IF JESUS PASTORED YOUR CHURCH, YOU’D NEVER GO

Came across this interesting in Crosswalk by Dr. Julie Barrier. Think about it.

 

A scruffy homeless dude pops through the door of the church house with his motley entourage. The trendy thirty-somethings sitting near the aisle gagged at the stench of their sandals reeking of foot odor.

Honestly, is this the new pastoral candidate? And who is his crew? They weren’t invited! The parking lot attendants were already upset. The fig trees shading the front door were a little scraggly, but one word from the new guy and they curled up and withered. Instantly. This man was a wizard.

He strode confidently to the front, set the pulpit aside, and sat down. Nina Smothers spent hard-earned cash for that wooden lectern in honor of her dead, departed hubby Harold. She dashed out of the sanctuary in a huff. With great authority, this Jesus asked all of the wealthy elders to stand. These guys were the cream of the crop. They never missed a Sunday, lived exemplary lives and were model husbands and fathers. He commended them for their efforts.

Here’s the kicker! Jesus asked them to withdraw all of their savings, cash in their 401K’s, stocks and bonds. Porsches and BMW’s must be returned to the dealership and their pricey suburban homes listed immediately. Everything must go. (Sounds like a “going out of business” sale…) Finally, He challenged them to turn over their net worth to the World Vision fund to help dying widows and orphans in Bangladesh. This tight-knit group of top-shelf leaders shook their heads, grabbed their stylish children and sadly left the room.

The crowd was definitely thinning.

Finally Jesus delivered His “sugar-stick” sermon from Luke 8:5-15. The remaining congregation perked up their little ears. Francis Chan described Jesus’ words in this way: Jesus started His sermon by saying, “Gee, it’s great you all came…be sure and bring a friend next week!” Not. He told an enigmatic tale about sowers, seed, paths, rocks, thorns and good soil. “He who has ears, let Him hear.” Then He retired to the front row. Even His band of brothers scratched their heads. Peter piped up, “What a weird story! What was that all about?” Jesus’ cryptic answer still confounded His boys. “To you it’s been given to know. I speak in parables-seeing they may not see, hearing they may not understand.” The natives were getting restless. Pew-huggers in the back slinked out when Christ was not looking. Jesus whispered, “I’m not going to spend my ministry watering rocks or fertilizing thorns!”

Now here’s the conundrum. Luke 14:25 tells us great crowds accompanied Him. This place was a mega-church. Big video screens, screamin’ band, cushy seats and a coffee bar out front. Why would Christ blow this amazing opportunity?

Christ stood to offer the invitation. “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t love me more than Father, Mother, even his own life, he can’t follow me.” (Matthew 10:37-39) Jesus continued,  “Are you really sure you should be here? Hate your father, wife…leave them all for me. Count the cost. I’m telling you about the cost of following me up front. Pick up a cross and come and die.” The silence in the church was palpable. Instead of an emotional invitation with crowds streaming to the front, there was a massive exodus through the back door. One kid filmed the fuming mob’s departure on his smart phone and uploaded it to YouTube. Two million hits.

The smelly twelve were left. Jesus mumbled, with great sadness in His voice, “You’re not going to stick around either, are you?” (John 6:67)

Peter piped up, “Where else shall we go? You’ve got the truth, the living words.”

The offering was non-existent. No money was raised for the offsite campus with the video feed. In fact, if we were true to Scripture, Jesus would have whipped the ushers, turned over the offering plates and screamed that this was “God’s house of prayer.” However, the ushers and the rest of the comfortable Christians split a long time ago. The scraggly teacher never made it past His first Sunday. He was fired on the spot. An Abercrombie model with killer people skills took His place.

Francis Chan ended his sermon on this subject with this compelling statement. “Are we obeying the most obvious truths of Scripture? I want to be real salt, good soil…the real deal. Be intimate with Jesus. Love Him enough to take up your cross no matter what!”

