Sunday, January 23, 2011

Whoa. This got deep...


I've been wrestling with the idea of church. As some of you may know, we are kind of "in the business" of church. So, I guess some thinking about it would be good. The problem is, as I think about it, I'm not sure we're doing it right. We come in and hang out with some peeps (usually the ones we know and are comfortable talking to), pour a cup of coffee (because we're post-modern so coffee in church is all the rage), go sit in our seat (sometimes the same seat every week...and if anyone else sits there it almost visibly puts us into a tail spin!), we sing some songs (sometimes led by a good band, sometimes a quite mediocre/ teetering on sucky band...ok, honestly, sometimes the band just sucks and its too distracting to worship but we raise our hands anyway and try to get into it), listen to a "message" (which sometimes is filled with so much "and all God's people said...?" and "Can I hear an Amen?" 's that it makes me a little crazy....I'm pretty sure I'm one of God's people, but I never know how to fill in the blank. "I don't know...what did God's people say? Woot?"), then we end and leave (sometimes to find our car smashed in the parking lot without a note...that happened to us last week. I just thought I'd add that in. It's ok to laugh). Let me tell you, sitting beside someone who might be coming to church for the first time, you pick up on the little things that might make them uncomfortable! How ARE they supposed to know what all God's people said? I had a friend lean over to me during worship and ask why everyone was raising their hands. I think we get so comfortable with our churchy selves that we forget to see how church would look to a fresh set of eyes. I think it would look pretty weird. But, I think we're comfy. I think we've been misled for the last couple of hundred years that there is a formula to follow, and as long as you're following that, you're good. You've done your duty, and someone's life might be changed along the way. I'm wondering how much life change is happening in our churches anymore, or if its becoming our excuse for complacency during the rest of the week. But the fact is, why would someone wander into these churches? And what would church have to offer them? The church has been following the same "formula" for hundreds of years, but culture is in constant's time for "church" to grab a clue and change along with it!
So, here's what I'm wrestling with: given all that, I'm tempted to think that in order to make a difference, or the ONLY way to make a difference is to start new and fresh. To say "screw this", leave "church" as we know it, and forge our own way. To some extent, that is what we need to do. However, I was hit with this thought today. What the church really needs is for those of us with a desire for change to STAY and change. To allow the church to see a revolution beginning within its own walls. It only takes a couple of people with a vision to start a revolution. And shouldn't that revolution be started in the middle of the people around us who have become complacent? To inspire people who are comfortable to step outside of that comfort zone? Can you imagine the impact if we start a revolution where a spark can trigger a fire? Where people who have the skills and resources can be inspired and encouraged to do something DIFFERENT than they are used to! To those brave visionaries out there: GO!! Start a revolution! But don't hide what you are doing away from those who need to learn from you: the people that fill our churches. You could be that spark that lights a fire under those bums filling the pews, and rescues our churches from the complacent state it's in!

Oddly enough, Micah and I were thinking the same thing when I started to write this blog and I invited him to chime in. Here's Micah:

We can be certain that continuing in complacency, continuing the same traditional approaches, and perpetuating the attitude that the church exists for "church people" will result in the same discouraging results we are seeing today.
Recently I was at a church where a pastor friend of mine used a great deal of "Christian jargon". I know this pastor has a tremendous heart for people outside of the church, but his practices communicated that church exists for church people who know the insider vocabulary. As it was bugging me (which I know is my own sin issue), I was tempted to give up on trying to influence him otherwise. I excused it saying, "that's just his style", but I was struck with the very challenging fact that to give up could result in yet another church drifting into it's comfort zone with comfortable Christians. We talk about sharing the good news of Jesus and people applaud, but when changes are made to help us better share the gospel the feedback is of a different nature.
What will the uphill battle take? What will those revolutionaries have to endure to see the sparks ignite?
A number of years ago, I remember hearing a pastor of a new church that was effectively impacting its city say that their effectiveness was linked to really getting back to the gospel and repenting of their indifference for the world around them. At the time, I thought, "yeah that's good, but what does that even mean?" Since then I've had a number of experiences that help me see what he was talking about, or at least what I think he was talking about. The future of the church and it's impact in the world is directly connected to our understanding of the pure essence of the gospel. The challenge is getting at the pure essence of the gospel. When you think about how churches handle the gospel, there is so much added to it. A few examples: I remember hearing an individual say, "can a democrat even be a true believer." A friend of mine in college was perplexed and concerned after a trip to Nepal. He was so concerned about these people who hadn't heard the message of Jesus and asked one of his favorite college professors how to handle this. The professor's response was, "good thing we don't have to worry about it". A popular pastor prescribing that Christians never dabble in yoga, lest they invite little demons into their life. These examples share a common thread, an enculturated gospel, a gospel of Jesus and....(political views, entitlement and judgement, separatist world views, etc...)
Another illustration came from a recent conversation with a friend who spent several years in West Africa. He was describing the polygamist practices in Mali. He said the men take several wives because of the work load of their agrarian lives (the wives do most of the work). He told me of several families that had come to know Jesus and started participating in the Mali church. Knowing how many of our stateside churches would handle a polygamist family attending their church, I was curious to know how the church in Mali handled this. His answer was simple, it's a non issue. Coming to Christ is a free invitation that required no jumping of cultural hurdles. This practice, polygamy may change in future generations as generations of Jesus followers abandon the practice, but coming to know Jesus doesn't first require the jumping of cultural barriers. The gospel is truly being presented as an invitation to people right where they are at.

