That Chaos Moment

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In Exodus 14:14, Moses tells the Israelites:
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

And, then in the very next verse,

Exodus 14:15, God tells Moses this:
“Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” 

Ladies and Gentlemen, That Chaos Moment.  The moment when communication breaks down, and vision grows fuzzy.

It’s no wonder that God and Moses got their wires crossed.  Moses said, “God’s got this.  Be still.”  God said, “I’ve got this.  Keep moving!”  For a moment there, the communication lines between God, Moses, and the Hebrews were about as shaky as it gets.

We give the Hebrews a lot of grief for being whiney and complaining but, you know, none of them had ever done this before.  Crossing the red sea?  Chariots chasing them?  This was all chaos to them.

We would probably be smart to recognize that such a moment can happen to churches, too, especially ones moving into uncharted territory.  The pastor or church leadership may have one direction in mind, the people may be impatient or uncertain, and God may be desperately trying to move the church in yet another direction.

That Chaos Moment may be necessary, and not nearly as scary as it sounds.  God’s advice is rarely wrong, of course.  We just need to heed God’s call to “keep moving”–to step boldly into the uncertain.   That doesn’t mean our Moses-types are necessarily wrong, encouraging the “stillness” of discernment.  It is, after all, a sure way to reacquire God’s signal and direction.

And as for the impatient, even complaining person in the pew?  They can be a potent reminder that the vision must be shared amongst everyone.  Of course, even the best communicated vision can fail to bring along all the stragglers, but when the core people reengage with God and church leaders, there’s no barrier that cannot be crossed over.  Or through.

That Chaos Moment can hit any church, any time, but especially the church that’s charted a course towards a spiritual unknown.   It takes faith to pass through the waters of chaos and see the dry land of the very next moment…

Here it comes…

That Liberation Moment.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

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Worth Fighting For

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There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. –2 Samuel:18

Can you imagine a situation where the most celebrated King in Israel’s history goes to war… against his son?.  This was the crazy, almost Game Of Thrones-ish world of our ancestors of faith. This struggle between Father and son, David and Absalom, threatened the very fabric of the Kingdom.

Today we have fathers and sons facing a very different kind of battle in the church: Whether the Kingdom is even worth it.  Family members do battle about this on a weekly basis.  Other folks grew up in the church and let it slip away.  Some just find themselves otherwise preoccupied come Sunday morning.  Countless people have been hurt by the church, or are bored to tears by it, or are excluded by it, and so their connection becomes tenuous.

Those with “casual ties” to Christianity are on the verge of becoming “casualties” of it.

I was taught not to worry so much about those with such casual ties, that they’ll  never come back.  Sometimes we call them backdoor Christians, or Christians INO (In Name Only), as if they are a lost cause.  Can you imagine how many thousands — hundreds of thousands there are out there with fading interest in the Church?  They may believe in God, but not the institution.  They may be tied up in the trappings of culture.  They may come twice a year and suffer through the boredom and think that’s enough.

What should we in the Church do about these folks, many of them family?  Just let them go?  No, here’s my suggestion. hard as it might sound:

Let’s go to war.

I can’t believe I’m even writing those words!  I’m not a “war” guy.  But those men in 2 Samuel were willing to lay down their lives.  They were invested.  This was a fight for who would be King and it mattered.

Let’s go to war.  Let’s find our friends and neighbors and missing-in-action Christians and fight for them.  Our weapons will not be guilt or coercion.   Instead, we’ll wield, with fervor–an undeniable call that Christ is our King.

We’ll have to be prepared.  With excellent worship, engaging small groups, life-changing mission and earnest fellowship.  And we’ll have to listen.  To reform, to engage, to see the church beyond how we at times have poorly conceived it.  To reach out to every father and ever son, everyone, who hears the call of the Kingdom.

We have to be experiencing the same Christian life that we advertise, which means we have to examine our own casual ties to faith.

The human expression of the Church may never reach all the goals and all the people that we have been called to.  But we’ll never get anywhere if we aren’t willing to give our all on behalf of Jesus.

So, CHARGE!!!!!!!

The battle is for nothing less than to become…

a Church worth fighting for.

Have a great week,

 

Mitch

father and son in way to church

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Siren Song

loud-musicThe Song:

At noon and 6pm, music pours forth from my church.  Bells, or electric facsimiles of them, send out five minutes of tunes into the neighborhood around us.  In a closet behind the sanctuary, a cassette is timed to play through outdoor speakers.

It sounds really nice.  We have a few different tapes we can play, even a tape of Christmas tunes to play in December.  I’ve threatened to look online for one that plays Beatles tunes.

