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February 24, 2014, 9:28 AM

Face to Face

I've had a line from one of the songs we sung yesterday (2/23/14) running on loop in my head the past 20 hours or so (Thanks Reuben!!).  Its from the song Faithful Love, and in the chorus we sing:  "I've seen faithful love face to face, and Jesus is his name."    A song stuck in one's head is not something to sneeze about, more or less write an entire essay on...  Its all the other stuff thats been engaging my brain this weekend that makes this line pop to the forefront.  

In my daily travels through blogs, commentaries, and outposts on Faith, Ministry, and Theology, I've run across a scathing set of articles written against a mega-church pastor who has skirted our newsfeeds recently for a particularly extravagant house purchase/financial decision.  Dont worry, I'm not going to add to the fodder, I merely want to explain the convoluted thought process in my brain.  I started along this path because one of the articles dealt with children, and the messages being presented to the children of that church.  The message is "We trust Pastor _______ and the vision God gave him, completely." Now, on the surface this looks harmless and like a way to build support and trust in the leadership.  The problem became when the message was delivered in a coloring book to the children's ministry featuring only pictures of Pastor _______ and The Code (their church's vision elements), and looked more like brainwashing than innocent coloring-in-the-lines!  

Through all of these ramblings and alarm bells going off in my head, I was still singing that line from Faithful Love.  What does Jesus look like?  Where have I seen him face to face in display of love?  Is it in this young and upcoming Pastor _______ who is obviously a charismatic and influential leader?  Is it in the face of the preacher on television who has thousands and tens of thousands of supporters who follow him unquestioningly?  If thats where I'm to see the face of Jesus, why doesnt my heart leap every time I hear their voices?  Why dont I throw my money at the television when they ask for more, more, more?  Why do I hear alarm bells going off every time I hear the term "New York Times Best Selling Author of _________" when they're introduced?  

I think its because I'm looking for the face of Jesus in the wrong place.  I read another blog on Sunday morning that not only had a different set of alarm bells going off in my head, it had pictures of diseased people that made me want to scroll even faster through to the end of the webpage.  It spoke of a Western civilization criminal imprisoned in a third world country.  This man was incarcerated for a minimal period of time, however the prison in which he served his time was also the permanent home of the outcasts of society.  These outcasts were not fellow criminals, they were lepers.  In what was the ultimate form of culture shock, the man was forced to live his daily prison routine among those who were given sanctum in this prison because they were shunned from every other place.  

This seemed to those charged with punishing his crimes, fitting for the white-collar character of this man and for his white-collar crimes on the poor and destitute.  They were right.  He felt as though he was being tortured and punished far beyond the scope of his crime and tried his best to avoid any and all contact with these pariahs.  Eventually though, he found himself being befriended by and in turn befriending a woman who was disfigured, crippled, and ravaged by disease.  He described later what he had found in the face and eyes of this woman:  Jesus.  After weeks of avoiding his fellow "inmates" he began to see them differently.  In their gnarled hands he found solace and comfort, more so than he ever found in holding the smooth hands of women he sought so eagerly in the past.   When cleaning their wounds he found peace, a peace far beyond anything money could have provided.  

What this man found was the face of Jesus.  And Jesus didnt look anything like me, you, or the young mega-church pastor who claimed to be the next best thing to hearing from Jesus himself.  Jesus looked like someone I would shield my children from if we encountered them on the street.  Jesus looks like someone who didnt take a hot shower this morning before putting on freshly washed and ironed clothes.  Jesus looked like the people Jesus himself said were the most important in Matthew 25: 31 - 46.  What was the ultimate in revelation for the man imprisoned, is that he found himself looking like Jesus to his fellow inmates.  Yes, Jesus began to look a lot like a white-collar criminal who was guilty of taking money from those who had little to none to take.  When he touched them without flinching, he looked like Jesus.  When he helped them walk just a few steps closer to the well, he looked like Jesus.  When he picked them up out of the dirt, brushed them off, and placed them back in their ramshackle cots, he looked like Jesus.

And that scares me.  It scares me because I dont look anything like Jesus. 

