True Community

This past week was quite amazing in that I had gracious time to be alone when needed, and the privilege of spending seven days with my family and my only grandson, John Luther.

The week also included the luxury of time with a book, Church Refugees (1) by Josh Packard, which includes data collected from a group known as The Dones.  As well, I had the privilege of comment in the local newspaper regarding the growing pluralism within our community.(2) That may be how you found my blog.

Church Refuges

The Dones, based on over 100 interviews among those who have left the churches, ages 18-84, are identified as those who “gave up on the institutional expression of church. They didn’t stop doing things to advance what they believed to be the work of God; they stopped doing things to advance the work of the church. Their substantial energies and skills are now poured daily into activities and structures that happen completely outside the purview of organized religion. They’ve opted for relationship over structure, doing over dogma, and creating with rather than creating for. In short, they’ve created a new religious home.”

Since 1973, following a profound God-moment on January 3rd, my life has been about serving the church and my community. The latter has received most of my focus after an encounter with God in 1978, and a calling to cities.  During that near six year period, I had served the church intensely, to include associate pastor.  As well, along with a small band of passionate believers,  we physically built a new sanctuary, debt free!  When it seemed that a small church was insufficient to reach a city, my family and I eventually sold our new home and relocated to another community to be a part of a mega church. We have now served there for over 25 years.  “Devoted to the Church” would be an understatement.

I find the Dones not to be the people that during my 40+ years of church were easily offended by their pastors, or those dodging responsibly and without passion for “the lost.” It seems these are those who most desire true community and understand what it takes to get there.

“Community must be worked at, nurtured, and nourished. It’s a misconception to think that community naturally occurs when people get together often enough or that community occurs when people who agree with each other come together. Community happens when people share life together, when they see each other repeatedly and share experiences. These commonalities lead to a feeling that people can be counted on and to a shared sense of reality and values.”3

Packard and Hope go on to say, “Instead of understanding that shared life leads to shared beliefs, churches frequently want to make sure that everyone signs on to a common belief system before they can begin to do life with each other. This is not only a dubious way to practice Christianity according to our respondents, but also a profoundly ineffective way to build community.”4

Since that 1978 moment of clarity and calling in my life,  my focus has been about following Christ in the marketplace perhaps long before that became the language of the contemporary church.

Somehow my life has always been about “the next”, an often misunderstood way of life, though at times it may ring of vision!  I for sure have empathy for John the Baptist, and though tested no where to the extent he was, I can feel his heart. Luke records him “calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

I am not yet a Done but I do have days like John when I question what is going on.  Not whether Christ was sent from God, for I know the encounters, the “thin moments” I have had with Him over time.  My questions come when I look at the number of churches that dot the hillsides of our country, yet observe the direction that our country seems to be going. That by the way was not meant as a political statement. Our problems are spiritual,  our politics only symptomatic!

When I engage within my community, and there find scores of people who love God with all their hearts, but are isolated from each other in their most meaningful spiritual moments, I wonder about our strategy as the Body of Christ and the limited impact of our spiritual siloes.  Especially when it seems that so many of the critical, high impact decisions on behalf of community are left to those who at best may use religion solely for political gain and at times demonstrate the least integrity.

When Jesus gathered his disciples for that Last Supper moment, sharing the intensity of what he knew was about to occur, he made a statement whose meaning we may have lost in our intent to secure that critical moment in the form of a sacrament. He said, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, do this in remembrance of me.” I wonder if the “this” he desired was not just to serve communion, but to practice true community?

1 Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith Kindle Edition, Josh Packard, Ashleigh Hope, 2015.

2 http://www.journalnow.com/journal_west/news/guest-columnist-on-proposed-hindu-temple-love-thy-neighbor/article_0ee07956-300c-11e5-9e62-3be7d2972554.html

3Church Refugees, 2015.

4Ibid.

