Tag Archives: Church

Pastor! Do You Love Your City?

kalamazooCityBkgThe above is a picture of my city.  Kalamazoo.  The place we have been called to and have chosen to live.  As a friend of mine would say, it is beautifully flawed.

Our community, the Kalamazoo community, is still reeling from the violence which has recently shaken us.  It has shaken our faith, our ability to trust – not only God but others. It has shaken our sense of security.

In the midst of this aftermath, there is something that has not been shaken in me.  In fact, I believe it has deepened. My love.

I could talk about my call to this community, but I believe you can experience a call to a particular place you do not love – think Jonah.

But love.  Several times I have been asked how the recent shootings in Kalamazoo have personally impacted me.  And at first I wasn’t sure how to answer.  Over the last two weeks, in the midst of a life-giving learning community, I began to realize the deepest impact has been love.

As a pastor my call is to a particular congregation (Haven) within a particular denomination (the RCA); but my call has always been to much more.  It has always been a call to the larger Church and to the broader community.  Always.

The call to pastor in the context of a city, or a community, is a call to love that city with the love of Jesus.  And the events of the past few weeks have clarified and deepened my love for Kalamazoo and the community surrounding it. I love the congregation with whom I serve, I love the larger Church of Kalamazoo and I believe I cannot truly seek the Shalom of God for the Kalamazoo area if I do not love Kalamazoo.

Jeremiah 29:7 tells us to seek the welfare of the city we are in, to pray for it to prosper.

In the last two weeks I have had several interactions which have caused me to ask this question:

Pastor, do you love the city you are in?

I’m not asking if you love what you do.  I’m not asking if you love your congregation or denomination.  I am asking if you love the city you have been placed by God in to partner with Him in reconciling and restoring all things.

Do you love your city?

Your city knows.  It experiences you.  The city you are in has a heart beat and knows.  Would you wonder with me if your city experiences you as a Jonah who didn’t want to be in Ninevah or if your city experiences you weeping along with Jesus over it?

Pastor, do you love your city?


LOVE doesn’t WIN when we bash each other

Path Broken Between People

Even God’s people don’t always get along…

If you want a post with some sizzle, post something about Chick-fil-A.  If you want it to generate a lot of conversation, make it controversial.  If you really want to make it provocative, recast a story of something that took place in Chick-fil-A with the words “Spiritual Molestation” as the title. (we’ll see, cuz I’m doing it right here!)

Recently there was this experience in a Chick-fil-A that went a bit viral on Facebook.  You can read what happened here.  A blogger from Love Wins Ministries didn’t see what happened as good, but called it spiritual molestation, and later in his blog called it a “story about power and control.”  You can read his blog here.

I think I get what Hugh Hollowell is trying to say.  As Christians we offer love and that Gospel of Jesus without strings and  without obligation.  We give a cup of water, feed the hungry and clothe the naked without obligating them to something.  But I think he goes too far; and I think he forgets…

I think he forgets Jesus and how God has often operated in the world as we see in Scripture.

If what happened in a Chick-Fil-A, then what about: God causing Jonah’s only shade to shrivel up? Isaac’s trauma at being placed on the altar? Hosea being told to marry a prostitute?

While I understand that Hugh is concerned that the man in the story is being “used,” I think it would be helpful to look at the ministry of Jesus for a moment.

In Mark 12:41-44 Jesus a very poor widow give all she has (making her maybe poorer than the man in Chick-fil-A).  Instead of letting her giving pass by in secret, Jesus uses her as an object lesson.

In the beginning of Matthew 9 some people bring a paralyzed man before Jesus, and out of love he forgives the man’s sins.  But the man is still paralyzed and lying on his matt.  The teachers of the law were mumbling to themselves about Jesus.  Knowing the evil in their hearts, Jesus uses the man and his paralysis to demonstrate his power to forgive. Healing the man Jesus says this to those around him, “I will prove to you the Son of Man has authority on Earth…” It could have been anybody with any ailment.  The paralyzed man isn’t central in the story – it is about power and control between Jesus and religious leaders.

Even Paul, in prison, when he is told others are boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus only so Paul suffers more, says as long as Jesus is proclaimed he is good with it.

