Archive for the 'culture' Category

09
May
15

The Church is not Your Home

I stumbled across this interesting blog entry by Scott Dannemiller [speaker, author, leadership consultant] titled, The Church is not Your Home.  Might I suggest it’s worth the read.

The Church Is Not Your Home 

Mixed Race man holding the bible in front of church

 

An atheist walked into three churches last Sunday.

I know. Sounds like the beginning of a great joke. In fact, you could probably come up with an awesome punch line.

But it’s no joke.

A recent Christian Today article tells the story of Sanderson Jones, the leader of Sunday Assembly — also known as the “atheist church.” Jones’ mission was to attend three London church services in one day. But he wasn’t there to debunk Christianity. No. In his words, he was just “learning from the pros.”

Jones walked away with a great appreciation for communion and prayer. While he was not converted, he was most affected by the way in which churches welcomed him and gave him a sense of belonging.

I believe Jones experienced what every single one of our churches is trying to offer. We all want to do the work of Jesus by welcoming others like guests in our home. I’ve heard that phrase a lot lately as my own church seeks to reach the community in more meaningful ways.

Like guests in our home.

It’s a wonderful analogy, isn’t it? We roll out the red carpet for houseguests. We offer them our best food and drink. We break out the fine china. Heck, we even let them use the special towels that normally stay locked behind some sort of invisible force field in our bathrooms, never to be touched by an actual family member.

In this sense, Jones is absolutely right. Christians are pros at welcoming. If welcoming were an Olympic sport, churches would be Michael Phelps, only with coffee stations and tuna hot dish. But here’s the problem:

I’m afraid the mindset behind our welcoming spirit might slowly, subtly be killing our church.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying our churches should stop welcoming visitors. And I’m not saying church shouldn’t feel like a place where you belong. What I am saying is that we need to stop viewing our churches as our homes. And here’s the reason.

While I am very welcoming to my guests, I also see my home as mine. A possession. You probably do, too. And so I create rules and expectations to protect it. I’m kinda’ particular about the grass. The mower lines should run diagonally. And the spoons should never “spoon” in the dishwasher. Kids should never eat in the living room. And I’m fairly certain that failure to use a coaster is acceptable grounds for divorce in 36 of the 50 states. These rules are our custom, and we’re unlikely to adapt quickly.

When we do have parties for others, we relax these rules. We also vacuum the carpet, mop the floor, and scour the kitchen to make things bright and shiny for our guests. All the messy stuff stays behind closed doors or tucked away in closets, just waiting to pounce on someone who mistakenly thinks it’s the entrance to the bathroom.

Finally, while those parties may be absolutely fantastic, I have to admit that they usually only happen on the weekends, and they are normally limited to friends of friends who we know will enjoy each other’s company. But during the week, the house is largely empty, save for immediate family.

Sound familiar?

Our churches do amazing things. We go on mission trips. We sponsor charities. We bring the gospel to people desperately in need of a “good news” story. But the truth is, when we think of the church, we see it as ours. Like our home. A possession.

And it has to stop.

We have rules and traditions that start to take on a God-like quality in the way we worship them. Then we wonder why some see Christians as rigid and inflexible.

We primp and prime for the big party on Sunday and greet folks with big smiles, while hiding the messy realities of church life in the closet. Then we wonder why some see Christians as lacking authenticity.

We spend roughly 82 percent of our church budgets on staff and buildings that are only open a few hours per week, mostly for programs designed specifically for our members. Then we wonder why some see Christians as selfish.

When I work with congregations, I often ask the members what they love most about their church. And 9 times out of 10, the response is, “It’s like a big family.”

And every time I hear this, I cringe a little.

Again, please don’t misunderstand me. Families are beautiful. My own family is incredibly welcoming. At the same time, we’re also loud and boisterous and overwhelming. We have inside jokes and tired old stories. If you’re spending Thanksgiving with us for the first time it can be downright exhausting. And exclusive. As an outsider, you are left to try and quickly understand decades of history and assimilate quickly.

And we ask our church guests to do the exact same thing.

We absolutely want them to be members of the family. We invite them warmly. But rather than meet them where they are, we ask them to meet us where we are. The result? Those who are drawn to us, and therefore drawn to Jesus, will be those who tend to worship like us, believe like us, and look like us. Threading the impossibly narrow eye of the needle.

