the velvet rope

I have never been one to frequent night clubs. Aside from being a Nazarene, it’s just not really my scene (and it’s not because of some weird phobia of dancing…I have moves like Napoleon Dynamite…John Travolta…Fred Astaire….ok maybe not). However, I have been to a few concerts in my day and so I suppose that might give me insight. You see, I have always been intrigued by the velvet rope. You know what I am talking about. The impassible shiny plush rope hung between gleaming chrome poles that is guarded by some roided (I think this is a word in the English vernacular) out individual simply known as the bouncer. And this bouncer’s responsibility is quite simple. He (or she I suppose) is to keep the normal run of the mill individuals away from the not so ordinary individuals on the other side of the velvet rope. Occasionally they will let someone pass, but only if they meet a certain criteria, have the right VIP passes or are of the same super human substance that allows one to exist on one side of the rope and not the other.

I’ve often wondered what it feels like to be the guardian of the sacred rope. Granted, I am not an intimidating individual and so I doubt anyone will ever ask me to assume vigil of such an important task. But I feel like I might understand the concept behind it a little. In the book of Matthew there is actually a velvet rope incident and I am afraid most of us might be able to relate. You see, people like(d) Jesus. He was evidently a very likable fellow unless you were very religious. And so one day people were bringing their kids to come and meet him. I don’t know why, but I have the image of a department store Santa in my head. And here’s what happened, “Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:13-14 The disciples had a velvet rope moment. They thought that Jesus needed protecting, or he didn’t want to be bothered, or that the kids weren’t good enough to take up his time. But Jesus quickly flips it on his head and reminds them of what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like.

I wonder if any of us have ever found ourselves being a bouncer for Jesus. “I don’t think Jesus has time for you right now.” “I think there are some things you need to work out before you can take up any of his time”. “Your lifestyle really isn’t fit for you to be in his presence.” Believe it or not, Jesus didn’t call us to be his bouncers. He called us to be his followers. And to follow him in such a way that other people want to follow Him as well. And more than likely this means we drop the velvet rope, lose the security badge and get rid of every obstacle that we have put up between others and Jesus and just let His children see Him for who He is. And if you ask me, it really becomes a lot less complicated this way. And who knows, we might become better followers in the process.


called out

Once upon a time I was a college student. I know it seems like everything I write lately begins that way, but evidently I am in a season of nostalgia. Anyway, the year was 1996. Mid-terms were upon us and as a freshman, my colleagues and I were looking for a way to blow off some steam. Thus the great Benson Hall Royal Rumble was born. It was really quite a simple concept. An individual would stand on the font lawn of our dorm and begin to yell at/taunt one of their friends or acquaintances until they acquiesced, exited the dorm and engaged in Greco-Roman grappling that involved a little bit of giggling and a lot of hilarity. The newly assigned role of the called out one after the altercation? To call someone else out. And this continued well into the evening…or at least until it got too dark to see. One of my favorite moments of the evening was when my good friend Scottie Acuff who was blessed with diminutive stature (Maybe about 4′ tall) called out the 6’8″ Henry Sweeney and we all enjoyed a moment meant for the ages.

This is still probably one of my favorite memories from college. It was such a weird and cool occurrence all in one. And the feeling one got when they were called out was awesome. So many of us hung out of windows just waiting for our opportunity to be called out; secretly knowing in the back of our minds who we wanted to call out. I am not really a student of Biblical Greek. I know enough words to fake it, but I wouldn’t consider myself proficient. But there is one word that I am drawn to for obvious reasons and it is the word for church. The word is ekklēsia and was taken from a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place. In other words…the called out ones. I’m reminded of the passage from 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” As the church we are chosen, royal, holy, special…called out. So what do we do with that?

One of the reasons the Benson Hall Royal Rumble of 1996 was so legendary was that it was self-replicating. If you were called out, you then had a responsibility. You now had to call someone else out. I think as the church sometimes we have forgotten that we have a responsibility to call out. We are called out not to sit back and relish the privilege of being God’s children but to call out to the rest of the world and remind them that they are God’s children as well. We are called out in order to be a light that calls others out of darkness. And maybe, when they are called out, they might know what it means to feel special enough to call others out as well. So my question for us today…what are we waiting on? The ruckus has begun and people are waiting to be called out. Let’s get ready to rumble!


irrelevant

In the fall of 1996 I was a bright-eyed freshman at Trevecca Nazarene University ready to take on the world. As I collected my books for what was sure to be the most illustrious scholastic career that university had ever seen I was struck by one of the titles for my Biblical Faith class. It’s title A Peculiar People by Rodney Clapp just seemed out of place amidst all of the other books. Then I began to read it and stumbled upon a story the author related from church writer and theologian Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was once a chaplain on a Holland-American cruise line and he related the story of the time the captain found their ship immersed in impenetrable fog. As the captain paced nervously back and forth he bumped into Nouwen, cursed him and told him to stay out of the way. As Nouwen walked away the captain called back after him, “Why don’t you just stay around. This might be the only time I really need you”. Nouwen recalled what it felt like to all of a sudden being displaced and ultimately reflected on the church’s lack of use/need in today’s world.  I guess I forgot to mention that the sub-title of Clapp’s book was “the church as culture in post-christian society” And although it was written almost twenty years ago, it has more to say to us now than it ever did before.

