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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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A Democrat Walks into a Church….

My aunt, as long as I’ve known her has always been an extremely liberal Democrat and a staunch atheist.   That is, until a couple who were planting a church in her housing development befriended her and invited her to start attending their church.

At first it seemed like an unprecedented change was happening in my aunt’s life.   I couldn’t believe she had even said yes to the invitation, but somehow going to church became intriguing to her, and from there it was only a few months later that she told me, with daring and nervous tones, that she no longer considered herself an atheist.   She told me wasn’t quite ready to believe in a “personal God” and didn’t yet know what to do with Jesus, but that she had decided that there was “something out there.”   From my theist perspective, having known my aunt my entire life, this was unprecedented progress.   She laughed at herself as she agreed with me at the change in her viewpoint that she had never thought possible.

And she kept going.   Something was drawing her to continue going to this church, even though she told me their Republican-sounding views on Israel she found somewhat annoying to her liberal, secular Jewish sensibilities.   But she found it something she could overlook, and continued fellowshipping with her friends.

Until Trump was elected.   As his magic pen signed executive order after executive order, the leadership of her church rejoiced and extolled that the man they had helped elect was taking what they considered to be such glorious stands for righteous lawmaking.

  My aunt, still reeling with grief about the fact that this man was even in office, was repulsed beyond measure that the leaders of the church she had come to call home had not only helped elect him, but were proclaiming the very executive orders that sickened her and kept her up at night worrying about the future of the world were their pride and joy in the man.  

She quit going to church, and now tells me she has a real ax to grind with Christians for ruining the country.

Another story, if you’ll allow me:
I knew a man named John, he was a brilliant concert pianist who had destroyed his life with drugs and alcohol.   My friend Rob, who was John’s brother, told me that he could barely believe his ears when this brother he had prayed for his entire life suddenly asked him one day on the phone to buy him a Bible.   By some very strange event, John, who was now in his mid-60s, after spending a life carousing and studying all types of philosophies and intellectual pursuits through a drug-induced haze, had met a Korean pastor in a McDonald’s one morning.  Somehow the pastor managed to entice him to come to his church – and John became a regular, going to Bible studies regularly.
John attended this church and incredibly enough, gave his life to Christ.

But then, he started to tell me and Rob that he needed to find a new church.   Apparently the church had started railing against legislation that had been passed allowing homosexual couples to marry; and John, who had dabbled in homosexual relationships in his life and said, “I think it was wrong what I did, and I don’t want to live that way anymore, but I just can’t agree with the way they are talking about people who are gays and lesbians and the way they want to make laws against them.   And it’s not just that: I’m also bothered by the way they keep holding these classes teaching pseudoscience trying to prove evolution isn’t true.”

The “moral” of both these stories:

I think the evangelical church has some serious questions to ask itself…the biggest one being,

“Does someone have to have a Republican view of politics to feel comfortable finding Jesus with you?”

Have we gotten ourselves so confused that we don’t even know the difference between presenting the Bible and the gospel to people and what our derived viewpoints are that are actually just Republican or Democrat?

Are we comfortable in creating a church culture where a political platform and leanings are so married together with what it means to follow Jesus, that if someone wants to find God and Jesus in your church it will be presented to them that they can’t really do that without accepting Republican beliefs too?

I suppose liberal and progressive churches can ask themselves the same question in reverse.  I know many churches where Republicans coming into the church will find themselves inundated with so many leftist ideas of what it means to follow Jesus that they may well walk out of your church before they’ve really had a chance to know much more about Him.   But this is not the norm as much as the conservative version of this, so I aimed this blog post more at my conservative friends and thus I ask:

Do we expect that as soon as someone begins to open their hearts to Jesus and finds His message and work attractive, that they will immediately adopt our church’s version of political leanings?   Have we taken the typical salvation message and added to it our political leanings, thus essentially saying,

“Accept Christ into your heart, and please change your voting registration to Republican or go find other friends to fellowship with?”

(And how soon after ….or even before….accepting Christ are we assuming peoples’ political viewpoints should become the same as ours?)

I fear our emphasis on “politics emanating from our understanding of the Bible” has created a situation where, we’ve conflated teaching people to be Jesus’s disciples with teaching them they have to vote the platform of a particular party, or they may as well leave our churches because we don’t need Christians that think like THAT – that “other party’s” way of thinking.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians against factions and parties in the church.  At that time the issue was parties arising over spiritual leaders in the church, not political ones.   He called such party thinking “carnal” – fleshly, unspiritual.  I don’t think he ever imagined the church would divide up over something even beyond that – earthly politics.

If his answer to that was “all things are yours” – the very name of this blog, in fact, is there something to be said for the idea that both the Republican parties and the Democratic parties in the USA might have ideas on BOTH sides of the fence that the church could see Jesus agreeing with?   Perhaps ALL things really are ours?   (After all, Jesus did ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, not an elephant.  Ok, bad joke…)

That will take some really outside-the-box we’ve created for ourselves thinking.  Until we can go there, let’s not forget that there is something to be said for creating a church culture that has something of this at its heart:

“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”    (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

Otherwise, we end up promoting one of the kingdoms of this world – the Republican kingdom (driving away all the Democrats from Jesus and our churches) or the Democrat kingdom (driving away all the Republicans from Jesus and our churches) – not to mention all the independents and Third Party folks among us too.   All of these kingdoms are the kingdom of our God, and His Christ, Jesus – He’s at work in all of them, and owns all of them.   So let’s learn to reflectively listen to the various perspectives represented by people in our society, and make sure the only thing that someone would be sick of if they decide to leave our churches, is Him… not our love affair with some party platform (or our hatred of it either.)

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Civilized God vs. Natural God

So, I had this friend who was really struggling in his life and was taking steps towards God, and one late night while he and a friend were praying together in my community’s prayer room, he decided that the most authentic thing he could to get real with God was to strip naked and pray his heart out in his birthday suit.   florence-1060040_640Actually I don’t know exactly what he was doing, because I wasn’t there – but it was at an hour of the night when the likelihood of anyone walking in on this…event?…was extremely low (though admittedly not altogether without risk) and thankfully no one did – but his prayer partner thought it made a good enough story that he told a few folks, who told others, who told others, who told others who….eventually told me.

