Category Archives: church

More Grace and why I am on this kick

I’m not a great writer. I’m good, to the extent that I do get compliments when somebody reads these posts from time to time, but not great. Sometimes, I wish that more people read my blog and commented on what I had written, if only to learn from others as they read what I said.

However, it has occurred to me that 1. I’m searching for approval from my interactions. This is not what I wanted, I shouldn’t/don’t need validation, but those feelings have occurred, as I recently noted to my wife.  And 2. that I don’t think that I need to be out there among the Christian blogosphere writing who’s right and who’s wrong. Recently, there was another dust up between bloggers which you can read about here, and why that particular blogger decided to step away.

The post is long so if you go there, be prepared to sit and read the post for about 10-15 minutes. He feels that he needs to be a positive voice in Christianity, so closed down his current blog, and will be reopening a blog that will be more positive. I have to say that his take on the exchange between the other two bloggers was right on. There was a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist.  However, as I read the post, there was little grace or mercy. Oh sure, they talked about defending the weak and why they were right, but still there was no grace or mercy.

I’m big on grace and mercy as of late. With the move back to Gaylord, and some other issues, I have been struggling to not lose my cool, because things aren’t the way I want them. Don’t get me wrong, I try to effect change into the situations, but when the advice gets trampled on, I have to remember to show grace. Die to myself, just like Christ.

However, for the foreseeable future, I’ll write about grace and mercy. Everything I have been running into as of late has been pointing me in that direction. I will sound like a broken record probably in the months and years to come. However, I don’t care. I’m going to tell stories of grace and mercy. That is loving God and loving others. That’s what Jesus commanded.

As I have been in the process of writing this post two things have popped out at me. One, is what Rob Bell said in his latest video (at the bottom) and the other is Brian Zahnd in several sermons lately. It’s about the saying, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” I think that Rob is right when he says that the problem is that we have lost the childlike wonder, because churches have told us dos and don’ts. Brian Zahnd says that the community of the church (body of Christ) is needed, but the church itself has been going down a dos and don’ts road for about 100 years or so. That there is a shift beginning to happen. I agree.

We can’t be loners. We must be a community. We must show grace and mercy to those within our community and those outside.  When they fail, and we will all fall sometime, we can’t be about dos and don’ts, but be about love. People (and specifically the media) give Christians such hard time because of what we are against, because typically it is said without love (not that they are interested in that, remember if it bleeds it leads). We should be more.

Jesus gave grace and mercy to the woman caught in adultery, not condemning her, but sending off with, “Go and sin no more.” What if we did this? What if we granted grace and mercy, and told people to go and sin no more? I’m starting to think that more people would be willing to come to church and live life together in love, than is happening now.

Here is what Derek Ouellette (the blog writer) concludes with:

Brothers and sisters, that’s why I’m moving on. That’s why I’m creating a blog around “inform.inspire.imagine.” That’s why I want to find new, creative ways to pass along my ideas, without tearing down another person. I want to exhort without attacking. I want to teach without ad hominem. I want to see people grow. And I want my place to be a place that contributes to a positive image of God’s Kingdom online.

This is the same tact that I am going to continue with on my blog. Maybe someday more will read it and realize that this is what we always should have been doing.

HT to John Meunier

The Jeff Show – #4 – Who should be served by the church?

Recently, I feel like there has been a growing amount of reading material that has speaking to me about Grace,  as I meditate on it. You know, helping your neighbor, and loving your enemy.

I was perusing through Facebook, one morning, and ran into my union’s Facebook page. There are all sorts of people in the NWSEO that lean in every direction politically. Sometimes, the discussion gets quite heated and off topic from union issues when some of the more politically minded people start squaring off. In one case, there was a guy who had been raised in, blue collar/union is everything, type of family. Sometimes the threads will go on the member vs. non-member of the union. If your not familiar with government service unions, you are not required to join. However, the union negotiates the collective bargaining agreement with the NWS/NOAA, so there are people who benefit from the union without being in the union. This gets to rubs some people the wrong way to the point that some call the non-union people scabs.

I have noticed that in the church, and I’m speaking broadly about the church, that I have witnessed, and read of stories where some people are turned away, if they didn’t do what the people in the church thought they needed to do to earn some service from the church. I’m not necessarily talking about services for the poor, but services for the members.

