Murky & Deficit

Any good story has a setting, be it in a home, a nation, a battlefield, a street or the great outdoors.  My story happens inside the church. Whenever anyone comes to visit me in Atlanta, my hometown, I love to take them on a tour from an insider’s perspective.

I do not just take them to The Varsity, largest drive-in restaurant in the world, but I tell them the story of Flossie and Erby.  I do not just show them the buildings but I take them underground on the world’s longest escalator.  I do not just tell them about grits, red-eye gravy and country ham, I take them to experience it. We see Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthplace and his resting place a block away. I show them the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With The Wind, the location of the world premier in 1939, the place she lived when she met an untimely accidental death.  I show them where CNN was born and the Marriott Marquis, now occupying the address where St Joseph’s Hospital stood and where I began my life on a stormy Friday night in the late 1950s.

And, I take them to a street that does not exist anymore. Washington Street.  Where this small street use to offer passage there is now a parking lot.  But, before the parking lot there was a stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, built in 1963-1965 to be the new home of the Atlanta Braves, purloined from the city of Milwaukee, to be the iconic move of the city of Atlanta from small town to major player.  Here, in this parking lot, the former layout of the baseball diamond is laid out in brown brick to distinguish it from the black asphalt enveloping the remainder of the property. The spot where Hank Aaron’s 715th homerun sailed across a fence on April 8, 1974, breaking Babe Ruth’s seemingly insurmountable record, is memorialized.

And then I tell my visitor, “Right here, on the edge of what formerly was a thoroughfare stood the Washington Street Assembly of God. This is the spot, right here where first base is outlined on the ground, where the altar and pulpit were located. On an autumn Sunday morning in 1959 two young, first-time parents brought a young son and dedicated him to God’s life for him. Born in a Catholic hospital to two Pentecostal parents from Washington Street Assembly of God was my beginning and I have never left the church.”

That gives me almost six decades of experience in this dysfunctional community organization.  I have loved her, hated her, commended her and slandered her. I have taken from her and given to her. I have led her and been led by her.  I have controlled her and been controlled by her.  In my hindsight, I could not have lived without this beautiful bride to be and I wish I had never known this bridezilla.

The church, sometimes with good intention and sometimes with selfish, has developed what it calls Christians – a collection of humans ascribed to the notion that Jesus is the incarnate son of God and the Savior of the world.  But, by it’s own Scripture that is not the definition of a Christian. We have allowed this family with natural DNA embedded in it to be malformed by a code of ethics and conformity the very leader of the pack never mentioned as necessary or forthcoming.  We have created a form for godliness and left the heart of relationship as an addendum instead of the center point of meaning.

As Leonard Sweet mused recently, “Why can’t we get this one thing: In the biblical drama, Absolute Truth is not abstract but personal, not expressed in abstract statements and principles but embodied in a person who empowers us not to impersonate him, but to personate him and thus personate truth.”

“Why?” he asks.  I can tell you why.  It is the one thing that separates the church we experience from the church of prophetic and historic promise. We are taught that the statements and principles are what we are after, about and are absolute. When what is not central is made central you have a problem.  We seem to have no clue of process, growth and spiritual nature – supernature – supernatural living lived into by seeing the pathway of righteousness.

I am committing the next six decades of my life to turning this around in my life and the life of those who will simply listen and consider. I will write, teach, mentor and live to personate…not to get myself right, in conformity or accepted.  I realize I cannot get myself right so He gave me righteousness. I cannot conform myself to His image but I can allow myself to be transformed into that image. I cannot try to be accepted when I already am.

That is not clear in the church, or in my experience of church – both as a minister of and a ministered to person. When institution and membership replaced communitas and commission the waters were muddied and became murky and people started living from fear instead of faith, looking to do no wrong rather than learning to live in their ascribed righteousness.  I am out to unlive that into clarity, purpose and as Len shares, ‘personating’ Jesus.

I like something else he shares, and I want to be counted in the latter group… “The church was built on mavericks, marginals and martyrs, not bricks and mortar and mammon.”

Selah.

Change Your World

When we hear the statement ‘change your world’ most of us, if we are Christian leaders, think about what we call evangelism. If we could just get people to change from unbeliever to believer, from faithless to faith-filled, from far-from-God to child-of-God, from heathen to Christian, it would change our world. However, this is NOT the angle I want to challenge myself with this week.

For two millennia now the words of Jesus’ instruction have hung in the expanse of human life for his followers, “Be in the world, but not of it.”  That statement has been interpreted six ways to Sunday, but whatever the interpretation we are at a time in history that much more suggests we are ”of the world but not in it.”

