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There is scene in The Lord of the Rings which Professor Tolkien felt was the pivitol moment of the book; in it, Gollum nearly repents, having been won over by Frodo’s kindness. But the well-meaning Sam interferes. Chastened by Sam’s meanness, Gollum sulks off. Following are Tolkien’s thoughts:

“For me perhaps the most tragic moment in the Tale comes when Sam fails to note the complete change in Gollum’s tone and aspect….His (Gollum’s) repentance is blighted and all Frodo’s pity is (in a sense) wasted. Shelob’s lair becomes inevitable” (Letter #246).”

One wonders how often this happens, e.g., when a sinner is close to repentance, but one of God’s well-meaning children interferes? More often than we’d care to admit. There will be much one day which we will have to answer for. Many surprises are in store.

Along these same lines are the all-too-often instances of when a brother, or sister (or both), are hurting, and reach out for help. Let’s say that they’re getting help, finding some measure of mentorship, of folks coming alongside them. Things are happening, God is moving.

Then the church steps in.

The church leadership. If the church is a hospital, they are its doctors facilitating a connection to the Great Physician. Not this time. Not on their rounds.

The church says “No, you can’t do it that way. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting helped, making connections. You’re not doing it under our auspices. You have to stop.”

There again, Gollum is shut down, shut out, feeling cast aside… Wondering “What did I do wrong? I thought the church was supposed to help me? Isn’t this a spiritual hospital? God was moving, my struggles were getting better. Why did you shut me down?”

Brothers and sisters this ought not to be. But it happens over and over again. 

Have you been there? You think you’re doing the right thing, reaching out, in evangelicalese getting “plugged in,” but it blows up in your face, and then crumbles into dust… Leaving you wondering why you ever did this in the first place. You’re left feeling like you’d find more camaraderie, more acceptance, down at the corner bar. At least there they won’t judge you for being a sinner seeking solace, relief, healing.

What do you do when the church fails? Where do you go?

Who has the words which bring you life? Can life be found? Is it worth trying again?

Jesus, where are You in this?

Jesus

You’re an introvert. You love Jesus. You love His people. But you have a problem. You have trouble forging bonds with Jesus’s people.

You’re an introvert in a strange land:

A new church.

You’ve tried so many times. Big churches, and small. Baptist, and Pentecostal. You’ve tried the:

Megachurch (bonus points for allowing anonymity, but major demerits for the crushing crowds)

Independent, non-denominational Charismatic church down the street (where the elders in their sweat-stained shirts hunched over you in prayer, imploring God for the sign of the initial indwelling)

Finally, you settle on a community church. The people seem friendly, warm, welcoming. They invite you in. You join the small group. For the first time in a long time, you let your guard down. You get real, tell folks what’s really going on inside. Peel back the hood of your sweater to let them see you. The real you.

And it happens. Again.

Just when you were feeling comfortable, when you felt like you’d found a church family, the small group falls apart. “It’s not you,” they say. It’s not you… But this isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve been down this road.

You feel suckered. You feel gut-punched, the wind knocked out of your spiritual sales. “How could this happen again,” you ask yourself? How could I be so stupid as to think this would be any different?

You want that connection, you long for a spiritual intimacy with like-minded people, but it keeps getting denied you.

Why?

Where are the real people who’ll be there for you–the ones for whom you’ll be there for, too? Will the real, true Christians please stand up (please stand up)?

So it starts again. You’re again searching for the place to call home, for the people with whom you can do life. Will you find what you’re looking for? Your heart hurts. You want to lay down, to not try. But that still, small voice keeps whispering, “There’s something more.” But you’ve heard it a thousand times before…

“What’s different this time, God?” you scream at the sky. “What’s different? Where were you last one hundred times?” you wonder.

Why is this so hard?

Why does your heart hurt so much?

Where are you, God, and where are Your people in this?

If this is your best life now, you’re saying “Check, please.” Because, stick a fork in it, you’re done.

But you don’t want to be. It doesn’t have to be this way. But you don’t know how to make it better.

There’s got to be a better way…

We Lost the War

randomlychad  —  May 30, 2014 — 3 Comments

For decades it seems the American church has been fighting a war on culture. Well, we’ve lost. I don’t say this lightly, but it also seems pretty clear that we marched into battle under faulty premises. I mean when are we ever  mandated to convert the culture in which we find ourselves to some semblance of Christian conduct?

Is it even reasonable to expect Christian conduct, or morals, from culture? From the world? I submit it is not. Moreover, we’re not even on the same page when it comes to values.

So we’ve fought a war, which we’ve arguably lost, and awoken in a world we don’t recognize… Because we didn’t fight biblically. Pop quiz:

Where was the Apostle Paul most effective–on Mars Hill, where he tried to be culturally relevant, or with the Phillippian jailer? How about Jesus? Was He after the masses, or the individual? You see, those of us who believe serve a God Who isn’t all about efficiency. He wants the one lost sheep who’s strayed, scans the horizon for signs of the prodigal son, tells the woman with the issue of blood that her faith has healed her… Or the woman caught in adultery to go, and sin so more.

