The Spirit of Sampson

Twice this morning I have sat down at my workstation to capture a moment of closure.  Ironically it has been exactly 30 years since we began a journey that would eventually lead us to uproot ourselves professionally, leave a newly constructed home and set out on what has been one of the most exciting and productive times of our lives as a couple.  Not sure how all this has felt to my only child, though life seems to be working well for her.

 

Life is about transitions, the word we often use to describe the inevitable adjustments to the constant of change.  What we make of those adjustments can determine long term outcomes, good and bad.  The best response is to move into the flow, which always leads to transformation.

 

As has been the case with my professional life for 44 years, my parallel journey through scripture has always been equally providential in its timing.  This morning I was reading in Judges 13-16, the story of Sampson.  His life both in terms of weakness and calling, have always spoken to me.  Being a visionary, I have often had moments where scriptural stories would literally play on the screen of my mind, providing critical markers, junction points of decision in my life.  Such has been the story of Sampson.

 

Of course everyone would desire their life be marked with heroic acts, like ripping apart a lion or slaying 1000 men with the jawbone of an ass.  That has not been the case, unless perhaps I capitalize on a play on words, referencing the moments where with “foot in my mouth,” the words from my “jaws” have made me appear more like the animal referenced!

 

Once we made the decision to risk all in 1987, and began a journey toward a new town, Winston-Salem, with little promise of exercising our calling, things began to move at a rapid pace.   That is the nature of transformation; all this was affirmed this a.m. as I read through the first few pages of my hard back paper journal, now within months of being a 30 year old document!

 

I have always been a slow learner when it comes to change, a trait one would think unlikely for a visionary.  That comes from a deep commitment to vision (strength that becomes weakness) and loyalties gained over time, which often must slowly erode before one is able to move on.  Pardon my candor, by no means meant to harm but in hopes that this blog, which has now for eight years served as my journal, will somehow serve others, who may come behind me.  Transparency and accountability are cousins, if not sisters, to truth telling.

 

Back to Samson, I can recall my conversation with the Lord, as I was driving up Highway 52, some years later, having cut our final ties with the city of Lexington, which we still love.  My case with the Lord, as I struggled with the loneliness of the new, was the stability and opportunity the school system had offered my family, emerging positions of leadership and influence, let alone full retirement in only 10 years!

 

It was then, on a stretch of concrete near the Akron Drive exit, the aforementioned video began to play; I literally watched as a blind, tired Sampson, walking in circles, enslaved by and harnessed to a grist mill, ground someone else’s grain! (Judges 16:21)

 

The option posed by the Spirit was whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life grinding someone else’s “grain” in return for subsistence, or would I rather follow him?  My decision was swift, though I somehow knew that my friend would have blessed either had I stumbled.

 

From that day forward my prayer has been, not only that I know the freedom to make wise decisions long before this level of crisis, but also maintain the valor of this man Sampson, when it came time to make such transformational plays.

 

Though Sampson lived in a much more primitive time, my heart cry since that “video” has always been that should I ever find myself in a spot in my life where my efforts were of value only as entertainment, that God would provide an exit strategy, a last and perhaps sovereign leadership moment!

 

This post is about the hope and new sense of calling that transitions often provide.  Could this morning’s sense of closure actually be further fulfillment of a transformation begun 30 years ago and in fact, the grandest moment of my calling?   This morning confirmed that journaling is a valuable tool for hindsight and affirmation..

 

God give me the ears of Sampson, discernment for the moment, and the companion (“not by might nor power, but by His Spirit”) willing to guide this now aged servant toward just the place where those now allegorical, yet critical “temple pillars stand”, and then may I, like Sampson, push with all my might!

 

 

 

Cabin Fever and the Golden Calf

First snow fall 2010Perhaps this ultra-cold weather, the snow and ice now blanketing the Piedmont have finally gotten to me!  The harsh weather provides more indoor time to catch up on outstanding business and volunteer paperwork, so thinking now seems to kick in hard as I read and study!

 

As well, my annual read through scriptures has me with Aaron, the associate pastor of a church that had just crossed the Red Sea!  Those folk had seen God do some powerful things. 
Meanwhile their Senior Pastor was away for some prolonged time with God in the mountains.

