Archive for July 20, 2007

Contagious Laughter

Posted: July 20, 2007 in Uncategorized

Don’t you hate when you really shouldn’t be laughing…but you just have too.¬† And the fact that you shouldn’t be laughing only makes it that much worse.¬† Check out these news-anchors who can’t stop laughing.

Had a good conversation last Sunday afternoon in our Galatians growth group about the “good news” of Jesus and how churches can take the “good news” and, whether they mean to our not, end up presenting it as “bad news.”¬† Specifically, we talked about what it means to “join” a church; or become a “member” of a church; or just the whole process of getting to be “a part” of a church thingy.¬†

Let me say up front that I really struggle with this issue.¬† I do not have the answer and I don’t even particularly like what we presently do at the Living Stones Church.¬† We tend to be very informal, but we still have categories of “member” and “non-member” although none of us are really sure what happens when someone who has been coming for awhile decides to become a “member.”¬† They don’t get a special card; learn a new handshake; or get to use the “member-only” bathroom.¬† So…I’m not sure what really changes.¬† Even the language of “member” seems weird.¬† I’m a member of a gym.¬† I can be a member of a neighborhood association.¬† I’m a member of the zoological association (I like the lions!).¬† But being a “member” of a church as if it is another institution in which one joins seems weird.

O.K. back to my issue.¬† How does someone get to be a part of the church?¬† I’m talking philosophically for a second.¬† It seems for most churches (and this is a discussion lots of churches are having) it usually means the following order:

  1. You believe certain things.
  2. You behave certain ways.
  3. Then you can belong.

So, in this respect it goes believe, behave, and then belong.¬† For most of my ministerial career I’ve followed this pattern.¬† But it hasn’t worked all that well.¬† Whether I like it or not, it comes across as very exclusionary and thus…not “good news” or “gospel” to people who are trying to find Jesus.¬† What they are thinking, whether I intend them to or not is this, “So if I believe these 12 points…all of which I’m still trying to figure out, and then stop behaving in these four ways (and why is it all about sex?), then I can belong to your church?”¬† In the end…it is all about what “they do.” (seems to rub againt a little with Paul’s understanding of grace in Galatians).

Yet, when I see Jesus’ ministry (which I assume to be an important pattern!), it seems like he reverses the order.¬† When he calls his disciples he gives them immediate community and belonging.¬† And¬†IN THE CONTEXT¬†of belonging, they begin to believe differently, and then behave differently.¬† It doesn’t seem Jesus asks Peter, “Do you agree with these twelve propositions (including whether¬†Peter believes Jesus to be the Messiah which it seems he didn’t even ask¬†his position on this matter until halfway through his ministry); will you quit behaving in these ways…then you can come follow me.”¬† He says to Peter, “Follow me!”¬† And as Peter follows Jesus he comes to believe different things.¬† And then he behaves differently.¬† I wonder if Jesus would have begun with the believing and behaving if Peter would have ever followed in the first place.

I know some of my greatest ministerial regrets are moves of exclusion.¬† They were well intentioned (at least I keep telling myself that), but they were exclusionary.¬† Let me give you one such example that I shared at our growth group.¬† Years ago we had a woman who started coming to our church that was living with her boyfriend (who she had been with for years and had two kids), had overcome an addiction, was putting her life together by undergoing state licensing to open a day care and came to me one day to ask if she could work in the nursery (you know…like hold the little babies).¬† My answer…”no.”¬† Why?¬† Because of the whole believe, behave, then belong thinking.¬† Now, if I was worried about the safety of the childre that would be one thing and¬†that is non-negotiable…period!¬† But I wasn’t.¬† I’m not sure what I was worried about other than she didn’t fit into the whole church “believe” and “behave” policies.¬† So, after I told her she couldn’t work in the nursery do you know what she did?¬† She left our church never to return!!¬† That’s what people do when they hear you say (no matter what language you choose)…you don’t belong.¬† She just wanted to help mothers by¬†rocking their¬†babies for goodness sake!!