Was the command to go into all the world and save the culture, or rather was it to make disciples? You see, it’s easy to lionize Hollywood, or lambsaste the gay agenda.

But it’s hard to confront the sin in our own hearts, check our motives, and then go forth with the message of God’s love.

For individuals.

It’s easy to write off entire segments of the populace. It’s far harder to love those souls for whom Christ died.

Changed lives don’t happen culturally, or societally, but rather face-to-face, one-on-one.

But we’re afraid, hiding in our holy huddles. It’s no wonder we’ve lost the war.

But it’s not too late.

Wake up, church: the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God.

No, not the movie starring Tim Allen. No this one stars you. That is to say it’s not a movie at, but rather your life. And it’s unfolding around you in living Technicolor©, blasting your ears with Quadrophonic sound.

You’re at church.

You’re a tither, a regular attender. It’s normally a safe haven–a refuge from the cares and worries of life. But it’s Christmas. And all bets are off. Because the place is packed. Don’t get me wrong–you’re glad all those folks are there. God knows they need to hear the good news.

But you wish they were just a little more attentive.

And that little Johnny (not his real name) behind you would stop kicking your chair. Where are his parents anyway? Then there’s the kid right in front you, whose parents have given him an iPhone to pacify him. You keep hearing the squawking of Angry Birds©!

But, you keep reminding yourself, this is church.

Time was, people knew how to comport themselves, how to keep their children well-behaved… But not, it seems, anymore. You’re just about ready to slay someone in the spirit, but then the rousing rendition of “Joy to World” is followed by the minister, who has come to speak about the “Colors of Christmas.” How what can such a dark time in people’s lives can be made light in Christ. You’re enjoying it, trying to listen, when the mom, who was talking to a friend ask throughout the song service, begins reading a story book to her squirming, squalling child.

Boy, it sure seems like all the bored, distracted, tired people all around you just don’t love Jesus like you love Jesus…

Then you catch yourself wishing that none of them were there… That you could just have a minute to engage with what the pastor’s saying. That people, who likely only go to church twice a year, would act more like you…

Then you swallow, draw in a deep breath, as it dawns on you that maybe, just maybe, the Christmas cranks aren’t the unruly masses all around you.

It’s you.

Bowing your head in silent prayer, you ask for forgiveness.

And you thank God for Christmas.

For Jesus coming to redeem such a one as you.

My Jesus Story

randomlychad  —  December 4, 2013 — 12 Comments

My Jesus story began, like many others, I’m sure, with a girl. A beautiful girl. She got my attention. Up until that time, church–and by extension, Jesus–did not occupy my thoughts. Church was something we did to make grandma happy when we traveled back east to visit her. But other than that, there was no ecclesial experience during my formative years. (I’m told I was baptized as an infant in the Methodist church).

Having Catholic friends, Jewish classmates, etc., I once asked my mom what religion we were. Her answer? “Protestant.” If by this she meant we protested the attending of church altogether (not even Easter, or Christmas), then yes, we were Protestant.

I share this to make it clear that God was not a paradigm with which I was familiar. If you asked me as a teen what I believed I would have replied that I was an atheist. I simply did not believe there was a God, or a Jesus, with which I needed to contend. And if there were, and he was anything like my dad, I wanted nothing to with him. Why would I want to be ignored by a cosmic father, too?

I want to make it clear that from the outside it may have appeared that I lived a comfortable life: I had a home, food–the basics. But I was largely ignored, left–as most latchkey children are (my parents divorced)–to my own devices.

Because if my upbringing was marked by the absence of faith on the the one hand, it was also bathed through-and-through on the other with permissiveness. There were little or no boundaries. And without boundaries, there was no sense of security.

And thus no real feeling of being loved.

Then I met this girl, and she cared. She wanted to know how I was doing. She read my (bad) poetry. She cared. I felt real love for the first time.

She invited me to church; I went. We went to prom together. She hailed from a large, warm, loud family. This was so different from my cold, quiet one. There was food, and laughter, and talk of Jesus. The singing of hymns around a piano.

Her family felt so very alive.

God knows what He’s doing, friends. He used a beautiful girl to get my attention, and showed me a different life. I saw her family, I went to church (just to sit beside her), I heard the Gospel.

On a warm May evening in 1988, I prayed in my car: “God, if you’re there, I want you in my life. I can’t do this alone anymore. It’s too heavy, too lonely.”

For my family of origin, faith was the road never traveled, but it has made all the difference.

And the girl? The one who loved me enough to tell me of different life? The one who led me to Christ? Two-and-a-half years later we married, and for the last twenty-three years I’ve been proud to call her my wife.

That’s my Jesus story. What’s yours?

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