Posted in Being Loved, Church Foreclosure, hope, Institutional Church, Leadership, Political posturing, Post Christian, Press on, Prophecy, Reformation, scripture, Spiritual Revolution, The Dones, Transformation | Leave a comment

Fulfilling the Law

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” A profound statement by Jesus as recorded in Matthew 5:17 (NLT).

What could Jesus have possibly meant, if in fact, he so violated Law in the eyes of the experts, that his life was constantly at stake?

Is there something Jesus knew that we miss, when we read the letter of the Law? If He fulfilled the Law is it of any further benefit?

I am amazed when I read scripture on the New Testament side of Calvary, words so incongruent with the Old. However, the prophecies of the Old are so fulfilled in the New that the veracity, the truth concealed in the Old, cannot be questioned.

Perhaps this is by design, so that a relationship with the Father through Christ Jesus is of necessity, if we are to hear the Spirit? Herein lies the mystery of the Canon and perhaps even the source of error among the religious?

Like no other time in my life, I am hearing the Body of Christ as well as those among other major religions, sincerely wrestling with the truth about God’s love. It seems that truth will not leave our fears or our sins alone. Even the polarization that our political systems have devised seems to be a tool of the Spirit. This Holy tension unknowingly is requiring that we address our shortcomings, even opening our hearts to those whom the Old Testament declares “unclean” and those who continue to suffer injustice in America.

When transparency is afforded among those who truly love God and desire to understand the truth of scripture, it is amazing the wide gap of understanding and the clear awareness of our shortcomings, when it comes to love.

God is love and we are broken. The Apostle John states: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

What if we would decide to live as if God loved us all equally and was powerful enough to demonstrate that love individually? I mean, just be open to God? All the sacred texts indicate that necessity in some way! Jesus demonstrated that way!

We are strange birds and the concept of a God, that truly loves us, seems to run right off our plumage!

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Recent Guest Column Journal West

I’ll have to admit, reading that a Hindu Temple was coming to Clemmons was a bit of a culture shock.

However, the announcement did provide a much-needed distraction given the recent roughhousing around the library site.

I wasn’t prepared for the next news that their sign had been shot up. In case you have not heard, the Om Hindu Organization of North Carolina is planning to build a 3,600-square-foot temple at 8535 Lasater Road in Clemmons.

“About 500 Indian families live in Forsyth County, with several in the Clemmons, Lewisville and Pfafftown area. The temple’s location will be convenient for many local Hindus,” Manujunath Shamanna, a member of the board of directors, told Journal West.

What disturbed me more than the fact that a religious organization would have its sign shot up were the comments at the Winston-Journal’s online site. Did someone really imply that only Christians should be allowed to live in Clemmons? Worse yet, perhaps, was the stereotyping of others as “rednecks living in the area.”

Really?

Can we just lay down our fears, live out our own values and yes, love our fellow man? Perhaps we could even get to know each other. Christians should be the most inclusive, inviting people on the globe, given the nature of Christ.

Many conclude that we are no longer a Christian nation. Even some church professionals are using language like “post-Christian” in their recommendations for new approaches in the marketplace.

As a Christ follower, the rules are simple for me: Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Not the neighbor that thinks like you, worships like you, or looks like you … just love your neighbor.

Given the scores of professionals that annually come to these shores, should we not have been better prepared for pluralism? Wait, wasn’t that how we began, a nation that offered religious freedom?

With the newly emerging economy, and the commercialization of biotech research coming out of Wake Forest Baptist Health and Innovation Quarter, we will continue to attract representatives of multiple cultures desiring to live in the Village of Clemmons.

Guess I should not have been surprised by a Hindu Temple.

“We as American people are fighting hate, standing up to promote tolerance, respect and inclusion. We have no doubts that in the long run we will be able to practice our religion and live peacefully in this region and work towards a pluralistic society,” the Om Hindu Society said in a news release.

What a demonstration of grace.

I was again reminded of the grief, healing and love poured out by the dear saints and families who suffered the tragedy in Charleston. Their response is the kind of behavior we need to be about as a nation and as the people of God — love in the face of hate! That is Christianity at its best, though again not without great price.

A couple years back as mayor, I met with the Moroccan-born Imam at the Annoor Islamic Center in Clemmons. I found him to be delightful. Then later, when invited to a feast on the grounds, I met a Muslim contractor who was quite helpful and accommodating when we discussed a possible new building for my daughter. Those relationships still stand.

Maybe we just need to share life more often, rather than remaining in silos, in our numerous worship centers.

The Rev. Christopher Burcham, pastor at Union Hill Baptist, deserves quoting once more: “Though we believe Jesus offers the only path to eternal life, we understand that the entire Hindu culture is one of great respect,” Burcham told the Journal. “We believe that Christ calls us to the same respect. As followers of Christ, we would defend their right to practice their faith just as freely (and) without harassment as we would our own.”

This is America, land of the free. Perhaps we need simply to begin living our Christian values, rather than being so quick to criticize those who worship differently.

Love has a way!

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Feeling Uneasy

I awoke quite early this morning, stirred perhaps with what lies before my grandson, at least relative to my own life experience. Not only are we facing a troubling time with global terrorist activity, likely to increase, but it would also seem that few boundaries will exist morally when he begins making conscious decisions about his future and his family. These decisions will either provide a foundation upon which he may pursue personal happiness or will limit him and his potential offspring for their entire life!

As I write, I feel the threat of being criticized and as often I am, being less than politically correct. However, given that “courageous” is the word of the day, I too must speak authentically.

Freedom and liberty to choose should be the right of anyone. That is not what concerns me. It is the moral and social context within which my grandson will have to make those life limiting decisions.

These days, yesterday at the Y for instance, provide dear memories, as I watched a young boy developing. Already I am seeing him demonstrate similar gender preferences as come with the package I identify as maleness. He loves roughhousing, he seems to enjoy his first opportunities to swim, though somewhat distracted by a young girl two months his junior!

Perhaps all this is more us than him, these activities imposed by adoring family members. I know they come with sincere love, striving to provide everything that any young child might otherwise miss growing up. I don’t think this is bad.

Meanwhile, the culture that he will live into now applauds a very confused individual, whose life certainly had a similar front-end experience. With sports activities and the like, he apparently led a life disciplined toward excellence and even Olympic stardom. Yet, something must have gone awry internally at some point. We see a person emerging from “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” not only with stardom but now a new moral martyrdom like appeal. Where are we as a nation, with this sudden infatuation with reality shows? God help if this is reality?

I should leave that alone and count it as ill-advised entertainment, but not when a star emerges, modifies his bodies appearance then professes to have done it on behalf of all the children that might otherwise suffer had he/she not been courageous!

For friends of different sexual orientation, please allow me latitude to authentically express my concerns, regardless of opinion. That is by the way what freedom of speech is about. I am not a hate monger, just a grandfather feeling uneasy with all this.

Though now in my sixties, I remember the days of sexual experimentation, from early introductions to Playboy, drive-in theaters with girls who do and eventually an awareness that not all people play by the same rules when it comes to sexual pleasure. Throw in the challenges of a marriage gone badly, and an unexpected parent suicide. On top of all that, an affair that left a spouse pregnant, one already traumatized by a previous teen abortion. Both of us were young lovers, innocent in our desire to find a handle on life, but tainted by the life events we had been subjected to.

Both of us have now recovered, loving marriages, supportive family and active faith though we seldom see each other. In my life, there is a deep respect for the grounding that moral principles and societal boundaries provided during that time. As I write, my mind’s eye presents a metaphor and a feel for the appreciation one would have for guard rails had they lost control of their car on a high speed interstate. That would be the last place one would want the freedom to go airborne into the unknown woods!

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What is Faith?