The gets me to thinking, when do you turn away services to a member or a non-member? I remember that in a church I went to in the past, that another member was annoyed with somebody that the church gave assistance to, wasn’t a consistent church goer and, I think, would go to church somewhere else at times. They felt that there should have been some sort of loyalty to our church. However, I’ve always been puzzled by this attitude.  If we are all believers, but at different places in our story, should loyalty to a church matter, if one is in need? Or do we just ignore them again?

There is a tension. The tension is between helping the person, regardless of their status, believer, non-believer, or someone seeking or not seeking; versus enabling them. Mary and I see this played out day in and day out in our lives. There are people that can be rather maddening in the way that they treat others, and yet come to us for help, usually in a way that seems very manipulative. As I’ve told Mary, we persevere through the manipulation, and help, hopefully to speak into their lives.

However, There is another side to this. Brian Zahnd of Word of Life Church (St. Joseph, MO) says, “Beauty will save the world.” I’m starting to feel that the church in America, has chased relevance,  so far, that instead of being relevant to people, they have become utilitarian (use this product and be cool!). We are in the Box Store mentality that the culture has ushered us down. There is little beauty to left in the world, or in the Christian Church in America. So we give aid, and then people go back to their individual stories, of boring drab lives of trying to acquire things to achieve meaning.

I have to say, that there have been times when I feel like the story of my life has been boring and utilitarian, and other times beautifully written, as if there was an author whom my character actually listened to (Read Don Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years). Life was filled with astonishing beauty. In some ways, as Mary and I look to move back to Gaylord, I’m looking for an epic story to be a part of, something astonishingly beautiful. When people hear about it, they are brought to tears from the beauty of it. As crazy as things sound, there is something astonishing going on that they want to be a part of.

So who should be served by the church? Everyone, because they need to see the beauty of the Creator in the way that we live. And when they ask why we do what we do, we tell them the astonishing, crazy, beautiful story of a God, who became a baby, to an unmarried teenager, that in today’s world would be just as shunned. Who grew up just like us learning a trade, but turned out to teach the Torah very well, and then took a bunch of unschooled fishermen and taught them what he knew. Somewhere along the line, he managed to make enemies with the local church officials, and the government overseeing the country he lived in. The enemies turned and killed him, but when they did, he took all of the guilt and shame for our rebellious acts, and buried them with him. Then he rose 3 days later, to a new life and body, having given all, to the ones he created…and that beautifully astonishing story continues to go on through the disciples that spread his words to all the earth.

Do We Reason Too Much?

As I often do, I listen to podcasts. A decent amount of them are sermons from other churches. Couple that with the “Journey to Bethlehem” that a church north of Harbor Springs did to night, I’m left wondering how do we recover that sense of wonder and sacredness that the church has lost over the years?

First, a little background. One of the last podcasts that I listened to from Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Shane Hipps preached about how the age of reason, that has brought us a lot of cool tools, it has hampered our ability to heal based on faith.

Then, as I listened to Brian Zahnd preach at Word of Life Church, in St. Joseph, MO I realized that his idea of the sense of sacredness was one of the things that is missing out of the American church. That sacredness, like that of communion, leads to a faith that believes in what I witnessed tonight.

At the Journey to Bethlehem, I realized at each step, how whacked out the story of how our savior was born. I mean, an angel appears to Mary and Joseph, pretty much telling them that Mary will be an unwed mother, that Joseph will marry her. Then as the night of the birth is upon them, angels pop up and tell these shepherds that the savior is born. I mean really? Okay, I buy into it, but I also partake in communion, where we are eating His body and drinking His blood. As we continue to wonder how to market our churches what if we made those things like baptism and communion, the focus. I we don’t, then we are just singing some uplifting songs, and listening to how to be moral, just like the secular world.

The waiting is the hardest part…

I was reading a story at the Huffington Post about something totally unrelated, but the story used the prodigal son parable (Luke 15:11-32) for an analogy.

Really, this all comes down to an illustration of a parable that Jesus told about two sons. In the wide world, it’s known as the prodigal son, but the story is really about two brothers. The story tells us that a younger brother gets the inheritance from the father (demonstrating his hate for the father through wishing he were dead), goes and spends it and then is welcomed home by the father. The eldest son sees this, resents it and hates the father by yelling at him for taking the younger son back.

However, I want to look at this from the view of the father. In this case, in terms of things that I have talked about in a previous post, grace and guilt.

