Does the church have anything to offer the world in the 21st century? This seems to be a question that plagues pastors, writers, theologians and thinkers alike in the church today. You see articles and books about church growth or reaching millennials or connecting families on an almost daily rate. The church seems to find itself at a crossroads of crisis and our offerings to me, and I imagine to a lot of the world, just seem lack luster at best. “Oh, you’ve got another program for me to attend?” “This book study will make me a skinnier, wealthier and happier Christian?” “This program is guaranteed to make church stick for me and my family this time?” I don’t mean to sound too cynical, but why bother? If all the church is trying to do is to compete with other social activities in the world, then why bother?
A couple of nights ago I sat across from a couple from our church in my living room. We were meeting to talk about a new (I’m reluctant to use the word because it just sounds like another program) ministry they’ve launched. Well, I guess it’s more of an inter-generational small group (even that sounded programmatic). But I asked them to sum up the rationale behind it and the gentlemen responded with, “Well, it’s more or less our attempt to build a family in the church.” YES! In a simple statement made on my sofa while my kids were all sleeping (I hope) in the background I heard the why bother answer resonate loud and clear. And it all goes back to the birth of the church. What does the church have to offer to the world? It goes like this in the second chapter in the book of Acts. “All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42-47 Did you see that? The church, at it’s core, is a family that wants to be together, takes care of one another and shares life together.
So church, please hear me in regards to your existence in the 21st century. We have the greatest hope to share with the world. But if we just make it another program, social event, to-do list, check mark or any other means of clever marketing we will continue to fail. The world will look at our existence as simply another ploy to get them to commit to something that at the end of the day adds very little value to their lives. But if we, and I know it might be a stretch, actually began to mirror the lives of the early church and became that Family of God we used to sing about all the time, then perhaps those outside our walls might see the life we share and come to realize it might be the very thing they’re missing. In a world of broken families, fractured homes, disenfranchised lives, social media virtual communities, depression, anxiety and fear we as the church have something to offer that nothing else can compare with. The Kingdom of God goes beyond all other kingdoms and programs when our family’s head calls us to remember, “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:12-13 It’s high time we started being that kind of family again and I can’t wait to see what happens when we do.
Yesterday was one of the longest days of my life; at least in recent memory. You see it all began when our five-year-old had a stomach bug over the weekend…Holy Saturday night…you know, the night before Easter Sunday. So here I am the night before one of the biggest days of the church calendar changing bed linens and caring for a very sick child and thinking all the while, “I’m staring down the barrel of a gun.” For most of Monday and Tuesday I thought maybe, just maybe I had escaped the clutches of this foul intestinal bacteria beast. But alas, that was not the case. Tuesday night, although not in the same fashion or severity, I slept maybe about two to three hours total due to stomach cramps and anxiety over what might come next. The most worrisome part about all of this was my lack of sick day accruing as a teacher and so I knew the next day would be rough.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life…and I was a youth pastor for eleven years with annual lock-ins. After a day of stomach cramping, heavy lids and middle school students I was barely able to drag myself in the door. Luckily I have a wife who was looking out for me and allowed me to sleep for 12 hours…12 hours. She handled bed-time and even kept the kids or pets from waking me. But the next morning she had one important direction for me. I had to wake our three-year-old and spend time with him before going to school. Evidently him not being able to see daddy for a day was a little much and he was suffering from major daddy withdraws. So after recovering from my early spring hibernation I roused my little monster a little early and he spent about thirty minutes on the couch with me watching Thor or Hulk or some other super hero that inspires our special relationship. And I began to think about how important these moments are.
Sometimes in the midst of our hustle and bustle we forget about the most important things we have here. Was it important for me to be at work? Sure. But perhaps it was even more important for me to recover so I could be the best for those around me. In The Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks a bit as to our most important investment. “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21 I came to an epiphany earlier this year as to the treasure that Jesus is pointing us to. What does God value more than anything else in the entire world? His children. So the treasure we are called to invest in is…(wait for it)…each other. So yes, there will be times when we are busy or sick or spent or worn out, but we are called to take those moments that we do have to invest in those who are a piece of God’s heart as we seek to reveal God’s heart to the world. This is the treasure that we seek to store up for heaven’s sake.
I was very hesitant to write today. Not that there aren’t a lot of thoughts running through my head. Honestly if people heard my inner monologue I think they would think I was even more strange than I appear to be. No, I think my hesitancy to write today’s blog post stems from the type of dialogue that I see going on in our world…particularly from those of us who claim the name of Christ. You see, for a couple of weeks now I’ve been listening to and watching the rhetoric going on between my friends about issues surrounding things like guns and rights and everything in between. And I honestly think as Christians we’ve evidently been operating under a very false pretense that has absolutely nothing to do with the gospel of Christ. I hear people say things like, “It’s obvious it’s a gun problem.” Or, “It’s obvious it’s not a gun problem, but a people problem.” Or even, “If they take away one right, what’s to stop them from coming for all my rights.” And I don’t want to invalidate any of your arguments or stances. Hear me again, I don’t want to invalidate any of your arguments or stances…but…
I think as Christians we need to have the veil pulled back from our eyes. I think we find ourselves in this world operating with an illusion created by sin and it mask itself in the most clever of ways. It looks like rights, defense, independence and even love…and yet, it’s an illusion. The illusion is the belief that my life, or the life of any one I love matters more than the life of anyone else on earth (I know I just lost some friends with that one). But honestly, if the gospel doesn’t teach us that we all come to the foot of the cross as equals, then we have misread the gospel. The writer of Matthew puts it this way in the words of Christ, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them’.” – Matthew 16:24-25 If you wish to follow Christ, then you must realize your life is forfeit. If you choose to follow the crucified Messiah, then you must realize your life is worth no more than the person you despise the most.
