John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
I grew up in the 50s in a little town pushed up against the Pacific Ocean. Occasionally as the summer fog lifted, I would walk a mile or so down to the beach. Across the dunes, I would go. My shoes would fill with sand. I threw stones into the ocean surges. An occasional starfish would wash up and I would throw it back in. I would walk the beach looking for sand dollars and castaway junk thinking I would find something of great value. Sometimes I simply did nothing but stare at the constantly breaking waves. Time seemed to stop and yet pass by quickly. At the end of my walks was the realization I had to return home. The urge to return was complicated because of two paths.
One path was a retracing of my steps back home and probably chores. Often, the chosen path was to go over the dunes, along the schoolyard and cross a four-lane highway and show up at my father’s workplace. He was a mechanic at a small local shop. “Hi dad, I walked over to see how you are doing.” With a smile, he pulled out a slightly greasy stool, sat me down, and gave me a soda. “How was the hike?”, he would ask. And I would respond with my usual, “good”. He acted as if he expected me. Not an overly emotional man, but I could tell he was glad I was there.
I am expected in another place someday. And my heavenly father is expecting me. He may not have a greasy stool and a coke, and He may well ask me, “How was your hike?” There will be a smile on his face because will be glad to see me.
What shall we call Him? Jesus my expectant greeter.
Close your eyes and imagine a church sanctuary filled with those who all think, believe, and feel the same. They all say AMEN at the appropriate times. They all pay exactly ten percent of their income. The songs are all well accepted and sung with both bravado and familiarity. The Preacher of the day is recognized with constant bobblehead responses. After service, everyone remains to greet each other and inquire about the glorious victories of overcoming.
Open your eyes and realize this perfected vision is not real. Christians are not cookies cut out of the heavenly bread of life each perfectly identical to the other. This picture is what Psychologists refer to as groupthink. It is a place where the congregation values consensus and conformity over vulnerability and self-examination.
The church needs a liberal sprinkling of skepticism. Without criticism, dissent, and critique, there is no place to grow. There is nowhere to go to be more than the status quo. An unexamined faith only leads to idolizing an ideal image, a disdain for outsiders, a denial of personal faults, and a lack of growth. Without a dose of dissent, there is no place for healing.
We need a liberal dash of skepticism, uncertainty, critique, and self-examination. Further, this infusion of questioning is to be handled with care and respect. The number one roadblock to faith for a true skeptic is not a theological stance about Jesus, but the behavior of those who claim to follow Jesus. Those of us who diligently question almost everything find it striking that those who are in the knowing, act as if they have a monopoly on what it is to be proper or good. This ownership comes with dread, a rejection, a fear of any who would ask why.
Those who have doubt or uncertainty should not silence their questions to be accepted by the Body cemented. We should not silence the skeptic for the sake of the comfortable. Being a skeptic does not automatically mean heresy any more than the status quo automatically equates to perfection.
Those who are asking questions are vital to the church. They make the church vibrant, accepting, and accessible. They give the comfortable a chance to grow a little.
April 1, 2022
Psalm 28:6-7 “Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.
This day is often referred to as April Fool’s Day. In Poland, this day takes on epic proportions. Serious activities are avoided, and every word spoken from early morning to noon is presupposed as being a lie. It is a day when pranks are the norm. Hoaxes are prepared and the media goes along in the spirit of the day with fake news. Even public institutions backdate all documents to the day before. Today I would rather it be a day of celebrating the absolute truth of assurance. It is not a hoax! It is not a false promise! It is an absolute in my life. My emotions want to jump for joy. I sing “Blessed Assurance Jesus is mine.”
I am human. I have likes and dislikes. I have preferences and predilections. I like historical understandings over hypothetical surmise. I would rather see real people in real situations over contrived and grandiose stories of dubious relevance. I want the real over perception.
I have been accused to stirring up a little dust once and awhile. But sometimes I become dissatisfied with all the plans and programs that live in the dusty edges of the church. They become the more important. The process of church growth seems to leave out the offer of God’s grace. The vital understanding of God is not in the forefront any more. I thirst after the teachings and personal encounters with God and not another emotional pulling at my heart strings by one more repetition of five or six words.
The problem is that everyone of us want to “feel good.” Bless the hearts of preachers and leaders of the church today. They have a weighty calling and ever increasing pressure to “increase the flock.” At issue is the easiest way to get people to come the doors of a church and keep that attendance is cater to the “feel good” motive. Ministers would rather empower with strength than to point out the foibles of a congregation. No one wants their pet sin to be pointed out. Much like the story of the Pastor in a rural farming town as he was shaking every hand as the congregation was going out the back door. One unkempt farmer came up to the Pastor and said, “That was a great message Pastor, it was short and about someone else.”
It is all about programs and studies. If we make the right graph in the monthly board meetings it will be enough to steer the church to success. If we can categorize, pigeon hole, and delegate enough to keep the doors open, then that is good enough. We don’t need spirit filled bible warriors. We don’t need to study to rightly divide the Word of Truth. We just need another subjective well-presented current psychobabble in three points with fill in papers in the bulletin. Don’t ask me to think, just do what is expected and that should be good enough.
Youth and children’s programs are stressed because if kids can be kept happy and entertained, mom and pop are much more likely to stay put. Serious in depth deep dive bible study and sermons about bible doctrine are avoided! Let’s cut down on all that prayer time. The Hymnal is just not relevant anymore. Crank up the canned and amplified music; made up of repeated lyrics set to the world’s latest music. Get toes to tapping and watch visitors come pouring in each Sunday. Then be sure to accentuate the emotional. Touch every psychological button possible with “feel good” sermons and viola! pretty soon a building program will be necessary. If declaring the whole counsel of God while at the same time trying to avoid the flesh is not enough to fill the pews, then let them remain empty! A few grains of wheat should be treasured above a ton of tares!
Deep in the soul of every person on earth is a longing for something more than self. We try to stuff all sorts of things into our lives in an effort to sooth that longing. But it will not be quieted. it is a little voice that in our quiet times becomes louder and disturbs us.
Entertainments distract us with even louder voices. Things are gathered around us to fill the the gaps in our lives but the voice continues on. I believe this voice is in the heart of every human being and it calls to us to the eternal. It calls us from the material to the spiritual. It speaks to us and makes us dissatisfied with the normal.
It is sad for those who only see God in the big things. When disaster strikes in a land far away there is a national outcry for prayer. But in reality we need to be still and know in all circumstances.
In the heart of everyone is something that is constantly drawing us from the normal to the sublime.
A while back all the churches in our area of community gathered together. There were Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Nazarene, Assembly of God, Community churches all gathered for a single cause. The cause of just being the Body of Christ. The redeemed met together to celebrate there small voices and together touch more than the usual.
We sang, we prayed, we listened to scripture, we heard a little gifted preaching, but most of all we celebrated the eternal.
We worshiped in unity and in truth. Denominations were set aside for a few moments and in place eternity split open for a moment. A fleeting moment we pulled back the curtain of the tabernacle and looked into the Holy of Holys and were amazed. Like Isaiah in ISAIAH 6:1 In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne, high and lifted up.