To Stand or Kneel…

What a privilege it is to live in a nation where we have the freedom to stand, sit, or kneel while the national anthem is played! What a privilege it is to live in a nation where we have the freedom to support those who stand, sit or kneel! What a privilege it is to live in a nation where we have the freedom to be offended by those who stand, sit or kneel! For me, that’s part of the beauty of the United States!

Let me ask those who are offended by athletes not standing for the national anthem a quick question…Are you offended by the injustice and corrupt systems that have led to athletes taking a knee? Are you offended by the off-color remarks, hurtful, and demeaning language used by our President that led to more athletes taking a knee? Are you offended that our President would call for someone to be fired because they decided to exercise their Constitutional rights?

Some argue that they are free to express themselves when they “aren’t on the clock”. I wonder how many of those offended by this form of protest supported the bakeries that refused to serve gay and lesbian customers? They were just expressing their religious liberty and freedom protected by the Constitution, right? But, they were on the clock, so naturally you would be offended, right?

I wonder how many of those offended by athletes taking a knee wear a cross necklace to work or have a Scripture framed on their office wall. I mean, they have the freedom to practice and promote their religion, but not on the clock, right?

The bottom line is, this is not a protest about the flag. This is not a protest against our military. This is an effort to draw attention that while we proclaim that “all lives matter”, not all lives are treated the same. This is an effort to draw attention to an ever-present injustice that has plagued our nation for far too long.

If we are more offended by someone “disrespecting the flag” than we are by the circumstances that led to the demonstration, I’m afraid we’ve allowed our patriotism to become our idol. I’m afraid that we’ve allowed Jesus’ Kingdom to be trumped by a worldly kingdom.

You see, the issues that these athletes are attempting to draw attention to are Kingdom issues. When others are treated differently because of their skin color, their nation of origin, their sexual preference or identity, Kingdom people have a responsibility to stand or sit or kneel with the disenfranchised. I’m pretty sure Jesus would not be pledging His allegiance to the nation either.

Stuck: The Power of a Closed Community

I’m really struggling to put words on the page these days. As soon as I type, I realize that I have a pretty good chance of offending or alienating at least half of my readers. Therefore, I have to weigh the options…is it worth offending members of the blogosphere?

The same goes for sermon preparation. As soon as I jot down a note, if it can remotely be taken as an offensive statement, I have to weigh the options…is this a “truth” that needs to be stated? Is it worth offending the members of the congregation?

The politically charged environment we currently find ourselves is making, well, just about everything difficult.

It seems like people are just looking for opportunities to be offended.

For example, a colleague shared a story of some of the “Biblical literalists” folks getting furious when he read a passage of Scripture that addressed the human role in caring for creation. He said, “I mean, the passage was pretty clear. I read it and simply stated, ‘It would appear that the way we treat the creation says a lot about what we think of the Creator.'” Following the service, he was cornered by a small group that said, “Don’t bring that hippie-liberal global warming agenda into our church.” You see, while they like to take parts of the Bible literally, when confronted with a passage that challenges their political and anti-science perspective (I make that statement fully aware some will be offended by it), it becomes apparent that politics trumps faith. He simply responded, “Well, I’ve obviously struck a nerve. That was not my intention. That was simply the Scripture for the day. I can tell you want me to apologize. But, I will not apologize for reading the Bible in church.”

Another friend shared a sarcastic statement along with a satirical article poking a bit of fun at some of the almost-unbelievable stories coming out of the political world. An emergency meeting of his HR team was called to address the repercussions of offended clients.

Personally, I “liked” a video on Facebook that challenged people to seriously consider what it means to align our faith and our political agenda and to be honest about how no political party fully aligns itself with the way of Jesus. I received a great deal of pushback – even to the point of being accused of saying that “You can’t be a Christian” and vote for a particular party.

For far too many of us, we’re simply waiting to be offended. We’re waiting to be able to jump on our soapbox and proclaim, “I’m being persecuted!”

The reality is this…it’s not about our labels of conservative/liberal, traditional/progressive, Republican/Democrat, confessing/reconciling/centrist.

It’s about being open or closed. The process of healthy conversation, whether political or faith-based, shuts down when we are closed. In other words, when we’re closed we’re stuck.

