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I haven’t been writing about my thoughts and questions about GOD lately.  I’ve struggled to find the words to use.  I’ve started countless posts only to trash them a few sentences in because the words that I was typing were not really the words in my head.  I felt like all I could do was take a long, deep breath and wonder, “will I ever be able to figure this out?”  For a large part of my life “figuring this out” meant finding the correct doctrine so that I could know the “right” things.  I think that holding this view was really misguiding.  As “correct doctrine” became my focus any understanding of GOD in a relational sense was pushed out of focus.

During my time away from the church I have been trying to relearn about GOD.  This hasn’t been a very easy process.  My understanding of GOD was so intertwined with my understanding of the church and orthodoxy that any negative aspects of the church would be reflected on GOD.  So I’ve stripped away my understanding to a few things in hopes to discover GOD in a relational way.  At this point if you were to ask me what I know or think about GOD my answer would simply be, “I think GOD is selfless, unconditional love.”

Earlier in the week I had a thought that centered around this thought.  If you have spent much time in an evangelical church you may have heard of the book “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman.  If you haven’t heard of the book, let me offer you a quick synopsis: Love, as we express it, can be understood in 5 different ways-Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service. We often use one or two of these “Love Languages” as the ways that we express love to each other as well as the way we receive love from others.  Sometimes conflict can occur simply because we don’t understand how the people around us are expressing their love.  As an example, say the way that I offer love is through Quality Time yet my wife receives love through Acts of Service.  I may assume that by offering my time to be with her is a loving thing, but for her, she may not feel love until I vacuum the house. Understanding Love in this way can help us show and receive love.

So when I was taking the puppy for a walk earlier in the week I had this thought that I need some feedback on.  If GOD is love than GOD encompasses all aspects of love and the reason we operate out of only one or two of these five “love languages” is because we are aren’t living in the wholeness we were created to.  (this is using the assumption that Dr. Chapman’s book is true and there are only 5 expressions of love.) After thinking about this thought for a while I started to wonder if we, as humans, assume that GOD loves in only one or two of the five languages?  Some people only think that GOD loves them if they are receiving “gifts from GOD.”  Their view of GOD’s love is limited to whether or not they are being “blessed.”  Other people speak of feeling “GOD’s touch” as an affirmation that they living in communion with GOD.  I wonder if we gravitate towards an understanding of GOD that shows GOD expressing love in the way we tend to receive it most OR we don’t feel GOD is expressing love because we don’t see it in the ways that we receive love.

When I read through “The 5 Love Languages” I learned that the way that I receive love is through Words of Affirmation.  This is what the website has to say about this language: “Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, ‘I love you,’ are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.”  This leads me to wonder if my struggle with understanding GOD comes from is that when I think back on life I don’t remember times in my life when I heard, from GOD, that I was valuable or that I was GOD’s son.  I long to hear these words and no amount of “blessings from above” will make me feel loved by GOD as much as hearing these words will.

What do you think?  Does this line of thought about GOD being the completeness of love make sense?  Do any of you feel like GOD isn’t expressing love to you in the way that you naturally receive it?  I posted a link to the 5 Love Languages website above.  On the site you can take a short quiz if you’d like to understand your own love language.

Peace.

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I feel as though I have been really busy lately.  I don’t know that this has truly been the case, but I feel tired and lazy.  I don’t like it.  I’ve been so lazy that I’ve got 3 tabs on my Firefox browser that have been in place since Monday that I haven’t taken the time to read.  I’ll get to it, hopefully, but I thought that maybe I could post the links here then you could read them and let me know what they are all about.  It’s a win-win, really.  I win because I’m posting a blog post, and you win because you get to read some good stuff.

I just realized that the three posts that I’ve been holding onto are a pretty good representation of three of my biggest interests:  natural and sustainable foods, gardening and food production, and thinking about the role of a pastor other than through the lens of a CEO.  So here you go.

The Food Renegade blog is a great blog that talks about food that is good for you, good for the growers, and tastes great.  She is a renegade against industrialized foods that have shown up on the scene and have brought with them increases in heart related disease.  This post is called “Real Food Hits the New York Times”.

The New York Times has an article about gardening in a “slow” way.  Gardening in a way that works with the natural seasons and climates rather than forcing things into place.  Check it out, “Slow, Cheap, Easy, and Green”.

