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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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Time was, church hopping was deemed a bad thing. Reflective of much else in our American culture, it represents a consumeristic approach to church. The idea being that if the service at church A was too long, church B was right down the street. And if that didn’t work out, well there’s always the tried-and-true-blue Methodists.

Or no church at all.

In fact (sorry, I’m not going to back this up with statistics. If you want stats, read Kinnaman, or Barna), more are indeed leaving the church now than ever before. It’s deemed boring,  irrelevant, or folks are just too busy to bother. FOOTBALL!

Three guys from North  Carolina aim to put a stop to that by flipping the script on what church hopping is. In fact, that’s what they call themselves, the Church Hoppers. Because that’s what they do: hop from struggling church to struggling church to help them reach souls for Christ by shoring up their foundations.

Who are the Church Hoppers? Kevin “Rev Kev” Annas, Larry “Doc” Bentley, and Anthony “Gladamere” Lockhart. Between the three of them, these gentleman bring decades of both ministerial, and business, experience to the table. Their focus is three-fold:

Systems

Business

Sales/Marketing

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Can you guess which is Rev Kev, Doc, or Gladamere?

In other words, in Star Wars terms, they bring balance to the force. Because it’s their contention that a church out of balance in any of these key areas is like a two-legged stool: bound to fall. In this way, they’re like the A-Team. If yours is a struggling church, if no one else can help, and if you can find them… I kid. All a church has to do is call. (But seriously, don’t you think “Hannibal,” “Murdock,”and “Faceman” would be better nicknames than “Rev Kev,” “Doc,” and “Gladamere?” To me, Rev Kev sounds like a moniker that either a DJ, or longhaul trucker, would use. And Doc? He was Snow White’s dwarf buddy. Don’t get me started on Gladamere. Is this a concatenation of “Vladimir” and “glad?” If so, Maxwell Smart says, “Missed it by that much.” Gladamere… It just kind of prances off the tongue).

I of course kid, but as marketing experts, one would think that they could come up with better nicknames. All of that aside, and in consideration of the age old question:

Does the world really need another reality show?

The answer is a resounding no. The world doesn’t need another reality show. It never needed any in the first place. That said, does Church Rescue deliver the goods? The answer, my friends, is a resounding “Yes!” These dudes, despite their problem nicknames, put the real in reality! How do I mean? Let me put it this way: have you ever seen a headstrong, take-no-prisoners, my-way-or-the-highway pastor own up to his junk baggage on national T.V.? If you watch this show, you will. You’ll see that, and more.

What you’ll see is three guys who help a church become more relevant without compromising the message. And that, Regis, is my final answer.

So tune at 10 PM EST/PST tomorrow night, Monday, November 11th to the National Geographic channel and see for yourself.

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We are none of us an exception, immune to the effects of a sin-ravaged world.

Or to the forces at work in our own flesh.

1 Peter tells us that our “adversary, the devil, roams about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” We know from the animal kingdom, that predators often seek the young, the old, the weak, the lonely prey to bring down. Separate from the herd, and pounce.

And, boom! They’re down, and thus become another feast for hungry beasts.

So it is with us. Only the devil’s subterfuge is much more subtle than outright pursuit. No, his tools to isolate are misunderstanding, bitterness… in short, the frictions of a fallen world that, like sandpaper, often rub us raw.

The pastor says something we don’t like, and boom! We’re gone. A friend levels a harsh word, we’re done. The church lets us down…

We walk away.

And the biggest lie the enemy perpetuates is that we are alone in this (insert your this here).

It’s just a few short steps from believing we are alone to living like it. Believe me, I’ve been there alone in my shame, believing that no one would understand, and if they knew, would shun me.

And that is just where our “adversary, the devil” wants us to be: alone in our shame, ripe for the picking. Consider well Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV):

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Because God has elsewhere said that He has given us the “ministry of reconciliation,” the hurts and slights are worth working through. The misunderstandings are worth surmounting.

But we have to be willing to so the work.

Or we run the twin risks of believing we are alone, or can do this alone. But God’s church is a body, and needs all its parts to function as it should.

I’m here to tell you today that:

You are not alone.

You can’t do this on your own.

We need you. Your story, your voice, your unique giftings, and abilities.

And lastly,

You are not an exception. If you think so, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. You will become a victim.

And don’t run around with girls that do. My wife and I were talking about this last night. There’s some wisdom to this. There’s enough objective science out there which shows that:

Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful

Smoking causes cancer

And so does smokeless tobacco.

But none of these rules is the Gospel. And the last line (“Don’t run around with girls who do”) marginalizes a whole people group who need to hear that Gospel–the “Good News.”

Right from the get go, people who do those things–smoking, drinking, chewing–get the distinct impression that they’re not welcome in our churches. The implicit message is conform to our expectations, and then (and only then) you can be one of us…

Instead of the other way around, where we say “Jesus loves you, and so do we. Come to him.” It’s not “Clean up, and come to Him.” Rather, come to Him, and He’ll clean you up.