There’s a lot of power in a closed community. A closed community has the power to shut down communication, to stall progress, to render organizations and relationships ineffective. And, closed communities tend to be very loud. We know what they are for, what they are against, and what they are not willing to compromise. A closed community is often a stuck community.

The labels really don’t matter if we’re closed. We will remain stuck. The hope of movement is lost. If we are closed, we are shut down…we are no longer willing to listen…we lack humility.

However, if we are open, there is hope. An open liberal and an open conservative can have healthy and fruitful conversation. There is potential for relationship and even transformation. There is potential that what is divided can unite and work together.

When we are open, there is a sense of humility that allows us to admit that “we could be wrong.” When we are open, we have the capacity to listen. When we are open, we have the ability to realize that there are far greater and far more important things than our political perspective and agenda.

I mean, Jesus was pretty clear about love being the foundational characteristic of our world. Without love, well…

Within a closed system, it’s hard to love…

You see, we are no longer listening to one another.

But, I hold onto hope that what is closed can be opened.

I wonder what steps we need to take to be open to those of different political leanings? I wonder what steps we need to take to be open to those of different faiths or no faith? I wonder what steps we need to take to be open to those with different sexual preferences or citizenship status? I wonder what steps I need to take to be open to Reds fans?

Are we open or closed? Are we stuck or moving forward? Are we willing steps to open ourselves to others?

Worship Wars…Is That Still a Thing?

Just when I think the “worship wars” within the Christian community are over, a whole new set of articles about the superiority of one form/style of worship over another hits the internet.

Unfortunately, because I’m a bit of a church geek, I get sucked into these articles.

And, the truly sad part is that none of the articles bring any thing fresh to the conversation. Each article is a regurgitation of previous articles. Some are more aggressive. Some are more passive. But, in the end, most of the articles give the same 5-10 reasons why one form/style of worship is better than others.

A quick Google search of “worship wars” will bring up 884,000 results in about a one-second search.

There are articles that imply the superiority of liturgical/traditional/high-church forms of worship.

There are articles that imply the superiority of contemporary/modern forms of worship.

There are articles that imply the superiority of emerging and ancient-future forms of worship.

There are articles that imply “worship wars” are damaging the witness of the Church.

As I read the articles, I generally find myself growing tired of the argument. I mean, I can’t believe we’re still debating which form of worship is best. I’m pretty sure Jesus’ Great Commission said, “Go and make disciples”, not “Go and fight about which form/style of worship is superior to others.”

The substance, the theology, the heart, the authenticity, the honesty, the openness of the worship life of the church should be of utmost importance. And, substance, theology, heart, authenticity, honesty, and openness are not dependent upon the style or form.

The ongoing “worship wars” really come down to personal preference. Sure, some of the articles are written by theological scholars and sound incredibly convincing. But, again, it comes down to personal preference.

If a church utilizes liturgy, hymns, and the bells and smells of traditional worship, there will be people who resonate with that form/style of worship. At the same time, there will be some who do not appreciate the experience.

If a church utilizes bands, cool lighting set ups, hip pastors in blue jeans who make references to Future and Lil’ Yachty in their sermons, there will be people who resonate with that form/style of worship. At the same time, there will be some who do not appreciate the experience.

If a church simply gathers together for a simple meal, time of fellowship, and a few reflective thoughts, there will be people who resonate with that form/style of worship. At the same time, there will be some who do not appreciate the experience.

Again, it comes down to personal preference. The “worship wars” seem to be about justifying our own practices. We write books, blogs, and articles that raise up our preference and belittle things we do not enjoy. We try to make ourselves look better by making others look inferior.

In the end, no one wins.

So, I’ll continue to pray that we can drop the “worship wars”. I pray that we can celebrate that God uses a wide variety of forms/styles of worship to connect with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of places. I pray that we can just focus on giving our best, regardless of form/style.

Maybe if we spent less time arguing about worship forms/styles, we might actually have something relevant to say to our neighbors!

Speaking the Language

While reading Trevor Noah’s book, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood”, I found myself thinking about church growth. Yes, you read that correctly! While reading the book written by the comedian and host of the  Daily Show, I was thinking about church growth.