 

I hope my more conservative readers are no more offended by my tongue in cheek approach today, than other brothers and sisters might be when I express my thoughts about Meryl Streep’s recent monologue.  I think there are connections and a truth for the people of this polarized nation, who like those of Exodus, may have lost their way, if not their minds!

 

Meryl, a favorite actor of mine, said some pretty provocative things; truth in part, though my review of her acceptance speech was after the fact.  I cherish the arts, but Hollywood has never been where I go for moral direction.  I’ll have to admit, her comment about our President-elect and people of power giving permission, especially before children, for the hideous mockery of a disabled journalist and the lack of diplomacy witnessed from our soon to be “Tweeter in Chief” is so on the mark.   I too am a product of the public schools and a 20 year veteran public educator, so I appreciated the implications there.

 

Again, Meryl is a favorite, but her physical audience was also likely represented by people of influence whose lifestyles and commitments to home, family and marriage may give equal permission for our poor behavior as a nation.

 

My objective is neither to criticize Meryl Streep nor Donald Trump, but rather “like a blow to the skull” awaken our citizens; my grandchildren’s lives are at stake.

 

My question is how in God’s name (In God We Trust) did we get here?  Your question is what does this have to do with a Golden Calf?

 

Keep reading.
First, where did Aaron learn this behavior and why would he (Ex. 32:1-5) choose gold to represent the God who had not many days past, provided a wind that literally walled up the water of the Red Sea.  Then to boot, the Egyptians even attempted to follow in their horse drawn chariots through what was apparently dry land!  Looking back over their shoulders, they witnessed the timely release of those pent up waves, swallowing up their enemy.  BAM!

 

Whether you believe these stories to be literal or myth, let’s not lose focus of the principle, though my thinking out loud this morning seems less than laser-like!  
BTW, believing the Biblical stories of scripture, in this bizarre moment for our nation seems to have little implication about one’s discernment of the Divine.  Given that 87% white evangelicals voted for Trump.  Then however, many a believer on the other side will see Meryl Streep’s speech as long overdue and possibly from heaven above! 
The people if God are divided like no other period in my lifetime!

 

Back to the story, Moses has a definite personnel challenge on his hands, one that had its roots in him “convincing God” that stuttering was a problem before a Pharaoh.  Now in his absence, Aaron seems to throw him under the bus by saying: “As for this fellow Moses who brought us out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”  Wow!

 

Something had definitely gone undetected by this “on the move” Senior Pastor.  The fact that it culminates in a Golden Calf, causes me to think that materialism had slowly become a problem within their spiritual culture.  Hello!

 

After all, in an attempt to stop the death of their firstborn children, this congregation of former slaves had been so favored by the Egyptians (Ex 12:35-36), that they were laden with an abundance of gold and silver; sufficient for them to be deluded into believing material assets could represent the highest blessing, if not their best likeness of their Red Sea God!

 

Not really sure about the calf image, unless their doctrine was out of focus as well?  Well there we are?  Can I get a witness?

 

They were so gullible as to gather early the next day, hold a church service, sacrifice their burnt offerings (I just lost my PETA readers), offer fellowship offerings and a pot luck dinner where they “sat down to eat and drink and got up in revelry.” (Ex. 32:6).  Where were the Elders of this “city” of people, and why were they not troubled the night before?

 

Moses was apparently the true called out one, though the lineage of the Levites would soon give way to Judah, The Lion.  Yet, his writings would forever stand in stark contrast to the higher expectations and teachings of Christ, though God would use the beauty of the arts (Meryl) to capture and communicate the subtle overtones of grace (Ex. 31:4-5).

 

God’s direction to Moses: “Go down (the mountain) because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.”   Could this be a word to the American Church, as well as Hollywood?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Even a Wayfaring Fool!

 

rublevs-the-trinity

Here I sit, once more struggling with transparency, as with wonder, I reenter my annual read through of the Word!  Now endowed with almost seven decades of life and forty plus years of scripture reads, I still find challenges as I sort through the filters of numerous pastors, a plethora of books and my rich life experiences!