But all of this is an example, a microscopic example, of the fracturing taking place in the Church in North America.  Rather than being busy about the work of the Gospel, we fight, nitpick and shoot our own.  And we justify ourselves by saying the truth must be known – about those other people – who love Jesus – the same Jesus we love – and maybe love him more than we do.

Church, hear this! The world is not impressed with our inbred divisive bickering.

Hugh is right.  The Gospel of John is clear.  God so loved the world. Period.  The Gospel is Love.  God is Love.  Jesus is God and all Jesus did, and does, was done in love. Even when he heals a man only to make a point to someone else, it is Love.

Dear Church, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

 


The Pain of Church Shopping

shoppingcart

Not long ago a new family showed up at Haven.  I was really excited to meet them.  They were at Haven because they didn’t like the direction of their former church.  I sent them packing.  I asked them to clean up any messes at their former church before settling on a new church home.  I haven’t seen them since.

Recently a family left our church. One of their members was hurt by another in the congregation. It wasn’t a superficial bumping against one another, but a deep hurt. The kind of wound that creates shame and the distance that accompanies it.

After several weeks I noticed their absence and reached out to them. I was told, “We’re church shopping. It isn’t you, we love Haven. But we believe we need to find another church home.” And quietly they slipped away.

I would be lying if I said the conversation didn’t hurt. It did. In some ways, it still does. Sometimes church people can be really mean to each other and that hurts my heart. More so, however, it hurts because I miss people I love.

I pastor a congregation that often sees many people come and go. There are valid reasons for leaving a congregation; and there are some pretty superficial ones. But we’ve all done it. Even pastors do it.

It’s called Church Shopping.

Fast forward. Several months. Almost a year. I am approached by a dedicated servant in the congregation, “Hey, have you seen so-and-so? I haven’t seen them recently and we were supposed to lead this ministry together.”

Feeling a little defensive, but not wanting to gossip, I am left with, “they have been looking for another church” as my response. The person I am talking to experiences some shock which transitions into sadness as well.

And here is where leaving where you are planted and shopping for a new church hurts so many.

We tend to do life from a perspective that puts us in the middle of the universe. Our comfort and/or desires become the end goal. So when we leave one church for another, we are usually only thinking about ourselves and not the people who will be hurt. Usually. There are always the exceptions.

Most of us think about our relationships with a congregation as a one-on-one relationship: me-to-church (the staff and attenders are all put into the church category) and the church-to-me. And when we leave, we typically think only about what we experience – which is valid to be sure! But, it isn’t the whole.

Our relationships within a congregation are not merely one-on-one, but they are multiplicative (a new word I learned from our children’s pastor).

Let’s say a family of 4 (and a dog) leaves a congregation. It isn’t just four people leaving a church. It is four people leaving a number of relationships. Let’s say the family knows another 40 families of 4. But that’s too big a number for me to work with – I don’t do math!

Let’s say each member of the family is close with 20 different individuals. According to my old math, that represents 80 direct relationships. That’s a lot! But let’s keep going. Let’s assume that each of those relationships takes place within a sub-system of other relationships.

To keep our math simple, let’s say there are 6 people in each subsystem and that there is an overlap of 50% in each subsystem. That means each individual relationship with one other person is actually a relationship with 4 people. In simple math that means each relationship is like this (1 + 1) x 3 = 6. Six relationships are changed or broken when one person leaves. So if each member of a family of 4 is close to 20 other individuals and that family leaves a congregation, the math looks like this (1 + 20) x 3 x 4 = 252.

252 significant relationships severed, broken or damaged when one family of 4 leaves a congregation.

Last year a woman came to me in tears following an exchange from another woman in the congregation who is in a leadership role. She wanted to let me know she would be leaving Haven. I encouraged her to stay. To work through it.

Both of them took on the difficult work of reconciliation and repaired the relationship. Both of them shared with me they grew more spiritually in that time than they can ever remember. The whole church, without knowing it, has been blessed by their growing love.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?