Trevor Noah talks about growing up in the midst of apartheid as the child of a white man and black woman. Noah writes, “As a kid, I understood that people were different colors, but in my head white and black and brown were like types of chocolate. Dad was the white chocolate, mom was the dark chocolate, and I was the milk chocolate. But we were all just chocolate. I didn’t know any of it had anything to do with ‘race.’ I didn’t know what race was…I soon learned that the quickest way to bridge the race gap was through language. Soweto was a melting pot: families from different tribes and homelands. Most kids in the township spoke only their home language, but I learned several languages because I grew up in a house where there was no option but to learn them…I became a chameleon. My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color. If you spoke to me in Zulu, I replied to you in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied to you in Tswana. Maybe I didn’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you.”

As I was reading, I realized that one of the biggest barriers in church growth comes down to language. Too often, we Christians aren’t speaking the language of those we are trying to reach.

If I’m at a coffee shop, bar, or even at the gym, if I slip into my “Christianese”, I’m no longer speaking a language those outside the church understand. Sure, I’m speaking English. But, I’m using terms or implying meaning that is lost on the unchurched.

The reality is, many of our churched folks don’t always understand “Christianese.”

Think about the words that are lost on many outside the church: chancel, narthex, evangelical, sanctification, justification, exegesis, hermeneutics, dispensation, substitutionary atonement…and the list could go on and on.

It’s not that these words are bad. It’s not that we shouldn’t use these words. But, we should stop assuming that everyone knows what we mean when we use these words.

On the occasion that an unchurched person were to visit our worship gatherings, would they understand what we’re saying…or would it get lost in translation?

Are we taking the time to learn the language of those God is calling us to reach? Are we learning the culture, the values, the desires, the needs of the unchurched in our community?

How can we expect to reach people if we aren’t speaking their language?

 

Essentially Christian

Recently, at the strong suggestion of my doctor, I’ve made some dietary changes. When asked about my diet, I generally respond, “Well, it’s essentially a vegan diet.” If you asked my doctor, she would tell you that I am supposed to be “fully vegan.”

The reason I say “essentially vegan” is because, well, I really like sushi! Also, sometimes a guy just needs real cheese on his pizza. And, vegetables tend to taste better when they are dripping with real butter! In other words, I “cheat” on my diet. 

However, every time I cheat on my diet, I suffer the consequences. Not only do I feel remorse and guilt, I notice the physical impact too. It’s almost like my doctor knows what she is talking about! I know that if I am to reap the full benefits of my diet, I need to be more than “essentially vegan.” I need to be fully vegan.

Thinking about my diet made me think about my faith too. You know, there are many times my words and actions might indicate that I’m “essentially Christian” rather than “fully Christian”. While I fully believe in my heart and confess with my heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, I don’t always fully represent that inward belief in my outward actions.

I understand what Paul wrote in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

I don’t want to gossip, but I do. I don’t want to lack compassion for others, but I do. I don’t want to be selfish, but sometimes I am. I don’t want to drink bad coffee, but sometimes, well, I do!

How many of us are willing to admit that we are “essentially Christian”? We regularly attend church. We occasionally read the Bible. We go to Sunday school or attend a growth group. We say our mealtime and bedtime prayers. And yet, we still struggle to be “fully Christian.” We fail, at times, to love God, love our neighbor, and love even our enemies. We fail to care for the least, the last, and the lost among us. The desire is there, but we struggle to take action.

The Good News is this: God knows that we will fall short. God gave Jesus to live, die, and live again that we might have life! God knows that we will more often be “essentially Christian” than “fully Christian”. God promises to forgive when we repent and seek forgiveness. And, God promises to be with us as we “strive toward perfection.”

I don’t know about you, but I deeply desire to move from being “essentially Christian” to “fully Christian.”

 

 

When Your Faith & Politics Don’t Align

In my sermon on Sunday, I made a statement that I’m sure pissed off some folks. However, I stand by it. Here is the statement:

If we desire to build walls, reject and ban refugees, we need to at least be honest enough to admit that it’s not our faith in the God of the Bible that is motivating our politics on the issue, but our fear of the other.

Many of my Christian friends are offering blind support of President Trump…even when some of his executive orders and policies seem to be a departure from biblical Christianity.