Of late I must say that my faith has been tested. I am now 37 years into my calling to “cities.” Each year I have engaged in some way beyond church and personal vocation as a means of following my heart. My faith compels me to engage. I cannot believe that God would enable a broken humanity to organize, to build cities, without caring for those cities and the communities that built them. “Unless the LORD watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain.” (1)

So why has church alone never been enough to “scratch my itch” (a question asked early on by a former pastor)? Churches too often care more for their own than those outside their walls; maybe they are designed as such, refreshing the saints? One has likened this institution to that of an aircraft carrier, where men and women land for refueling and then are sent out with fresh means to minister to their cities. Those “crafts” are few and far between, most over time becoming more like battleships, many sinking!

I can understand how leaders and their congregants get there, for engaging in community is not for the faint at heart. This becomes especially difficult when one runs into believers so set on their own agenda that the last persona they resemble is the Christ. I too have shamefully “resembled that remark.” We are all broken and so brokenness has to be a variable considered when engaging in communities.

I find myself daily questioning my understanding of God. In fact, without questioning and actively pursuing a personal understanding of God, one is apt to just live into the narrative shared by others, which is like walking in a fog. I want to know God, to engage with him as a friend and to allow God to work through me. The quote posted on line by Richard Rohr comes to mind: “I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through.” –Hafiz.

So what is faith and how can I “know” God? My thoughts this morning were shaped in part by the writings of Michael Ramsden, European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries(2) and his reference to the Epistle of The Hebrews. This book has always been a part of my journey, since that day in 1978 when I first received my calling to pursue cities. Hebrews 11:16 was actually the verse to which I opened my Bible each time I was sworn in as Mayor of my community: “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”(3)

This great book starts off with a definition of faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”(4) Faith is not just whatever you want it to be, not what you read that others believe, but what is put in your heart as you personally pursue God. Faith is the outcome from the desires aroused within as one comes before God, humbly transparent about our brokenness and inability to grasp the greatness we have been called to become.

Hebrews then unfolds the remarkable stories of those who lived accordingly, with comment that, without this kind of faith it is impossible to please God! Not that God is cantankerous, but that without this kind of faith journey as humans, we will always fall short. We tend to default to our small self, to be less than what we could be, and contribute less to others than had the desires of our heart been of God!

Our desire is no longer for ourselves, but for a better community, a “better country”, in fact an “heavenly” (16:16). Here is the true evidence of faith, and a people whom “God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he has prepared for them a city.”5

1 Ps 127:1 HCSB.
2 http://us5.campaign-archive1.com/?u=45b75085e6ab57e339ea89d67&id=3bd63b64a1&e=b40a1580c4
3 Hebrews 11:16 KJV.
4 Hebrews 11:1 KJV
5 Hebrews 11:16b KJV.

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The Price of Spiritual Leadership

For many years now I have been fascinated with the volumes of literature around leadership. Raised in a blue collar environment, I was never tutored in the theory, nor had demonstrated, beyond a grassroots level all that was involved in qualifying one as a leader.

Now some forty years into both the study of leadership and participation in multiple levels, I sense quite a gap in our understanding of spiritual and secular leadership.

Though not to boast of any attainment of position as a leader, I have served in a myriad of roles in the church (multiple sizes and denominations), the non-profit/for-profit business world, and even political. All and none of those may qualify one as a spiritual leader. I have seen pastors well-schooled but thin at best in their spiritual grooming and “secular” leaders that were very spiritual but would never perceive that as truth.

We are all spirits, that live within physical tabernacles.  There are no true secular divides, unless one affords that the latter are simply a vacuums, created when the spirit has been denied access (if at all possible).

What has set me off on this tirade? Perhaps my current read through the Old Testament. Being somewhat fundamentalists, I am trying to allow the Holy Spirit to lift my eyes above the text and discern what message might be contained in the “why” of this mysterious book, The Bible.

Why does the Life of Christ seem so counter to the Old Testament Laws of God? How is it that the tiring ceremony described in the Old Testament, so embodies the Christ? Is our religious need for literal understanding of the ceremony and our unguarded respect for the Canon, somehow blocking the true depth of the message?

