Monthly Archives: August 2013

Breaking the Silence

godhateslust

By: Christiana Cha

For a moment, I was stunned; I had expected to hear some profound thoughts, but somehow I had not expected to get hit by such a small phrase.

I was sitting in a room filled mostly with people in their forties and older but a few other twenty-somethings like myself listening to an acquaintance, Sally Gary (founder of CenterPeace and author of “Loves God, Likes Girls”) talking about how stigmatized homosexuality/same sex attraction was and in many cases still is. But that wasn’t what caught my attention. It was what she said next:

“Would that some of the other things we struggle with had been so socially unacceptable.”

A million thoughts flooded my mind – things like uncontrolled tempers, lust, jealousy, making fun of others to make ourselves feel better, excluding others because they somehow don’t “fit in” to the narrow definitions we set for our tiny elitist cliques, and so on…. Those are things about which we don’t talk. We hold our silence, and we paste on a fake smile and pretend to be nice whilst waiting for someone to pass just to turn and say, “What a dork,” or some other derogatory name-calling.

Why do we do it?  And more importantly, why do we not point that out more as something that needs to be “fixed”? Why do we put other “issues” under the microscope instead?

A young boy is being verbally abused at home, but no one breathes a word or tells his father that he needs to change his stance toward his son or his son will have a world of baggage that will cripple him as an adult and make him continually believe the lie that he is inadequate, incapable, and worthless.

Men and women young and not-so-young lust after one another, sometimes having affairs, sleeping around, or becoming addicted to pornography. But we don’t talk about that, either. We almost seem to condone it, in fact.

We encourage exclusivity and cliques, we make fun of those who are different from us (let’s face it, we’re all different from one another), and we laugh when others trip and fall whether it’s physically or socially.  (Don’t tell me you’ve never laughed at playground fails or Scarlett taking a tumble on Youtube – I have).

And, don’t tell me you’ve never had road rage. I’d be lying to you if I said I never have road rage. But beyond road rage, what about a general lack of control of one’s temper? That is something that can be very hurtful, especially to family members, who generally bear the brunt of a person’s rage.

And yet…we focus on topics like same-sex attraction. Why? Why don’t we talk more about the other topics I listed and so many more that are ultimately so much more hurtful to us? I almost stopped listening to the rest of what Sally had to say after she said that one line, “Would that some of the other things we struggle with had been so socially unacceptable.” Indeed! I wish they were, and I wish we talked about those things more and brought them to light so children did not have to grow up being verbally abused with no one to be their advocates! I wish that we didn’t make fun of each other so viciously just to get a laugh and feel good about ourselves. I wish bedding someone wasn’t such a conquest and a game to so many people. I wish, I wish, I wish. But how do we change it?

Well for starters, let’s talk about it.

Blind Eyes

By: Javan Furlow

This is one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists. An interesting, introspective look into a well-known parable and how it may apply in our lives today. Without giving much away, the song is creative and emotionally captivating. Enjoy the song “Blind Eyes” by Swoope

 

The Burning [Bagel] Bush of Spiritual Rhythm

bagel

By: Pat Bills

The oddest sensation came over me this morning while studying at Panera Bread. I was drinking my black hazelnut coffee (it was actually pretty good) and I had a rush of spiritual peace come over me. Like the kind of peace you get in the midst of a storm or the peace you feel when you inhale mountain air after being in Texas all summer. It was Jesus-calming-the-storm-peace. It was as if God exhaled and I inhaled the air my soul needed. And my bagel became a bush that was on fire. It was Holy ground and God was calling to me.

And here is what’s really weird. I now realize burning-bush-bagel had everything to do with the reality of the end of summer- and the start of school.

What?

I know… weird, huh?

Now let me explain why you should care about my Spiritual encounter at Panera Bread. It has everything to do with my need for spiritual rhythm.