Starbucks, The President & The Stories We Tell Ourselves

nonresponsibilityI think we (the Church) wish it were true – that Starbucks was taking aim at all Christians everywhere and at the Church in North America in particular.  But, I don’t think it is.  Somewhere along the line, we took a non-issue and made it an issue. And gave Starbucks all kinds of free advertising along the way!

I think Starbucks is focused – on making money.  A lot of money.  They do this by selling coffee.  Lots of coffee.  Served in cups.  This year they are red cups, with their green logo on them.  Red and Green.  Ever since I was little, when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, red and green have been the colors of Christmas.  But, I don’t think Starbucks cares so much about that as they do about making money.  

They are a business.  And as long as they are in business someone’s prayer, “Give us today, our daily bread” is being answered – all over the world, literally.

But as a Church, I think we wish it was true. The story that they are out to destroy Christmas.  I think we want it to be true because it feeds two postures we’ve grown fond of lately.

First, it allows us to tell ourselves that we are victims.  Victims of persecution.  Victims because Christmas is being taken away from us. If the US Post Office and Starbucks don’t say “Merry Christmas” when we are shipping gifts or buying coffee, then it isn’t really Christmas is it? Being victims allows us to piss and moan about how bad the world is – and how good we are in comparison, of course.

Ultimately, though, I think we like to take the posture of being victims because then we don’t have to confront the consumerism in our Christmas.  If we complain about how bad Starbucks is, the government is, somebody else is, we don’t have to face the reality that we are spending $4.00 or more on a cup of coffee when the rest of the world makes less than that a day.  We don’t have to confront the huge amounts of money we spend buying, wrapping, shipping and throwing away presents all in the name of Jesus.

But that moves me to reason number two.  I think we want to believe it is true, and take on the posture of victim, so we can also take on a posture of non-responsibility.

Yes, you read that right.  We, as The Church, actually prefer non-responsibility (not irresponsibility) over responsibility. If we are the victims, then someone, in this case Starbucks, HAS to be responsible for this mess.  Someone, or something, we can blame for the whole mess.  If it is up to someone else to make sure Christmas is celebrated, then I don’t have to take responsibility for living out the Gospel in my own life.  Our thinking is something like this: Well, if President Obama hadn’t declared December to be National Muslim Awareness Month, then I would share the Gospel with my friends, family and co-workers. But, now I can’t. Why bother… 

Our posture of non-responsibility allows us to blame and shift responsibility. In this posture we don’t have to confront our selfishness, the ways we’ve tied consumerism to the Gospel, our lack of love for others, our in ability to get along, how we haven’t raised our kids to love Jesus, etc.

I think we, the church, have grown to love controversy and our pseudo-persecution in the U.S. because it allows us to divert our attention away from the transformation needed within ourselves and the Church.  I think we have grown to love controversy because it allows us to be victims without responsibility and that lets us be lazy.

But I also think that we, the church, don’t have to be this way.  That in reality, deep down inside, we don’t want to be this way.  We want to live into the kind of life Paul ascribes to Timothy.  We want to have an enormous impact on our cities, culture and world.  We want to see Jesus do some really cool things in and through us.

But we can’t, not when we take on the postures of victim and non-responsibility.


The Bible, Gays, Guns, Women and Flat Map Theology

worldmapHave you ever had that feeling in the pit of your stomach?  The feeling that something isn’t quite what it should be?  And it doesn’t go away?  I had that.

The other day.  On Facebook.

During my usual late evening stroll (one letter off from “troll”) through my FB Newsfeed, there were these two posts about different “Church Conferences.”  For those of you who are all that churchy – one thing you really need to know is that churchy people like to have conferences.  Anyway, this blog post isn’t about that…

Back to the two conferences that caught my attention and the irony of it.  The first post was from a friend within my particular churchy tribe (the RCA) who was at the closing of the Room For All conference.  The Room For All folks are fighingt hard for the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the life and ministry of the Reformed Church.  Right below this post was one from another friend in the denomination who LIKED a conference called We Are Protestant and certain letters were in red so the words “We Protest” stood out. This conference is put on by an organization called Together 4 the Gospel, or T4G.  T4G and Room For All really couldn’t be further apart.

Or could they?

