Church is…… Whoa!

I’m not sure how I’m going to write this post.     But I know I have to try.

Church yesterday morning was, well, for lack of a better term, “Whoa!”   

Not “Whoa” as in, slow down there, you’re getting ahead of yourself.    Or “whoa, cut that out!”

“Whoa” as in,  “I  had never thought of it that way.”

“Whoa” as in, “that makes so much sense and that really impacts my life”

“Whoa” as in, “my older 13 year old was still thinking and talking about what Pastor Dave said later that night.”

So, what was this amazing sermon and service about? 

Luke 16:19-26 – The story of Lazarus and the rich man.   You know the story?   The poor beggar outside of the rich man’s house – but yet the rich man does nothing to help?

Then the tables turn – Lazarus dies and goes to heaven.   The rich man dies and goes to hell.   From hell, he begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers to repent.    Abraham said, “they have the prophets, they’ll be fine.   If they don’t believe because of them, they won’t believe.”   (Obviously paraphrased and shortened)

So what’s so “Whoa!” about that?    A couple of things:

  • The teaching of Hell makes you more peace filled.   Why?  Because you know that God settles scores.   Justice prevails.   It always has and it always will.   It won’t always prevail here on this earth, but it will prevail.   Justice prevailed for Lazarus once he got to heaven.   Justice prevailed against the rich man when he got to hell.
  • John  Lennon had it wrong.   He sang, “Imagine there’s no heaven.”   If there was no heaven and no hell, there would be no justice in this world.   If there was no justice, there would be no peace.
  • Don’t let bitterness corrupt your soul if justice is not granted in this world.   Hell is real and God will make it right – in His time, not our time.

God will make it right because He sent His Son to hell to make sure that justice will prevail.    He sent His Son to suffer because He loves us.   He loves us with a very costly and overwhelming love.

A love that changes us.   He did that for me?

Yes, He did THAT for you.   And for me.    And for your neighbor and the couple down the street and the orphans in Uganda and………

Because of that costly love, we do a couple of things differently:

  • We fight injustice with an eternal outlook.   Yes, we want to bring justice here and now but we know that God settles scores and He will bring justice.   In His time.
  • We look at the struggles of our daily lives differently.   We know that God’s got this.
  • We don’t let bitterness corrupt our souls.   There are so many evil and corrupt things in this world that could turn us into bitter people if justice isn’t “done” here and now.   God’s love overwhelms that desire.

So, “Whoa!”   Because God sent Jesus to Hell, because of that crazy love that He has for us, we can live with an eternal peace that comes from knowing that God’s justice will prevail.

“Whoa!”

Tom

P.S. If you want to listen to the entire sermon, go to: http://www.madisonsquarechurch.org/sermondownloads/2014-10-26-AM_Square-Campus_Foundation-Matters-Jesus-and-Hell.mp3

Bigger and Better in the Right Way

Did you know that even in this age of American Consumerism, it’s possible to do bigger in the right way?

But also possible to do bigger in the wrong way?

And while you can’t do better in the wrong way (because then it isn’t better – duh!) it is possible for bigger to not necessarily mean better.

Now let’s look at that when it comes to churches…….

Is bigger always better?    I’d like to say that there are two types of bigger when it comes to churches.

There is the numbers – how many members, how big of budget, how big of facilities, how many people attend every Sunday morning and things like that.   Is that kind of bigger always better?

  • If the bigger allows you to reach more souls, to better equip your congregation to go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus, then yes, that kind of bigger can be better.
  • But if bigger only means that you’re putting on larger “events” and you’re coming up with more cool toys to worship with (I’ve heard of a church with a  live Twitter feed going about the sermon), then you’re turning worship from a conversation with God into a performance and you’re turning people’s focus away from helping others and towards “what’s in it for me?”  That’s not better.

What’s the other type of bigger?  

Bigger that looks beyond itself.    Bigger that says, “We’re not all there is.”   Bigger that says, “It’s not about me.”

