Monthly Archives: July 2013

Sacred: Leave the Labels at the Door

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So every July the Shepherds at Highland give me a month to get away and study and plan and pray for the coming year. It’s always a great gift, but it makes me miss Highland and the regular routine. So while I won’t be blogging as regularly for this month, I want to try and stay connected with what is going on at Highland.

This past Sunday, Jerry Taylor preached for our Summer Series Sacred. Jerry talked about how the communion table is the open table of the Lord. One of my favorite lines was “Jesus will not preside over any table that anyone is left out of.” This is extremely important for we religious folk to hear, because we have a real tendency to make our tribe an idol, and make God “Our God”

If you get a chance to listen to Jerry’s sermon, I highly recommend it. He’s one of my favorite preachers, and this was an incredible sermon, you can find it here.

The Margins are the Center

A few years ago, I read an author who was serving in a Christian ministry for sex workers in America. It’s a ministry that was trying to help people get out of an industry that is very hard to leave. At one point, the author was sitting in a circle of former and current sex-workers, and he asked them, “Why do you think that Jesus was so intentional about reaching out to prostitutes?”

And then there was an awkward silence…until one of the working girls said, “Because that meant Everyone…. if He would love and care for people doing what we do, than that means anyone can belong to what He is doing.”

And she is exactly right.

In most societies, we focus on the majority, or how to cast the widest net for the most people. We try to hold the center, even though that inevitably leaves people out….It leaves some on the margins.

But for Jesus, the people on the margins were the center of his ministry.

Acceptance Speech original

So maybe you heard about the bulletin at Our Lady Catholic Church. It’s just a normal parish in Denver, but it got all over the news last year for what it put in it’s bulletin. Here’s how they decided to welcome people to their Jesus commmunity:

“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, and no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, those who are skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you here if you just woke up or just got out of jail. We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

This may seem over the top, but this is exactly the kind of invitation Jesus wants his churches to offer. Jesus isn’t saying everyone and everything is okay…He is saying everyone is welcome. 

Did you know that the only visible man-made item from space is the Great Wall of China? Because that’s what we are good at doing. We build up walls, We like to know who’s in and who’s out. And then we love to pretend that God agrees with us. But that’s not the way the Gospel works.

One theologian, a guy named Miroslav Volf, points out that while most religions call exclusion a virtue, the Jesus movement calls it what it is.

A sin.

So on behalf of Church in general, and Highland Church in particular, let me welcome you to the table.

Because everybody, everywhere is included, invited, accepted and blessed.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, you are invited to participate in the grace giving, life changing Kingdom of God.

So have a seat.

P.S. I’m leaving today for Thailand with my 5 year old Daughter. Please pray for us as we go visit and try to encourage and be encouraged by all the missionaries in Asia. 

Sacred: Only the Saved

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 “Receive what you already are.”-St. Augustine presiding over Communion

So every July the Shepherds at Highland give me a month to get away and study and plan and pray for the coming year. It’s always a great gift, but it makes me miss Highland and the regular routine. So while I won’t be blogging as regularly for this month, I want to try and stay connected with what is going on at Highland.

This past Sunday, Jeff Childers preached during our Summer Series Sacred, by talking about Communion. He did a great job, and you can hear it here, but you should know, this is not a message for the faint of heart. But then again, neither is communion.

Did you know that back in the 4th century, after Constantine had converted the Roman Empire, the church had a very difficult time figuring out who they should let convert to Christianity? They had a legitimate problem. Now people wanted to belong to the church because it was the socially acceptable thing to do, Jesus was cool, and cross jewelry was just around the corner.

So now the church had a problem…how could they make sure that someone would take following Jesus seriously?

The Road to Communion

So the church developed a plan, that began with something called catechumenate, which was basically three years of hearing the “word of the Lord” and then the candidates who had done well with that, were taken on to the next round where they had their lifestyles examined and went through “daily exorcisms.”

Because let’s be honest, once a week just isn’t enough.

And then, if you went through that round successfully, then they would let you get baptized and take communion. Meaning that in the 4th century it was slightly easier to become the next American Idol than it was to convert.

Now chances are, we hear that and we think how primitive, and exclusive. communion

But then we get upset when we hear about that pastor having the affair, or the minister stealing or embezelling money. It’s all so cliche, which is a fancy word that just means, it happens so much we are tired of hearing about it.