I understand that we are supposed to pray for our political leaders. Trust me, I pray multiple times a day for President Trump. However, we are not called to offer unaccountable, blind support.

The Bible is pretty clear on the issue of welcoming foreigners and practicing hospitality for strangers. Yet, some Christians are making a decision that we can ignore the Bible on this particular issue because…well…you know…”America first.”

It’s really intriguing for me because many of my Christian friends who are standing behind the President on these issues are quick to use the Bible to defend their other political beliefs. When it comes to homosexuality, verses from the Old and New Testament are used to defend and support political policy. The words, “the Bible says” are used frequently to defend the conservative position on homosexuality and marriage (in)equality. However, when it comes to issues like building walls and banning refugees, well, we don’t like to admit that the Bible might be clear.

So, many are quick to retreat, back pedal, and practice the art of biblical avoidance when the same books of the Bible they use to support their views on homosexuality are used to question the moves of our current President.

And, if we’re going to be honest, we would have to admit that the Bible has more to say about our treatment of foreigners than it does about homosexuality. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t pick and choose which verses God intends for us to follow and which ones God intends for us to ignore. If we are going to use Leviticus to champion our anti-homosexual agenda, we have to use it to champion our pro-refugee agenda too. Or if we are going to ignore Leviticus on the issue of foreigners and refugees, we need to ignore it on homosexuality too.

At least there is one thing most Christians agree on…the Old Testament dietary laws are ridiculous and should be forgotten because…well…BACON!!!

I fully believe each citizen should be able to make up his/her own mind when it comes to political issues. However, I think we should be very careful when it comes to confusing our Christian faith and our politics.

Throughout the election cycle, I heard my more conservative Christian friends champion the Republican ticket – overlooking the shortcomings of the candidate – because of supreme court appointments (which is really about homosexuality and abortion). I also heard my more liberal Christian friends champion the Democratic candidate – overlooking the shortcomings of the candidate – because of issues like healthcare and social justice.

It is my desire that all of us would be honest enough to admit when we lean more on our political perspectives than the Bible to arrive at our conclusions. While we can say that our faith informs our politics, we should not blame our politics on Jesus.

I’m more than willing to go first. It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I am a far-left-leaning-progressive-liberal. On particular issues, I lean more on my personal experience and reason than I do Scripture and the tradition of the Church. While my faith shapes and informs my conclusions, I rarely attempt to justify my political leanings with Scripture. Sure, I could do some “proof texting” and come up with a convincing defense of my views on marriage equality, women’s choice, and other issues. But, that would be manipulating the Bible to make it say what I want it to say. I know that other Christians would struggle with my political views. As a result, I have felt the judgment, condemnation, and even received a few, “How can you be a Christian pastor and believe that?” and “Are you even a Christian?”

I also know that there are times when my views, writings, and articles I share have made my more conservative Christian friends feel judgment and condemnation. For that, I do apologize.

Listen (well, this is a blog, so, read), I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. I’m simply inviting us to be honest. Let’s just admit that, at times, our politics and our Christian faith simply do not align.

What About the “Other”?

This message was shared on Sunday, January 29th at Saint Joseph UMC in Fort Wayne, IN. 

John 4:27-38 To give a little background…Jesus was resting by a well in the middle of the day. A Samaritan woman came to get her water for the day. Jesus strikes up a conversation. In the midst of the conversation, Jesus reveals to this woman what He knows about her…which is everything. He shares His knowledge about her past and why she is coming in the middle of the day, rather than the early morning (like the other woman). She tries to change the subject, but Jesus has a way of bringing things back to the heart of the matter. The story truly shows the breaking down of barriers: Jew/Samaritan; Man/Woman; Clean/Unclean

After her encounter with Jesus, she immediately goes to share her story and invite others to “come and see”.

As followers of Jesus, we should be filled with the same contagious faith of this woman – that after encountering Jesus, we should be compelled to go and share our story and invite others to “come and see”. There should be something so amazing and transforming about our encounter with Jesus that we are unable to contain our enthusiasm.

We read that the disciples are surprised to see Jesus conversing with this woman, but none are willing to question Him about it. Jesus uses this opportunity to talk about our call to reach all people. Jesus tells the disciples that the fields are ripe for the harvest. God is sending each of us to reap the harvest.

