pastors presenting that sort of attitude to people;  The whole message of the Gospel, which the Church is called to proclaim and practice, is that in Christ we don't get what we deserve.  Instead of hearing "Come all you who are yoke is easy and my burden is light", people hear, "Come all who are screwed up and we will give you a bunch of burdens to pile on to your exhausted shoulders".....

Many churches today are glorified Country Clubs where you come to look good and show people that you are checking off all the right "behavior" boxes.  Struggles, pain, frustration, questions and hurts make people uncomfortable.  We are here to smile, shake hands and keep up appearances. 

Christ's church is not a country club, it is a hospital.  It is SUPPOSED to be a place where people who are broken can come to be loved and have their pains treated.  How would you feel if you walked into a hospital with a broken arm and the staff looked at you like you had the plague and said, " know this is your own fault....helping you is going to be a bit inconvenient for us today.." 

When you arrive at a hospital they ask you what brings you there that day, they listen to you, they address your concerns, they do everything in their power to put you back together.  They don't ridicule you and blame you. 

They listen, empathize, and, HELP.

Many churches talk at you, judge you, and never want to help. 

Let me challenge you if you lead in a church, or, are a part of a Church.  Are you trying to maintain a country club, or, are you serving a hospital.  If your church feels a lot more like a country club, you are doing something wrong. 

When people need help, but they don't feel safe asking for help, it gets worse.  In the book of Ruth we learn about how a family runs from Israel to Moab because of a famine.  In Moab everything goes horribly wrong.  Then we find out that back in Israel, the whole time, they had a family member who was wealthy.  Why didn't they ask for help before they ran away?  We don't know. 

But this story plays itself out every day in our communities.  People are too embarrassed and afraid to ask for help.  And sadly ,things get a lot worse as they hide their pain and heart aches. 

Is it your fault that people are too afraid to ask you for help?  If no one is asking you for help, it probably is.  What are you going to do about it?


Saturday, September 20, 2014

When We Make Bad Decisions

Not sure if this is just me.....but I have a tendency to sometimes make bad decisions.  Bad decisions fall into two categories;

1)  Knowingly doing something stupid/inappropriate/harmful/irresponsible/etc.  It is common to "know" what one should do, but then doing the opposite.... There is no excuse for this...but we all find ourselves in this camp from time to time.

2)  Decisions that are good decisions, but, end up badly.  For example;  Choosing to take an unsinkable ship across the Atlantic for its maiden voyage...falling in love with a young woman, and giving her your spot on a floating door....In general, none of those decisions were necessarily bad...but why Jack, why??? 

Regardless of how we end up where we end up, our natural reaction is to say, "Why me??"  For a Christian this can be quite a challenge because we wonder why God would have allowed "this" to happen to us. 

The book of Ruth is an interesting story snuck into the early books of the Old Testament.  On the surface it is not a historical narrative detailing the exploits of heroic patriarchs of Israel, heck, the main character isn't even Jewish in the first place! 

The story starts with a fellow named Elimelek who gets worried about a famine in Israel so he runs off to Moab.  A couple of important points to this; 1)  Famine in the promised land is generally tied to Israel's sin.  We know this was during the time of the Judges, which is a period in which Israel was constantly turning their back on God.  So, instead of dealing with the consequences, Elimelek runs away.  2)  This was the PROMISED LAND!!!  Even today Jewish people contend for their place there.  But Elimelek chose to not trust God and ran away.  3)  The Jewish people were not to intermarry with the pagan nations surrounding Israel.  We see in the first chapter that Elimelek has his sons marry Moabite women(one of them being our main character Ruth).

In a nutshell, the background of the story of Ruth is; A man choosing to run from God, not trust God and sin by breaking fundamental rules God laid down for his people.  Yet here it is.  A whole book of the Bible dedicated to telling the story of a non-Jewish woman who shouldn't have even been around if Elimelek had simply honored God and trusted Him. 

But there is more.  (SPOILER ALERT)  Ruth goes on to marry a Godly man named Boaz back in Israel and she is part of the line that brings us King David and....JESUS!!!   

Elimelek knowingly and willingly made bad decisions.  And, he had bad things happen to him(he and his sons ended up dying in Moab) yet Ruth is one of the most significant people in scripture and was used by God in a miraculous and beautiful way.  We cannot miss this!

God does not MAKE bad things happen to you.  Whether by our individual choices(running from God), or, the fallout of the collective fallenness of creation that has produced a broken world that bad things are sadly common(death), bad things happen because this world is broken.  And in the midst of the tragedy and heartache God stands over it and works all things towards His promise, and, our ultimate hope. 

In the midst of things outside of her control what does Ruth choose to do?  Go to God and God's people.  Her sister-in-law chooses to go back to Moab after the death of her husband, and we never hear about her again.  Ruth chooses to follow her mother-in-law back to Israel knowing that choosing Yahweh over what she was familiar with did not immediately lend itself to a whole lot of definitive "hope" for the future. 

Our lives are shaped by bad choices and bad circumstances every day.  And in that moment of hurt and frustration we have a choice.  Either, we run from God and towards worldly comfort, or, we run towards God and eternal hope.  And the most amazing things about the hope that is found through Christ is that even our tragedies can become our crowning achievements when they are laid down at the cross.  Everything that brings us Ruth was a series of terrible choices and circumstances, but it is exactly because of these things that Ruth is a testimony to God's faithfulness and ultimate promise. 

People like to say "everything happens for a reason".  And there is SOME biblical truth to it.  But we abuse it.  All of these things can happen to us that are terrible, and the only way they can have a truly beautiful "reason" that recreates them into something meaningful is when they are given new life through the only one who can give life to that which was once dead. 

What choices will you make?