And lastly, a post by Scot McKnight at the Out of Ur blog.  Scot is using a book entitled, “The Pastor As Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life” to talk about the role of the pastor.  I really like Scot.  I’ve had the chance to meet him on a few occasions and have really enjoyed our conversations.  Plus, he’s a Cubs fan.  Read “The Poetry of Pastoring.”

Read them and get back to me ASAP.  Thanks.

p.s.  I find it a bit ironic that WordPress’s spell-check doesn’t recognize the word “blog” as a correct word.

I’ve wanted to write a bit about the season of Lent that begins tomorrow, but I haven’t carved out the time I really need to write intentionally.  I will say a few things though.  I never grew up in a church or community that practices Lent (or any church calender, for that matter).  It wasn’t until I was in my early-mid twenties (it’s kinda weird that I can say that) that I found an interest in participating.  The first few years I gave up things that now feel like “typical evangelical” things to give up: coffee, soda, desserts.  Looking back on this initial experience of Lent, I realized that I allowed the practice of Lent to be built up with some form of legalism.  I gave up coffee for 40 days, but I found other methods to dull the caffeine headaches that followed.  I gave up soda, and found myself drinking a lot of Brisk ice tea.  I established my own Lent Laws, and quickly found ways to subvert them, like drinking a lot of caffeine-rich tea instead of coffee.  I think I completely missed the point when I did that.  It would be like giving up watching TV for Lent, when all the shows are still available on the internet.

I was thinking about writing about what I think Lent means and how I want to approach it this year, but I found some words that are much more eloquent than what I could write.  I’ve never met this guy, but by the looks of his picture I’m sure we’d get along just fine.  He looks bad ass.  Kester writes, toward the end of the post, about what it means to not just deprive yourself of something for Lent, but to make sure to fill the space back in with something good.

What happens then is that we begin to experience resurrection. Not just resurrection in our own minds and hearts, but resurrection that pours out into our families and friendships. Resurrection that pours out into our workplace. Resurrection that pours out into our neighborhoods. Our communities can be forever changed if we treat Lent as an opportunity not just to rid ourselves of something old, but to begin something new.

You should take the time to read his whole post.  It’s good.  Really good.

Another post that I want to link to pointed me to some Lenten resources that look very helpful.  If you aren’t familiar with The Jesus Manifesto, you should be.  Even if you disagree with everything that they write about, they write in such a honest, compassionate, thought-out way that cannot be dismissed easily.  Apart from the suggested resources, Mark wrote a sentence early on in his post that brought to light how so often, it’s easy to have ulterior motives when we are deciding what we will give up for Lent.  It’s good.

The last link that I want to share is to a guy named Jason.  I met him and his wife last August and a Justice Kitchen get together.  I recently found his blog and recently he had a post entitled, “What do you Believe.” You should read it.  It, too, is good.  Reading Jason’s thoughts in this post and in others gives me hope in people who call themselves followers of Jesus.  It wont take long in poking around on his blog, and you will see his heart for living out the gospel of Jesus in a physical way.

So, that’s that.  I pray that if you are participating in this Lenten season that your heart will remain focused on the reason you are giving something up.  May you find peace in the difficult moments ahead.

Lauren and I visited the local Vineyard church yesterday.  As it turns out, local includes Windsor and Loveland, too.  The curch is multi-site, video venue church.  All of the separate campuses have their own pastor and worship, however the sermon is broadcasted live from one of the auditoriums in Fort Collins to each of the other campuses.  Had we know this was going to be the case we might have chosen to attend the “Vineyard-style rock band, and a lively celebration” service instead of the “unplugged vocal-driven worship style in an intimate atmosphere.”  I’m not a fan of video venue churches, so I think I could handle it a bit more if I was in the same building as the person preaching.  Maybe my issue with this method of church comes from seeing some pastors raised to celebrity status in evangelical churches.  The video venue model perpetuates that in my opinion.

My issue with our visit was not primarily with the video preaching it was but with the fact that no one really welcomed us.  We didn’t feel welcome at the church.  Sure, the guys holding the front doors open said, “Good morning” to us, but that was about it.  There was that uncomfortable time during the service when the person up front tells everyone to get up and “greet someone new” and a few people stopped by to tell us their names.  Other than exchanging names with people no one made any attempt to truly welcome us.  In fact, the first couple to introduce themselves made Lauren feel so unwelcome that she left the room for a bit.  The most unfortunate aspect about all of this is that there were around 50 people during the service (this includes staff people, too).  No one asked what we do for work/school.  No one asked us if we had visited before.  If we had gone to the service with hundreds of people in it I would be a bit more tolerant of this, but in a group of 50 people, with over 15 people working in some capacity, no one made us feel welcome.  Shame on the bride of Christ for acting this way.  Shame on me for all the time I could have talked to someone new, but never did.