If Jesus were the pastor of your church, would you go?

This article was inspired by Francis Chan’s compelling sermon “If Jesus Were the Pastor of Your Church, You Probably Wouldn’t Go.”  

 

THE MUPPETS AND HOLY NONSENSE

Josh Larson shared this insightful look at life in the world on the blog OOZE-Evolving Spirituality that is published by Spencer Burke.

The Muppets and Holy Nonsense

by Josh Larsen

How I love the Muppets. So free of moralizing and sterile family values, they’re nevertheless imbued with a joy that is, at its very core, good. I consider what they do – with all their felt and comic fury – a sort of holy nonsense.

Created by the late Jim Henson and beloved by a generation raised on their 1976-1981 television variety show and subsequent movies, the Muppets return to the big screen courtesy of cowriter-producer-star Jason Segel (a member of that generation). Lovingly crafted, amusingly self-referential and deliriously silly, “The Muppets” isn’t just true to its tradition. It’s true to a contemporary world deserving of quality family films but too often populated with the likes of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked.” It’s a corrective, not a bout of nostalgia.

Segel stars as Gary, a cheerful, small-town guy who lives with his brother Walter. Walter looks, well, like a Muppet. No one remarks on this much – though a photo from the brothers’ high-school prom catches Walter’s date in a hilarious double take – until the pair, along with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), visit the now-closed Muppet studio in Hollywood. When they learn of a nefarious developer’s plan to take over the property, Walter convinces Kermit the Frog to come out of retirement and put on a studio-saving telethon.

Walter finds his true place in the process, but that’s about the extent of the lesson-learning in “The Muppets.” Ever since the episode featuring the tale of the grasshopper and the ant, in which the grasshopper moves to Florida and the ant gets stepped on, it’s been clear that this group is hardly interested in the moral of the story. That anti-tradition is carried on in “The Muppets.” Although Kermit is given to inspirational speeches, it’s notable that during one of them he’s flattened against the wall by an opening door.

Instead of lessons, we mostly get nonsense. Animal in anger management. Chris Cooper, as the evil developer, breaking into a gangster rap. Chickens doing a dance routine to a Cee Lo Green song (we can only assume it’s called “Cluck You”). Yes, occasionally, incidentally, a lesson is learned. As Walter tells Gonzo at one point, “When I was a kid and saw you recite ‘Hamlet’ while jumping your motorbike through a flaming hoop, it, well, it made me feel like I could do anything.”

The holiness of this nonsense – the spiritual joy it brings – can be difficult to quantify. As Frederick Buechner wrote in “The Hungering Dark,” “Joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes.” I happened to see “The Muppets” a few hours after attending a wake, one marking a particularly unexpected and senseless death. If we have such nonsensical grief in our lives, doesn’t it stand that God provides nonsensical joy as a counter? A time to weep, and a time to laugh? Holy nonsense blows on the fading embers of our soul, bringing it back to glowing life.

That’s not to say this nonsense is only palliative. It also points to the world of which we live in hope, a restored creation where brokenness, strife and grief are nowhere to be found. In their place, filling that welcome vacuum, there surely will be room for the silly alongside praise for the sublime.

We’re far afield from the Muppets now, but maybe not so far as it might seem. “As long as there are singing frogs and joking bears,” Walter says at one point, “the world can’t be such a bad place after all.” There’s more to it, of course – much more – but the holy nonsense of the Muppets is a very good start.
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Josh Larsen is editor of http://www.ThinkChristian.net, where this review originally appeared. He also writes about movies at http://www.LarsenOnFilm.com and at Facebook.com/larsenonfilm.

LET’S GET OVER OURSELVES

BY CHARLES BLAKE

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature
God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature
of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:3-8

Arrogance is just ugly.