When I look at this story, I’m moved by the compassion, grace, love and empathy Jesus had for a person that would have been labeled as an “other”. It’s almost like Jesus took the OT Law seriously. Let’s take a look at a couple of passages from the Old Testament (because I know you all were hoping and praying that we would deal with some passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy).

Leviticus 19:33-34 & Deuteronomy 10:18-19 

Now, some of us hear this passage and say, “Oh, but that’s the OT. It doesn’t really apply to us!” Of course, Jesus has something to say about that. Matthew 5:17-20 . Jesus didn’t abolish the Law, He showed us how to live it. We aren’t off the hook. Jesus taught that, if we could fully love God and others, it would take care of the whole law and prophets. In other words, there’s something about the way we treat and love “others” that is closely tied to our relationship with Jesus. The way we treat our neighbor, which includes the foreigners and strangers among us,  reflects the way we treat our Savior.

Therefore, this interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman should cause us to consider how we love and treat the “others” around us?

In our nation, today, there’s a lot of talk about the “others” and “foreigners” among us. There’s a lot of talk about building walls and banning refugees. So, it’s time for me to step on some toes.

Are we more concerned with the “others” earthly or eternal citizenship? I don’t recall reading any passage of Scripture where Jesus calls us to limit our love, compassion, care, service, and hospitality to only those who have the proper documentation.

If we are going to be serious about following the Jesus of the Bible, we need to seriously consider building bridges, rather than walls. We need to seriously consider welcoming, rather than banning those who are fleeing violence and genocide. We need to consider showing love and hospitality to those seeking a better life. Let us remember that Jesus was once a Middle Eastern refugee. All this “America first” language is borderline dangerous. As Christians, our primary allegiance is to God and God’s Kingdom. Too many of us confuse patriotism and Christianity.

If we desire to build walls, reject and ban refugees, we need to at least be honest enough to admit that it’s not our faith in the God of the Bible that is motivating our politics on the issue, but our fear of the other.

Brennan Manning wrote, “The outstretched arms of Jesus exclude no one, not the drunk in the doorway, the panhandler on the street, gays and lesbians in their isolation, the most selfish and ungrateful in their cocoons, the most unjust of employers and the most overweening of snobs. The love of Christ embraces all without exception.”

Of course, for some of us, the “other” in our lives is not necessarily about a “foreigner”, but those who are “different”.  Maybe your “other” is your neighbor who is a democrat or republican. Maybe your “other” is based on one’s religious or non-religious affiliations. Maybe your “other” is based on the color of one’s skin, their gender identification, or sexual preference. Or maybe your other is a Patriots fans (actually, that one is probably justifiable)! Or maybe your “other” is a person that is different in some way that causes anxiety, discomfort or fear.

Honestly, for me, it’s often easier to love the “other” than it is to love my fellow Christians. My “other” is often fellow Christians with slightly different theological interpretations. The words, actions, social media posts of many so-called Christian leaders and friends that fail to honor my understanding of the way of Jesus, that’s my “other”. In my less mature days, when various Christian spokespersons said crazy stuff like “taking in refugees isn’t a Biblical issue”, I’d say things like “I’d like to punch that guy in the face.” Now, I just make passive-aggressive Facebook posts!

In His interaction with this “other” woman, Jesus shows us that we are here to break down walls. We are here to build bridges. We are to include, rather than exclude. We are here to extend love, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, hospitality to all. Our love for God, one another, and even our enemies should be what defines us as followers of Jesus.

One of the ways we can build bridges, include, and extend love, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and hospitality to all is to invite others to join us on this journey. We need to become an invitational people. We need to embrace a culture of invitation.

80% This is an important number. 80% is the percentage of Americans who are not meaningfully connected to a church. That means the mission field is ripe for the harvest. If we don’t know anyone who is not meaningfully connected to a church, we need to get out of our Christian bubble, flee the Christian ghetto and make some new friends!

80% is also the percentage of Christians who believe we have a responsibility to share our faith.

Fort Wayne is often referred to as the “City of Churches”. According to some demographics utilizing census information, only 54% identify as religious in Fort Wayne and Allen County. 26% fall into the “nones” category (following the national trend).