If one was to put them on a map, then absolutely they are far apart.  As far as the east is from the west along latitudinal lines. And, I dare say, they probably don’t like each other. Of course, being good Christian folks, they would tell us they love one another; but chances are the people in T4G don’t hang with the peeps from Room For All and it is hard to actually love someone you don’t hang with…

But I digress.  Let’s get back to the map.  Both groups actually represent a deeper move taking place within the Church today – a significantly growing gap between two polarizing positions around political issues: Gays, women, immigration, guns, schools, etc.  Because of this, I also believe there is an ever growing shift away from Christ being the center. I know, I’ll probably tick someone off here, but at least I can tick everyone off at the same time.

What do I mean?  Both camps have an agenda.  Room For All, and others like them, have a very expressed agenda.  T4G’s agenda was harder to find, but on their website there is a set of assertions where it was made clear – that if I did not think like them, then my theology is wrong and that their agenda is to “recover the Gospel.”  So it would seem, that the two are so far apart.

Let’s put it this way.  If we lay out a map of the world on the table and we find that very place where the Prime Meridian intersects with the Equator, 0 degrees longitude and latitude, somewhere in the Gulf of Guinea.  Let’s say that is the very place where Jesus is central to life and ministry.  If we start there and we begin to move along the equator, based upon our THEOPOLITICAL ideology and positions, we move East and West.  And the harder we become with our positions, the more right we think we are, the further we move, until we are as far apart as the East is from the West.

On a map.  That is flat.

Flat map theology is polarizing theology.  And, if you think of the world as flat – which is indeed how we experience it most of the time – then we allow our theologies to become polarizing.

But the world ain’t flat.  Google it.  So if we put these two groups onto a map, as representatives of what is happening in our church culture today around almost any issue, we would need to put them as far apart as possible.  However, since the world isn’t flat, lets take their two positions on the map and find them on a globe and suddenly they are a whole lot closer than at first we thought.

So, how is it these two polarizing sides can be so close together?

They both have really strong agendas.  They both are deeply rooted in some right/wrong thinking.  Both have moved away from keeping the Gospel central by declaring their theopolitical agendas to be what keeps them Gospel centered.  Both functionally operate from within a vacuum of relationships with the other.  Both are looking back at the direction from which they have moved in order to keep distance from one another.

And suddenly they are standing back to back, hurting the people they are closest to.

The world we live in isn’t flat.  But the world is experiencing flat map polarizing theology from the Church. And flat map theology moves us away from Jesus.  And then we will start bickering over the cups at Starbucks…!

It is time to turn around, toward each other and begin practicing the love Jesus taught & modeled. That only happens in relationships that are deep, vulnerable, and life changing.


Church – Gay Marriage Isn’t The Problem!

loveheart

Love is.

John 3:16 is one of the most powerful passages in Scripture; and quite possibly, one of the most misunderstood.  For several decades it adorned the bellies of large, shirtless men in the end zones of football stadiums.  It became a placard and we allowed it to become trite.

But today, Church, it is really important for us to get its meaning.  The depth of its meaning. The largeness of it.

In the midst of a culture and time that did not receive Jesus for who he fully was, Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, snuck under the cover of darkness to chat with this rebellious, strange and yet powerful teacher.  It is in the context of Jesus being radically counter-cultural to his time, that he says these words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Let’s repeat the first phrase and then add another passage to it.  For God so LOVED the WORLD…  The whole world – everybody who lived and everybody who would live.  The whole world.  God loves the world so much that he did this while we were yet enemies toward him – Romans 5:10!  

Church, when we didn’t know God nor like God, God sacrificially became a servant (Philippians 2) and even died on our behalf.  God didn’t yell at the world.  He didn’t yell at us.  He didn’t organize a petition or pass out signs.  He didn’t even ask the Roman government to change. 

Church, we used to enjoy the privilege of living in a world that looked mostly like us most of the time.  But that time is gone.  We can grieve that loss much the way Jesus grieved over Jerusalem in Luke 19. We can grieve, yes.

But we must also love.  Church, will we be enough like Jesus to love like him?  Will we love a world where we are no longer dominant? Will we love a world where we no longer fit in? Will we love a world so radically that we sacrificially give ourselves the way Jesus did?