Please don’t misunderstand. I love summer. I have four boys all under the age of 12. Summer at my house is a blaze of testosterone-filled days of water parks, bike rides, pool parties, and wrestling matches (insert prayer for my wife here).  But I have found the glorious chaos and activity of summer to be exhausting. Summer has no need for an alarm clock. It has very little rhythm. Frankly, I don’t want to admit the exhaustion of summer is destructive to my pursuit of Jesus. After all, the goal is to follow Jesus isn’t it? As John Ortberg so rightly says, “You simply cannot run faster than the one you are following.”

I am a Christ follower. He is the leader and I am the follower. Yet, I often find myself (like this summer) completely and totally outrunning Him. Summertime is for me to be the driver and Jesus to be co-pilot. I like to cram pack my schedule. I like to “go-go-go” until my body screams, “Stop!” and lose my voice while acquiring an unending headache. I fit Jesus into my schedule – my summer – my rhythm. And to add insult to injury I claim the title, in my faith community, Lead Minister.

You feelin’ me?

But I don’t think this is the rhythm Jesus had in mind. Jesus makes it abundantly clear to the disciples to come and follow him.  In fact, one of my mentors recently pointed out that whenever Jesus talks about leadership it is usually not favorable. It’s downright scathing. Maybe the “leaders” of His day were consumed with doing rather than being. Maybe the ones who were supposed to lead the nation of Israel had missed the whole point of Sabbath rest. Maybe what they needed was a reminder: to lead is to follow.  And we simply cannot run faster than the one we are following. Because when I follow Jesus I follow him to a solitary place. I follow him to a space where he teaches me to pray “your kingdom come and your will be done” I follow Jesus because at the end of the summer, it is His prayerful and hope-filled rhythm my soul was lacking.

So, there I was at Panera Bread and a rush of Spiritual peace flooded my soul. My burning bush was instructing me and reminding me of the goodness of spiritual rhythm. So, the craziness of summer is over and the routine of school has begun. Jesus was calling and I heard him say this morning very clearly, “Come and follow me and so I can give you back your rhythm.”

And though I love the wonderful busyness of summer and though I’ll cherish the memories of my “time off.” I need routine. My soul craves it. I need the reminder that I am not the driver of my so-called-spiritual life. I need the reminder that I am a follower of Jesus before I am a leader for Jesus. And if I chose to follow He can lead me towards a rhythm of non-anxious unhurried presence. That is what my heart desires. This is the creational rhythm Jesus came to restore. And I am so glad summer is over and school has started.

Rhythm.

Peace.

Ahhhhhhhh.

Evils of organized religion, part 2

pews

By: Steve Holt Sr.

(See Part One)

There is no doubt that God works in institutional churches, just like he works in other gatherings of people on earth.  He was at work at Dachau, the Gulag, Shiloh, and Pleiku City.  He is at work among Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus.  He is in the countryside and the inner city.  He works through children, gays, straights, bigots, Popes, bartenders, doctors and all others because he is sovereign and will work in whomever he darn well pleases.

Just because God works in an entity doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement.  And improvement is possible only when one acknowledges the faults and is willing to right the wrongs.  Here’s the rest of my list of problems with organized religion.

Organized religion fosters and reinforces clergy-laity distinction.  You can’t convince me that church leaders don’t consider themselves above the flock when:  1) a select group (mainly men) assumes they can speak for the entire flock, 2) this group can determine who’s in and who’s out of the community, 3) preachers are given the majority of time during assemblies to give their opinions on matters of scripture with no rebuttal, 4) preachers speak through an amplified system from an elevated, specially lit platform and place themselves where they can receive adoration at the end of their sermon, 5) only designated individuals (mainly men) are allowed to speak during assemblies in many churches, 6) preachers and church leaders are esteemed above  “ordinary” members, etc., etc.   There is no “priesthood of all believers” in Christendom!