Bigger that looks at the community and says, “We can help make this a better place.”

Bigger that looks at our neighbors and says, “What can I do to show them Jesus?”

Bigger that looks at the world and says, “We’re only one church, but we’re going to make a difference.”

Obviously, the second type of bigger has nothing to do with size.     A church of 50 can be bigger in this way than a church of 500.    A church of 15,000 can be very small and a church of 100 can be very big.  

This kind of bigger doesn’t depend on size, it depends on outlook.

Are we a church that is happy to sit in our own little corner, meet for an hour on Sunday morning and then go on living our quiet little lives?

Are we a church that is happy pretending that all is well?

Are we a church that likes to stick our head in the sand and think that everyone believes and behaves the same way we do?

Are we a church that believes (or acts like it believes) that the problems “out there” in far away places are “not our problem?”

If we are, we’re a pretty small church.

I don’t believe God likes small churches.   Actually, I know He doesn’t like small churches.  

He doesn’t care about the size of the church (remember the quote – wherever two or three are gathered……?)   

But He cares about how big we think.    He cares about how big we worship.   He cares about how big we care.

So, do you attend a small church or a big church?

Tom

Gasp! I Learned Something in College!

No, actually that’s not a surprise.   I learned a lot of things in college.    But there’s one particular thing that Dr. Howard Rienstra, history  professor at Calvin College taught me in one of my classes that has stuck with me since then.

I took a class on “modern American” history with him and while I don’t remember the title of the course, I know we spent a lot of time talking about the slave trade, the post slave era and the civil rights era.

What stuck with me?   The thing that stuck with me is this statement:

“African Americans, and the African American church, have their theology of sin, suffering and heaven absolutely correct.   They had no choice but to get it right.”

Theology of suffering?   Think about it.    If you grew up as a slave in America in the 1800’s, there wasn’t much to be happy about.  Actually, there wasn’t anything to be happy about.    Your life consisted of hard work for no pay and constant heartache and loss.

The Southern Baptists and particularly the “black church” have developed a rich history of music, of worship and of preaching in church that focus on heaven being our home.    We’re only traveling through this land of pain and suffering, there’s something better coming.

Why did they develop that?   Because the alternative was to go stark raving mad.   The losses, the pain, the abuse would have been too much.

The Black church developed the ability to worship with joy – not joy because life is so pleasant, but joy because heaven is so wonderful.  Joy because eventually they will be done with their suffering.  They developed the ability to share sorrows – because they knew the only way to get through the pain was to share each other’s sorrows and walk with each other through the suffering.

The first world church can learn from the African American church in this.   We need to learn that our joy in life is not because things here are so good.   Our joy in life is because “This is not where we belong.”

 

We also need to be more open about our sorrows, we need to be more open about our pain.   “I’m Worn” and I need your help and I need God’s help to make it through.

Church would be more Christ like and more meaningful if we did.

TJV

P.S. I’m very well aware that these two songs are not Negro Spirituals but they are examples of the “White Church” picking up on those themes as part of their worship.

Ferguson

It’s a place very few of us know even existed until recently.

It’s a place where something bad happened.  

It’s a place where there’s a lot of “he said, he said, she said” stories.    Getting to the truth seems very hard to do.

It’s a town in Missouri.

But it’s so much more.

Ferguson is  a reminder.

Ferguson is a scab that got pulled off.

Ferguson is a sad commentary on today’s world.    No matter what you believe happened, it shows that not all is well with the world.

Cops feel it necessary to use force, most of the time with good reason, but not always.   They are human too……

The  young men in our world are being taught that it’s okay to disrespect authority.    5 minutes reading the rap lyrics of some of the top rappers will show you that.

The young men in our world are being taught that it’s okay to demean the opposite gender and treat them as less than they deserve.   The media is portraying a view of men and women that doesn’t respect either one of them.

Ferguson is a reminder that the civil rights era isn’t that long ago.    In many ways, the civil rights era is right now.