Or will we keep living for ourselves…?

Today, more than ever, Church, we are being invited to step up and demonstrate deep, sacrificial love in such a way that we reflect the glory of God (Hebrews 12).

Thoughts?


Going Postal

racism-2014

She tilted her head and looked over the top of her glasses and said, “You know I’m joking right?”

Mary (not her real name) is a bright 27 year old follower of Jesus. I know Mary through Jesus Loves Kalamazoo and those are the last words she heard as she left the post office last week deeply embarrassed and offended. Mary is African American and those last words came from the lips of the Caucasian postal clerk at the end of a transaction filled with judgment and racism.

Because I know Mary a bit, when I heard about her experience in the post office, I asked her to share the experience with me. I wanted to know what the impact of that experience was like on her. So today she sat down with me and shared her story. I’m sharing it with you, not because it is the most horrific event known to man, but because I believe it tells the story of so many and highlights what is still so in our culture today.

At this point, many of you are going to be tempted to quit reading. I get that. There’s also a part of me that doesn’t want to know this goes on still.

It is September of 2014 and Mary goes into the post office to pick up a package, from the VA, for her mom. Her mom has all the proper paper work filled out so Mary can pick it up on her behalf. But as she engages the postal worker at the window Mary is harassed, belittled, profiled, accused of being a junkie and a drug dealer by the clerk.

 Loudly, so loud every one in the room can hear, the clerk tells her that often the VA will send narcotics through the mail and that she is wondering if Mary is going to go sell them.   Mary, of course, is horrified and offended. She is embarrassed. “You just don’t talk to people that way,” Mary tells me.

After proclaiming she needs her supervisor’s approval, the worker leaves Mary standing at the window feeling just slightly awkward. When she returns with the package, it is with an equally as loud, “I guess you can go get high now” that she hands it to Mary.

Maybe it’s because of the color of Mary’s skin? Maybe it’s because Mary is young (a whole two decades younger than me!)? Maybe it’s the combination of the two? I think we all know there are white folks selling drugs and doing drugs. I think we also know there are old peeps who also sell and do drugs. And if we all know that, then why profile Mary?

I don’t know if it was the look on her face as Mary turned to leave, but the clerk – probably realizing she has crossed a line, finishes their interaction with “you know I’m joking, right?” What I can say is this, the only time I have ever said that is when I KNOW I have crossed the line, said something unacceptable, and want to cover it up and make sure I don’t get into trouble.

When I asked Mary what the impact of that exchange was on her, I could tell it was difficult for her to identify it. She felt humiliated and embarrassed – like her dignity was being stripped away. She didn’t make eye contact with anyone else in the crowded lobby as she got out of there as fast as she could.  At the same time, however, she also said it is what she has always experienced.

Mary went on to tell me about being ignored by white teachers when asking for help, of being snubbed by white students at school and how even being on the same sports teams didn’t make the playing field level.

In Galatians 3:8 Paul tells us, “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one…” If that is our spiritual reality, I wonder how long it will be before we live that way?

I don’t know how many times I have been to the post office – often looking like I have been dragged through the gutter. Never has anyone assumed I was doing drugs or selling drugs. And, if they did, nobody has ever said as much out loud to me. And certainly not in a public space like the post office.

Because of the way I look, speak and dress, nobody has ever profiled me for anything except for being the amazing upstanding citizen I am! (ok, I see that look!)  Whether you want to believe it or not, because of the way I look, because I was born to white parents, I live in a position of white, male privilege. And in order for me to live in privilege, that means somebody doesn’t get to – that’s the nature of privilege, some get to have it and others don’t.

In this instance, Mary doesn’t. Mary doesn’t get to go to the post office and assume it is a safe place for her to do business. Mary doesn’t get to believe that others will just assume the best of her. Mary doesn’t get to have the privilege of being able to go in and out of places, like the post office, without wondering if she will once again be harassed, belittled, profiled and accused.

Not unless something deep changes in our nation. My hope is that the church will lead the way and that we will learn to love the way Jesus loved.