Organized religion values conformity over uniqueness.  Is your God-given gift dance?  Good luck using that to his glory in most churches.  In many churches, same-sex attraction is banned, women can’t speak or lead, one’s race is judged, one’s attire or car or house is rated, and one’s parenting skills are evaluated to ensure conformity.  In most churches, with a few exceptions, you find memberships of folks who look pretty much the same:  black churches are made up primarily of black folks; white churches, white; poor churches, poor; wealthy churches, wealthy; conservative churches are conservative, and so on.   Is this a picture of God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven?”

Organized religion siphons funds for its own benefit before caring for the needs of others.  How much money do you suppose has been spent on buildings, temples, monasteries, shrines, etc. through the centuries?  Then there are salaries, programs, busses, vans, planes, printing, toilet paper, furniture, flannel boards, parking, etc., etc.  (One local church in my town spends 70% of its budget on salaries.)  And still the local church wants more.  The church has told you where to spend your money, how much to spend and what will happen to you if you don’t give your fair share to the church.  If there’s any money left, it might go to the poor.  Could this be God’s will?

Organized religion robs city, state and federal governments of billions.

Tax breaks for religious institutions cost the United States at least $71.1 billion annually, according to a new report by Ryan T. Cragun, Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega of the Council for Secular Humanism. The real number is probably much higher, as it doesn’t account for several more subsidies that yield probably billions more, such as capital gains exemptions or property taxes not paid to states, according to the number-crunchers. (www.now.msn.com)

Church buildings, church schools, parish houses, parsonages, church cars, church jets and more are all exempt from taxation.  You and I make up the loss, so in a way, I suppose all of us contribute to church whether we want to or not.  And if this weren’t bad enough, churches are not accountable to anyone since they are not required to file a tax return.  Could this be God’s will?

———-

Sure, some good can come out of just about anything, and there have been some wonderful side effects from organized religion.  But, in all honesty, can we say that the good outweighs the bad when you think of all that’s gone down in the name of religion through the millennia?  I believe there are some specific, concrete solutions for the predicament organized religion finds itself.  I’ll share my thoughts on a better way in future blogs.

Beware the Mockingbirds

mockingbird_7

By: Janet Mendenhall

I have a new dog, Millie. A lovable, furry mutt. She is in no way menacing. In addition to my morning workout at the gym, I have taken to accompanying Millie on a two-mile trek around the perimeter of a local university. She is already quite accomplished at this leashed lap around the trail and is now only slightly distracted by the off-trail sights and sounds and has even begun exhibiting less disappointment in my pace as the younger, fitter runners pass us by.

At about the quarter-mile marking, the small trees planted alongside the trail have become home to some mockingbirds. They are nesting and are taking their mockingbird mothering seriously. The warning sounds early — and loudly — as you approach the area. And then it begins. Lovable, furry (and non-menacing) Millie, happily tugging at her leash, is dive bombed. And again!

She hasn’t barked or sniffed the air or even looked in Mama M’s direction. It doesn’t matter. Nature, or experience, or a combination of both has taught her to be wary, and this bird is taking no chances. Millie is different. She is not a bird of a feather, and therefore there is no need for flocking together. She looks different, smells different, does things differently, and therefore she is suspect. There is no time for considering whether Millie has something to offer, whether her joining the community would in time strengthen the group. That would be too big a risk to the way of life Mama M is protecting.

Sound familiar?  Done any dive bombing lately? Are we in our groups so certain what we have is right — our way of living, or believing or worshiping — that we feel called to dive bomb unsuspecting passersby who threaten us with their different thoughts and ideas and lifestyles? Are we dive bombing without even considering the possibility of them richly contributing to our community? I am afraid that many of us in the kingdom are stunting its growth. We are fiercely (and fearfully) holding onto our traditional ideas and narrow-minded view of truth, and have pecked away at those who challenge us to let go and open up.  And some of us think our newly opened minds and fresh ideas and thoughts are the only things worth chirping about and are just as hasty to attack and miss opportunities to build up the kingdom.

It is likely not a bad idea for Mama M to go with her instincts. It has likely paid off for her. I just don’t think there is room in the kingdom for bird brains.

Confession

By Guest Author: Rosten Callarman

Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. 