Whoever you are and whatever your message may be and however important that message is to me, if you deliver it with arrogance, I will not hear it.  It really is that simple…that cut and dried.  Maybe it is just me, I honestly do not know, but arrogance just so rubs me the wrong way that (despite my best efforts) I simply cannot get past it to hear the message behind it.

My bet with this blog post is that I am not alone in this perspective.

To me, there are just not very many character flaws uglier than arrogance.  I say that with a touch of self-deprecation, because I know with certainty that I am capable of this particular flaw myself.  I really, really hate it when it comes out in me, because I believe it is so very ugly when I see it in anyone else.

The more I read and listen to people outside the church about why they are not interested in being inside the church, when you start cutting through to the essence of their complaints, when you boil them all down, they mostly seem to come down to arrogance on the part of the church in one form or another.  But the interesting thing is, I don’t think we (the church) are all that in touch with our own arrogance.  So here are some areas of  ”latent arrogance” on our part…arrogance to which we may be blind but which is very real to the outside world:

1.  Theologians, We: Do you believe it is possible to have a right theology and a wrong heart?  Indeed, my theology can be perfect, i.e., my interpretation of scripture can be right on the money without my having even the slightest evidence of the Spirit of God living in me.  I see it here in the blogosphere all the time…people chiming in to theological debates with such venom and vitrious, it makes me (the lawyer) blush!  Part of the problem here is that we forget the Biblical truth that “for now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror”.  We hold our theology as if we see everything perfectly clearly, thank you very much.  How can we believe we see all Spiritual truth perfectly clearly when our best source of Spiritual truth tells us that, in fact, we see it all pretty dimly for now?  For more on this issue, I love this post from Donald Miller.

2.  Insiders, We: I recently posted here on the problem of having our own “denominational vocabulary” and how that tends to disconnect us from those outside our church.  The first time I published that post, a particularly insightful comment (thank you, David!) reminded me that we are never in more danger of being arrogant than when we are feeling like an “insider” in any organization or institution, particularly including the church.  Like Peter, who was in the exclusive “inner circle” of apostles who got to see the Transfiguration, we run the risk of thinking we are something when we are not, and a humiliating correction is probably in our near future!

3.  Moralists, We: Granted, there are obviously plenty of social issues upon which even Christians do not agree, but we do agree on an awful lot, assuming a Biblical worldview.  What baffles me is that we somehow expect the rest of the world to see these issues the same way we do, and when they do not, we (arrogantly) decide they are just ignorant heathens, devoid of any redemptive value.  What’s more, we then rail against them and boycott them unless they relent and agree to act like Christians.  Frankly, some of our camps spend more time and energy trying to get non-Christians to act like Christians than we spend trying to get our own brothers/sisters to act like Christians.  Here are some important words from Paul to the Corinthian church who was dealing with moral issues of its own: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” I Corinthians 5:12-13.  Judging those outside the church is, well, arrogance.

I could go on and on, but we’re already way too long for this post.  But seriously, friends, can we just get over ourselves in these regards and begin earnestly seeking the mind of Christ in our attitudes toward others?  Oh, what a difference that might make in the world!

© Blake Coffee
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DISCIPLES … AN ORIGINAL CONCEPT?

by  Stephen L. Dunn

I had my first ministry assignment in 1971 when I was hired as the part-time Youth Pastor of the Newville (PA) Church of God.  That was forty years ago. It was a time when, particularly in small towns, churches were the centers of the community, church people were viewed as solid citizens, and pastors were positions of honor and respect.

Forty years have pretty much changed that. The ecclesiastical landscape is not a pretty sight.  During those 40 years our society has seen a seismic shift in its values and perceptions.  Churches are now considered by many postmoderns as entities that squelch true spirituality.  Church people are often viewed as political enemies of reasonable, “normal” people.  Clergy types are viewed with suspicion.

Scholars, social commentators, and religious historians speak of a shift from being a churched culture to a … you fill in the blank.  Whatever the case, churches and Christianity no longer hold home field advantage.