What does the mission of the church look like in a post-christian society? Now before you get all antsy and say that we are not living in a post-christian society, let’s just look outside our doors for a minute. Very rarely now do people consult the church for the best way to live their lives. More often than not, individuals aren’t coming to pastors in drones to check their interpersonal relationships and cultural engagements. By and large, I hate to say it, the church has become somewhat irrelevant in modern culture. The church has allowed itself to become alienated from things like science, art, entertainment, music, etc. so much so that we have become like the nonagenarian trying to speak about the benefits of Snapchat (no offense to my nonagenarians). What happened? Where did we go wrong?

Honestly, I think we lost our imagination and our ability to tell a better story. We saw the world heading a certain direction and instead of creatively engaging it for the kingdom of God we railed against the societal ills we saw and alienated ourselves even further. And now we see this behemoth post-christian culture and try as we may we can’t help it change course. But I don’t think it’s too late. I just think we need to tell a better story. Instead of being seen by society as fearful, angry, judgmental, paranoid, and largely irrelevant, maybe we can change our course. I think about Jesus’ engagement with the culture of his day. Often times it began something like this, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”, “The Kingdom of God is like” and then he would tell a story. And maybe that’s what it is time for us to do. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…a garden planted in an urban wasteland.” “The Kingdom of God is like…a church having a banquet for the homeless”. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…a church that let go of political ideologies in order to embrace their neighbors.” And maybe, just maybe if we start to tell a better story we might find ourselves becoming relevant again and truly changing the world for Christ.

 


treasure

There are certain words in the English language that make me giggle from time to time. You all know what I am talking about. Words like savings, or investments, stock portfolios, etc. These words crack me up. I mean, maybe they aren’t supposed to, but they always get me right there. It’s not because I am necessarily financially irresponsible, I just find that these are concepts that seem very foreign to me and maybe they might get some of my attention on down the road a ways. Let’s be honest, I don’t think I chose my career because of the lucrative dividends…fringe benefits perhaps, but I don’t think people get into the ministry to make money (or at least I don’t think they should). More so, to make a life. And I’m not knocking practical savings/investing/etc., but I sometimes wonder if we are always investing in the right places.

In the Sermon on the Mount there are all sorts of nuggets of practical wisdom and one of my favorites is found in the following, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21. I have heard all sorts of interpretations about the ideas of treasure and heaven. I have heard people talk about crowns, jewels, mansions, etc. and I for one consider all of that talk hogwash (if you need to know what that is, consult a pig farmer). Do you think Jesus has ever for one moment defined treasure in terms of earthly monetary value?!? The very definition he gives above contradicts that completely. Anything that can be consumed by age or appetite (i.e. anything on earth you can possess) is worthless treasure. In fact, it’s not treasure at all.

So then I have to ask myself, what is the treasure in heaven? What is so priceless that God himself in the flesh would call it “treasure”? What is worth so much to God that he would give his very life to attain it? (You’re tracking with me now). Us…people…human beings…we are his treasure. And likewise we are/should be treasure to each other. And so when Jesus tells us to store up (the Greek word actually means invest in) treasure in heaven He is talking about our investment in other people, not some sort of weird heavenly possession. And so my question to us today, who are you investing in? Who are you pouring your life into? And not just your life necessarily, but the life of Christ.

You see there are all sorts of things we invest our time and resources in. It might be literal investments, maybe sports, or fashion, or entertainment; anything, but the only real investment that transcends this temporal life…others. So may you invest yourself fully in that which matters most as we store up our treasures in the hope of Heaven.


golden

How many of us love traffic? How many of us love standing in line at the grocery store? How many of us just absolutely love being inconvenienced by other people? I am sure, as is the case with me, that the responses on most of these probably found themselves in the negative column. After all, we are a busy people. There is so much to do, so much to accomplish that it would be so much easier if there weren’t other people getting in our way.

There is a rule that pretty much all of us in the church are very familiar with and a lot of the people outside the church are even familiar with. We refer to it as the Golden Rule and Jesus spoke it in The Sermon on the Mount. It simply states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I love the sweeping arc of that command…”in everything you do”. So whether we are in line, in traffic, inconvenienced, etc. our behavior towards others should be a reflection of how we wish to be treated. And this sums up all the law and the prophets!?! How could it be so easy?