I have a confession to make.

I believe that I see your sin, and I believe that I see it better than you do.

This isn’t one of those sins that Americans seem to look down on.  I worked in ministry for years.  I taught classes, preached sermons, had conversations with all kinds of people.  I talked about sin a lot.  Maybe I didn’t use that exact word, but I talked about it.

The sins of some government.

The sins of some preacher that I didn’t know and didn’t like.

The sins of some news channel.

The sins of some person in my church/town/community/work.

And usually everyone just nodded along.

Come to think of it, I can’t think of that many times when I talked about my own sins.  Growing up in the United States, I wasn’t really trained to do that.  I wasn’t taught to let people in on my weakness.  I was trained to never let my guard own.  To lead with a smile.  To put my best foot forward.

Of course, that’s not really how life works, is it?  Sometimes the cracks are a little more visible.  Sometimes our weaknesses define us far more than our strengths.  Is that a bad thing?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  For me, the bad thing is when I start to assume that I am entirely defined by my strengths and that you are entirely defined by your weakness.  I focus on your sin so much that I can’t even see your humanity anymore.  I focus on my assumed righteousness so much that I can’t see my humanity either.

Interestingly enough, I have a few pretty good friends who believe that they are entirely defined by their weaknesses and that everyone else is entirely defined by their strengths.  We all have our own unique little ways of destroying community.

But there is always good news.  We have the only judge who has ever been able to know both our indiscretion and our intention.  We have the only doctor who has ever been able to heal the deep woundedness of humanity.  We have the only king who has ever seen fit to die at the hands of his people.

It is this judge, this doctor, this king who sees my sin.  Who sees your sin.  Thanks be to God, he sees our sin far better than I do!  And as I walk away from you and this judge, this doctor, this king, stone falling from my hand, he says to you, “Where is he going? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir.”

“Then neither do I condemn you.  Go now.  Leave your life of sin.”

In dropping my stone, I confess my inability to see your sin.  I confess that I am a woefully blind judge, a woefully inadequate doctor, and a woefully ignoble king.  But thanks be to God, not one of those things was my job in the first place.

true beauty is in redemption

Perfection-is-imperfectBy: Laura Callarman

I have a confession to make. I know it probably won’t surprise you too much, but it’s got to be said nonetheless, so here it is: Much as I might have sounded and even been utterly convinced of what I wrote in my last post about “a thoroughly gospeled life” and what that entails for me, I have a really hard time living into that ideal much of the time. You see, my life is not thoroughly gospeled. It’s not full to the brim with God’s good news. I’d love to be able to say that it is, but if I did, I would not be speaking truth.

The truth is that I am scared. I am self-protecting. I am arrogant. I am sanctimonious. I am selfish. I am proud. I am broken. The truth is that my heart needs a lot more gospel in it if it is to be considered a passing reflection of the good God who created it.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t see good in myself too. I’m smart. I’m thoughtful. I’m passionate. I can claim a decent amount of self-control and kindness, and those are even biblical “fruits of the Spirit,” right? God has done good things in me. It’s just that I have a long way to go — as do we all.

But here’s the thing. I don’t know about you, but far too often I get stuck focusing on either the good or the bad I see in myself and forgetting the bigger picture. Sure, it can be helpful to be able to take stock of where you’re at once in a while. And of course God’s got some hopes and plans for each of us that entail a lot of growth and even ever-increasing perfection on our part.

But the point of a thoroughly gospeled life is not that it’s perfect. That’s a lie that I’ve believed for a long, looooong time. The point of a thoroughly gospeled life is that it’s gospeled. You see, God’s not nearly as concerned with perfection as with redemption, and that’s what the gospel, the truly good news, is all about: redemption, restoration, and renewal, all of God’s doing.

I forget that far too easily, believing that God’s intended beauty is found in the perfection of an identity or a life or even a good “Christian” spirit, perfection that I frequently assume I have to attain based on my own willpower. In believing these things, I turn my attention to myself, concentrating on what I think I’m required to do in order live up to the expectations I suppose God has of me. And in doing so I turn my attention away from what God is actually up to — away from the gospel that is bringing light and life to everyone who has ears to hear or eyes to see.