The man, once released from his incarceration and free to resume his life, found himself longing to remain with his friends.  He saw Jesus face to face, and was forever changed.  Needless to say, he did not resume a life of white-collar crime.  He came home and began looking for the face of Jesus at home, in the faces of executives and CEO's, the homeless, the affluent, and the destitute.  When he looked for Jesus, he found him... and When he found him, he began to look like him.  

I've seen faithful love face to face, and Jesus is his name.  I just wish I saw him staring back at me when I look in the mirror.  



February 17, 2014, 2:34 PM

Limited time offer, act now before it's too late.

I'm "home" at this moment in Detroit and its part of the nature of the beast that when visiting with my parents I assimilate into their routines a bit. One of those routines is the old school television shows on for most of the morning. Today it was Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger back to back.  This post isn't about those shows, but, boy, the drama sure does play out differently in the happy land of black and white.  I'm writing today because I happened to get caught up watching the commercials. 

They are, in my opinion, more poisonous and greedy than any offering we get during our prime time programming.  Yes, we can complain about the immorality and scandalous nature of the images we see, but they are NOTHING to the targeting and manipulation of your daytime, old folk, medicated crowd. 
The commercials are an intended marketing to the gullible or the desperate. 

To the observant, that appears to be just what it is: marketing to the gullible and desperate. I could see through the flashing letters, the "heartfelt testimonies", and the call-now, limited time offer urgency. It's a baiting tactic to create a lack of security and confidence that only "they" or their product can provide. 

  • If you or someone you love have ever gotten sick from something, there is probably a lawsuit you can be a part of and profit. Just call. 
  • If you're on Medicare, you can get them to pay for everything you don't need. 
  • If you're on this prescription, you are eligible for another medication that will fix all the problems the first one caused. It's a vicious, money making cycle. 

And that was just ONE commercial break. One. There are at least three during each thirty minute program. 

To the unobservant, it looks like they really, really care about your well being and will only be able to help if you CALL NOW!!! I'll admit, that cane that stands on its own and can adjust to whatever terrain you're on, looks pretty sweet. 

My imagination ran, as you expect it to, to the church. 
For lack of a better term, we are a commercial for our faith, for our salvation, for our level of faith. We provide the world a window into our very own moral system, and to what extent we think our product will help to the casual observer.  Within each commercial break, we are provided the opportunity to showcase what we've got.  Are you selling something that creates an urgency? Or are we one of those commercials that is dismissed immediately because of its ridiculous and "crafted" nature? 

 When given the opportunity (things stink, or take a sudden and unexpected turn) how do we approach those who have not chosen our path? Meaning, are we trying to sell them a faith that looks like it solves everything, while holding back the reality behind what we're selling: we don't really believe in its effectiveness either.  There is a danger to saying Jesus is the fix-all solution and then showcasing just how much we doubt that after the commercial break ends.  We need to be buyers and sellers of the same product we use on a daily basis. 

Perhaps it is because we are selling, most often unknowingly, a half-hearted faith that speaks about its effectiveness but the reality is far from it's intended practical and daily use. The commercials the church could make would look nice and orderly, much like our Sunday services, but the reality of most lives would speak to another message all together: we don't really believe most of this stuff either. Sustenance and reliance in God makes a great song, but looks really hard and impractical outside the walls of the church. 

Church, it's time for some truth in advertising. And that means we don't just make better commercials, it means we back up the commercials we've already made. 

February 10, 2014, 2:48 PM

Unlikely heroes.

It takes quite a laundry list of characteristics to be considered the hero.  I remember once, while working the bus ministry as a teenager I happened to be in the right place at the right time as the bus had to hit the brakes sharply.  In that fraction of a second I reached out and grabbed a young'n who was in the aisle and stopped him from flying forward into who knows what calamity (we werent going very fast at all).  Well, it must have looked worse than it really was because after we regained our footing, Matt, one of the adults working on the bus with me made the statement:  "you're a hero."  He meant it wholeheartedly, and meant to honor me for reaching out and making sure the young rider wasnt hurt.  I heard him say it and thought "nope, I am most definitely NOT a hero. In fact, I didnt really do anything at all except stop myself from falling over.  The kid was part of holding me up."  Of course, reveling in the glow of the glory being heaped on me, I never spoke up against his account and my story was regaled upon others as soon as we arrived at the church.  