In the churched culture, people thought being good folk was synonymous with being good Christians.  In a culture that tracked with the church (Robert Bellah said this was because the culture had a civil religion that resemble Christianity), people thought of their churches as organizations that recruited members, provided benefits to those members (including status in the world and eternal life in the next). But because church and culture were basically on a parallel course, few churches concerned themselves with making disciples.  They just were recruiting and indoctrinating members with shared values).

Evangelism was replaced with church marketing.  Good people became the goal (good people who knew how to navigate a prayer book/hymnal) rather than transformed people.  But even choosing to become a Christian was relatively costless because the culture would affirm you anyway.  Most of the emphasis was on the outward appearance of faith and the willingness to do our “Christian duty.” Many, many mainline denominations continue to operate from this premise.  Many, many evangelical ones have chosen to be cultural curmudgeons.

Somewhere the idea of being Christ’s disciples was replaced with being a Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and members of the Republican Party (if you were a social conservative) or the Democratic Party (if you were a social liberal).  The church and our culture have suffered immensely by this loss of true identity – of biblical identity.

When Jesus walked on planet Earth and lived in our neighborhood, he spoke of people becoming his disciples.  Of being people who proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom by following Him.  FOLLOWING HIM.

In fact, that’s how Christians came to be called Christians.  They were recognized as followers/disciples of Jesus Christ.

Isn’t it time to stop being members of a church, or advocates of a particular doctrinal distinctive, or members of a political force in the nation’s culture wars – TO ONCE AGAIN BEING CHRIST’S DISCIPLES?

(c) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn

Step out of the boat

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FRANCIS CHAN – “THE NEW MIDDLE ROAD”

THE CULTURE OF “WHATEVER”

Last week I heard someone say that “we live in the culture of whatever.”  Rather than make a decision we often say “whatever.”  Instead of engaging in conflict we simply announce “whatever!” and the walk away. That response is terribly annoying to anyone who is taking something seriously.  It is generally not very helpful.  Even now someone has read the previous statement and thought, “Whatever!”

People often describe this as fatalism. You really have no control over something and rather than become emotionally invested in the outcome, you shrug off the whole business by saying “Whatever!”

I don’t agree with this assessment. It is something far more problematic to our culture.  When faced with a choice or a challenge, we chose “whatever” instead of the discipline of intentionality and the boundaries of accountability.  In a culture that believes freedom means to do what I want when I want to do it and not have someone judging my choices, intentionality and accountability are unwelcome virtues.

Christians are sometimes guilty of embracing the culture of  whatever hiding their lack of planning or their lack of going deeper. They don’t say “whatever” but they claim that they are following the Spirit. It’s as if God has no plan, no design, no specifically desired outcomes.  In this context, God gets blamed for a whole bunch of nonsense.  It’s hard to find a whatever mentality in Jesus’ words, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Counting the cost says there is a cost worth paying. Something that has a cost implies intrinsic value. Having a value means that it can also be squandered.

“Whatever” devalues both the object of value, but it also devalues the person making the statement.  Whatever says, “I don’t matter, so whatever happens must be permitted to happen.”

Helen Keller’s parents, upon her birth with her blindness and other handicaps did not say, “Whatever.”  The Quakers and others who founded and operated the Underground Railroad before the Civil War did not simply look at the horrid plight of the Negro in the South and blithely declare, “Whatever.”  We did not watch the unfolding tragedy following last January’s earthquake and turn aside our eyes and hearts with “whatever.”

John F. Kennedy once famously declared, “Some people look at thinks as they are and say “why?” I look at things as they could be and say, ‘Why not?’ Note – not, whatever.  People often ask why to lament their state instead of initiating change. The why question can be a form of whatever if we do not use what we learn to change what is.

Christians understand that everything they do has eternal significance and the potential for life-changing impact.  As authentic disciples we would never embrace the uncaring, self-centered apathy of whatever!

(C) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn