Tuesday, April 21, 2009

the creed

Often in churches like ours (uh, whatever that means), the mainstream view of “believe, then belong” is turned upside down. That’s because doctrine was often seen as the gatekeeper for who can enter the community. As a result, churches were often seen as dogmatic, unwelcoming places…instead of a place where people might explore the faith. A friend told me last week that a co-worker told them they didn’t like Easter at their church because “all these casually religious” people show up. Obviously, something’s wrong with that picture.

And so in emergent or even user-friendly circles, we’ll say, “Belong, then believe”, and the community becomes a place to discover faith. It’s really about simply creating safe places for people to check out Christianity…and inevitably, the nature of weekend celebrations begins to morph.

But there is a caveat.

If the process of exploring the faith becomes prolonged, the seeker may get frustrated with the level of relational connection he or she can realistically have with the community. And that’s the conundrum: we all want to belong, to be connected, but what you believe affects the depth of relationship you can have. I talked about that this weekend, but would have loved to have parked there a little more.

Let me personalize this.

Suppose I worked a civilian job and had two co-workers who were dyed-in-the-wool Scientologists. I enjoy having drinks with these guys; they’re funny, personable, and we share a common love of movies. But they are sincerely committed to the Church of Scientology. I could kid them about a dubious religion launched by a hack science-fiction writer who once said, “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion,” but that would hurt their feelings and I like them too much for that. Or I could joke about the upper levels of Scientology where it’s believed seventy-five million years ago the Earth was part of a seventy-six planet Galactic Federation ruled by a malevolent overlord named Xenu who fixed the population problem on other planets by bringing people to earth and strategically placing them around volcanoes that were then blown up with hydrogen bombs. Hence the exploding volcano on the cover of Dianetics. But that would hurt their feelings because they deeply believe it’s true.

So how could I ever become a part of their community at the deepest level? Or share what they feel so intensely about? There would always be a gap in the level of intimacy we could have. It’s a bit of overstatement to say we can belong before we believe, at least to the degree that we may want to belong.

That’s one of the reasons a common creed is so powerful. Certainly it’s not the only thing that creates real community (try transparency, vulnerability, kindness, servanthood, honesty, etc.), but it is certainly the final barrier.

Do you believe that?

humor postscript:

Off subject, this stuff got me thinking about a Top 10 list we once did in a series on Toxic Religion. It made me laugh when we wrote it. Maybe we need a break…

10. When people raise their hands during worship, it’s for permission to go to the bathroom.
9. Water fountains only dispense Kool-Aid.
8. Doctrine includes story of Xenu, a galactic ruler who brought billions of people to earth 95 million years ago, stacked them around volcanoes, blew them up with hydrogen bombs and…oh wait, that’s Scientology.
7. Services are B.Y.O.S.—“Bring Your Own Snake”
6. Front door of the church has a peephole.
5. Church motto is: "Small Things Done With A Lot Of Guilt Won’t Help You Out, Sleazebag."
4. Sign in lobby reads: “Line forms here for comet rides.”
3. Two words: pat downs.
2. The church bus has gun racks.
1. They're closed on Christmas. Hey…that’s not funny.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

creepy post-easter thoughts

It was a great weekend. No. Spectacular.

But only in hindsight.

Easter and Christmas weekends are when we push everyone to invite someone from work, family, neighborhood, etcetera, because, well, these are the times when people do their church-duty-thing and therefore an ideal time for us to clarify what it means to follow Jesus. On these big invitation weekends, I find myself getting weird. Antsy. Narrowed. Hyperpicky about techie-things. I feel bad for our staff. And, even worse, I get more inward-focused. I hate that; that’s the worse part.

You’d think I’d learn. Let me illustrate from a different life I once had.

I led worship at VCC for about a dozen years. Because of my church-orientation (word-of-faith camp) in the early days of my conversion, I thought that as a worship leader, if I hadn’t gone into hyperfaith and “prayed through” in the Spirit for thirty minutes prior to leading worship, then worship wasn’t going to happen. And if the worship wasn’t happening on any Sunday morning it was my fault. Back in the late eighties I worked a crazy job in a jingle-house recording studio outside the Vineyard as well as leading a couple of small groups and the worship on Sunday mornings. Going into hyperfaith was the “proper response” to my obsessive need to perform well for God in all those contexts (uh, plus a great way to burnout…). Only God and worship leaders’ spouses know the real performance anxieties as the worship leader asks this quintessential question on the car ride home: “How do you think worship went today?”—hoping to be validated in some way.

One Sunday morning as I was in hyperfaith on the way to lead worship, the Holy Spirit broke through and said, “You really think this thing depends on you, don’t you?” In other words, if I don’t pray just right, then God won’t show up—and I suddenly realized how sick I was, how creepily religious, how egocentric, how much it negated the body of Christ and the beauty and power of grace. As if this whole thing depended on me. Please. Talk about getting the wind knocked out. And so for the next month or so, I would drive to church on my way to lead worship with the local heavy metal station playing at 120 decibels—just to drive out the religious demons.

And I didn’t even like heavy metal.

There is so much performance mentality behind religious activity that it scares me now. The truth is, God loves us and enjoys our company so much and is frankly unimpressed by how well we think we do or don’t do. That doesn’t mean we become slack and shoddy, but that all of our activity is in response to His love for us, not in any effort to gain it, however subtle that may be.

So what does this have to do with my current Easter anxieties?

It’s just too easy to take everything extremely personal and forget that ultimately it’s not really dependent on us. Yeah, I know it’s my job to craft a thoughtful message that bridges the perception-gap of “church” that people who come twice-a-year have…and even more, hopefully present the message of the resurrection lucidly. And I know ultimately the buck stops here in terms of what gets included in the celebration. But if I’m not careful, that turns into a perverse performance mentality that cuts the legs out from under grace. It’s the same weirdness that crept into the Galatian church.

Anyway, it can make my enjoyment of the weekend weird. Face it: us pastors have peculiar issues.

So tonight Anita and I were eating at a local restaurant when we got a server who goes to the Vineyard. As we headed out the door, our server said, “There’s another guy who works here who goes to the Vineyard as well. Wait a minute.” She left and came out with “Bob”, a twenty-something who told us a great story. While in college, he got addicted to a prescription drug and then compounded his troubles by getting busted one night using a fake i.d. in a local bar. Even worse, he wrote a check with the fake name on the i.d. and ended up with two felony counts and some misdemeanors.

That’s serious; you don’t mess around with felonies. He hit the lowest point in his life.

When his trial came, the judge miraculously dismissed the felonies and left him with 150 hours of community service. Turns out, he was sent to perform them at the Vineyard and said it was the best 150 hours of his life. He did his time while Summer Of Service (S.O.S.—we host hundreds of kids and take them out serving every day for a week) and other things were happening and said his life radically changed. He was a lapsed Catholic and had always “believed” in God but it never seemed “personal”. That was two years ago and he’s been on fire since; he says he now lives to give Jesus glory.

I asked him how his family had responded to all this. He replied that they’ve started coming to VCC and this weekend his mom said, “I need to make a change in my life,” and walked down front to get the New Testament and Next Steps cd.


Wish I could enjoy those moments in the moment, but I guess it’s not half-bad with hindsight. She was part of a crowd of people who took that first step in the six celebrations.

I love it. Looking back now, of course.

Hope you had a great Resurrection Day...full of grace.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

easter 2009

John tells quite a story...

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.

He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 19:38–20:29 NIV

This changes everything.