But the sad truth is that Christians in America are very accepting and inclusive, but we aren’t that different.

A Different Kind of Discipleship

I read last year that in China, when someone becomes a Jesus follower, they are asked 7 questions:

  1. Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
  2. Are you willing to lose your job?
  3. Are you willing to go to your village, to those who persecute you, forgive them and share the love of Christ with them?
  4. Are you willing to give an offering to the LORD?
  5. Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny Jesus?
  6. Are you willing to go to prison?
  7. Are you willing to die for Jesus?

Now that’s a welcoming packet.

The churches that I’ve worked at, make following Jesus as easy and non-threatening as possible. And rightfully so, but never forget that the questions that Chinese Christians are asking now, are the kinds of questions that Christians have been asking for thousands of years. It’s not enough to just have a dynamic student ministry and great programming and the right facilities. When the Church gathers it is to make us into different kinds of people.

The ancient view of communion, was that through this moment God gives Himself to His people.

And in order to do that, for thousands of years, Christians have excluded those who weren’t ready to make that kind of sacrifice.

There’s lots of ways to be ugly about excluding people, in fact, I think most of us have experienced both sides of this. But the question isn’t whether or not your group excludes, every group does!

And if you doubt that, just find out how your group responds to someone who is exclusive.

The question isn’t whether or not your group excludes, it is how you treat the people that are on the outside,

That is the uniquely Christian virtue, we are not called to just love our neighbor, we are called to love our enemy.

If you want to make a difference in your town or city, than the best place to start is to commit to become a different kind of person.

It’s time to stop just talking about Jesus, it’s time to follow Jesus.

And then you can eat with Him.

Sacred: Everytime the Doors Are Open

“I really miss the songs.” -Ex Church of Christ gay man talking on HBO Documentary about Leaving Church

“Wherever Two or Three are gathered, I will be with them.” -Jesus

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I’m on study break for the month of July, but while I’m away I want to try and keep keep up with what is going on at Highland. Specifically, with the sermon series that Highland is going through.

This past Sunday Ben Siburt preached a great sermon on why church, the gathering of God’s people, is a sacred thing. Which is not something we talk about that much. Many of us grew up in homes where going to church was a given, we didn’t just go on Sunday mornings, we went every time the doors where open. In fact, that became a common saying to describe our family. It was the way we delinated between us and the pagan Sunday only crowd.

And then, we reacted to that legalistic view of checking off our God card. God didn’t care about us showing up to a particular building during a particular hour of the week, right?

_____

At the church I serve, there are several senior saints who are caring for their spouses in various stages of bad health. Some of them are dealing with some of the most tragic of diseases like Alzheimer’s, and yet these people show up every week to sing and pray and take communion with other saints and sinners who have gathered together. In a church the size of Highland, I don’t get to talk to everyone every Sunday, but I always try to talk to them.

Not just for their sake, but for mine. 

Because I knew what it took for them to get here. I know that for them Sunday morning started a few hours earlier than it did for me. In order to get there on time, they had a thousand more things to accomplish before they could head out the door. But they do it, not out of some legalistic sense of earning God’s favor.

They do it because this is one of the most tangible way’s to experience God’s favor.

One of my favorite guys at Highland is caring for his wife through a particularly painful illness. And each time he comes in late, and has to leave early, but when I asked him if he would be interested in someone bringing communion to them, he told me, “No. I need to be there to shake some Christians hands.”

Which is an interested way to say that.

The Image Of God In Others

C.S. Lewis once said it this way:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Think about what he’s saying here. the people that we rush past the rest of the week, are on their way to becoming something more or less than they are now. And this is a reality that we are mostly blind to.

Except, sometimes at Church.

Orthodox Christians have, for over a thousand years, referred to the Assembly of God’s people as a Sacrament. That means it is something that God uses to infuse the sacred into the world.

That’s why my friend comes to church. He is watching his wife slip away slowly and surely, and he needs to be reminded of the presence of God in a world where it might not feel He’s that present. He needs to shake some Christian’s hands. 

Every day, he is watching himself and his bride of many decades, become less. He needs to be reminded that ultimately they are on their way to becoming more.