As it all blew out of proportion, I felt even more self conscious about how much the hero I wasnt, and it actually hurt my self esteem more than it benefited me.  It took a good long time and a lot of reading to understand that who I am and the characteristics I have are enough for someone to genuinely consider me a hero.  Yes, its God who thinks I'm a hero (and you too), which oddly enough makes it even harder to believe sometimes.  Its like asking your mom if the picture you drew is good or not.  It may be the worst looking, poorest drawn horse she has ever been forced to witness, but she is going to say its the best purple and pink-spotted horse she's ever seen.  God's the same way, but not in the patronizing way, in the trusting and believing sort of way.  

Look back at the people HE CHOSE to be the heroes of our favorite Bible stories: Noah.  Now, yes, Noah was an exemplary human and faithful to the core.  So much so that God saw him as the ONLY faithful human on the planet.  Noah did some amazing things, its after the flood that we find anything really to criticize or draw his resume into question.  He wants to get drunk.  He wants to get drunk so much that he plants an vineyard, waits to harvest it, then makes wine from what he has harvested, gets drunk in a cave, passes out naked and ends up cursing one of his sons.  That as premeditated of sin as I've ever seen.  Talk about perseverance though...  

Abraham lied, blatantly lied to protect his own skin while putting his wife in harms way.  Isaac deceives Abimelech, and plays favorites with his sons.  So much so that he creates a rift in their relationship that results in treachery.  Jacob is a scoundrel.  Moses was impulsive, and on multiple occasions was ready to throw in the towel on the promised people.  Aaron lead the people in worshipping the golden calf, then brazenly lied about it to Moses! ("we threw the gold in the fire and POOF!  Out came this calf!!  Its a MIRACLE!!!).  Rahab was a prostitute. Sampson was........ well, Sampson was pretty much a jerk to everyone.  

But all of them, ALL of them heroes.  All of them celebrated in Sunday School and sermons.  Why?  Because God does amazing things with people he thinks are heroes.  And this comes back to my statement above: you're the hero.  Now in light of the list of characters above, that may not make anyone feel better about themselves.  That was not my intent.  My intent is to give us hope.  Hope in the fact that God can do amazing things with anyone.  God can feed the hungry with the hero that walks in your shoes.  God can comfort the mourner with the hero that looks back at you in the mirror.  God can even stop a little boy from bonking his head on the floor of a church bus with a dopey teenager who was only trying to keep himself from doing the same.   

Will you be the hero your story deserves?  Walk in the light, seek first His kingdom and righteousness, and become the hero that was created the day your were born.  

February 4, 2014, 2:07 PM

The Airplane Safety Speech

I've been chewing on this thought since hearing it presented at the ICOM last November, and I want to walk through it here with you.  Why do we still have the airplane safety speech before EVERY flight??  I know its federally mandated and required, but cant we just move on since no one is paying attention?  When's the last time YOU listened attentively to the whole thing?  I'm guessing we paid moderate attention to it the first time we flew, but when it gets to the part about how to buckle your seatbelt... yeah, time to see whats going on in the Skymall.  Its almost like you can see the hopelessness behind their eyes as they pick up (again and again) the pieces of the seatbelt, and pretend they're showing us something fantastic and new each and every time.  And lets not forget the stylish display of the deflated life vest that clashes so well with their sharp uniforms and nice hairdos.  

What would happen if we started to take that bit of instruction seriously??  First, we would probably shock the socks off our flight attendants.  I'm sure they're used to the bored stares of the people watching them buckle and unbuckle a seatbelt that my 3 year old could operate without instruction.  Imagine them seeing attentive eyes, alight with interest when they show us how to put on an oxygen mask and how to inflate that life vest!  Oh the thrill that would come from a round of applause for an exceptionally performed safety display!  We could institute a rating system, with penalties for bored resuscitations, and bonus points for the dramatic flair.  

Back on topic...  We check out because we dont think that speech applies to us.  If you really thought you were going to need the information on the airplane safety placard, would you have gotten on the plane in the first place?  NOPE.  We dont think we will crash, therefore rendering the safety information null and void.  I'm not saying you need to approach every flight as if it were your last... dont get me wrong.  I have perused many a Skymall magazine during the safety speech, and only touched a safety placard when I need to shove it to another of the row's pockets to make room for my stuff.  There is a really good message in how we treat that information.  