These questions are not new, but seemed glaring this morning as I read through Numbers, particularly in the chapters dealing with Tabernacle leadership. The Nazarite vows and the offerings required of the leaders within the tabernacle, for sure caught my attention. Twelve times the scribe reiterates the same descriptions of offerings required for each of the twelve leaders. Why all this redundancy? Why all this necessary activity in the Tabernacle?  There must be answers? Perhaps some scholar will respond?

Is there an element to spiritual development for which only frustrating repetition and seemingly ridiculous requirements are necessary given our fallen race? Were these ceremonial rites of little importance to God beyond setting up the Messiah’s entry? If so, why did it require the death of those who violated ceremony?

Growing ones hair and beard, avoidance of any wine or grape products; then, shaving all ones hair and burning it in some ritual at the end of the period of the vow, a testimony of separation to God (spiritual leadership)?  Just ruminating on what that poor spirit was going through to please a deity quite different than was required by the Christ.  He turned water to wine for the simple purpose of aiding a celebration. He seemed to show up at parties with a fervent disdain for religion? “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” Our response, crucifixion!

Is religion our best attempt at explaining the phenomenal moments history has recorded among spiritual people?   Perhaps religion is only a tool used by a loving God, hard in pursuit of developing our spirits at the expense of physical comfort, yet over emphasized by us, given our ego and jaded image of God?

All this rambling also has context in a serious moment with a dear friend, the closest yet to a scholar with whom I have ever associated. Raised in the tradition of the Old Testament, he is now suffering in a very dark place. When we talk however, great joy seems to arise in our spirits, as if God is up to something that might set this man apart as a leader in ways not yet experienced; though among his peers, he is quite the leader already!

You gotta wonder, if religion, just like dis-ease is required to frustrate man toward God and the Christ?  Our response perhaps a demonstration of just how difficult we can make this for our Father!

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A Robe, a Ring and a Role

For several days now I have contemplated my role in life going forward. This Red Zone era of aging is an amazing gift. One has had plenty of time to fail, life’s greatest teacher! It’s the slow process of getting back up that affords one a true measure of their inner self.

Likewise, with aging, the number of unique people with whom one has been allowed to interact builds quite a wealth of skills. The latter can offer a seductive tendency to manipulate others; but through grace can also afford a deep empathy for one’s own brokenness.  Brokenness is perhaps the only salve sufficient for the wounds of the sage; for sure the source of any wisdom.

My title comes from Luke’s Gospel, the parable of the prodigal, an amazing story of the Father’s love. In my mind, it has always provided an image of a compassionate responsible elder, standing in the middle of a dusty road awaiting the return of the long lost son whom he has never stopped loving.

A truly repentant son is gathered in the arms of this remarkable Dad, who then lavishes the irresponsible one with blessing. What an image of the God whom Christ demonstrated. I picture the son’s face buried in the bosom of his Dad, instructions being given simultaneously. “Bring the best robe, kill the fatted calf,” the one recently stalled for this highly anticipated and well discerned moment.

A signet ring is then placed on the vagabond’s finger and new sandals provided for his worn, tired feet; by now, bathed and massaged by the very fingers of the father.

Almost instantly the young man is restored!  His outer appearance has quickly gone from soiled rags to royal garments.  His authority has been reinstated, all signs of poverty long gone, the full influence of his father is now his!

Ironically, I am not as young as I was the first time I read this story, nor perhaps did I fully grasp its truths. Yet, the beauty is that those truths transcend time. What once brought a sense of privilege to a young man in his twenties, now speaks to that same man in his sixties. This time however, my role has changed. I am no longer the prodigal son, but the man in the middle of the road, offering solace and grace to those desiring to return to the Father.

Perhaps my learnings can bring value, though never quite sufficient to repay the loss that might otherwise have been prevented had I returned “home” whole or had never left!

Aging has a way of bringing perspective.  God help me to live into it!

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