Ferguson is a reminder that if a group of people feel like their government is not protecting their rights, they are going to protest that.    I’ve read a couple of articles that laid out a pretty convincing case that Ferguson was a justified case of the residents of Ferguson saying, “We’ve had enough of the government not  protecting our rights and we’re sick of it.” 

Ferguson has highlighted the fact that the percentage of the population that is black and male is substantially lower than the percentage of the inmate population that is black and male.

Ferguson has poked an uncomfortable finger at those of us who blindly live our lives benefiting from “White Privilege” without even being aware of it.   

Now the question – “So What?”   What does this have to do with the church?  Isn’t this a police force/racism government issue?

This impacts the church in a number of ways:

  • It either shines a light on a church as one that cares about people of all races and colors or one that is very happy living their sheltered white life.
  • It shows that for a church to “love your neighbor as yourself” is a lot harder if the neighbor isn’t white like you are.

Ferguson is an issue of social justice for the church.    Either we, as a church (either an individual church or a worldwide church) need to acknowledge that we aren’t as far as we thought in loving and treating all of our neighbors the way God wants us to – and we need to do something to change that.

Or we send a message to those who aren’t a member of our church – “we don’t really care – if you aren’t “like” us, you can come, but we aren’t going to go out of our way to make you feel a part of our church.”

Jesus said, in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”

That means all nations and all colors and all races.    Ferguson reminds us that we’ve got a LOT of work to do yet……..

Do you think Jesus would be happy with Ferguson and what happened there?

I think not.

Tom

Invisible

“How are you?”    “Fine.”

“How’s the kids?”    “They are good.”

“How’s the job treating you?”   “You know how it goes……”

“How about them Denver Broncos?   Isn’t that Peyton something?”

“Got to love fall weather in Michigan, don’t you?”

“Isn’t it just a beautiful Sunday morning?”

Now let me ask you a question……

“If you showed up at church on crutches on a Sunday morning, do you think that people would ask you those same questions?”

“If you showed up at church on a Sunday morning wearing a head scarf because your hair fell out from chemotherapy, do you think that people would ask you the same questions?   In the same way?”

Then why do we assume that just because you can’t see a pain, it doesn’t exist?

Just because you can’t see that someone lost their job doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggling with all of the questions and issues that unemployment can bring.

Just because you look “fine” doesn’t mean that you haven’t been plagued by debilitating depression and suicidal thoughts throughout the week.

Just because you look “fine” doesn’t mean that your daughter didn’t run away with someone she met on the internet.

Just because you look “fine” doesn’t mean that your children are fine and aren’t carrying significant emotional baggage that weighs the entire family down.

Why does the church refuse to look beyond skin deep?  

Why does the church refuse to get involved with anything that can’t be fixed by a hot meal or a ride to the doctors?

Because it’s messy.

Because it hurts.

Because looking beyond skin deep involves acknowledging our own hurts and the way those hurts have left scars.

Because looking beyond skin deep requires us to sit with the pain that someone else has.    That makes us uncomfortable.   We aren’t used to that.    It doesn’t fit with the modern day interpretation of Romans 8:28 (Everything is always good when you love God).

And guess what – that skin deep outlook, that lack of seeing the deep, the emotional, the painful, it hurts.

It makes pain worse.

It drives away people from the church.

It keeps people from wanting to be involved with the church.

It hurts the kingdom.

So what?  (See prior post)   What does the church need to do?

A couple of suggestions:

  • Stop assuming that if everything looks good on top, it is.
  • When you ask someone, “So, how are you?”  Don’t accept the pat answer, “Fine.”    Instead, asking, “No really, how are you?”   And mean it.
  • Make it more obvious that the church is okay with talking about and dealing with the messy of life.    Very few churches are willing to.

Jesus had dinner with IRS agents and prostitutes, I think it’s okay for us to admit to pain and to walk alongside people who are in pain.k

It’s what Jesus would do.

Tom