If you know it, you love it!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Group Think and Peer Pressure

We lack the strength of our convictions.  In so many ways, in so many places, we substitute individual thinking(and risk taking) for the safety of "group think".  When instead of personally defended facts and figures we lean on the ambiguous concept of "consensus" we are abdicating our responsibility to be independent moral agents and thinkers.  And here is the great inherent risk in such cowardice; Agreeing with the group will not protect you when your individual choices come home to roost. 

If everyone says that drinking bleach is good for you, there is no healing to be found when you lie in a hospital bed and say, "But but but, the "experts" said it was ok". 

Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living".   How much of life today is not worth living!  Sitting in our comfortable bubbles we expect others to do our thinking for us.  If something a bunch of people say sounds good to us, it is good enough.  Whether scientifically, politically, personally, religiously, we are in a constant tension of trying to pretend that truth is created by trending hashtagged phrases on social media.

And it is killing us.

Internally and externally. 

Here is the thing about truth;  It has no problems with being questioned!  If you question someone, or, something, and the response is mockery, ridicule, and general offendedness, then it should be a red flag that truth may not be found in such claims.  Stop asking yourself, "What do others believe?" and start asking, "What is true?"

In John 7:48 the Pharisees are furious that people are listening to Jesus.  Does one of their leaders stand up and say, "Here is my 5 point argument, with Torah footnotes, that show in detail why Jesus is a crazy person, feel free to critique my points!" ?  No, they say, "Do any of us leaders believe him??  Of course not!!!" 

No one is willing to put their individual name on the line.  They just hide behind their group think.  They never seem to want to respond to anything Jesus specifically states, they just keep arguing that the "consensus" by those who "know better" is that Jesus is a crazy person. 

We are made as individuals.  We are responsible to respond to truth claims as individuals.  Either Jesus is the son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose again, or, He is not.  There is no arguing about what other people might think.  Too often we defer our personal responsibilities by arguing about peripheral details.  Like, "What about aborigine Joe from 4000 BC?", or, "But 'those' people don't act very nice(in my opinion)". 

You, and you alone, have to address who Christ is.  Or, not.  Again, it is you and you alone who is responsible.

Don't drink bleach because someone else said it was ok.  And, don't avoid bleach because someone else said you should.  The double edge sword is if you make any decision because someone told you to, you will eventually question the reasoning.  If a friend tells you to not drink bleach and that is the only reason you don't, what if you find out that friend is a liar?  You might throw out his reasonably good point of not drinking bleach.

Make your own decisions.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rabble Rousers in the Church

If you follow the Christian Sub-Culture you probably know who Mark Driscoll is, and, the church he started, Mars Hill.  You probably are also aware that the whole thing is currently imploding. 

A quick overview....
- Driscoll founded Mars Hill about 20 years ago as a basically brand new Christian in the most unchurhed city in America(Seattle)

-  With a brash and engaging style Driscoll oversaw explosive growth that quickly led to him being the new "IT" guy in evangelicalism. 

-  He wrote a number of "best sellers" that detailed the churches growth and his theology.  These books were treated as "Church Growth Manuals" for many young pastors coming up who wanted to emulate MD's success. 

-  MD oversaw a church planting network(Acts 29) that has planted hundreds of churches world wide in just over a decade. 

-  In the last two years the bloom has fallen off the rose as destructively unhealthy leadership by MD and his "executive" elders has come to light. 

A couple of general thoughts and reminders....

- The Bible is littered with flawed people who would be kicked out of most churches for their sinful behavior if they were doing it today.

-  God still used these broken sinful people for His purposes...not that He ever gave a pass for their culpability, but His sovereignty ruled over the sin.  God even chose a murderous adulterer(King David) to be the line through which the Messiah would come. 

- Even our greatest sins and failures do not limit the redemptive power of the Cross.  As Paul says, as long as Christ is preached.... EVEN when it was done for selfish ambition!!!

Personal Responses and Convictions......

- If Acts 29 or Mark Driscoll have been a blessing to you in any way at any point....GREAT.  We are capable of benefitting from God's work, even when the vessel that delivered it is tragically flawed.  We don't stop reading the Psalms because David was a pretty screwed up guy.

- Who are you attaching yourself to?  Our celebrity driven culture is excessively unhealthy.  When we begin to follow man instead of Christ, we are setting ourselves up for a fall.   Even if Driscoll did not have any of these problems, we should have never been so undiscerning by how much "worship" we were giving him.  And this includes anyone else out there.  Whether it is your favorite theologian, or, your local pastor.  They are flawed people that God can do great things through, but everything they do and teach must be weighed against the Cross and God's word. 

Moving Forward....

So what now?  I hope a lesson we can draw from all of this is that sin that is allowed to fester becomes more and more damaging with a far greater fall out.  To borrow from a good law enforcement statement, "If you see something, say something".   One of the red flags at Mars Hill was when they bylaws were changed in a way that consolidated "absolute" power with Mark Driscoll.  This is unbiblical.  Should Elders lead the church.  Absolutely.  Is it an authoritarian unaccountable paradigm.  Never.  If you are a part of a church, and leadership is unaccountable, treats members as a bunch of little children who have invalid for the hills. 

In John chapter 7 the Pharisees are furious about what Jesus has been saying and how the people are seemingly "buying into it".  They say, that mob, they know nothing!!  Only these high and mighty self-righteous guys are able to really know what is going on.  Everyone else is a bunch of idiots.  But it was actually the "mob" who got what was really going on! 

Read your bible, test everything you hear according to God's word.  Love and trust your leadership, EVEN when they make mistakes.  But don't excuse sin and mistakes just because someone is a leader.  Nip it in the butt.  And if it doesn't change.  They can't be leaders.

Use this image to ask yourself how your leaders are doing