So, back to the pastor, the talk I didn't really get, and the discussion of igniting fires of revolution within existing churches. The call of this revolution is simple and yet I believe it will be a battle. The call is to simply present the true gospel (let's call it Jesus 1.0) less all it's cultural baggage and first let it impact our own lives in a way that creates a tremendous sense of urgency. Jesus' gospel is an invitation to follow Him, find forgiveness, and be invited into a life changing eternity with God that starts now.
The call also means that we reflect Jesus in the way we invite others into this life changing eternity. Jesus left heaven and his perfect relationship with God to become one of us. Jesus, the Godman was sent and made His dwelling with us. That same kind of sending is what God is calling us to. To go into the world (not staying inside the church doors) and dwell with people, living the goods news and sharing the good news.
Let me give you a couple examples of people living this out, so that you can see what this looks like...and how easy it could be:
Family number 1 has extended family and friends who don't know Jesus and are not comfortable stepping foot into a church. Dad is an elder at his church and tattoo artist. Seeing people who are far from Jesus and opportunities to care for them, they step down from leadership in order to open their schedules and home to people who are seeking and questioning.
Family number 2 decides to wake up early on a chilly Saturday morning to make breakfast burritos, meet up with friends and deliver said burritos to the homeless. 57 burritos are delivered along with hot coffee, and an eternal impact is made on their children in teaching them how to think outside of themselves to care for others.

A man at our church here in Seattle, after hearing and considering the story of the Good Samaritan, feels compelled to go out and search for people who need shelter, food, or medical attention. He goes out daily during the week to help those in need. He tried to get help from the church, and only one person offered to occasionally help with vehicles.

A local doctor has a vision to extend his knowledge and gifts to people in need. He starts a free medical clinic within a church with little recognition.

These people are revolutionaries. They are seeking to extend God's love outside of the walls of the church.
Imagine for a moment the impact of existing churches turning the corner and using their strengths, assets, people for the sake of the world. Dream of the impact of abandoning our comfortable traditions and truly seeking to exist to present Jesus to the World. Conceive of churches restructuring around the idea of existing for people outside the church and willingly letting go of how this challenges their preferences.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I'm not sure what to call this one...