Sociologists and researchers such as George Barna tell us that the lifestyle of the world is pretty consistent with the lifestyle of those who claim the name of Christ.  Not only that, but less than 15% of all church attenders (less for those who claim to be Christian) share their faith and live redemptive lifestyles.  When it comes to the clergy the numbers are frighteningly similar. Church leaders, such as ministers and pastors, are much too busy to be in normal, everyday, embedded-in-the-world relationships with sinners and the like.

So, our dilemma is this…

  • We are like the world but we are not really relating to it very well.
  • We are not distinguished as different for a purpose as much as different because we are satnd-offish.
  • Our world is dying around us in hellacious ways and we are too busy to care.
  • We equate success and effectiveness, as leaders, by our Sunday activity instead of our weekly lifestyle choices.
  • Followers of Jesus do not have leaders who truly ‘show’ the way but rather are great at teaching it.
  • We devolve into keeping the church going instead of expanding the Kingdom by living the mandate of our leader.

So, my challenge (and I hope, yours) is to change my world.

  • Develop relationships, as Jesus did, that are intentionally redemptive. That means it has to be outside the church world.
  • Commit personally to live a distinctive lifestyle that says something about your values. Don’t choose to live as well as you can economically, but live at 80%, or less, just because you can and you can use your extra resources as redemptive tools.
  • Make Monday through Saturday more important than Sunday. (As Andy Stanley says, “Cheat the Church.”)
  • Create a discernable and visible way of life that others can reproduce in redemptive manner.
  • Simplify your worship experiences into encounters between our soul and God with the least amount of hyperbole possible.
  • Finally, get out of the world you’ve created and enter the one around you, it is God’s.

Monday

Mondays are an interesting lot. One of seven evenly measured days throughout the week, each having their own personality. But Monday is the cousin of the other six that sits alone at the family reunion, doesn’t get a card on their birthday, never gets asked to dance at a soiree and, try as it may, just never gets respect.

Today is Monday.  Humans, around the globe are begrudgingly accommodating Monday’s presence while anticipating Tuesday. After Tuesday is Wednesday, which has been given the nickname ‘Hump Day.’  When you are given a nickname, you are accepted and liked. Then, Thursday is a day of high production and part of the collection of days at the end of a work week that, in light of the proximity to Friday, is affectionately welcomed. After that, Friday, the day of Divine Gratitude. Friday even has a slogan – ‘Thank God it’s Friday!’- attached to it. Nobody doesn’t like Friday. Followed by the precious two-day collection misnamed the weekend because it also contains the week’s beginning, but who cares? Saturday is your personal day to do ‘me’ stuff, whether it is house chores, lawn maintenance, shopping, playing, partying and hanging with chill friends in or out of the neighborhood. Sunday is the traditional day of worship that has turned more extended relaxation period than anything else. Then, here it comes again, Monday.

Monday is just on the outside looking in. Have you ever felt like Monday? Do you feel like Monday now? That somehow you are just like everybody else but yet you feel unlike anyone?  In some respects being unique is great, but this does not feel great.

One time, early in Jesus’ ministry, a religious leader named Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cloak of evening darkness to inquire about Jesus face-to-face.  He first said, “I recognize you are looking-inon the inside with God because if you weren’t the miracles you do would be impossible.”  Jesus read between the lines and, I believe, heard a Monday talking.  Allow me to paraphrase what Nicodemus was saying and what Jesus was hearing. “I’m like you, godly and lawful, but unlike you I do not get what is going on with you. It must be God working with you but if it is why are we not getting the vibe and walking in step with you?” Nicodemus was feeling like an outsider and he did not like it. It was uncomfortable. When it came to Jesus and the Kingdom life that seemed to be teeming around him, Nicodemus felt like he and his partners had suddenly moved from Saturday to Monday. From being the coolest ‘insider’ and having everything ‘godly’ emanate from their center to being on the outside and seeing the center of the universe become the center of what was happening in their culture.

But Jesus was not about anyone being an outsider. He wanted everyone, sinner and saint, to come inside and he said as much. “Nic, to even see inside, follow this simple reality…be born again.”  What? Born again? Nicodemus was confused. “How do I do that?” I am sure he considered a Benjamin Button scenario but Jesus continued. “Nic, you’ve already had a natural birth when water broke and you emerged into the world. This new birth is of the spirit. You must have both to enter, be an insider, in this domain of godliness.”

And, for all of us that feel as if we are a Monday in a world of Friday and Saturdays, take the challenge to become an insider that is never deported. Be born again.  If that concept is a mystery, write me, I will try to be a helper.  Just know, none of us have to be outsiders. Come on in.

Upheaval

I sat and looked at pictures this morning of a political rally for the presumptive Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Inside this rally were thousands of supporters wearing hats, t-shirts and buttons that identified themselves as ‘The Silent Majority.’ There were printed slogans on placards with the prerogative ‘Make America Great Again.’