And we wonder why church membership is declining.

But here’s the good news. We need not take up such a heavy burden. Christ never asked us to own His church or His building. No. Man was simply the rock it was built upon. Consider the scriptures:

The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. (Psalm 24:1 NIV)

We are here to support God’s creation. As stewards. And it’s time we recapture that call. As church leaders, we must begin to see ourselves as caretakers of sacred ground rather than owners of a house.

Because the church is not our home. We do not possess it. We shouldn’t try to tame it any more than we should try and reign in nature. Consider the parks where gates are wide and all are welcome. This is what our churches should be. Open to all at any time. Some people come to work. Others come for recreation. Still more come to rest.

The caretakers of such spaces don’t care why you are there. They only want to assure that, no matter the reason you have come, you will feel the beauty and magnificence of Our Creator. They also hope the beauty you experience will be so real, so palpable, that you have no choice but to share the experience with others. Like vacation photos of the Grand Canyon that never quite do it justice.

There are glimpses of this in our own communities. Some churches operate food pantries. Others have given up their buildings altogether to provide transitional housing for those on the margins. I think of a recent Monday night at my own church, where a dozen homeless men slept in a fellowship hall, while Alcoholics Anonymous met in a preschool classroom, and a community development meeting took place in the sanctuary. Not a single event for church members.

But the family of God was there.

So I pray today that this will be our call. That we may tirelessly look for ways to be caretakers of the church where we serve. To look for ways to use our buildings and our gifts not for ourselves, but for others. And in so doing, may the light of Christ show through our generosity. Our openness. And our selflessness. Reaching out to the family of God.

Welcoming them home.

14
Dec
13

More than friends

Not only is Maddi Jane a gifted young artist but a personal friend and wonderful young woman.  This video Dark Horse is her newest release.  The filmmaker is also a friend and incredibly talented young man.  To see more of his work go to theLensDarkly.  Enjoy.

31
Oct
13

The Fox

With over 177 million hits, what could be better for Halloween than the current viral video phenomenon – The Fox.  What is it exactly?  Just your everyday great electronic Norwegian comedy dance music that all.

01
Oct
13

Unity in conflict

Disagreement, conflict, friction and opposing preferences are all part of life — even life in the local church community.  There is just no way around it.  As Christians, we’d all like to agree on all things all the time and enjoy the ensuing harmony.  But realistically, we will never agree on everything even on matters relating to faith, theology, and practice.  And if our hope for harmony rests in us always agreeing we will be sorely disappointed.

In his book, This World: Playground or Battleground?, A.W. Tozer explains it this way, This world AW Tozer

“Some misguided Christian leaders feel that they must preserve harmony at any cost, so they do everything possible to reduce friction. They should remember that there is no friction in a machine that has been shut down for the night. Turn off the power, and you will have no problem with moving parts. Also remember that there is a human society where there are no problems: the cemetery. The dead have no differences of opinion. They generate no heat, because they have no energy and no motion. But their penalty is sterility and complete lack of achievement. What then is the conclusion of the matter? That problems are the price of progress, that friction is the concomitant of motion, that a live and expanding church will have a certain quota of difficulties as a result of its life and activity. A Spirit-filled church will invite the anger of the enemy.”

Tozer is right, a living and expanding church will have a certain quota of difficulties and disagreements.  God understands this and is neither surprised nor displeased when friction and disagreements arise among his people.  For God, the issue is not will such things happen but how will we handle them when they do.  The enemy works for anger and division.  The Spirit of God works for humility and unity.

In our secular culture, I believe a key to the Church’s future impact rests on Christians’ ability and willingness to sometimes agree to disagree on non-essentials.  Humbly accepting some of our differences and joyfully rallying around those things that unite us – specifically around the one who unites us, Jesus, is critical.  Given our sinful tendencies, Jesus recognized the challenge and prayed for us  – his followers – the Church.  He said, “Father, I pray for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  Summary?  Unity and oneness was Jesus’ desire for his people.