My experience wasn’t all bad though.  It has been over two years since I have felt comfortable in a traditional church setting, but yesterday I didn’t experience the same anxiety that I have felt in the past.  The preacher taught about Jesus.  Not self-help.  Not a prosperity gospel. But he preached about Jesus and forgiveness.  In my time away from churches I cannot get away from Jesus.  In fact the farther I have moved away from church, the closer I get to seeing how absolutely central God’s incarnation is to Christian theology.

So there’s a little church update, for those of you who might care.  peace

This morning I lit two candles for Advent.  I listened to the reading for the Second Week of Advent.  I sat and meditated on “preparing myself” for the coming of GOD.  I did this sitting at my kitchen table…alone.  This has been one of the first times in nearly a year that I have felt this great sense of loneliness.

I have been walking a spiritual journey by myself for a while because I have felt so uncomfortable in a church setting.  I am still so critical of the words I hear spoken in churches that seem to contradict the actions of the church.  I have heard so many people say, “My church is different.”  And I’m sure it is, but I don’t think that it would change my perception.  I am still nursing deep wounds from the last church I worked for.  Emotional and spiritual wounds that have altered the way I view life and religion.  Looking back I see things that I didn’t see then.  I now see that I looked at the senior pastor as a father figure, emotionally connected to his approval.  I was so confused emotionally that there were times that I actually considered going back and trying to figure out how I could continue to work at the church.  It was the emotional equivalent of a woman continually going back to a physically abusive man because she is so broken down that she can’t see anything else.  It has been almost two years since I left that church, but some days the wounds still feel fresh.  I’m not sure how to move on.

If I could reduce all of my issues into one, run-on sentence it would be this: How is it that people can claim to have the same Messiah, who say they follow the life and teachings of this person, can be so decisive and exclusive especially when one of the teachings of this Messiah is about knowing a tree by its fruit.  I’ve grown tired of Christians using the line, “we’re not perfect” as a crutch.  When will we be honest about the parts of following Jesus that we suck at?

In my confusion about all of this, I still feel a pulling in my soul to gather together with other Christians.  It’s at this crossroads that I find myself.  Can I move beyond these deep wounds and gather weekly with other Christian or should I continue down this path alone?

The year following my job at the church I was leading a house church for ‘displaced’ people from the church I was working for.  It was by no means perfect and was not easy, but there were things that I really miss about it.  I think that if I find myself in a church setting again it will be in something like the house church.  Broken and honest.  I really miss sharing food with people as an intentional act of communion.  I miss sitting together and listening as people opened their hearts to each other.  I miss worshiping together with music and art and prayer.  I miss walking with people through very difficult times of life and rejoicing with people in the happy times.  I miss reading the Bible, out loud, with different voices.

All of this leads me to my kitchen table to celebrate Advent – alone – and thinking of what it means to anticipate the coming King.  I wonder if I should be asking people to join me in this journey when the way seems so uncertain?

john-and-jesus1

Part of the Advent reading for today comes from the Gospel of Mark.  It’s the beginning of Mark’s story when he introduces Jesus, but before Jesus is on the scene Mark talks about John the baptizer.  John knew that the Messiah was coming and called out to the people around him to “Prepare your hearts.  Confess your sins.  And make way for the coming Messiah.”

So today we pray:  Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Not too long ago I stepped away from being a pastor to a small group of people.  It was a very significant thing for me to do.  I have felt the call of pastoral ministry on my life for almost ten years and to step away was an identity-shaking decision.  The past months have been filled with questions and doubts about my role as a pastor.  I question whether or not I am really “called” by God into that type of role.  I doubt that I might have the character to pastor people.

I see so much about the American church that I don’t understand or believe is rooted in historical Christianity, yet I feel drawn to the church nonetheless.  When I think about the possibility or probability of working for a church again I find myself shaking my head or throwing up my hands in confusion.  I have lost hope in the church lately.

I have thought that my calling to ministry was not to a particular age group or city, but to the work of reconciling the church to the people who have left — working with broken and bruised churches to seek forgiveness from the people who they have hurt.  This isn’t the type of language that is in most ministerial job descriptions.  I have felt awkward and out of place lately as I have contemplated going back to a ministry position.