Outside there were placards that proclaimed ‘Love trumps Hate’ and ‘Trump is the AntiChrist.’ These were alongside wordplays on his policies ‘Deport Trump’ and ‘Gays against Islamaphobia.’ There were definite visions of our nation in contrast on separate sides of Peachtree Street at the corner of Ponce de Leon on a Hot-lanta afternoon.

And, it only forecasts to get hotter, even as the calendar turns from Summer to Autumn. The polarization and divide over issues at hand is not going to magically fade away in an avalanche of cooling rhetoric and/or dialogue.  It is too far gone. The hemispheres will never merge into one another and the poles will not move off their axis.

And, how do I stand?  I stand in sadness. There is no human solution. There is no freeing political ideology. There is no Wizard behind the curtain with words to make us feel it will all be okay. It will not be okay. I am not sure when America ever was ‘great’ in the sense it is being touted to return to. (Before you go off on me, we have been the greatest among our peers but we have too many horror stories to just be called great without a disclaimer.)

We are a nation marked by our inglorious past and helped by our glorious calling.  I do believe we are a called nation.  I cannot shake that conviction.  I do believe we have the most influential role to play on the world stage.  I do believe we are used by God, and have been, in many ways over two centuries. However, since 4 July, 1776, we have been a nation under attack. Any idea, calling, purpose, movement, mission or glory that God may have envisioned for us has been met with anti-force. We are a community of humanity whose freedom allowed us to be arrogant, hateful, demeaning and cruel even in the quest for right.  That is just the way of the world and we have not escaped that. We cannot ‘return’ to greatness.  We can aspire to it though.

I am without a party, a candidate, a rallying cry in this election. I have been for the last couple of election cycles.  Still, as an American, I aspire to greatness.  I will use my freedom for good.  I will use my calling for good.  I will use my citizenship for good.  I will use my hope for good.

Despite who the President, or the party of power, may be, I will not succumb to pitying myself or my nation. I will find like-hearted friends and colleagues to make a difference where I live.  I will pray for the peace and the prosperity of the place I have been sent, for if it prospers I will prosper.

I wonder, just momentarily because of the absurdity associated with my idea, if Jesus followers would just obey the Scripture with as much fervor and energy as they exude in the political process, pray with conviction for our leaders – even IF they might be a closet Muslim or atheist or agnostic or even a clueless Joe and hate our faith and practice – and intercede beyond the realm of flesh and blood, what might happen. The church will never do such a thing though. Why? Because we are more American than we are heavenly. We are discipled in the system of politic and treat Scripture as the kind aunt or uncle who, while giving us good advice, have no authority like a parent.

Our nation is in upheaval. What I am going to do is choose not to join it. I will live by the law of love and pray to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.  I am not very good at it, but I realize this, and only this, is my pathway to greatness.

Selah.

Why Go?

What are you doing? Why do you even go to church services? What’s the point?

Those questions are great questions to ask ourselves. Not in any sense as questions of resignation but questions of invigoration. My answer to those questions are found in the following statements.

I am learning the purpose and point of life as God envisioned it. That is, I have discovered that my place among fellow humans is one of example. I live in such a way as to say, “I am alive to be the image of God among people far from and close to Him.”  God saw life as eternal and created it as such, but the eternal became temporary because of death. I have to live beyond death, as if I see the BIG PICTURE, and not be ruled by what I see or feel in the now. That is what I am doing.

Second answer is I attend church to be in an environment that stirs me and offers me opportunity to create friendships that help me develop myself around the image of God. I have to ask, “Do these people care?” “Do these people want the same thing?” “Are these people pursuing God or just using God stuff to cope?”

Finally, the point is making life worth something. I do not want to be the character in the story of Jesus that was given investment capital and was not sure what to do with it so he did nothing. I see I have something to invest – care and love. My bottom line is to be serving humanity as I reveal God’s love and purpose.

So, I go to be.

I Am A Missionary

I am a missionary.

If I say that in most common settings it would people would imagine a person who lived in a culture other than their own, speaking a language other than their own and living at a level of luxury far below his or her peers back home.

However, I am a missionary and none of that applies to me.  I am a human on a mission.  Some days I am a good missionary.  Some days I am a weak missionary. But every day I have a mission.

That mission is to reconcile, or bring together, God and humans.  As a reconciled person myself I am now part of a larger process of life – to assist others in understanding the link between our creation and our destiny.  We were created to be in a love relationship with God and, as his premier creation, to partner with him for the greater good of all.  Our destiny is to reign, or to live in oneness with God in love, in peace, in security.  It is life!  We have purpose, live in peace, pursue promise.

So, my mission is to reveal the personality and nature of God in every human interaction I have. Why?  To create an intrigue for inspection.  When I am inspected I want my story, my personality and my presence to witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the locus of my life. He is the place and person in which I find myself. His story has been the reason I am redeemed