True oneness, however, requires a realistic understanding that conflict occurs.  But it also requires we learn to humbly live with the tension of disagreement.  As Tozer says, “The dead have no differences of opinion.”  Let’s face it … if you have an opinion it means you’re alive.  But no living human being is infallible. So as long as we joyfully unite around the truth of Jesus and his Gospel of grace, our ability to impact the world remains strong.  Perhaps this is one other thing we in the church can all agree on.

11
Jul
13

Fascinating

Not only is Eric Metaxis an accomplished New York Times best-selling author, but he’s aamazing-grace1fascinating and very funny guy with quite an unexpected story. A while back I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Michigan with Eric and a small group of people cloistered together in a quaint little Inn. Here is his story, in his words…

Is it possible for one’s life to change literally overnight? In 1988 I had a dream in which God spoke to me in what I have come to call “the secret vocabulary of my heart.” The next morning, all was new and newness. Perhaps even newness-ness.

I had the dream around my 25th birthday, and if someone had investigated my life at that time to determine who I was, they’d likely have settled on three themes at the heart of my identity: first, that I am Greek; second, that I loved freshwater fishing; and third, that I was deeply committed to the life of the mind and the search for meaning.

My parents are European immigrants (my dad is from Greece, my mother from Germany) who came to New York in the mid-1950s, met in an English class in Manhattan, and married. I came into the world in 1963 at Astoria General Hospital, and attended a Greek Orthodox parochial school through fourth grade. In 1972, we moved to the relatively rural environs of Danbury, Connecticut, where I went to a public school and attended the Greek Orthodox church every Sunday.

Greeks in America prize their Greekness, and perhaps because I am only half-Greek, it was especially important for my dad to instill this in me. Once, when he saw the chrome fish on the back of a car, he was excited to explain that this was from the Greek word ixthys, meaning “fish,” because the early Christians used this word as an acronym—Iesus Xristos THeos Ymon Sotir. It stood for Jesus Christ Son of God Our Savior. It was their secret symbol.

My only hobby besides watching television was freshwater fishing. I fly-fished, sometimes tying my own flies. I fished for bass, once in a tournament, and of course I ice-fished a few times too.

As an undergraduate at Yale I was exposed to the intellectual life, and I half-heartedly attempted to divine the meaning of life, with mixed results. My Christian faith was essentially nominal; I never took seriously the idea that our lives are meaningless, but neither did I settle on any particular alternative.

Sometime after graduation I came up with a kind of answer, involving the symbolic image of drilling through ice on the surface of a lake. It was a vaguely Jungian/Freudian idea that said the goal of life and all religions was to drill through this ice, which represented the conscious mind, in order to touch the water beneath, which represented Jung’s “collective unconscious”—a vague “God force” that somehow connected all of humanity. It was an Eastern and impersonal idea of God, making no particular moral claims on anyone. How one went about doing any of this was anybody’s guess.
Graduation itself was like stepping off the top of the ladder I’d been climbing my whole life. Good grades got me to Yale and through Yale. I majored in English, edited the Yale humor magazine, worked in the dining hall, and sang in some musicals. At graduation I was Class Day speaker, preceding the main speaker—my future friend, talk-show host Dick Cavett—and I received several awards for my short fiction. What but success could lie ahead?

Instead I was launched into a step-less void, unable to climb toward what I thought I’d wanted to achieve, which was success and acclaim as a fiction writer. For the next few years I tried, mostly in vain, to write short fiction, and eventually sold some literary humor pieces to The Atlantic. I spent aimless and unproductive months at the elite writers’ colonies of Yaddo and MacDowell in New York and New Hampshire, respectively. I lived in sublets in the Boston area and clung to a sad relationship. You might say that I floated and drifted, which inescapably and inevitably leads to that singularly humiliating cul-de-sac of moving back in with one’s parents.

The parents of my friends saw that I was trying to find myself, but my own parents— who’d never had the privilege of a college experience and worked very hard to finance my own—preferred that I simply find a job. It was a seriously awful time. My relationship, now long-distance, was foundering, and I took the only job I could get, proofreading chemical manuals and other nonliterary arcana at Union Carbide’s world headquarters. My cubicle was a quarter of a mile from the nearest window. (And the password is … Gehenna.)