As I said in a previous post, one of the things that we learned in Celebrate Recovery is that it is a process and, at least in Celebrate Recovery, that this process has 12 steps. Several of these steps are at work here.

1. We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

and

9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

We’ve talked about this before, but I when I read this the other day, I wanted to approach this from the father’s perspective. In this case, with youth who have been going behind the backs of their parents. As a volunteer youth leader for some time, I have seen where the kids even are doing “things” and have a hard time coming clean with it to us. Usually, we in the youth ministry know that something has been going on, whether from friends or just interactions with the students. The thing is that even though we know, they are reluctant to confess. When they do, I have said to them, “yeah, I knew that was going on. ” The thing is, that we wait for them to make the first move. There are times that they need to be confronted, but once the sin has been done and it isn’t going on anymore, they often don’t need to be confronted, but they do need to confess it. The problem for me is the waiting.

As I have gotten older, I have begun asking God, “Is this what it’s like for you?” This is no different. God is the father in the parable, and is waiting for the younger son to come home. As patient as I can be, it becomes frustrating for me to wait for those things that I know that people need to get out of their system. So I wait. I’ve waited with things from one of our sons, and I have waited for kids in youth group to return to the fold. It isn’t easy. So I wonder if God gets this frustrated with us, when we don’t run to him.

God wants to throw a party for us, if we will just come back and confess. Ease your conscience, confess and set yourself free.

Are We All Hanging on by a Thread?

Notice MeI was listening to a couple of things tonight. One was the most recent Mars Hill Bible church sermon by a guest teacher Peter Rollins. They are doing a series on Ecclesiastes. However, one of the stories he tells was of somebody person on a train that loses their wallet which has their ticket in it. Because of this she has a lengthy conversation with the conductor. The story ends with the conductor telling the train rider that there is no problem with the lost ticket, because she noticed him. Most would think that he is noticed all the time, but really he is just a part of the machinery. Nobody notices him.

Then I was listening to some music right after that and the song by The Letter Black, “Hanging on by a Thread,” came on in the playlist, and this part of the song struck me:

Save me from losing myself
I’m hanging on by a thread
Can You see who I am
Underneath my scars?
I’m afraid to fall
So I’m holding on to You
No I won’t let go
I’m hanging on by a thread

The song is asking for God to notice them and love them. That’s what Peter Rollins asserts that noticing your neighbor is loving them. People are in need of love, being noticed is a part of that.

So now I take it a step further. With teens, what are they longing for? Belonging, being noticed, by their friends, in their world, and for some in their families.  Being noticed, being accepted, belonging. The one thing that I have noticed about the TV show Skins, the kids are all looking for belonging. The show is all based on them finding ways to be noticed by their friends, and in many cases finding ways to be noticed by their families. Many times, it is in not so healthy way.

So one of the ways that experts have found to keep teens and young adults to remain in church, is to give them responsibility in church. When the church notices them, they stay in community. Plugging people into the community is key to discipling them.

I have worked hard at making sure that our kids are noticed by Mary and I. I have worked hard to make sure that kids in youth group are noticed. Has it all worked out? Not always. I still struggle to notice and love people sometimes. Things get in the way. If you read Ecclesiastes, King Solomon admits that everything is futile.  In Ecclesiastes 2:1-10, he lists off all of the things that he has experienced: pleasure, alcohol, building bigger houses, accumulations of possessions, etc. Everything is empty. His conclusion? Be content with what you have (Ecc 2:24-26) and enjoy your work. When you skip to Ecc. 12, you find that he has come full circle, honor God, because this all disappears.

One More Guilt Vs. Grace

I was once again thinking over the guilt vs. grace thing. If you want to read my other posts on guilt vs. grace go to here, here, here, and here.

So while I was driving into Gaylord the other day, I was listening to the podcast, Pray-As-You-Go. The verse for the day’s prayer was Mark 8:27-33. I had been thinking about this the other day and so when this verse came up, I decided that I needed to share this.

On Wednesday, James had a great message for the kids about the vision you have, being narrowed by the things and people that surround you. The story that he told was of a girl that he knows in a metropolitan area who knew Christ years ago (The verse from Mark 8 of Peter confessing who Jesus is.). So she knew Christ, but in the course of life surrounded herself with friends that hang at the bar all the time, so the guys she dated were losers. So her opinion of guys were that they were only one thing. She thought that maintaining her purity was unrealistic, because the guys that asked her out were always from the bar and they only wanted one thing.