I was reminded of this concept in a discussion recently. I found myself saying, “You know, God loves all of us the same. Regardless of our actions and so I think it is on us to try our hardest to see everyone we come into contact with as God sees them.” Ouch. But I think that’s the rub of it. Those of us who know the truth of God’s love and grace are bound by it as well. In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis put it this way, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

In other words, every interaction we have with someone walking and breathing could bear eternal rewards or consequences in their lives. So when we find ourselves in traffic, in line, inconvenienced, whatever, our actions, or better yet our reactions, could be priceless in view of eternity. And honestly, we never know what the people around us are going through until we know what they are going through. So may we live out the golden rule and know that as we fulfill the law and the prophets we just might be helping to shape the eternal destiny of our fellow sojourners.


joined

About a week or so ago my wife and I got to take part in that ever so elusive activity for a pastoral family with small children…date night. And my wife had been plotting our excursion for a while and so we went with excitement to the opening night of Pitch Perfect 2. And although I enjoyed this movie for a lot of it’s comedic elements, I found myself wrapped up in one of the final scenes for a completely different reason. As with many movies of this nature the finale comes upon us with the protagonists defying the odds and somehow coming out on top. But the way in which the writers lent a hand to the Barden Bellas (the competing A Capella choir) was perfect. As their final song reached a crescendo the stage illuminated to reveal that they were all of a sudden surrounded and accompanied by alumni of all ages of that same A Capella group. And being the masculine specimen I am, I realized that the movie theater was all of a sudden very dusty or my allergies were bad or something like that.

Allow me to explain my leaking eyes conundrum a bit. There is this statement in the Apostles Creed that we as believers affirm that I always take a huge amount of comfort in. We believe in…”the communion of saints”. What I love about this phrase is that the intention is not limited to the saints of here and now, but is also inclusive of those who have gone on before us. The writer of Hebrews puts it like this, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” – Hebrews 12:1I love the image behind this. in the midst of us running our race we have this heavenly cheering section in the stands so excited to rally behind us reminding us that every step is worth the journey.

There is one more story that helps me reflect on this a bit more. About eight years ago I found myself in a church service as a regular layperson and worshiping along with others in the seats. After the first few songs and during our greeting time, the woman in front of me turned around, shook my hand and then said, “You’re Garland Patterson’s grandson aren’t you? I can tell by the way you sing.” Now mind you, I had never met this woman before. In fact, I have never met my grandfather either, as he passed away when my mom was seven. Yet something in the way I was singing reminded this woman of my grandfather, who she was friends with many years before. And so I thought about my grandfather. And how he is part of the cloud of witnesses. And how they are singing along with us, backing us up, watching over us in our difficult circumstances and so excited to see us finish the journey. So that when life gets tough and our way seems difficult we take comfort in that knowledge. May we go on knowing that those who have gone before us are in our corner and so excited to see us join them.


innocent

I honestly can’t believe it was fifteen years ago. Britney Spears was the darling of the pop-music world and her latest single had just been released. Contained in that single Oops!…I did it again were the now infamous lines, “I’m not that innocent”. Now granted, I don’t want to give Britney Spears too much credit, but it seemed as if a new age had been ushered in. Maybe it was due to the coinciding of a new millennium, but it seemed as if all of a sudden everything in the world was turned against innocence.  Now little girls were being asked to grow up into their teen icons faster and the fashion industry started targeting tweens. Little boys were being exposed to violence and pornography through video games and the internet at an astounding rate. And the result of a this over-exposure? We have become a calloused and cynical society that sees the world as overly hostile and beyond hope. And childhood…well, let’s just say it ain’t what it used to be.*

I sometimes even find myself being a little over cynical. Who wouldn’t?  Look at the news around us. A biker gang fight in Waco, TX. Civil unrest in major US Cities. International chaos from earthquakes to civil wars. But then I stumbled across a story this week that made me hope again. I’m not sure if you saw it or not, but it was about a 5-yr-old little boy in Alabama who decided he needed to feed a homeless man at a local Waffle House. You can see the video here: http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/19/living/5-year-old-feeds-homeless-man-waffle-house-feat/ . And I thought for a second, maybe all of the innocence hasn’t gone out of the world. That’s the amazing things about kids in their innocence. They don’t see someone who is homeless, of a different race or gender, someone who we might deem unworthy because of their circumstances or our preconceived biases. They see a person. And honestly, they see better than us someone who at the end of the day is really no different than them.

There is a verse in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church that many people interpret differently than I do. It’s this weird verse in chapter 13 that is just sandwiched in there, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11. I’ve always thought of this verse as a Lament for the loss of childhood and the innocence that comes with it. I know that childhood comes with some pretty crazy things sometimes. Children can be temperamental, selfish, whiny, etc. But children can also be the most generous, the most loving, the most accepting…really the most innocent when it comes to the world and the people living in it. Maybe we as the “adult” church need to take a lesson from our children and reclaim the way we look at those around us. After all, Jesus did say, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3. May we find our innocence again and love like the little children.

 

 

* On a related note, I think it is so important for us to find ways to protect and foster the innocence that is such an important part of childhood and healthy development!


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