Eric-Metaxas-WebBut it was there, alone in the belly of a corporate whale, that I would finally consider the question of God. In my misery I befriended a bright graphic designer who began to engage me on the issue of faith. Ed Tuttle was older, already married with kids, and one of those born-again Christians I had been trained to steer well clear of at Yale. I was perpetually wary, but in my pain and longing for relief I was desperate enough to keep the conversation going, for weeks and then months. To avoid real engagement or controversy, I cagily half-pretended to agree with him and his positions. But whenever he invited me to church, I demurred.

One day at lunch, Ed said, “Perhaps you don’t really know God as well as you think, Eric.” I was offended. Who did he think he was, and how could anyone claim to know God? Anyone with a brain knew that even if it were all true, we certainly couldn’t know it, and would have to content ourselves with that, with agnosticism. But I wasn’t content. Ed once told me to pray that God would reveal himself to me, but I thought praying to a God I wasn’t sure was there didn’t make sense. But in my confusion I sometimes did ask for some sort of sign.

In June of 1988, my uncle had a stroke and went into a coma. Ed said he and some friends were praying for him. I was astounded at the kindness of the gesture and at the idea that these people believed there was a God who heard prayers like this and could do something about it. A few days later, Ed asked if he could pray for my uncle withme. I quickly agreed and followed Ed into a ghastly fluorescent-lit conference room. I had never done anything like this, but it couldn’t hurt. So I closed my eyes as Ed prayed aloud, and as he did, some transcendent shift seemed to take place. It was as though a window had been opened onto another realm and I’d felt the faintest touch of some heavenly breeze. When it was over, I opened my eyes. What was that?

Around this time a slight shift was taking place in my mind, too. I had picked up M. Scott Peck’s People of the   Lie, and this prominent Harvard psychologist’s experiences with real evil got my attention. If real evil existed, there must be an alternative. Would that be God? I was also reading Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, though I cannot remember if I was reading these before or after the dream. Ah yes, the dream.

One night near my 25th birthday, I dreamt I was ice-fishing on Candlewood Lake in Danbury. I believe my childhood friend John Tomanio and his father were with me. I looked into the large hole we had cut into the ice and saw the snout of a fish poking out. (Of course ice-fishing is never this easy.) I reached down and picked it up by the gills and held it up. It was a large pickerel or perhaps even a pike. And in the dazzlingly bright sunlight shining through the blue sky and off the white snow and ice onto the bronze-colored fish, it appeared positively golden. But then I realized that it didn’t merely look golden, it actually was golden. It was a living golden fish, as though I were in a fairy tale.

And suddenly I understood that this golden fish was ixthys—Jesus Christ Son of God Our Savior—and that God was one-upping me in the language of my own symbol system. I had wanted to touch inert water, to touch the so-called “collective unconscious,” but he had something more for me: this was his Son, a living Person, Jesus Christ. And I realized in the dream that he was real and had come from the other side and now I was holding him there in the bright sunlight and at long last my search was over. And I was flooded with joy.

When I went to work the next day, I told Ed about the dream. He asked what it meant, and I said what I never would have said before—and would have cringed to hear anyone else say. I said that I had accepted Jesus. And when I spoke those words I was flooded with the same joy I had had inside the dream. And I’ve had that joy with me for the past 25 years.

03
May
13

Thank you Amy

In addressing a difficult and often ignored topic, Parkview’s own Amy Simpson openly shares personal and profound insights on mental illness and provides suggestions on how the church should respond to those in our community who suffer.   Most importantly, Amy offers hope to all of us who are affected in some way or another.  Thank you Amy.  I hope many will not only join me in reading “Troubled Minds” but take the steps necessary to understand, reach out to, embrace and help those who have them.

16
Apr
13

Evil in Boston

The tragedy in Boston reminds me of the downside to true freedom — as a human being it cannot fully guarantee my safety.  With freedom comes risk and at times sad consequences.  As author C.S.Lewis aptly pointed out, “God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.

boston bombA world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.  Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings – then we may take it it is worth paying.”   Today I’m praying for those victims who have suffered the tragedy of freedom.




re: the random-ness

Husband. Father. Senior Pastor of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, IL.

Ok...so you've located the place where I put down my random thoughts. The key word here is random: music, sports, art, food, books, news, spiritual musings, weird stories, etc. I'm especially interested in how everyday experiences of life intersect with the ancient stories of Scripture. Thanks for reading.
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