This goes along with a post I recently wrote about the danger of listening to one story. Watch the video from that post (It’s 20+ minutes), but worth getting through. In this case this girl listened only to her story and girlfriends’ story that all guys are losers, and to her the life of purity and doing the things that God and Christ would want us to do, is a fairy tale.

However, as the author from the TED talk points out she would be suffering from the fact that she is thinking about only one story. The analogy of life and story is a pretty good one. So we often hear from kids that they are stuck in their story. Don Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz, often talks about life as a story, and recently offered a conference about changing your story. Write a new chapter. This also blends in with what James preached on Sunday about vision and how God and Jesus allow you to have a larger vision, and in essence, find away to write a new chapter in your story.

I think that in some ways in Sunday School and youth ministry we have taught the black and white thinking to black and white thinkers (pre-adolescent kids) that when we are sharing what should be transformative, ends up sounding like rules, and behavior modification. And while modification in behavior is a good things in some respects, I think that has left out the grace that God promises through Christ.

I’m beginning to think that the moralistic therapeutic deism that Christian Smith and Kenda Creasy Dean wrote about, is brought about by rules and behavior modification. Recently, I was reading from another youth ministry blogger, that the kids aren’t leaving the church as much as the church is leaving them. What I mean, is that we teach a form of behavior modification, and once they go to school or find jobs in the world, they get challenged. Since they are locked in on a rules based story, once they screw up with something that they think is major, they think that they can’t change their story.

Grace is the key to change this. Not the cheap type of grace that Paul preached against, but one where if you screw up, you can come back, God will take you back, and change your story. We see this in the prodigal son, and in John 21:15-19, which is where I was headed, where Jesus restores Peter.

Remember, Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, and then denied Him just before He was crucified. Peter was ready to go back to fishing, seeing that he could only see the story that was laid out for him. However, Jesus shows up on the beach and Peter swims ashore (cue Far, Far Away by Five Iron Frenzy). Now Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, 3 times. While it is painful to Peter, Christ restores him. Peter then went on as a leader in the early church. Peter saw that he had a different story to live.

So what situation blinds you to a story that you think you can’t get out of? What is limiting your vision? Do you know that God wants to write a new chapter to your story?

Stuck in GR

It was a great weekend. The day after the conference we stayed for church at Resurrection Life church where the conference was hosted. The snow was starting just as church was starting. By the end, everything was covered with about an inch. We went to the mall nearby. We all came out to 5 inches of snow. Trying to go up US-131 was slow and after seeing one spinout and the road with 3 inches of snow, we all decided to stay on the north side of GR. So here we are, Monday morning.

God wants so much for us if we let Him work through others for us

I hope that no one will read into this post too much. I was writing in my journal this afternoon, and began riffing on something that I has been rolling around in my head for a while. In the midst of the writing was this paragraph which I felt needed to be shared.

I had a flashback to when I was a sophomore at GVSU. I was talking to my roommate who had surgery on his knee. I was trying to empathize or sympathize, with him (I get those two confused). I had had reconstructive surgery on my nose (interior) while in high school and the pain and uncomfortable feeling was bad. He kept telling me it wasn’t the same as what he went through with his knee, but wasn’t it? What it came down to, was that the causes and parts of the bodies were different, but pain and uncomfortable feelings with post-surgery were the same. It is possible that the intensity was different, but again does that matter? I guess what I’m getting at is that despite the cause of the sadness or heartbreak, everybody hurts and we can all share our stories and pain with each other. That’s what God want us to do, right? Where two or more are gathered in His name, there he is? If we share with each other, then we are sharing with Him? I know that in the church today, we would rather not hear people’s tales of woe, and pride prevents us from sharing. No wonder so many teens leave the church and unplug. No one wants to share their pain or share another’s pain. That’s what I am frustrated with.

This isn’t completely finished. It was just a riff that I felt that needed to be shared. I think that if we shared more deeply, that healing would be more a part of the church, than we see today. I have felt that there is one last great revival, I’m not talking about tents and evangelists or healing ceremonies, I’m talking about like the Great Awakening, The Reformation, you know a time when people don’t get enough of God and change happens. Not this faux political change from the Republicans or Democrats, but change that people would love one another. Okay, now go back to your surfing.