The true thoroughly gospeled life that beckons to me and to you, though, is permeated by God’s good news. It is soaked, steeped, saturated, and overflowing with what God is up to. And because it attends to God, it’s also a life that is changed. A life that is renewed. A life that is redeemed — the good, the bad, and the ugly all redeemed. It’s a life that doesn’t idolize perfection because it realizes that true beauty, true gospel, is not found in perfection but rather in the redemption of all that we are and all that we are not for the sake of God’s kingdom. And that, my friends, truly is good news!

 

Kingdom Revolutionaries Pray

By: Jordan Bunch

A good test of whether or not you are about the work of Jesus’ Kingdom is how much you pray.  I’m not being a legalist here or anything.  So don’t go dusting off your old stopwatch to make sure you get in your 30 minutes a day.

Here’s what I’m saying.

If you are a person that believes that the Lord is at work to bring Heaven to earth (Matthew 6:10) then you understand that you can’t do this on your own.  You understand that it is the work of the Lord that brings about this in-breaking of Heaven on earth, not the work of men and women.

Case and point.

Two weeks ago, on a Monday night I got together with 7 other guys to pray.  We happened to be using a church building’s library as our gathering spot.  (Have you ever been to a church building on Monday night?  Its kinda creepy…)  Anyway, we had one of the guys bring his friends from an AA meeting to join us.  He had only been to a church once before.  Before we began, he mentioned that he didn’t know how to pray.  So we told him he could just talk to God as if He were there in the room with us.

His prayers were honest, raw, confessional, humble and beautiful.  The kind of prayers our Lord loves.

As we continued praying, the Lord laid it on my heart to pray for healing for this man.  So I asked if I could lay my hands on him and pray for him.  He agreed, and so I did.

After the prayer was over, I asked him how he was feeling.  “Fine” he said.  “How about in your heart?” I asked.  “I feel great!  But can I ask you a question?”  “Of course.”

“Do I need to be baptized to go to heaven?”

About a million things rushed through my mind as I waited.  I paused for 10 seconds or so, which seemed like an eternity as I hoped someone else might respond.

I then began by saying, “Different people are going to tell you yes and no to that question.  What I’ll tell you is this.  Following Jesus is like a journey.  Baptism is an extremely significant part of that journey.  When someone get’s baptized its their way of saying, ‘I’m putting the things of this world behind me, and now I’m going to follow Jesus.’  And when someone get’s baptized the Spirit of God comes in them in a new way that enables them to follow Jesus even better.  Baptism is a statement to the world that you are now a follow of Jesus.”

“Well that’s what I wanna do,” he said.  “I want to follow Jesus.”

We talked to him a while more, to make sure he understood what he was doing, and that he was not doing it out of fear, but out of a desire to follow the King that had just come into his heart to bring healing to it.  And then we baptized him there at the church building on a Monday night.

Amazing how God works!

Two weeks later…

We were gathered in the same spot to pray again.  Before we started, one of the guys there made a comment that he would like to leave 2 empty chairs in the circle in case the Lord wanted to use them somehow.  So we did.

We began by talking about our purpose in praying, how the Lord had already been doing great things through our prayers, etc.  About 20 minutes into that conversation, two guys came in, one of them was homeless, because they were looking for someone to pray with… at an empty church building… on Monday night…  Amazing.

Two of the guys went out to pray with them.

Then a few minutes later a father and son walked in because the son is new to the county and wants to meet “good people.”  We find out that they are Muslim’s from Iran.

So they join us in the two seats we had set aside to pray.  We teach them what our prayers look like, and then continue praying a blessing over our new young friend Muhammad.  You could see his heart warming up to us through this blessing.  He was soaking it all in.