Except by the time it got back to me, it was from someone who wasn’t part of our community, and, the story had taken on a very twisted and shameful tone to it, and had unfortunately come to be used as an example of all that was wrong in our group.   Oy.  And now I’ve blogged about it – double oy.   Realistically, a community’s shared prayer space probably isn’t the best place to fulfill one’s urges to strip naked before God, unless the shared space is a Jewish Mikvah, in which case it is somehow totally sanctioned and even required – but then again, those spaces are not co-ed.

skydiving-270148_640Anyway, I don’t actually know how it played out intra-communally on our turf, whether or not any leaders actually said anything or cared about the fact that this had happened in our prayer room, but, whether it is to our collective shame or our collective honor, or neither, my guess is that not many people in our group cared terribly much, beyond it being a great story of, “You’ll never guess what so and so did!”   The group in that season had a culture of encouraging each other to take risks and make both big achievements and big mistakes, and so my guess is for most it would have been a “no harm, no foul” sort of situation.   Maybe.   (For all I know, everyone might have been horrified.)

But to those who heard about it outside our group and did not have those sensibilities, this was an indictment of monumental proportions.   As our group had other rumored indictments (both true and false), this one just seemed to corroborate with those.  But this is the thing – I think the shock and horror factor of this story would still have been there for most people in our neighborhood even if it included the fictitious detail that the door had been locked and no females could ever had accidentally entered, and all windows were covered, and the male prayer partner had waited outside so no accusations of anything could be made.

statue-5998_640Even with all those safeguards in place, the idea that someone had prayed naked in our community prayer room would have been just as offensive in any regard; of that I’m pretty sure.  And I don’t think the offense was merely about nakedness per se – I don’t think the story would have quite been the same if the story had been that this individual had been walking to the prayer room in the rain and got absolutely drenched, and for some reason couldn’t change in the restroom but asked his prayer partner to wait outside and guard the door while he quickly changed into dry clothes he had in his knapsack and then they went on to spend the rest of the night, fully clothed, praying the way they would be expected to do.

Now, there are all sorts of reasons for this.   I’m not going to dissect all of them, nor seek to justify nor condemn what my friend did.  But there is one specific aspect of this that I want to talk about, and it has to do with the messy confluence of a “Civilized God” with a “Natural God” construct.

What do I mean by a “Civilized God?”   When people form communities, and set apart buildings (such as our prayer room) for the worship of God, and have agreed upon procedures for worshipping that God, they are to some degree or another embracing a Civilized God.  Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.44.08 AMThat is to say, they believe that God receives and desires to be worshipped in the context of the social phenomenon we call civilization with all that it entails, and that He is happy to be in some way, a participant in the things of civilization.   What aspects of our civilized social life we outfit His worship with is debatable – but when we produce worship music with state of the art music studios and electric instruments, we have nodded to a Civilized God.  If the music is done with a carefully practiced choir, wearing choir robes, we sing that song to a Civilized God.   When we read the book of Revelation and see things like angels that write (invented by civilization) on scrolls (again, civilization) and play harps (civilization yet again) and blow trumpets (yep – civilization), we may be so civilized ourselves that we don’t even notice the interjection of the human inventions of civilization (don’t forget swords, horsemanship, herbal medicine, and thrones) into the allegorical description of the spiritual realm, but again, we’ve embraced a very Civilized Kingdom of God.   Revelation in fact culminates with the arrival of an amazing – wait for it – CITY. And nothing says civilization better than C.I.T.Y., even if it is a city of God.

the-substance-990771_640But that’s not the only view that people have of God – there is also the “Natural God” mindset.   After all, my friend had some instinct from somewhere, that to really have nothing between him and God, he needed to get all the vestiges of civilization off of his person – which of course, meant his clothing. He’s not alone – many, many people have sought God by heading to the wilderness, or a high mountain somewhere, so it could be just them and God away from any and all signs of humanity and its designs.

Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.51.26 AMAdam and Eve seemed to be this way – the closest they got to being civilized was taming a garden.    Moses at some point in his life was one of these folks – He met God on a high mountain and had communion with a very uncivilized, Natural God meeting, in the form of a burning bush.   John the Baptist, filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb, also had a thing going with the Wild and Natural understanding of God, wearing camel skins and eating wild stuff and living far away from the temple worship of his father’s house – instead making the great outdoors his temple.

So you see, when my friend got naked in a prayer room, he was putting two things together that normally just don’t really belong together – the raw, natural, “nothing-but-a-man-and-his-God” sort of worship, mixed with the civilized, industrious, “a community of people got together” and pooled their resources to do something which will be a place in a town for townspeople to meet with God together.

And which God is God, really?

The Bible paints a picture of….
cairn-678422_640– A God who prohibits the use of tools in building him an altar – prefering instead a pile of wild rocks.
– A God who mixed up human languages because the people tried to use their know-how and social organizations to get closer to him
– A God who tells the man who wants to build him a temple, “Heaven is my throne, and Earth is my footstool….where is the house you would build for me?”
– A God who tells a man he is talking to to “take off your shoes….”
– A God who said that people who would consecrate themselves to Him must leave their hair to grow without styling or cutting it, and who may not eat grapes (a heavily cultivated crop.)
– A God who tells a man to lay on his side, outside, for a year, and eat food cooked over animal dung.
– A God who drives people like John the Baptist, Jesus, and Philip out into the wilderness.
– A God who overcomes a king with His Spirit, which leaves him laying naked in a ditch, prophesying.
– A God who is worshiped by a man who takes off everything but an ephod (and no one really knows what an ephod is, so I could imagine it is hardly worth mentioning) and dances wildly before Him.
– A God who does “not accept praise from man.”
dandelion-411756_640– A God who considers a babbling baby’s vocalizations to be “perfect praise.”

– A God whose express image, his very Son, had, “nowhere to lay his head.”
– A God whose Son went to a mountainside regularly to pray.
– A God who desired His Sacrifice to be made “outside the camp.”
– A God who provides for disciples who have been sent out to minister, taking nothing with themselves.
– A God whose Spirit births people of which one cannot pin down their origin or destinations, like the wind
– A God whose Son called his own body, “God’s temple.”
– A God who clothes the lilies of the field with more glory than any king ever had.
– A God of whom it was said, “The Most High does not live in houses made with human hands.”
– A God who met Paul when he conferred with no humans but spent three years in the desert of Arabia.
– A God who thinks has no regard for the fame and honor of this world, but regards as precious what the world rejects.
– A God whose Son Himself was rejected by society.
– A God who is building a “spiritual house” of people.

But, the Bible also talks about a God who is also the one who is…

jerusalem-108851_640– A God who gave the Israelites a code of laws to keep.
– A God who set up a priesthood caste with clear ritual requirements of record keeping, administration, times and dates, special foods and rites to be performed.
– A God who gave extremely specific instructions about the cloth and measurements and objects used for his tabernacle.
– A God who authorized fine craftsmanship in the building of ritual objects for his worship.
– A God who punished people like Korah who worshipped him in nonprescribed ways
– A God who spoke to kings and rulers about the events of their kingdoms, and gave them military and strategic advice on the affairs of their domains.
– A God who showed kings dreams about the rise and fall of their civilizations and others, so that the kings established mandatory worship of God in their realms.
– A God who filled an illustrious and expensive temple with His presence in honor of its ritual dedication.
– A God who was worshipped with harps and cymbals by priests working in carefully prescribed shifts.
– A God worshipped by highly structured acrostic poetry.
– A God who has angelic armies that have order and rank.
– A God that speaks metaphorically about piercing his daughters’ ears and adorning them with fine jewelry and rich linens.
– A God whose Son shows a preference at a very young age for hanging out in the temple, even calling it His Father’s house.
– A God whose Son expressed extremely strict ideas about the institution of marriage.
– A God that honors his servants in a far-off country that engage in ritualized prayer three times a day.
– A God whose Son shows some preference for Jewish nationalism, calling a Gentile woman a dog.
Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.54.31 AM– A God whose Son found refuge at His friend Lazarus’s house.
– A God whose Son went to the cultivated garden of Gethsemane to pray.
– A God whose Son teachings his disciples a prescriptive form of prayer, saying, “Our Father…”
– A God whose Son sings a hymn and performs a ritual passover meal, even instituting a new ritual along the way.
– A God whose Son weeps over a city, mourning that the systems and people running that city did not accept His visitation.
– A God whose Son tells his followers to hole themselves up in a room for weeks on end, practicing the discipline of prayer.
– A God whose followers came together regularly on the first day of the week.
– A God whose leaders came up with prescribed guidelines for choosing leaders, and appointed them.
– A God whose leaders issued decrees for ostracizing group members from the tribe who had disagreeable behavior.
– A God whose leaders carefully taught from written scripture truths about Him and His Son, and urged other leaders to “devote themselves to the public reading of scripture” and exhortation and teaching.

Ok.   Whew.    Where does this leave us?

Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.56.28 AM

We have a Natural God with no accouterments – the kind one looks for on a mountain.     We have a very Civilized God with a whole structured way of relating to him in society – the kind of God one looks for in a place like Jerusalem – where the Jews had their temple, and where the early church began.  (Yeah, I know – these two concepts play together about as well as a naked man trying to pray in a community prayer room.)

So which God will we worship, and how will we worship Him?   Will we embrace the Wild God, the unstructured, uncivilized God – or will we embrace the God of human institution, the civilized God of religion?   Will we go to the mountaintop to meet with Him or to the place of ritual and artistry and organization and form?

Where’s the living water?  What will we use to draw it up out of the well – our “natural God” tools or our “Civilized God” tools?  How will we drink?

Jesus weighs in, “Believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.   But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.  (John 4:23-24, ESV)


Is that an answer?   Not until it becomes real to you and me as we actually find out what it means for us for in our own experience, not as a doctrine or a theory about the “right” way to do things, but in the desperate try-almost-anything hardcore search to find Him and find how to relate to Him – not until it becomes a place you truly have met with and worshiped God.  And this is the important one – not until you and I, both alone and corporately, find a way to go back and get with Him over, and over and over again, does it mean much either; because let’s face it, a chance encounter with Him doesn’t mean we’ve learned how to drink that water from the well – it just means we had a happy accident.   Although I’d venture that when we start having regular, frequent, happy accidents, we’re heading in a good direction.

utah-440520_1280

But we’re looking for that stability of real communion with Him, and we can, and should…journey to the mountain, journey to the valley, go to the city, and go to the town – worship in silence, and worship with lots of noise – worship with ritual, and worship freestyle – worship with others, and worship alone – sing old songs, sing new songs, pray in tongues and pray in English, draw a picture and dance a dance and reach for Him with our focus and thoughts and hearts – or toss it all out if the only thing that’s giving you or I anything is something not even named here.  But that pursuit must be deliberate and ongoing – it must be given time, energy, and push some other things aside.  Its not a works thing, but a laying hold of the One who has laid hold of us, thing.   And if we don’t seek, we’ll almost never find.

And please, I’ve really had to learn the hard way – it’s really important sometimes to forget anything about the “right” or “wrong” way to do church.  “Natural God” complexes and “Civilization God” complexes are alive and well in our pursuit of fellowship, unfortunately – but really the main issue is Jesus.   Are you finding Him when you’re with your church?  Put your doctrines and church theories aside – your organic church ideas or your tradition ideas or your social issue concerns or Holy Mother church ideas – for Christ’s sake I beg you, put it all aside.    That stuff tripped me up for way too many years of my life, and I don’t want it to get you too.

cathedral-569340_640Despite how much that church you’re at is doing everything wrong in your eyes, are you growing in Him there, or do you at least see potential for that?  If yes, don’t let anything tear you away from there.   But if not, move on – even if the church you’re part of is doing everything “right” and it’s the kind of church you’ve always been looking for or always gone to that has the right teaching and way of doing things – you have no time for that, find Jesus for real or at least find people as intent on real communion with Him as you are, who agree with you on perhaps nothing at all other than they want to know and pursue Him too, whether in the Natural God place or the Civilized God place or neither.   The less answers any of us have, the better, really…  And find, my friend, in the midst of all that, as all of it fades away, where you’ve seen and tasted and experienced a communion with Christ, no matter whether it looked wild and natural or civilized and structured.    Find in it all, despite it all – find the One who has truly made “all things yours.”

Selah.  Amen.

(PS – I usually hyperlink everything I say referencing a Bible verse to a Bible verse program online, but no one ever clicks on those links. So, if you want to know where I pulled something from the Bible, drop me a comment and I’ll let you know.   Otherwise, on this post, it would just take hours to insert links that no one ever uses.)

 

A Defense of Church Consumerism

banksy-consumer-society
“Church Consumerism” is a term roughly defined as “shopping for a church family similar to how consumers shop for things in the open market.”

About a week ago I posted a blog post about how there is a lot of rhetoric that keeps people in bad churches, and keeps them from feeling freedom to look for a new one.  After I posted that post, someone on FB replied simply that he “didn’t like the defense of church consumerism” in the post.  Now, there are a variety of things that the term “church consumerism” evokes in peoples’ minds – for instance, going to a church just to take and not to invest anything of yourself or give anything is one thing that that term could mean – and I would agree that that is a very poor approach to church involvement.  But unfortunately, usually when I hear the term used it seems people are denouncing that churchgoers would dare be choosy enough to “find a church that meets your needs and best suits you before deciding to invest yourself there,” as if looking for a healthy and vibrant church experience is in and of itself too selfish to be spiritual.

That really got me thinking – I really don’t believe that I *had* defended church consumerism in that post, at least not directly.   But now that the idea was mentioned, I just couldn’t resist.   Ergo, I shall now begin this post as an all-out “Defense of Church Consumerism” – at least according to the latter definition of it in the above paragraph.   Why?  Because the meme that “picking a church that is spiritually beneficial to you – (ala, church consumerism) – is an awful, nonspiritual, wrong, detrimental thing which has no place in the life of a true disciple of Jesus who loves God and His people,” just seems like it needs to be dealt with.

If you’ve been living under a rock somewhere (a pleasant rock, mind you – I mean no disrespect to anyone who has found a nice, mossy, warm rock to live under) you may not have heard the term “Church Consumerism” and been exposed to the revulsion and fear that such a term is meant to evoke in your soul.   But for the rest of us, sans-rock, we have undoubtedly heard or read the term flung about as something heinous, evil – a vile thing to be avoided at all costs.   And that is because, sadly to say, I believe the term functions unfortunately as propaganda: the assumption being that any person with true spiritual principles at work in their unselfish soul would instantly recognize that “Consumerism” of almost any sort is a deadly thing to true Kingdom virtues, echoing with the tainted colors of such things as greed, materialism, self-centered decision making, and even *gasp*…capitalism.   It is, certainly nothing that anyone who follows Jesus should embrace as spiritually positive, no less to put it in the same phrase as the word “Church” which evokes the concept of community, a place to be poured out for and with others, a place to encounter Someone who so deeply transcends anything marketable, and a place of relationship with people.

Is there any room to be “consumeristic” in the face of such values as relationship and being part of a corporate expression of Christ on Earth, or in the face of something as ancient and holy as “the church?”  Without any further explanation, the person who merely mentions “Church Consumerism” has already made his or her point, simply by using that ugly second C word and pairing it up with “Church.”   Woe is us if we dare to have whatever internal value “Church Consumerism” could represent – that would make us one of “those” kinds of people, and we don’t want to be like “that!”

Except, this just isn’t right…on quite a few levels.   So let’s explore this negative presupposition for its assumptions and overlooked blind spots, starting with a look at “consumerism” from a spiritual angle.  For one thing, perhaps you’ve noticed that the moment I switched from pairing “consumerism” with the word “church,” to instead subtly pairing it with the word “spiritual” – it doesn’t sound quite AS bad: “Spiritual Consumerism.”   Still not a great term, but somehow a tad bit more in the realm of plausibly useful, viable, valid as an idea.   If you’re not agreeing that far with me yet though, hey, it’s ok.  Let’s just keep going.

If “spiritual consumerism” was indeed ok, or even sanctioned by God and the Scriptures, would that mean anything to the bigger discussion of “church consumerism?”  Of course church consumerism and spiritual consumerism are not completely the same thing, but are they related enough as to have a bearing on one another?    We’ll figure that out as we look at it.   For one – let’s define what we mean by “consumerism” – simply put, it has to do with making purchases or investments based on what one finds most valuable.   You are a consumer because you have the ability to buy things, and to make choices about what you will buy.  ConsumerISM has to do with being discriminating – choosy – about what you are purchasing, trying to get the best value for your money. Is this bad?

Here’s some verses where Jesus seems to encourage us to be wise “spiritual” consumers –

“I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”  (Revelation 3:18)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

 

I don’t want to belabor this to the point of ridiculousness – but I hope that it is obvious that at least the concept of being a wise consumer is present in these verses- particularly towards spiritual things – and is not in and of itself unspiritual.

So what then about “church” consumerism?

Part of the issue at the onset is confusing who we ARE as an expression of the Church with the various groups in a town that have their own structure, way of meeting, programs, and formats.   We all know that the Church isn’t about a program, and that we are the church – but when you pick a “church” to go to, you are picking a certain type of program, a certain way that people will get together every week to do things – during a Sunday service, for the most part, the show will go on much the same way whether the congregation shows up or not.

So, unfortunately if we put idealism aside –  when we talk about picking a church, realistically we’re talking about picking a format – a program, in which you get to have spiritual and social interactions that even allow you to experience being the church to any degree – and every church differs in what degree that occurs.  The bate-and-switch of this unfortunately in many cases, church is PACKAGED as a product – much like a private school is a product, or concert tickets are a product.    The program is designed a certain way for certain people’s sensibilities in the church – and those folks wouldn’t think of going anywhere else.  (Very few churches are just simple expressions of family and community walking together in Christ)  But then, even though churches are designed the way a product is – people are told they do wrong to be consumers and choose which one to go to.   There is something wrong in that logic.

Specifically, is it right to encourage people to berate themselves for looking for and going to a church that provides them with a sense of…
…community?  
…edifying relationships with others?  
…opportunities to serve and use one’s giftings?

…leadership dynamics that are healthy and safe (rather than unhealthy and destructive?) …opportunities to gather where one is gaining experience with interacting with the Lord corporately, getting to know Him and His presence better?

People are in all different stages of maturity.  Spiritual maturity is represented allegorically as corresponding to stages of human lifespan maturity, so with that in mind, it is worth considering that as a human infant, one needs to be fed.   To tell an infant that he or she needs to feed his or her siblings and stop crying that no one is feeing him/her would be labeled as child abuse and that infant would probably be removed from the home, along with all of his or her siblings – as the state is a “consumer” to a small degree, making decisions about what homes are or are not appropriate for children.

Likewise, people who want people who were just recently born again and are therefore infants in spiritual things to “feed themselves on Christ and stop looking for the church to feed you” have a screw loose – or two.   Yes, even a newborn follower of Jesus can be carried by the Lord if all others abandon him/her, but do we really want to suggest that this is the way the Lord wants infants to get their start in His kingdom?   If someone isn’t “getting fed” by their church (whether by leadership or in their friendships in the congregation) and there is another church up the street that is doing a great job feeding new believers, why on earth would we be so brutish as to tell an infant that he/she needs to subsist on scraps and feed others?  After all, there is a difference between telling someone “go feed yourself” and actually teaching people how to feed themselves on the Lord – (which in the Kingdom, usually means learning how to eat corporately as well.)

But that isn’t even the main point.  Most people reading this are not going to be spiritual newbies.  You’ve been around, you’ve grown, you know a thing or two and hopefully you even know Him.   So here’s something to consider then: when we tell people that they don’t have a right to feel they want or need anything from their church, but their job is to suck it all up and be there to only to give – I believe we are actually encouraging them to have the very attitude that Paul tells the Corinthians is a wrong attitude to have: to say of the members of the body, “I have no need of you.”  Or rather, we’re encouraging people to say, “I have need of being in this church with you, even though I don’t need to receive anything from the body by being here.”

Do you ever notice that?  The same folks that will tell you how important it is that you are part of a church because you NEED the body of Christ and the body needs you, will tell you it’s wrong for you to expect to get anything from the body of Christ – that you need to go to Jesus for your needs, not the church and not other people.   Huh?  Isn’t there a contradiction here somewhere?

And yes, it seems spiritual and self-sacrificing to tell people to come to church to give and not to get, and yes, we want to equip people to be mature and strong “givers” of the Lord and His spiritual bounty to others.   But do we want to puff them up with pride by suggesting to them that they don’t NEED to be receiving anything at all from the church they are participating with, that having an “I have no need of you – because I’m a hand and my only role is to give to you” attitude is the right one.  It’s not.    Furthermore, we have no business encouraging people to be “givers” if we aren’t edifying and equipping them to be powerful, spirit-led, effective givers – and giving them authority in a church to do that type of giving.

So here is the question:  If you aren’t getting what you need as a hand, or an eye, or a foot, from the body you are gathering with – do you believe that the type of giftings that you can offer will equip the church you are gathering with to become the sort of group that WILL be able to give you what you need?  If not, you probably are not being a wise spiritual consumer.   Staying in a group in order to “give” of yourself, if the opportunities to give really aren’t there – while at the same time you are dying of need – is not being a wise consumer.  The first rule of being a rescuer is that you have to make sure that you can safely do so (in other words, you don’t jump into a swimming pool to rescue a victim of electrocution until/unless you can first turn the power off – otherwise you have no chance of saving them and sacrifice yourself to no avail.)

It’s ok to let bad churches die.   They need to.   Jesus goes into his vineyard and prunes branches that aren’t bearing fruit – this isn’t because he doesn’t care about people, rather, it’s because he does.   If you have a platform and the mix of relationships and giftings necessary to really turn a lifeless church around – then go for it.   But if you’re just staying somewhere because you’re afraid to go somewhere that actually meets your needs and wants lest you be a “consumer” – please rethink that.

I believe that healthy and strong leaders will actually encourage people to be savvy church consumers – because humble and mature leaders are ready to have everyone leave them and their group if their people would be better served somewhere else and if another leader or group in their town has a better handle on the Kingdom of God.   Good leaders are looking out for YOU, not for how many people they can get to resign themselves to feeling stuck being part of their group.

Jesus is worth being a consumer (or any other pejorative someone might throw at you ) about – and if you aren’t continually growing in Jesus with a church, there is no point to being there.  The body of Christ is the one and only place on this planet where everything is supposed to be about people growing in Jesus and being one in Him together – it’s not wrong to want the reality of that as your goal for your church experience.  “Go where you are getting fed, and have opportunities to grow in your giftings” is just good spiritual advice – if everyone followed that, we’d have vibrant and strong congregations all over the place – because as people get built up into the Lord and equipped in using their giftings, the entire church grows and edifies itself as it is meant to:

“…. grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”  Ephesians 4:15-16

Therefore, “church consumerism” in the body of Christ is to some degree our friend – it is one way the Lord weeds out groups that don’t function adequately AS the church, and strengths congregations that are doing great things in how they relate to Christ together.  And this is how it’s meant to be.  And congregations and leaders that have themselves been bad consumers of spiritual riches, will end up experiencing this downfall:

Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”

And that’s not because He’s mean.  It’s because He’s good.

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Worship: Edification and Distraction

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Long ago, when I first gave my heart to Jesus, I spent time sojourning in some churches that were rather restrained in outward or individual emotional displays during worship.    It was a really big deal if someone lifted a hand up, or even two hands, during the worship time: enough to provoke entire late night conversations among the youth group (which I was part of at the time).   Questions abounded: “Why would anyone do this?   Was their hand like some sort of God antennae?   Were they feeling something at that moment that the rest of us weren’t privy to, that resulted in the hand being raised?   What was all that about?”   But the biggest question that would eventually emerge in these conversations was this one:  Was this person’s outward display of worship creating a distraction for the rest of the congregation?

Over the years, I moved on to other settings, other churches – churches where raising a hand to the Lord was not only understood as normal, but was also considered quite a mild and, even at times, “overly restrained” expression of worship (and/or praise.)  In these churches, there was a much more full-bodied concept of how one expressed praise – instead of the tongue being the only part of one’s body that moved during singing, people were allowed to AND encouraged to use whatever bodily posture most expressed their heart in the moment.   So, I’ve been to churches where people were on their faces, on their knees, or twirling about in wild expressive dance complete with streamers and flags in their hands.   And in these churches, the concept of distraction is almost completely foreign.  Instead, the overriding concern that the people in those congregations often have is a concern for freedom – is the worship “free enough?”   The belief in these settings is that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” and in the most direct and momentary sense, this means that to them, freedom of congregational expression is paramount – in order that the Lord’s Spirit might be given room to “do what He wants to do.”

Additionally, there is also a concept in the “worship-freedom” loving churches, that the Lord’s worship and praise ought to be extravagant – that people lavishing expressions of unbridled emotion and awe and love and whatever else towards the Lord in a corporate setting, with no concern for how others might view those personal expressions of love and praise, is something honoring to the Lord, something of which He is worthy.   Thus worshipping in this manner is not something done just for one’s own emotional satisfaction, but is regarded instead as a personal offering of eschewing one’s regard for their own appearance, dignity, etiquette and personal composure, to instead bring a gift of wholehearted, expressive, and whole-bodied praise towards God.

I have to admit that over the years I’ve definitely become more partial towards the latter paradigm of group worship than the former.   From this vantage point, what in my early years was once considered a potential “distraction” -seeing someone else express individual worship and praise in a unique, creative, and less-conformist-to-everyone-else way,  is no longer something that I see as a distraction.   In the mindset of the “freedom” concept of worship, a brother or sister’s creative worship expression, which I once viewed as a distraction stealing my attention from focusing on God, is something I instead now consider to be mutual “edification” – something that helps me see God even better.

Seeing a fellow worshiper be demonstrative in how they worship or pray to me now is a chance to see their faith being expressed, which in turn is something which bolsters my own faith and experience of meeting with God.   But it took a change in my mindset for me to be able to view someone else’s spiritual expression as something that I could receive as a beneficial aspect of Christ being made known to me through His people.   I now see this as the living faith in one person’s heart being made known to mine; and then in turn, my own worship being made known to those worshiping with me as well, creating a mutually reinforcing dynamic.  On a human, sociological, natural level this is psychologically supportive of one another’s faith expressions, but on a deeper, more supernatural level, also is an arena where the Spirit of God is able to express His own nature corporately, through the weak yet creative expressions of His people who are passing expressed faith back and forth to one another in their full-bodied signals to Him and to one another.

But it did take a shift in mindset – if worship is about me and God being alone, and undistracted, to have this inner exchange of prayer, worship, honor, love, repentance, etc., then the question becomes: “Why gather together with other believers for worship at all?”  If worship is a private thing, where I shouldn’t notice your worship and you shouldn’t notice mine, then why do we bother coming TOGETHER to do it?   God *can* be encountered out in the woods, or on the seashore, or on my bed or in my living room, or alone in my car – so why not just let that be sufficient?

I think the reality is, as I’ve written before: we need both.   We need to experience God in our closets, alone, or at the seashore, alone.   We each NEED to have a unique connection to our Creator that doesn’t depend on man.   But we just can’t pass over the fact that if we believe the New Testament scriptures (and I’m writing mostly to Christians here as I write this) that the overwhelming testimony of that scripture is that God Himself is really into this concept, of believers in Jesus sharing a corporate experience of Christ – what is called being the “body of Christ” together.  Being the body can be a simply static concept: we are the body of Christ whether we get together or not – but this concept can be realized as also an experience-able concept, something which if when we get together and have some idea what we’re doing to gather “in the name of Christ” together moves from being a mere doctrine into a functional reality.

The mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (the “you” in that verse being a plural you) is that there are new facets to knowing Christ, and to worshiping Him, or gathering with Him, that really can only be realized when we do this in conjunction with one another, functioning no longer just as individuals alone, but individuals in connection with one another, experiencing the dynamic that results from each person’s faith expressions feeding into the others’.   This is why so many people will share that something unique occurs when they worship with corporately – that they have an experience with the Spirit of God that is unique and cherished apart from what they have with Him while they are by themselves.   And it has something to do with each of us bringing something of our own heart with God to each other, where the whole of the corporate expression becomes greater than the sum of its own individual expressive parts.

It’s like what you see when a flock of birds fly overhead – a bird flying is just a bird, which is a marvelous thing.   But when hundreds of birds come together and each of them does its own little flying part, suddenly a whole new structure of expression is seen in the sky, as the flock moves in a way that creates new shapes, new forms, and new expressions of movement that any individual bird could never demonstrate to an observer.   When you’re *in* that flock of birds, you can undoubtedly see some angle on this unique thing that is happening even while you are in it – and, you get a chance to see where your own little part becomes an expression of something so much greater than yourself – it gives new dimensions to your own experience of being a bird, to fly along with the others.

This post is not meant, however, as some sort of “you need to go to church” sermon, as it may be tasting right now to some of my readers.   Church can be valuable to the degree that it truly gives you a chance to experience being part of the body of Christ with others.   Or, it can itself unfortunately at times be the single most distracting element that believers experience to truly being the body of Christ with one another – it depends on the church, its way of being, its beliefs, its leadership and its format of meeting.   Church is simply a scaffold, a structure, for people to be in spiritual life with one another.   And a structure can be something that living things thrive on – and build life on, like a coral reef growing on the structure of a sunken ship or stone outcrops, or a tomato plant being helped along with a stake for it to grow around.  Or structure can be something averse to life, something which destroys it – like putting a Walmart building and parking lot into a former wetland area.   Some of my readers would find their spiritual life greatly enhanced by leaving their church, and others need to find one.    I’m not making any statement about your own situation in regards to that, because how could I even begin to know?

But my goal here in this post is simply to point out: that there has long been this tension in the body of Christ between knowing what constitutes a corporate “distraction” from Christ for one another, and what actually constitutes a valuable opportunity to edify one another’s faith by each member of the body bringing their own expression of knowing Him to the corporate table.   And I think that we can meaningfully distract one another right into loving Him more, as we offer our own distracting expressions of knowing Him and loving Him to one another.

On a Scale of 1 to 10….

Some of my friends on FB know that, back in May, I was at a friend’s house during a late night power outage, and slipped on an unusually shaped/sized step going into her kitchen to get a candle, and simultaneously broke a bone in my foot while tearing a tendon in my ankle.   It was a VERY slow-healing fracture (the 5th metatarsal is a notoriously difficult bone for fracture healing) and it turns out that the torn tendon is an even bigger, more long-term issue than that.  

Four months later, and I was just starting to be able to walk again, albeit with the help of crutches and physical therapy.  Here, at the fifth month mark, I can now hobble around the house without crutches, but generally when I go out in public I still use the crutches for otherwise painful occasions, like shopping, where I’ll need to walk more than a few feet at a time.   This past weekend I was not feeling all that ambitious, so I took my crutches with me as I visited…a new [charismatic] church.

My friend who went with me remarked on our way to the car, “Do you think they’ll call you up to the front to pray for you to be healed?”   I replied, “No, I doubt they’d do that.   I don’t think what from what I know of this church that that would be their style.   But – I bet they’ll get me in their lobby after the service is over.”   I was really actually not hoping this to be the case – but we were mostly teasing each other with the comments. 

So I walked into the church, feeling like I had a bullseye on my back, saying, “Aim prayers here.”   I was glad when we found an empty pew, and I could lay down my crutches and be “normal” again.   It’s not that I don’t like prayer – I actually do like prayer.  It’s just that there’s something about the way people accost people when they want to try out their healing ju-ju on them that is very uncomfortable to me in some ways – especially when the prayer is not asked for, and the person is a stranger.  

Anyway, we sat through the service, and both my friend and I found the teaching time to be really down-to-earth, basic, but solid stuff.  So solid in fact that we sat there for at least a good 5 minutes after the meeting was over, just processing together some of the heart issues that were brought up for both of us.  Meanwhile, the room grew emptier.   So we finally got up to leave. 

Back in the lobby, my friend went to look for a pen to fill out the visitor card that would earn us a “free CD” as first time visitors, and I stood there a moment waiting, when an attractive and trendy guy came up to me and introduced himself.   He talked to me for a little bit and seemed strangely friendly and interested in me, beyond what I would normally expect from an attractive and trendy guy on first meeting.   I honestly wondered at his interest in me – was he trying to pick me up?   Call it low self-esteem, but that seemed highly improbable.   So what was with this dude?   Men of this caliber, unfortunately, rarely even speak with me – let alone speak to me with such a level of personal interest.   

And then came the question – the question that instantly brought me back to reality and immediately removed all questions from my mind.   “So,” he asked, “on a scale from 1 to 10, how bad would you say your ankle hurts right now?”   And right then and there, I knew.  Not because I was intuitive, no, but because he was following the ‘script’ – the latest charismatic formula for how someone who has been trained in ‘healing’ in any of the big name ‘healing schools’ or conferences is trained to approach their victim – I mean – the person they want to try healing.  

How the script is supposed to go is like this:  you ask the person how bad their pain is on a quantitative scale, from 1 to 10.   Then you ask to pray for them.   You ask to touch them and lay your hand on the part that hurts, if possible.   Then after you command that part of their body to be healed, you ask them if they felt anything.   And you ask them if the pain has decreased – and you get another number on the scale from them.   Then you ask to pray again to get the pain to go down the scale further.   Then you check your ‘patient’ and ask again if the pain is any less.  And you keep repeating the process, over and over and over, until the patient finally says they are in much less pain, or that they are healed.     Then you ask them to do something that would have been painful earlier, like if they had shoulder pain, to lift their arm above their head or something.  This is a pattern – a template even, for how the interaction between the healer and healee is to be carried out.

So my new friend of the moment asked me how my foot felt on a scale of 1 to 10, and I instantly knew that my earlier prognostication that I would be the recipient of healing prayer ministry in the lobby after the service, was instantly proven accurate.   Yay.  

I cut to the chase.   I told him, “The pain is only around a 2 right now, because the crutches are bearing my weight for me.   But if you want to pray for my foot, you’re more than welcome to do so.”  Heck, it’s not the prayer itself that bugs me.   Since he was here, I’d receive the prayer.   So he prayed…and commanded…the ankle to heal.  Then he got up and predictably, asked me if I felt anything happening.   I told him, honestly – no, I didn’t.   I saw him getting ready to go for round two…and I just didn’t want to go through that whole entire process of pray, ask, repeat – pray, ask, repeat.   I wonder, if this formula was designed knowing that people eventually feel so much pressure to say, “Yeah, yeah, the pain has gone down” that they eventually just give in and say that?   I know from my past run ins with this form of prayer that there comes a point when I feel so pressured to just say something has happened just because it feels like the person will never let you go otherwise.   Anyway, I didn’t want to go through the whole process, so I cut to the chase again, thanked him for his one prayer, and told him the honest to God truth: I have experienced healing before.   But it has never, ever happened to me while someone was actually in the process of prayer with me.   

So my benefactor kindly nodded, smiled, and let me go.   And I was glad.   But as I look back on the encounter, I realized a few things.   And mostly it was this:

There are people in churches and groups I have been in that have never been interested in knowing me, or being friends with me.   But when they host an Avon party or an Amway party or some other sort of “get everyone who has a checkbook to come to your party” type party, they never fail to invite me.   And for me, it always goes something like, “Wow, you are talking to me?  You are inviting me to a party?   Wow – thank you – I’ve been really hoping to get to know you all this time and i always got the impression you didn’t think I was cool enough to know.”   And then, just as my hope is rising, I realize – oh, wait.   It’s not a real party.   It’s not a social invitation.   It’s a business.   They only invited me to THIS party because of the fact that they need customers.

And unfortunately, that’s sort of how I felt with Mr. Cute Healing Guy.   (He was married it turned out – which is fine.   He’s probably married to someone as cute as he is – but wow, it would have been so amazing for my friend and I to get invited to go to a meal with Mr. and Mrs. Trendy after church, and all get to know each other.   That would have been totally banging.   But that’s not what this was about.)  You see, this is what I think it was about.  No, he didn’t want money from me.   But, I can’t help but think he saw me, not as a someone to know, but as someone to practice on.   In these healing seminars, where these methods are taught, one other thing is taught: that the big guys, like John Wimber, who learned how to “do the stuff” and really heal people, prayed for something like 500 people first without a single miracle, before they got their first healing. So you have to just get out there and practice, practice, practice.  And how do you practice unless you can find people to practice on?   That’s what I think I was to this guy – an injured object for him to practice on.   Not someone he wanted to know….  not someone he even really truly cared about, but just, a chance for him to try out his stuff.   

Does that sound bleak and bitter?   I suppose I could go to that church 10 more times, and see if he ever talks to me again – or if he ever talks to me about anything other than, “How is your foot?   Would it be ok if I tried praying for your foot again?”    But I will concede: perhaps I am wrong about this guy’s intentions.   The thing is, even if I am reading the wrong thing here with him, I know one thing is certain: this blog post is worth publishing, because there are thousands of other people being taught to do exactly what this guy did, and this blog post would not be wrong about the intentions of the majority of them.   

Thus, I now hit publish, and you are invited to comment.  

A Tale of Two Tables

During the course of one week: two different US states; two completely different groups of people.   I was there, and I saw the same thing happen in both places and thought, “This needs to be talked about.   WE need to talk about it.”   So I’m writing, and blogging, and talking about the stuff we get afraid to talk about – because let’s face it, nobody wants to be the whistle-blowing whiner.   (Oh alright, I’ll take the job this time. )

At the first event, I was with a fairly large group of people who had gotten together to do some Christian-ey stuff… and afterward, we headed to a restaurant together.   The waitress pushed a bunch of tables together, creating not one, but two long tables.   Most of the people in our group were in the 20’s to 30’s or even early 40’s range; most were stylish and attractively dressed.   There were a few people though that didn’t fit the profile.   There were several severely overweight women, there were a few people that could be considered elderly, and a few people that were somewhat socially awkward for whatever reason one might construe.