According to researchers at Christianity Today, 96% of those not associated with a church would likely attend if they were invited. However, here’s some not so great news…Only 21% invited someone in the last 12 months. Only 2% invited an unchurched person. 19% invited people who are already actively involved in a faith community! That’s not evangelism, that’s competition!

So, 80% believe we should share our faith with the 80% not connected to a faith community. Only 21% participated in an easy way of sharing our faith by inviting someone to church. And, of that 21%, only 2% invited someone not meaningfully connected to a faith community. Come on church, let’s be trendsetters. Let’s change the numbers. Let’s share our stories with the world around us.

We have a lot of changes taking place at Saint Joseph. We’ve seen staffing changes. We’re preparing to launch a new worshipping community at the Lehman YMCA this summer. That launch will impact how we do things at our Reed Road location. Let me be clear, we do not make changes simply to make changes. We make changes in order to best position ourselves to make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

If you are here today and you have a pulse and you are breathing, you know things are always changing. The world around us is rapidly changing. Yet, we as the church are often slow to adapt and adjust. Therefore, it is wise to anticipate and expect changes. We keep offering the same old stuff in the same old ways in the same old packaging and expect different results. Whenever changes are made, it requires a response. We can accept the change. We can refuse the change – get mad, throw a fit, take our ball and go home.

Let us remember, Jesus calls His followers to shoulder our crosses daily and follow. Just to be clear, the cross is not about our comfort, our felt needs, or our personal preferences. For some, welcoming the “other” is a cross. For some, accepting change is a cross.

But, it’s more than just accepting the change that is necessary. When we accept changes, another facet of our acceptance is to invite others along for the journey. When we make changes and do new & different things, it presents a great opportunity to extend an invitation to our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others around us.

The woman didn’t wait around – she ran to share. God wants all of us to “go”, to run, share our story and invite others to come and see. For many of us, this requires us to step out of our comfort zones. We all have a call and responsibility to invite others to join us on the journey. We need to invite others to “come and check out this new thing”!

In your life, think of one person who could benefit from an encounter with Jesus. Maybe it’s someone you would label as an “other”.  Think of that one person who could truly benefit from the fellowship, community, love, care, support and worship life of the church. This week, pray for that person. Call them, send them a text, let them know that you are thinking of them. Pray that God would give you opportunities for conversations where you can bring up your faith or church involvement in a way that isn’t awkward. Then, invite that person to join us next week.

Does Your Theology Matter?

It’s a big question that many within the Christian community wrestle. Does your theology matter?

For many, the answer is a loud, “Yes!”

Recently, the Washington Post shared an article with a gloomy title for progressive Christians. In “Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving“, the author shares the result of a Canadian study highlighting that churches with a more conservative theological perspective appear to be growing. The study of 22 churches seems to paint a dreary picture for the liberal/progressive church.

Within the UMC, my brothers and sisters with more conservative tendencies (especially those with ties to the Good News and Confessing movements) are sharing this study to defend and prove themselves right.

However, doing a little research myself, I found that 97% of my UMC clergy friends that shared the article in an effort to champion their particular theological ideology are serving churches experiencing slow, but steady decline.

So, maybe conservative theology isn’t the only characteristic that sets thriving churches apart?

Many of my UMC friends will remember the Towers-Watson study of 32,228 UM congregations. Most would agree that the Towers-Watson report found little to no relationship between theology and growth.

Others might argue that, rather than theology, opportunities for engagement and an outward focus would be key indicators of thriving churches. Conservative churches that don’t offer opportunities for people to get involved in meaningful service will most likely struggle to grow. At the same time, progressive churches that do offer opportunities for meaningful service might be thriving. Conservative churches that have an inward focus will most likely struggle to grow. At the same time, progressive churches that have an outward focus might be thriving. Again, maybe theology isn’t the best indicator of thriving congregations.

For me, maybe we should be less caught up in whether we are conservative, moderate, liberal, progressive or whatever label one desires to use. Maybe we should be more caught up in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the least and last among us.

The Washington Post article closes with the thought that churches that take seriously the call to “go and make disciples” are most likely to grow. That might be the valuable takeaway from that article.

 

Turn Down the Volume

No friends, don’t worry, I’m not getting soft in my old age. This is not going to be about turning down the volume of your music. I mean, come on, if it’s too loud, you’re too old!