I remember all throughout growing up, there would be Sunday’s where I would all of a sudden notice that Bro. Frank or Sister Ruby had suddenly gotten older. I saw them three times a week, but there was a tipping point where they moved past just “getting up there.” The seeds of death were starting to become more visible. And they still showed up.

Because for them, Church was a Spiritual discipline,  it was also a way of giving and receiving a gift. They were watching the younger people gather along side them, realizing that the Gospel was going to be just fine. I was watching them die, realizing that they were teaching me how to live.

So we gather, and we look for the Jesus hidden among us. We look for the people that we are becoming, and one day will be. And we realize that everytime we gather it’s more than just a variety of people gathering in a room. It is Sacred space.

So back to that old phrase, “Every Time the Doors Are Opened.” Since I’ve been in ministry I’ve come to appreciate the mystery that is the gathered church. Because every Sunday there is a chance that no one else shows up. Some people open some doors and turn on some lights and wait.

But every Sunday God draws people, believer and unbelievers alike, to come together to worship. We learn again to see each other, and how to see the world.

And the word for that is Sacred.

Sacred: Baptizing Beth

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So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -St. Paul

Every July, the Shepherds at Highland give me a month to get away and study and plan and pray for the coming year. It’s always a great gift, but it makes me miss Highland and the regular routine. So while I won’t be blogging as regularly for this month, I want to try and stay connected with what is going on at Highland.

This past Sunday, Randy Harris started off our Summer Series Sacred, by talking about Baptism. He did a great job, and you can hear it here…but one of the things that he pointed out was how baptism was never meant to be an individual event, but always a communal event.

And that made me think of Beth.

I was at Harding University when I met her. She was physically handicapped, and socially awkward, and she loved the LORD…a lot. Every time there was a revival or invitation in chapel, she went forward.  She was baptized 5 times at Harding…in one year. When I would give an invitation at a college devotional, she came forward. It was great for my ego, and helped me pad my stats. But I wondered if it really was sticking…because it seemed like she was repenting faster than she could sin.

I eventually cut her off. Like a bartender at closing time, I told her enough is enough.

Some time ago at Highland, we baptized a young woman with Down Syndrome. It was really beautiful, she stood in front of everyone and said that she believed Jesus was the Son of God and they baptized her for the remission of her sins. And then we stood and clapped for her.

Later someone was talking with me about it and said that they didn’t know how they felt about this, because this woman probably didn’t understand sin and what was right or wrong, so surely God wasn’t going to hold her accountable for her sin.

More than Fire Insurance

When my parents were first married, my dad wasn’t a Christian. He had grown up going to church occasionally, but he had never decided to follow Jesus. And so my mom started working on him immediately. Every day when he got home from work, she played a record of an old Jimmy Allen sermon “What Hell is Like.” And everyday he would listen to it without saying a word. I asked him recently what he was thinking when she played this, and he said, “I just figured it sure was taking her a long time to understand the same sermon.”

But finally it worked (even the strongest of men can only handle so much fire and brimstone before they crack) and my dad became a Christian. Like many of his generation, my dad became a Jesus-follower because he was afraid, and I’m so glad he did.

But that misses one of the major points of baptism.

In Galatians, when Paul talks about Baptism he says that one of the major functions is that it levels the playing field. That now, because of what God has done in Jesus, we are all equal. And while that may just sound like an American virtue, when Paul wrote those words it was the first time in human history that anyone had ever said something like that!

See Baptism isn’t just about the forgiveness of sins, or just the forgiveness of the individual being baptized sin, baptism is the forgiveness of the community’s sins. According to Paul, It is the destroying the barriers that we have created. it is saying that now you belong…no matter who you are, or who you were, you can be more, and you belong to us.

And that brought me back to Baptizing Beth.

Maybe that’s why she kept wanting to get baptized. I think that she was noticing that it wasn’t working. Harding was a great school to go to, but we weren’t perfect. Especially me. And I think Beth had to have noticed that.

The other students still picked on her behind her back, when she walked into the cafeteria we suddenly stared at the floor hoping that she would sit somewhere else. She lived on a campus of people who tolerated her, but didn’t love her.

Maybe Beth wanted to get baptized, not because she didn’t understand baptism as well as us, but because she intuitively understood it better. 

Sometimes I look around our churches and think maybe Beth was right. Maybe she knew something that we had forgotten, maybe we should all get re-baptized.

Or at least remember what our baptisms mean.