The Siren:

Perched atop our building is an elaborate speaker, pointing in all four directions.  When this sound cranks up, people go into their basements.   I suppose the sound is grating, but it could save your life.

It seems to go off at least once every spring when dangerous clouds are swirling overhead. When I hear it, I feel an instant pang in my gut, a warning that all is not well.

What sort of vibe is your church putting out?

Is your church a gentle lullaby, coaxing people in, or is it a brash trumpet, alerting all to imminent danger? Does your church present itself as a sacntuary of rest and comfort, or as a watchtower blowing the whistle on the threats we face?

Which is the right one to be?

A prophetic, siren blaring church is uniquely suited for fighting injustice, for helping the marginalized.  Members of a Siren church write letters and go on marches.  They take risks and carry the banner of Jesus Christ into a broken world.

A song church that sends music out to all who can hear is sending an invitation of peace, gentleness, maybe healing.  Inside the walls of this church is a place of comfort, of creativity, of togetherness.  Members of a Song church invite others to praise God and acknowledge each other as made in the image of God.

There are, of course, many other types of churches, but still I wonder…which of these two would you be drawn to?  Is God’s Kingdom blessed by both?

In the spring, on the first Monday of the month, something interesting happens.  The siren fires up for its monthly test at the same time  that the bells begin to play.

Let me tell you, for a couple minutes there at noon, it’s quite a racket.

But to the discerning ear…

it sounds like harmony.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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“Can You Play?”

 

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“The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” -Zechariah 8:5

It was Saturday afternoon at the church, on the cusp of Advent, and I was working.

Kylie (our awesome children’s director) had recruited some volunteers to offer free babysitting just to give parents a few hours of kid-free time.  Judging this to be a noble task, I signed on to help.

We had watched a movie, and done a variety of crafts, and now, with an hour to go, Kylie and I filed the older kids into the gym for some running around time.

I found a chair and sat down.

Kylie began leading the kids through one form of tag after another.  Freeze tag.  Sharks and minnows.  Stay-on-the-line tag. (There are a lot more versions of tag than I remembered)

I watched as calories were burned and a good time was mostly had by all.  Then it happened. One of the girls, a third grader, was getting things organized for yet another version of running and catching.  She looked at me and said the words:

“Can you play?”

I had been sitting on my rump for an hour, never even considering joining in.  Her words literally stunned me.

I jumped to my feet and stammered, “Yes…I can play…”  At that very moment Kylie called out that it was time for the kids to meet up with their parents.

What a strange moment for me.  I had been invited (called out) to play, and now I was saved by the clock.  Half of me felt like I’d dodged a bullet.  The other half felt…old.  And not the good kind of old.  The kind of old that looks at the past wistfully, wondering what’s become of me.

CAN I play? I play an occasional video game.  Does that count?  I walk my dog.  I watch Netflix.  Wow. I used to play instinctively.  With wild abandon.  Have I lost this spark of my humanity? I certainly hope not, but I may admittedly be a little rusty.

Which brings me to Advent.  In honor of this little encounter, and in spite of all the work I have on my plate these next weeks, I have decided to honor the coming Christ the way a child might.  These are the ways I aim to play this Advent:

  1.  Play a board game.  Monopoly, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit.  I’ve got all those in a closet somewhere.
  2. Play Santa.  I aim to give gifts that aren’t just check marks on a list.  I want to feel that thrill of giving — Fewer gift cards…more toys!
  3. Play with Tom.  Tom is my doggie.  He ALWAYS wants to play, but most of the time I give him a treat to distract him.  I plan to get down on the floor and rough house.
  4. Play with kids.  I will joke and tease with the kids at my church, but if I want to recapture Christmas through their eyes, I’ll need to listen to them, learn from them, and get up off my rump, wiling to burn a few calories!
  5. Play with my imagination.  I used to be so good at this!  Bringing a drawing or a story into the world.  You know, Making believe is actually a good way for Making Believers! So today I’ll pretend to be a shepherd.  Tomorrow I’ll do my best to be an angel.

That’s my list, for now.  Do you have one?  While making a list seems counter to the whole spontaneous notion of play, in this case I hope it serves as a good reminder.

Yes! I CAN play. May that never change.  To see Christmas as the twinkle in the eye of the creator takes more effort for some of us than others, but it’s always worth it.  Besides, I’ve received an official invitation to try, from a real live young person.

Let me extend that invitation to you.  Can you play?  Do you want to try with me?

Good.

Tag, you’re it.

Have a great Advent,

Mitch

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Election Day at First Church of the Heart

 

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There once was a Church, “First Church of the Heart”
With the strangest distinction I have to impart.