I know the Scriptures give us standards for those with spiritual authority such as pastors/elders/deacons, etc.¬† I’m not saying you abandon those principles for some enthusiastic moment of inclusion and tolerance.¬† And I don’t think you have to throw out discernment and allow anyone to do anything (e.g., if you have been convicted of embezzlement, we’ll love you, forgive, etc. but you probably won’t be our church treasurer).¬† What I’m asking is the whole nature of¬†what it means to¬†belong.¬†

What if this woman that I said “no” to¬†would have truly felt like she belonged among us?¬†¬†What if¬†she just knew that she fully belonged in our community that was¬†journeying together¬†in God’s Kingdom?¬† That she was among the rest of us that¬†are¬†“in process” of having our lives changed.¬† If she would have felt a part of this community of faith taking another step closer to Jesus she may have from that context very well changed in beliefs and behavior.¬† But who knows because she never felt like she “belonged” and thus left!¬†

And it seems that is when the church, rather than demonstrating the “good news” of Jesus undermines it with the “bad news” of “you’re not welcome in our church (or at least not really) until you believe these things and do these things.”

I’m still confused as to what is the thing to do.¬† I like the idea of people saying, “this is my church.”¬† It helps shepherds to know who’s in the flock.¬† I think some sort of acknowledgement or moment of commitment like “this is where I’m working and worshipping” is a good thing.¬† But somehow in that process we must grant people belonging.¬† True Jesus-like belonging.¬† Because it seems beliefs and behavior are best changed within that context.¬† At least it was for Jesus.¬† So far, I have never had anyone come to me and say,

  • ¬†“A few years ago I wanted to help in your church but you wouldn’t let me because I had some sin in my life and that really helped me a lot and I just wanted to say thank you.

But I have had people say:

  • I love this church.¬† I love it because I came here and my life was a wreck and you loved me and accepted me just as I was and now, because of Jesus,¬†I’m a totally different person.”

Belonging…believing…behaving.¬† Maybe that is the order.

Can I tell you that I LOVE MY JOB!!?¬† Right now I am sitting in some green lounge chairs on the front porch of our church enjoying what might be the most beautiful day of the summer!!¬† I have my computer, books, Bible, etc. spread out on three different chairs and I’m getting to work in this “office.”¬† Life is good…really good.

Today is the LAST DAY of our Avalanche Ranch VBS.¬† It has been a blast!¬† Last night was the biggest night yet in terms of kids and I anticipate that we will end today with an even larger number.¬† I notice that the energy level goes up a bit at the end.¬† On Wednesday, everyone is usually exhausted…kids and volunteers…except for Gary Dolezal who I’m telling you is fantastic with kids and summons up energy from some storehouse unavailable to the rest of us!¬† On Thursday you start to get a little burst of energy and then on Friday for the last night, it’s on!!¬†

Meeting a lot of wonderful children; some great connections with families; and some fantastic inquiries into the Living Stones Church.¬† Just watching the children worship…I’m telling you it’s priceless.¬† If I have these feelings in my heart watching them…imagine what feelings God must have in his heart watching them!

Two stories…I had one mother share with me last night that her child was loving the VBS and that she, as a mother, was grateful that¬†her daughter¬†was coming.¬† She said the first night her daughter came home and said with great excitement and conviction, “Mom, God¬†REALLY is real!!”¬† Isn’t that great?!¬† On Wednesday night one of the fathers came to pick up his three children (right on Perez family).¬† He walked in at the end during our worship time and he just stopped and worshipped!¬† I mean he was doing the hand motions and everything…not like he was trying to¬† encourage the kids…but all for God.¬† He had his eyes closed…looking up to heaven…and singing!¬† It was beautiful!!

And can I talk about the VBS snacks!?¬† In my day it was a sugar cookie and kool-aid (which I loved).¬† Last night we had ice cream sundaes with crushed oreos and a cherry on top!!¬† “In my day….”

It has been a busy busy week.  Sorry for the inconsistency on the blog.  Last week was church camp and this week is VBS.

One more thing¬†from an earlier post about Miranda Mayes (by the way – Miranda’s husband, Jason, took these photos from our VBS…he has a sweet camera!).¬† She is doing great (piece of cake)!¬† I mean seriously…I have never seen anyone go through the chemotherapy treatment she is going through with such flying colors.¬† Note to cancer:¬† Don’t mess with th’m Texans!¬† Doctor hinted that it is quite possible she could go home next week!!!!¬† You can hear all about it yourself from her myspace page.