Rather, I would encourage all of us to turn down the volume on the 24-hour news cycle, the “news” that appears on our social media accounts, the ranting of talk radio, and the like.

This morning, I was on my way to the gym listening to NPR as is my usual habit. They were reporting about a particular subject having to do with a particular politician. They shared the information from their point of view.

At the gym, I was on a machine in front of a TV that happened to be tuned into FOX News. They were reporting on the same particular subject having to do with the same particular politician. They shared the information from their point of view.

Now, this will probably come as a huge surprise, but they had drastically different reports! Each did a bit of picking and choosing when it came to which facts they shared, which facts they ignored, and how much opinion they added.

We could get into which news outlet tells the truth most of the time. We’ve all seen those reports that show most of our 24-cycle news outlets have a poor track record with the truth.

On my way to the office, I found myself thinking about how I need to turn down the volume. As our friends from the X-Files would remind us, “The truth is out there.” It just probably can’t be found on our airwaves or in our newspapers.

Frank Zappa has been credited with saying, “Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.”

We live in a world where information, knowledge, wisdom and truth seem to be defined by whoever screams their version of the truth the loudest. It doesn’t matter if your information, knowledge or wisdom contains even an ounce of truth…as long as you are loud, you will be convincing, and others will blindly follow you.

This applies to the Church as well. These days, the “voices” who seem to represent the Christian movement in America tend to be those who are the loudest. Too often, their “Christian” message seems more closely related to the Republican platform rather than to the Way of Jesus. Of course, many of the more progressive Christian voices I tend to gravitate towards seem to embrace more of a universalist, anything goes platform rather than the Way of Jesus.

Maybe, all of this just means that each of us needs to do the hard work of rolling up our sleeves, digging deep, and discovering information, knowledge, truth, beauty, and love.

Or maybe we just need to pour a pint of our favorite beverage and put on a good record because, after all, “music is THE BEST” and, in my opinion, beer is a close second!

Happy, Merry, Whatever

Last week, I was at my favorite grocery store in the greater Fort Wayne area. As the cashier and I were wrapping up our interaction, I told her to have an excellent afternoon. She replied, “Thanks! You too! And, have a happy, uh, merry, uh, whatever.”

As she struggled to find the appropriate seasonal best wishes, I found myself thinking about how we often fight the wrong fights. She was probably a little stressed out because she’s probably had customers give her an earful about the appropriate season greeting.

We Christians love to get all riled up about “keeping Christ in Christmas”…which often means making sure that people spell out “Christmas” and don’t use the “Xmas” abbreviation. We also want to make sure that the cashiers and greeters at the mega-box consumeristic epicenters (you know, Walmart, Target, Meijer, etc) wish us a “Merry Christmas” as we celebrate the birth of a God that called us to love our neighbors, love our enemies, and care for the least & the last among us by purchasing ridiculously expensive gifts for our loved ones who don’t need them because “Happy Holidays” is so offensive. This year, residents of a small town in Indiana have gone a step further and are focusing on what tops the town holiday tree.

The most aggravating part of all of these “little battles” is the fact that some view this as religious persecution! Listen, someone pleasantly wishing you a “Happy Holidays” instead of saying, “Merry Christmas” is not religious persecution. It’s someone being kind. To even hint that any of this is close to persecution is offensive.

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Don’t we have better things to worry about? When God sent Jesus to earth, do you think God was hoping that we would fight this battle?

I’m just not that convinced that on judgment day whether we said “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or used an “X” or had a cross, star, angel, or oddly shaped sculpture atop our tree will matter as much as whether or not we were generous, kind, patient, gentle, loving, gracious, merciful, and forgiving. I have a hard time picturing God gazing down upon us from the heavenly realm and thinking, “Oh no, she just said ‘happy holidays’. Oh no, their Christmas tree topper doesn’t have Christian significance. Oh no, he wrote ‘Merry Xmas’.Oh no, he didn’t join the fight to keep the cross on top of that tree.”

Maybe, just maybe, we are fighting the wrong fight.

Maybe the “X” isn’t an abomination (click HERE for more on that).

Maybe saying “Happy Holidays” isn’t so terrible (click HERE for more on that).

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