But when I read Eugene Peterson I am reminded of the hope that I have lost.

I’m close to finishing “Under the Unpredictable Plant.”  I’m not going to explain the book or try to tell you whether or not you should read it.  There are plenty of qualified people to do that for you.  I will say this:  When I read Peterson’s pastoral books I dream of being a pastor again.

Peterson writes about people.  The people behind the pulpit and the people in the congregation and the people who want nothing to do with church.  He warns the pastor of becoming consumed with “pastoring” to the point of losing sight of the people that he should be pastoring.  This is such a strong encouragement to me.  Without people, the gospel is not the gospel, and if we lose sight of the purpose of the gospel we have no right calling ourselves “pastors.”

In the middle of this book Peterson starts to borrow words from Wendell Berry.  And at this point I’m in bliss.  Peterson writes that “whenever Berry writes the word farm, I substitute parish; the sentence words for me every time.”  Then building off of a thought about “treating the land not as a resource to be cared for but as loot,” Peterson writes:

It is a prevalent attitude of pastors toward congregations, and one that I have held more often than I like to admit.  When I take up that attitude, I see the congregation as raw material to manufacture into an evangelism program, or a mission outreach, or a Christian Education learning center.  Before I know it, I’m pushing and pulling, cajoling and seducing, persuading and selling.  It would not be nearly as bad if our congregations resisted and resented and challenged us when we work out of this attitude, but they are so used to being treated this way by businesses, public relation firms, educators, medical practitioners, and politicians that they don’t see anything amiss when we also do it.  (And, in fact, when we don’t do it, or quit doing it, they wonder why we aren’t acting like a pastor anymore.)

When I read Peterson I am reminded about the work of a pastor– to be present with people, guiding them along the path of the cross as they are reconciled to Jesus, not to sit quietly in a pew and fill up the plate as it passes by.

I have a two guilty pleasures that really confuse Lauren.  The first is TBN.  For some reason I’m drawn to the big hair and the clapping and singing and the verses used out of context.  I have a hard time explaining it to people, but I think I have been able to view it as entertainment and not as some form of spiritual teaching.  The other guilty pleasure is closely related but a bit more tame, if you ask me.  I enjoy listening to Christian talk radio.  In part it reminds me of my childhood, as I hear the voice of Chuck Swindoll and Dr. James Dobson.  It also has given me the opportunities to critically evaluate what I believe and how my beliefs have changed over the years.

As I was driving home from work I was listening to a call-in show on the Christian talk station.  A lady call in and ask a question along these lines, “Could you tell me any Bible verses that support putting a pet to sleep when it’s in pain.”  Oh how I wish I could have been the DJ.  I would have quoted Hezakiah 13:8  “If thouest come upon an animal in pain, do unto it what must be done to relieve it, thus saith the Lord.”  Then I would talk about the interpretations for the word ‘relieve’ in Hebrew.  It would have been fun.

On a serious note, as soon as she asked her question I felt like I understood the motive behind her question.  To me it sounded like she knew the answer that she wanted to hear and now she was looking for the authority of the Bible to back her decision up.  This view of the Bible is merely an Answer Book from God.  This view of the Bible is far too common.  I’m waiting for Zondervan to come out with a Bible that has the Index as the Table of Contents.  “Need a verse that talks about adultery?  Here’s the pages….”  Forget about all the other verses that make up the context.  This way of thinking doesn’t need the Bible, it needs an encyclopedia.  Simply study the parts that you’re interested in and leave all those other boring or convicting parts alone.

I know this approach to the Bible; I used it for a long time.  And what’s worse is that I have used it while preparing sermons.  For this I’ve repented.  I remember being certain of what I was going to preach and then going to the Bible to find support of what I wanted to say.  How arrogant!  But it is so easy to do, and it make you sound so certain of things.  The problem, as I’ve come to see it, is that it is not that certain.  I hope that as time has passed I have allowed myself to read the Bible to understand what the Bible is saying, and not to support what I think is valid.

OK that’s it.  I realize that it might come off as an incomplete thought but I felt like I needed to get it off of my chest.  I also thought, “hey, maybe someone else will have some thoughts on this subject.”  So, do you?

The beginning of June is a rough time for a vegetable gardener. Most people can plant their warm season crops in mid May (the very ambitious might put a few out in early May) so the scenery of the garden filled is small transplants and bare soil where seeds are trying to emerge. The warm season crops are the ones that should come to mind when you think of eating something right from the garden: juicy tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, cucumbers, beans, squashes. The beginning of June is rough because it is filled with anticipation of all of these wonderful vegetables.