Now you may say to me, what in the world does this have to do with all the debate about guns and rights and sin…honestly, everything. Until I can come to the table with any one of the human race realizing that Christ gave his life for them as much as for me, then I might as well not enter into the fray. So by all means, continue to have your debates and discussions and solutions ad nausea, but if you don’t pull back the illusion and think of each and every life as just as valuable as your own and those you love, then you need to reevaluate the Christ you have chosen to follow. Because he may have ended up looking more like you than you think. I’ll leave you with one more thought that I think continues to pull back the illusion for us all and it comes from Dorothy Day. “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” You are loved, Grace and Peace.
There’s an expression I’ve become rather fond of in recent days. If someone is being sassy or giving attitude or extra confrontational it is referred to as being “salty”. And perhaps this isn’t really a new expression…in fact it might be rather old, but I love how quickly a word or phrase becomes en vogue and we begin to use it frequently as part of the common vernacular. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago I was in the school office and some of the other teachers asked me if I knew what being salty meant and I quickly attempted to show them the best version of sass that this 6’3″ straight-laced white male could muster on the fly. I’m not sure they got what I was going for, but it maybe communicated my understanding of what being salty meant.
Here’s where a little bit of wordplay can be fun. You might say, isn’t being salty a good quality? After all, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet.” – Matthew 5:13 I’m not sure Jesus was thinking about the disciples being confrontational with each other and throwing shade about every little thing. In fact, a few of the times we see Jesus chastising the disciples is when they’re arguing over who the greatest is…in other words, getting salty over who’s better. Now I know we never struggle with this kind of saltiness in the church. We never get in petty arguments over getting our way or having things done the way we want them or the way they’ve always been. It reminds me of my one Nazarene joke. How many Nazarene’s does it take to change a light bulb? “Hey you can’t change that light bulb, my grandpa put that in”. Even our jokes are a little salty.
Truth be told, I’m just not that salty at all. In fact, I don’t think this is the kind of salt Jesus had in mind at all. I believe he was thinking about salt that brings good flavor to the world. I believe he was thinking about the salt that preserves and brings life to the world around it. When it comes to the current definition of salty, I just don’t feel like I ever need to find myself there. In the closing of his letter to the church at Rome, we read these words from Paul. “Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.” – Romans 12:16-18 These words of Paul have always been a way that I’ve attempted to live my life by. I don’t want to operate out of saltiness. My way, my opinion, my preference, my comfort, my…fill in the blank just isn’t that important. In fact the only thing that is important is my effort to live at peace. So maybe it’s time to lose the saltiness and actually become salt. I think we all could use it.
I have a confession to make. I’m not a writer. Yes, I write a blog each week and I occasionally write for other online venues, but I’m not really a writer. In fact, I get kind of jealous of my friends who have that title in their Twitter or Facebook bios. I really don’t feel like I’m there. You see, I’ve never had any formal training outside of my high school writing classes. In fact, my wife always feels the need to point that out anytime she has to proof one of my papers. Evidently, I either love, commas, way too much, or not enough (see what I did there?). But regardless of my lack of qualifications or my experience or my title, there is one thing I sit down to do every week. I sit down at a blank computer screen and I write. And some days I really enjoy it. Some days it feels like a chore. But I feel like it is important for my soul that I keep doing it…why? Because it reminds me of Who I belong to.
We are told at the beginning of the Bible that at the beginning of all things that the first thing God ever did was create. And although the Genesis account is a pretty incredible piece of poetic interpretation of creation, I find myself more and more being drawn to John’s account. It goes like this, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being.” – John 1:1-3 The Word. Jesus himself. Through his being all life came to being. This is one of the reasons I believe that communication brought to life through art and creativity is so important. You see, Jesus as the word/logos brought life into the universe. He is a creating/creative God. And we are created in that image. So in bringing forth words/pictures/images/art into the world we are participating in something that reminds us that we are created by Him to become like Him. Paul reminds us of how important our actions are in terms of how we go about life [you could read art here too], “Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17 In the name of Jesus. The same name/word that gave life to all that is.
So today I want to encourage you to…write, even if you are not a writer. I want to encourage you to sing, even if you’re not a singer. To paint, even if you aren’t a painter. To capture images, even if you’re not a photographer. To dance, even if you’re not a dancer. I urge you to sculpt, compose, draw, chisel, play, tinker, choreograph, program, edit, or find any other form of incredible creative expression to bring life and communication into the world that wasn’t there before…even if you don’t feel like you are qualified. Because the Voice that spoke everything into existence created you and you are created in the Creative God’s image.