And it happened.   I watched it happen – one thing that I am fairly certain should not ever happen in a group of people who are claiming to be following in the way of Jesus.

All of the young, vibrant, happy people sat with their friends.   At one table.   And the elderly, the broken and awkward, and yes, the extremely obese were left to sit at their own table.

I suppose we aren’t supposed to notice these things, much less discuss them.   After all, elderly, obese, and other generic forms of socially awkward and/or excluded people really prefer each other’s company to that of vibrant, close-knit, fashionable and youthful people.   Of this I am quite sure.   Well, almost sure.   Almost as much as I am sure that vibrant, youthful Christian people do not choose the company of the elderly, obese, and awkward ones over their more fashionable and interesting friends.   Yes, sadly – of that much I *am* really sure.

Why is this?   It is, after all, “normal.”   Which is the very thing, that I think, Christians are not supposed to be.   Well, I know Christians are not generally “normal” in their views on social issues if those issues are say, political.   In that degree, many Christians are eagerly “not normal.”   But what about the kind of “not normal” where we actively choose to build our social lives and social networks in completely confusing ways to the average human – deciding instead, in fact, to fully befriend someone who is obviously not a highly sought-after person in social circles [unfortunately even in our church groups] as our PREFERED way to live, prefered especially over just being cliquey teenagers in grown-up skin?

(Side note: of course, it is thought I think that there are no outcasts in our church groups, because after all, once we’ve found an outcast and they’ve prayed the prayer and started coming and doing the Sunday service thing with us, they’re no longer outcasts at all, right?  And our job is just to get them into our church – but we all know we have too many friends to add someone… ‘else’ …to our busy lives. It’s not our job, we know that.   Besides, these people are not like… us.  They want to be in their own category, apart from us… don’t they? )

Well, anyway, that was one restaurant – two tables.    But I have found that it is easy to smile and greet someone during worship.   It’s easy to lay hands on them and pray – to even see their broken hearts and call them out and notice that they are lonely people – heck, to share ‘prophetically’ with them that they are lonely and that God wants to heal them of this – but then, when it comes time to go out to eat together, we all too often leave them sitting at their own table again.   Alone.    Just… like… the… ‘word of knowledge’… or word of comfort… or whatever it was that WE shared with them and told them it was time for them to be free from.   We do this in plain view – and I can’t help but wonder, what happens when they are out of view?   What happens when they are sitting alone, at home, and we are planning a get-together to go see a movie, or go shopping, or play a sport, or workout – whatever it is we do with our church friends when it’s our real life and not a church get together…does anyone invite the fat or old or weird people in the group to come do real stuff too?  Do they ever get to be known as real people, enough to really know who they are and not just give them a ‘word’ about who they are – in our lives?  I guess I have a hard time believing that they do, when they sit at their own table during our after-gathering meals.  We only want to sit with the people we enjoy, the people we have real friendship with – and sadly, that’s never really going to be ‘those’ people.  They have their life, and we have ours.  Besides, at their own table, they are reaching out to the other outcasts, and that’s their calling, or something – something like that.

“It shall not be so among you.”  Jesus pointed out some things about how social rules work outside His Kingdom, in everyday life – and He said, “It shall not be so among you.”   I know in some places in the body of Christ, people want to learn how to do the amazing miraculous stuff that Jesus said His followers would do – “even greater works than these” is what He said His followers would do.   But I have to wonder which is the greater miraculous feat His followers might learn how to execute: is it to heal the sick and raise the dead, or would it be to learn how to love people and bring all sorts of people who normally wouldn’t like each other together, just like Jesus Himself did?

But this was a tale of two tables – two times over.   Because later in the week, I was at another restaurant, with another group of people.   And once again, a waitress pushed tables together for the large group I found myself with.   I had to use the restroom when we first arrived, so by the time I came out, almost everyone had seated themselves.   And this time, there was one guy without a seat – looking over the long table where everyone had assembled.   Did it have to be so obvious, as the table was filled with ‘on-fire’ young worshippers in their 20s and 30s again, that this man who had been worshipping with them, walking with a slow gait as he had recently had chemo and cancer in his 60s, was the one person standing there longingly looking for a seat among them?   Someone tried to ‘help’ him (I guess) by recommending he sit at a nearby table just as I was walking in and saw that my fate also, a relative newcomer to the group, would also be to the exile table to sit with the lone older man.  This story had a silver lining though – in that a young woman there named Rebecca instantly got up from the table and all her friends and said to me, “I’ll sit over there with you.”  And she came and sat with us.

Rebecca’s actions were a spark of hope to me – to see a young follower of Jesus so eagerly and without any outward sign of remorse, eschew her peers and friends to sit with the old guy and the new [almost middle aged] woman,  Her heart was a spark of glory and goodness the ‘people of God.’   But I also reflect that too often, to love those different than the mainstream, means going alone, and leaving one’s friends behind, and for Rebecca that day loving me and the other guy meant so doing.   I am dimly hoping for the day, for the people, who will not have to make such sacrifices – because while such sacrifices are worthy and worthwhile to make, they should be unnecessary, and I do not believe they are a representation of the best the body of Christ could be.   What I want to see is groups of friends learning to include, integrate, and love people outside their peer group together – so that the lonely outcast person doesn’t just sit with the one young sacrificial lamb who is torn between her friends and him or her, but so that the formerly socially unwanted person gets WELCOMED, integrated, brought into a circle where he or she truly becomes one with the circle.   Where the whole gang wants to sit with the elderly ones, and learn from them, or the overweight ones, and look past their figure to their real mind and heart, or to the awkward ones, so they get to learn what normal relationships are like.

Because, I know that if we have two tables, there is one that Jesus is sitting at.  If there’s an outcast table, He’s gonna be there – and one way or another, we’re all missing out.   He’s missing the fellowship of the young and trendy, and we’re all missing Him in each other.   I’d rather we all had Him, and the demonstration of His kingdom among ourselves, so that we can experience a joy that is more than ‘normal’ humanity – but is something truly from Above.  Because after all, in the Kingdom, there really is only ONE table.

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