For some people there is little or no excitement about eating food straight from the garden. After all, we can eat cucumbers any month of the year now. We have an unlimited supply of fruits and vegetables available to us at grocery stores all across the country, so why should we wait with such high anticipation for vegetables to be “in season” when the supermarkets have no need for any season? Taste! If you have ever compared the taste of a vegetable from a garden at the peak of it season with the taste of the same vegetable purchased from a grocery store you will wonder how it is that grocery stores can even call that round, red, dry and bland orb a tomato. There is no comparison. People who grow their own vegetables know this. There are people who don’t or can’t grow their own vegetables who know this, too. They wait eagerly for the few month of farmers markets and roadside stands to buy fresh, homegrown produce.

As you can now see I was very perplexed when I passed by a gas station that cart outside that had I sign boasting “FRESH TOMATOES $.25.” It was early June. I didn’t have time to stop and look but as I drove by I knew two things. 1) There is no way those tomatoes are fresh, and 2) people are being deceived by that sign. The next time I drove by that gas station I made sure I stopped. On the cart were small wicker baskets with five or six perfectly shaped, red fruits. I got back into my car pretty frustrated. I was right. The description of fresh was merely a cheap marketing ploy. How could I tell? The fruit. It was uniform in size, shape and color. These are telling marks of food that is grown in factory-like conditions where every aspect of the “production” of food is streamlined into whatever is most efficient. Food is developed for the look rather than the taste. Think about it, when you are standing at the grocery store in the produce section, you reach for the tomato with the reddest skin and the perfectly round shape. What’s interesting about this is that we are buying produce like we are buying art-as something to look at (no offense to my wife or other artists who value art as more than ‘something to look at). Isn’t this odd? We buy our food in a way that says we enjoy looking at the food siting on our counter more than we enjoy the taste of it. For those grow produce, or those who strive to purchase it from small scale, organic farms the values are reversed. We seek out the produce that will have the right taste regardless of the shape or color. This isn’t to say that we would deliberately grab a squash that has boring beetle hole all through it, but a scar on the outside doesn’t scare us away.

A few weeks ago, as I drove by the same gas station with the produce cart I had a new thought, “It seems like people approach finding a church the same way they might approach that produce cart. Whether we (Westerners) want to be or not are fueled by consumerism. I believe that this is a part of who we are because of the culture that shapes us. The church is no different. Church culture has shape us to approach church as consumers. There are, of course, different degrees to this. I believe that Protestants probably have a harder time with this. After all the Reformation lead to the denominationalism that almost encourages people to go find a different church if you don’t like something about the one you attend. (This leads to a rant which needs its own soapbox for, so I’ll step down.)

Back to the produce stand. I think it is easy for us to reduce our expectations for a church to what is seen on the outside. I’m purposefully using broad general statements here because I’m commenting on what I see happening across the evangelical church landscape. I’m not trying to get too deep into specific situations. We look for a church that has the type of music we like or the charismatic preacher or the programs for our kids or the big building. We see these things on the outside and assume that those characteristics are consistent to the core. To me, these reasons for finding a church are similar to shopping for produce based solely on it’s outer appearance. We look for the churches that appear to have it all together. Churches that have the right shape and color of what we have come to expect a church to be like. But we have replace the desire for taste with the the expectation of a look.

A few post ago I wrote that “I want to be involved in a group of people who struggle their way through living out what Jesus taught. I want to be steeped in “deep church” that sinks into the core of my being.” To me, looking for this type of church is like selecting produce because of its flavor and simply because of the bright color. I believe that when we find a church (the people) we should be able to see it’s scars and bug bites. The scars are signs of life that show that the church has been growing though the elements, and not produced in isolation away from anything that might harm it. These struggles and flaws should be visible and accepted as a sign that says this is in season, locally grown, organically cultivated, tastes great and less filling. We should desire to join with a group of flawed people, scared by life and misshapen as opposed to looking or the “perfect on the outside” yet lifeless on the inside.

I think I’m running out of steam with this post. Maybe if I find the ambition I could do a series entitled “Marks of an in season, locally grown, organically cultivated church.” These are my thoughts, what about you? Does any of this resonate with your experience finding a church? Am I way off base with my comments? Did you find any spelling or grammar errors? Let me know.

peace.