Which brings me to millennials. They’re not good conformists. They’re the square pegs in round holes. They don’t experience God necessarily in the same way you and I do.

But who are we to say they can’t come?
I think this is why they are leaving the church in droves–and this, though the window dressing might be different–is the same reason people have been leaving the church since time immemorial:

They’re fed up with a Gospel of don’ts–don’t do this, don’t do that, Christians don’t [fill in the blank]. Instead of being known for the Big Someone (Jesus) that we’re for, we’re rather known for our rules (which we can’t even quite seem to keep ourselves), for what we’re against.
Hear me carefully here: what I’m not saying that the church is any more full of hypocrites than any other human institution–because it’s no more, or less, so than any other human institution. Hypocrites are like Mr. White in Quantum of Solace, who said, “We have people everywhere.”

What I am saying is that, because of that implicit message we peddle, the church is more open to the charge of hypocrisy. And millennials, like Holden Caulfield, are particularly adept at sniffing it out.

So the $64,000 question: How do keep millennials from leaving? We need to be authentic, get real, and be vulnerable. Admit it when we screw up. And stop lading people down with rules we can’t even keep ourselves.

Moreover, who says it’s our job to keep them from leaving? The Father let the Prodigal go… And maybe that’s what we need to do, too. Watch, pray, and look for the return. But for goodness’ sake we can’t hold onto those who don’t want to be there.

We can’t want something for another more than they themselves want it. Oh, we can, but you know the expression about leading a horse to water, right? The horse has to drink from the fount of its own accord.

So what do we do then? As the late Chuck Colson asked, “How now shall we live?”

With integrity, and with love.

Like Jesus. (A tall order, I know).

Even a casual reading of the New Testament is enough to give one a sense that Jesus was (while not soft on sin) softest on sinners, and harshest on the outwardly religious (I wrote a bit about this last Friday)–the ones who claimed to have all the answers, to have it all together.

That was then, this is now, you might say. There are no more Pharisees. On the contrary, the spirit of Phariseeism is very much alive and well. Ask anyone who’s gone through hard times, has struggled with sin, has been maligned and marginalized because they don’t fit into a neat Evangelical category.

I know this first hand from observing how my wife was treated by well-meaning Christians during her ongoing illness. There were quite a number of assumptions we had to hurdle during this period:

1) That she must have unconfessed sin in her life, (who doesn’t?) and God was punishing her. Sure–“whom the Lord loves, He also chastens.” And sometimes it’s the consequence of living in a fallen world. (See Jesus words about the Tower of Siloam).

2) That she lacked faith for her healing. Tell that to Paul, and his “thorn in the flesh.” In fact, tell that to every saint chronicled in Hebrews 11–of whom the world was not worthy–that they didn’t get what they longed for because they lacked faith.

3) That our media choices–the books we read, the movies we watched–allowed demonic forces into our home, and our bodies. Last time I checked, “greater is He Who is in me, than he who is in the world.” Besides which, it’s not so much the media choices, as it is the why behind those choices, i.e., where the heart is, and where affection and allegiance are given.

I could go on. In fact, I have friends who have chronic illnesses–legitimately diagnosed conditions–who are accused of consorting with demons!

By well-meaning, but wrong-headed, Christians.

I think the fundamental problem lays in how we approach the Scriptures. Now, make no mistake, it has rules in it. But that’s not its primary purpose. Because, if it were, then the Pharisees were right: if we just follow the rules, then we can make our way to God. Paul is very clear on this:

“Touch not, taste not, handle not” all sound great and godly, but ultimately miss the mark. “The kingdom of God is not meat or drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”

Because the Bible is primarily a book of relationship. And we all know how difficult and messy relationships are. They take work, intentionality, effort.

But we want neat, easy, categories–because we don’t want mess. We don’t each other’s sin to rub off. So we shun, we ostracize, we make assumptions, and draw (false) conclusions. (Let me put it this way: if a hospital is a place of (physical) healing, shouldn’t the church be a place of spiritual healing? Why then do we do our surgeries with guns? Doctors don’t walk into operating rooms guns blazing; rather, surgeries are careful things–well-planned, and highly monitored. But the church–and Evangelicalism in particular–fosters an environment where we blast first, and ask questions later).

Because life is easier (for us) that way.

Instead, we should jump into the arena, and be accused of being:

Drunkards
Gluttons
Sinners

Because that’s what love looks like. That’s what Jesus did. That’s WWJD.

Friends, we need to stop–in the Name of Jesus–shooting our wounded with our (un)holy word cannons of well-meaning. Stop turning a cold shoulder, and open our arms to one another.

Misunderstanding is the price of love done right.

What do you think?