Hello Everyone!!
So, I just got back from a pastor's renewal retreat in Cannon Beach. I know. It sounds "pastor-y", and it was. I kind of had a little panic attack the first night. First of all, we had about a 9 hour drive (from Wenatchee), so we walked in late to the speaker. And it was crowded. So we climbed over this one guy to find seats. I was wearing my Michelin Tire Man coat, but it was too crowded to take it off without elbowing everyone around me in the face, so I kept it on and became very claustrophobic. So, I started panicking! I got all hot and squirmy in my seat, and totally resisted the urge to bolt out of there! That's what happens to me at conferences like that! What's my deal? Talking with any of these people one on one is perfectly fine and comfy! And I knew a lot of them...and they are all awesome people! But, you put a bunch of pastors in a group and it stresses me out. Anywho, that doesn't have anything to do with anything. Except that the time away allowed me the space to make a couple of realizations.
First of all, the speaker was Ruth Haley Barton. She is the author of "Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership". Now, this might come as a surprise to many of you, but I haven't read the book. Probably because the title is "Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership"...and I don't know really what that means, and I'm not really in leadership. However, she was inspiring (and a little intimidating)! But, she had us take this test to draw attention to the state of our souls that asked questions like: Do you find yourself hiding from people that you run into in the grocery store?...Do you find yourself using escapist behaviors like mindless television? Do you find that you are easily irritated? And we had to check off Always, Often, Sometimes, Rarely, Never. I have to say...most of my answers (out of about 20) were in the "always" to "often" range! So, as we sat there and analyzed my little test, my first realization of the week was: MY SOUL IS SCREWED!! Now, I'm not sure what to do about this yet (as I was barfing the next day when she gave us the "what to do about your screwed up soul" talk)...but I plan on looking into and working on the health of my soul...I guess its a starting point to just know, right? Rather than to go on wondering why you're so worn down, yelling at bad drivers and my children, hiding from people in grocery stores then coming home to veg out to Spongebob Squarepants! So...more to come on that journey!
The second realization came on the 9 hour drive to the beach. I was talking to Micah and I realized (and verbalized) I don't know who I am up here in Seattle. I'm just DOING some stuff, some of it intentionally, but mostly just doing...And, it's a weird place to be. But, not only that, I also find myself fighting against people's expectations of who they think I should be. Here's some examples:
"Are you going to the women's Bible Study?"
"There's a great Sunday School class for you and Micah to go to..."
"Why isn't your child in Sunday School? Does he want to go to Sunday School? Would you like me to show you where his Sunday School is?"
"Do you go to B.S.F (Bible Study Fellowship)?"
The answer to all these is NO!! I am not interested in women's bible studies or MOMS groups...I hate BSF...I am not interested in Sunday school and if my children aren't either, I don't blame them and won't make them go! But so far, I have been afraid to say so. And instead, I'm glad I have an excuse not to attend! I'm even hesitant to help with worship because I think it furthers the "box" that people put me in as a pastors wife. The fact is, for some reason, God has chosen to use my openness, my honesty, my humor, my openness of my unlimited number of shortcomings and even my contempt of "church-y" things to draw people in to a relationship with Jesus.
Please understand, I DO think that there is a place for women's bible studies and I've seen MOMS groups change entire families. (I'm not too sure about BSF or Sunday school though as I think it is a way to "hoarde" or "quarantine" mature Christians and keep them from engaging with people who might be far from God). I'm just pretty sure that is not what God has called ME to. And believe me, I've tried and even led them. I believe that God is graciously using my shortcoming and the crazy way He's put me together to show those who might not know the grace of Jesus that He not only loves and accepts the extremely imperfect, He uses them to break down barriers, to blow away expectations and prejudices, and to further His Kingdom.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The New Year?

Well, Happy New Year!
As I write this we are driving back from Great Wolf Lodge.It was supposed to be a "celebratory destination" for our house selling and the end to all the transition stuff... But, since our house STILL hasn't closed (we're hoping it'll close at some point in 2011), it was a Christmas present....we had a blast!! It was so very nice to get away and just play with our kids. I think we all needed that. There's something about just playing with our kiddos that refuels me and helps me appreciate each of them where they are at. I also realized how perfect God's plan is even when we think "oh...woops".
Here's what I mean: Micah and I were married for a mere 5 months before we found ourselves pregnant with our 1st baby...EJ. (Keep in mind that at this point, I think I still had Micah convinced that I didn't fluff or stink or poop. Or I had myself convinced that Micah was barfing my guts out and trying to squeeze so as not to fluff which only resulted in a super high squeaking noise, kind of shattered the dainty persona I was trying to create). Yeah. I barfed for 9 months with that guy. But, here's the woops. For those of you who don't know me, or might not first 2 children, EJ and Hannah, are 11 months apart. (If you're not very good at math...that means that I was pregnant again when EJ was 2 months old) I guess I didn't think that was a possibility. WOOPS!...As you might have read 2 sentences ago, I BARFED FOR 9 MONTHS so I was super scared about going through all that again, and I cried for a part of that day. Don't get me wrong...I firmly believe that every child is a miracle, and I NEVER think that children are accidents...just unexpected surprises. And I KNOW that I am so blessed to have each and every one of them, And I wouldn't ever want to change anything. At the time, though, I was scared and a little embarassed (I told Micah not to tell anyone for a while because I was afraid that they would think that THAT's all we know, since we didnt have a TV). BUT, I had 2 babies...11 months apart. And after Hannah, I thought I was doing pretty good once 2 months passed and I wasn't pregnant and then every following month that I wasnt pregnant...and then came Zeke! A little less than 3 years later. Which, in comparison seemed like a huge gap!
Anywho, as I stood huffing and puffing at the top of 5 flights of stairs at Great Wolf Lodge this week, waving to the 3 of them riding the "Howling Tornado" together, I realized how what might seem to me like an "oops" was God's provision for my children. This transition to Seattle has seemed long and lonely at times. And on certain days, my heart breaks for my kid's loneliness and longing for friends...but 13 years ago, God knew what the plan was today, and gifted us accordingly. While it is important for my kids to have friends outside of the family, God first gave them each other.And maybe during this season, that is the most important lesson to be learning.