This is how a lot of us receive and treat the Gospel these days too.  Yes, preachers are like flight attendants, repeating what sounds like the same message over and over to blank stares and nodding (off) heads.  We have the safety protocol that is necessary to survival ready to go each week, often with a creative wrapping to gain interest.  The problem is, most of us dont think that applies to us.  Its like when the flight attendants address those seated in an Emergency Row, when we dont see a door to our right or left we check one more thing off our list of things to NOT know.  Its not my problem see, there's no door here.  Find another row to spend your time preaching at.  

Dont think I'm trying to play the pity card, and "woe is me" for us poor, old preachers.  This is a message to all, whether you're the one speaking it or not:  it applies to you.  Those things that Jesus thought were important?  Yeah, they're important  The message you hear every week asking you to live a Christ-like life everywhere?  That's as important as knowing that your seat bottom can be used as a floatation device in the case of a water landing.  The call to be compassionate and generous to the weak, widowed, orphaned, and poor?  That was important enough to Jesus to be the deciding factor between being a condemned goat and a saved sheep.  

So please return your seat backs and tray tables to the upright position.  The time is now for the Church (thats you and me) to show the world just how important and relevant the Word is to us.  And lets offer a ray of hope to our dedicated men and women flight attendants next time we fly by acknowledging their message and concern for our safety in the case of an emergency with interest and appreciation.  

January 27, 2014, 9:50 AM

I was provoked into doing this.

I have read a couple blogs this morning, both sent to my email box, both VERY high on my priority to read list, and both provoking emotion from me today.  I will provide links to both at the end, so you can see my "source" material for this mornings blog rant.  

What are we provoking from the world?  In the Church and Culture blog James Emory White speaks of Christian groups being labeled as "anti-gay hate group activists."  Now, I know I'm speaking to the choir here, but we are not that... right Church?  Sure, we are opposed to homosexuality and ALL sin, but we are not out there provoking the world into classifying us as a hate group are we?  Are we?.............  

My reluctant response is this:  yes we are.  This response we are receiving from the world has been provoked from some source, it did not materialize from nowhere.  Someone, somewhere, somehow has placed it in the media's mind that we are a hate group that only exist to condemn people while we ride our sparkling white horses into heaven.  No, I'm not accusing you or I of being extremists, but I am wanting to draw our attention to what reaction are we provoking from the world by our outward expressions of faith?  Mind you, if you are not provoking anything from the world in response to your faith, maybe you arent presenting any signs or symptoms of faith in the first place!  

We are called to provoke Love from others, using what we've been blessed with to draw love out of others (Hebrews 10: 23-24).  There are certain relationships that I have that I am guilty of provoking anything BUT love from...  Sometimes that was intentional, other times its merely a by-product of simply existing (my neighbor comes to mind).  This guilt hangs on me, and is shameful, because that is the representation of Christ that I am outwardly to this person.  I am provoking hate and resentment, not love or good works.    

What are you provoking from your neighbors, coworkers, fellow students, and peers? 


The second blog that provoked an emotional response from me was one entitled Got Church?  Now, I was not drawn in by the cheesy title, in fact I expected it to be another "we need to be gathering together and prioritizing Sunday mornings" blog... but it is so much more than that.  I was drawn to a quote my friend Jonathan Trotter made on facebook about what level of love or contempt I am creating in my children for the Church.  If our kids grow up listening to us talk about the church, if they end up getting their theology about the church from the backseat of a mini-van, what will it be? Will it be about beauty and mystery and the Bride of Christ? Will it be about God's Kingdom, here, now, as a great force for good in a desperate world? Or will it be about something else entirely?

What our children think of "church" is directly related to how we think of "church."  How our children will feel about Church after we're gone is directly related to how we feel about Church while we're together.  Are we building and growing a generation that will remain or are we already claiming them as lost? 

Check out the blogs below, and be provoked.  

Church and Culture -- Defining Hate

Jason Micheli -- Got Church?

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