We met today for lunch.  We prayed together and talked for a few hours.  I asked him to share some stories from his faith with me.  He shared the story of Noah’s ark (yes, that’s in the Koran too).  Then I got to share a few stories about Jesus with him.

I asked him to reflect on his experience praying with us on Monday night.  He said it was “beautiful to hear everyone in the community pray out loud.  I am so used to just hearing just one religious leader pray.  I loved hearing everyone pray and seeing how their faith meant so much to all of them.”

So this my friends, is why Kingdom Revolutionaries Pray.  Because the Lord does the heavy lifting.  We just have to show up and be a good friend.

Please let me know if you know of a family in East Dallas that would let Muhammad live with them for 2 semesters while he goes to Eastfield College.  He’s in a bit of a bind on the housing situation.  Thanks!

Loving the Church

By: Brent Bailey

A few weeks ago, a friend in his mid-20s opened a sermon with this statement: “I love the church. I really do. It’s because you’re family, right? But I don’t just love this church. I love the Church with a capital ‘C,’ the body of Christ.” He continued later in the sermon: “It’s really rare…and it’s even weird for a person my age to say those four words I started with: ‘I love the Church.'” From my particular corner of the mid-20s demographic, I can say my experience has been similar to his. It is uncommon for my peers to express love for the Church, and even those who are Christians often express some kind of love-hate attitude toward the visible Church that’s more severely ambivalent than a mere acknowledgment of the movement’s flaws. You may have seen the recent editorial from Rachel Held Evans that explored the negative attitudes many younger people hold toward the Church. That article has tapped into a fascinating ongoing conversation about how or whether the Church should change in light of cultural trends, about the evolving face of global Christianity, about the Church’s remarkable propensity to survive, even flourish, in the face of seemingly hostile circumstances.

After a summer working in Chicago and connecting with the gay community here, I’ll confess our cultural situation often leaves me feeling stuck. On the one hand, I do love the Church, too, and I’m of the conviction that its ministry of reconciliation to God is the remedy to the ways the world is broken. I want to see people involve themselves in ongoing relationship with God in the Church because I think that’s where life flourishes. On the other hand, many of the people to whom I’m connected—including, in particular, gay and lesbian friends—have little or no interest in the Church, or they’re openly antagonistic to it. It’s difficult for me to discern whether their opposition is the kind that has kept vast numbers of people disinterested in the Church since its inception or whether my generation is offering powerful prophetic words about ways in which the Church in our particular time and place legitimately does need to repent and evolve.

As a child of the Stone-Campbell movement, I inherited a certain way of thinking about church and my involvement in it that essentially set aside the traditions and structures of the most seasoned Christian establishments in an attempt to restore the framework of the early churches in the New Testament. My own personal movement from participating in institutional Churches of Christ (On the scale from “High Church” to “Low Church,” the denomination is one of the Low-est.) to organic house churches (even Low-er) felt natural, even inevitable, as I engaged questions my upbringing stimulated: What was the purpose of church for the people who followed Jesus, and what sort of community would serve the same purpose for followers of Jesus today? What are the nonnegotiables of the Christian faith we ought to defend, and what are the marginal issues that have needlessly divided us? As one of my professors continually asks: Where did Jesus go to church?

The nature and expression of Christian faith continues to evolve and develop in different directions around the world. As far as I’m concerned, here’s what’s not at stake: The Church is going to endure regardless of how our world transforms, and it’s going to continue serving imperfectly in the ministry of reconciling the world to God, and it’s going to do so in the hands-on work of engaging people from all walks of life. Here’s what is at stake: I believe the Church is in a position to become an even more compelling portrait of the multifaceted wisdom of God as it recognizes and cherishes the Spirit gifts each of its members possesses. I believe the Church has the capacity to manifest an increasingly alternative reality in which Jesus is king, with the result that it undermines the values of a culture that worships other gods. And I believe more people from my generation will grow to love the Church—many already do, of course—as it continues to be a place in which they find the opportunity to encourage and be encouraged by other people committed to growing into disciples of Jesus.