There were 48 members, and it should be noted,
on the day of elections, every one of them voted.

Not a one of them pushy or preachy or snooty,
One by one, on their own, each one doing their duty.

And that in itself is a sign of some health:
A Church that’s engaged, and not just with itself.

When I tell you what happened, your feelings may change,
For this small, noble church took a turn for the strange.

Though the church wasn’t told — to salvage their pride
Every item they voted? 24 on each side.

Every vote for a candidate, every ballot and bout
Had another vote cast that just cancelled it out!

So the question to ponder, that comes to my mind:
Did First Church of the Heart end up wasting its time?

Are you kidding? Of course not! Any church is a treasure
That can differ in politics but worship together.

May we all be as active, accepting, a part
of the world that we’re in…

Without losing Our Heart.

Have a great week,
Mitch

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First posted in Nov, 2014

Breaking Disciples

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We’re supposed to be Making Disciples.

God help us if we’re Breaking them.

  • I serve a church of 500 members.  Our worship attendance is about 200.  Where are those other 300?  Did we not reach them with the Good News of Jesus Christ?  Is our message Broken?
  • It’s a good, active church.  Visitors come, but few join.  Why not?  Is my preaching lousy?  Is our discipleship process flawed?  Is the church Broken?
  • My denomination, the United Methodist Church, is struggling.  Our future is up in the air, with questions and votes and conflicts that seem impossible to solve.  What about the active, faithful folks who have committed their time, talents, and treasures to the Church?  What will happen to those who try to ride out the storm?  Will their will be Broken?

Wow, that’s a lot of brokenness. Active disciples becoming disillusioned.  Unchurched folks seeing no reason to commit.  Inactive members who may experience God, but not in our sanctuaries.

Is it possible that we are breaking disciples at a faster rate than we’re making them?

Sort of a Great Decommission.

I’ll admit, there are times I despair and throw up my hands at the seeming futility of it all.  Do you?  Remember, this is not a pastor issue, it’s a disciple issue.  We who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ must find a way to keep going.  To keep trying.  To keep faithful, even when it’s hard.

Hear these words from Hebrews.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  –Hebrews 12:11.

Ah yes, how could I forget?  We who are disciples are supposed to practice discipline.  We’re supposed to persevere.  To strive.   Making disciples is not an easy thing to do, especially when our culture and our own institutions seem at times to be working against the very thing we’re called to do. Especially when WE are just as broken as anyone else.  We must steadfastly believe that the harvest is coming.

  • Truthfully, I believe in what my church is doing.  Good, faithful stuff!  We may not be gaining the dividend of new or renewed believers that we would like, but these things don’t happen overnight. It’s a challenge, but we are trying to make more than we break.
  • And truthfully, I believe in what my denomination is doing.  Yes, there is so much uncertainty to wade through, but we continue to serve the homeless and helpless.  We continue to a be a voice for justice around the globe. We’re trying to make more than we break.

Rather than despair, I’ve decided I am going to double down on my own discipleship.  Inviting, connecting, loving, and sharing Good News.  Will you join me?

It’s a tough, fragile world, but remember this, fellow Follower:

Christ broke himself,

to fix us all.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Unlike-Minded

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There used to be like-minded people in the world, but now there are only unlike-minded people.  I used to pray for harmony, for unity, for getting along.  Now, I pray nobody gets hurt.

This is terrible, the state of things.  It’s a plague.  This is the kind of polarized thinking that tears down nations, and friendships, and churches.  Is there anything we can do to fix this?

A world filled with unlike-minded people will surely rip itself apart at the seams.  Surely this is not what our children want to inherit.  Surely this is not what Jesus taught us.  If you keep standing over there, and I keep standing over here, the chasm between us could swallow us whole.

What is to be done?

One answer is simple but a challenge:  We have to learn to like each other again. We have to try.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. –Philippians 2:1-2

When I relearn how I like your funny stories, your excellent skills as a chef, your passion for Fleetwood Mac, and your dedication to discipleship—then I remember your humanity, and that you are a person of worth.

And if you relearn how you like my doodles, and how I treat my kids, my ability to fix anything, and my willingness to step out in faith—then you remember my humanity, and that I am a person of worth.

We will still have some heated discussions about the issues, and sometimes we’ll be loud and proud about it, but our capacity to listen will be vastly multiplied.  We may never agree with each other on all the issues out there, but we will remember how to value each other as children of God.  Doesn’t that sound nice? Healthy even?

I’m tired of being unlike-minded.  I’m going to start liking again.  People.  Sisters and Brothers in Christ.  People I disagree with.  Would you like to try, too?

Well, look at that.

Something we have in common.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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