 

What is the life learning, if any, that I will leave to those behind me?

 

I had not traveled far into this year’s read before I was dumbstruck!  Hearing as it seemed for the first time, the deep agony in the voice of the Creator as he begs of a fallen Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?”

 

For some of my readers, this text no longer merits literal, biographical evidence of the plight of the first two human beings on earth. However you unpack scripture, my point is, the alignment of these stories with my own personal journey is to revealing to disregard.

 

In God’s comments to Adam, I hear the pain of a friend, even closer a father, who knows that something dreadfully unnecessary has happened to the one He loves.  I have to think about a moment I shared with my Dad, the morning I revealed to him that my first marriage had just taken an irreconcilable hit!  He took me to his own bedroom, the place so personal to him and my mom, almost sanctuary-like when entered as a child.  He knew his 22 year old son was having one of those naked moments that life hands us all, and all too often!

 

The need for this post began several days ago, and until now I have said little about it. Yet, this morning as I moved on through the story of Abraham, I heard this same paternal dialogue repeated in the story of the testing on Mt. Moriah.  Tradition attributes the writing of Genesis to Moses.  From his point of view, this was a test of loyalty to a God that demanded sacrifices.  I have to believe that in some way sin creates that demand, while our Creator weeps at times, though somehow sovereignly separated from full intervention?  Still yet, through the Canon of Scripture, God has mysteriously and miraculously revealed His true nature in these stories recorded by broken men and women.

 

The story of Abraham is amazingly parallel with so many of us.  We set out to fulfill the “calling of God” with hearts laden with promises, that at some point in time will seem impossible.  Abraham like so many still devises means by which to accomplish these promises, all of which only compound his challenges. Abraham was well-intended in his decision to raise his nephew Lot after his brother Haran dies; ingenious in his attempts to protect his beautiful wife Sara when King Abimelech came around; not to speak of his stellar agreement to take Hagar as surrogate for the sake of offspring and certainly courageous in his commitment to offer his only son on Moriah!

 

“Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.’”1 Perhaps his failed attempts at “serving God” had brought him to the point that such a request seemed reasonable?  Many a radical, yes even in our day, has made this same mistake in the name of religion.

 

Let’s circle back to the words of this compassionate God in the garden, “Who told you that you were naked.”  Something had so tarnished the conscience of Creation, that a redemptive journey would be necessary, such that “wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.”2 The beloved Peter, and later John the Revelator, hints that God foreknew what would happen, even before Creation was birthed on this very globe, to which as the story goes, Satan had been banished.  “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”3   It causes one to wonder if the real drama is not occurring in the heavens, while those who chose to participate, though they suffer violence at times, are well guarded actors in some plot that proves the power of love!

 

So here we sit, naked, striving to please a God who two centuries ago showed up with His Gospel of Love!.  His response to the most sinful was “Go and sin no more” and to the most religious, “you vile hypocrites!”

 

I’ll leave this post with a couple simple question: Was Moriah simply one more story, as God further unpacks His counter to the demands of sin ?  Daily, he takes the heavy pile of dead wood, our works destroyed, and places them on the shoulders of His only Son, the Ram, caught in the thicket of our madness.

 

Was Moriah a test of Abraham’s loyalty?  Moses called it that.  The irony is that when the true sacrifice showed up in the only Son of God, unlike Abraham who recognized the Ram, we knowingly followed through with a crucifixion!

 

His response to our sin: a resurrection!  Selah!

 

1 Genesis 22:2 NIV

2 Isaiah 35:8 KJV

3 I Pet 1:20 NLT

A Hunger Still Resides

2010-12-04_14-02-24_377

 

Given my tirades over the current model of church and the fact that I probably offended the majority of my pastor friends, I felt compelled to express the fact that there are seasons when folk fondly referred to as “Chreasters,” do return to church. Christmas and Easter have for centuries re-inspired the masses!

There seems always an underlying hope and hunger, regardless of where one lives or even one’s religion?  As the writer of Ecclesiastes states, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.”  Ecc. 3:11b.

Though at times it seems that St. Nicholas and retail America have been more a part of preserving this Holy-day than the churches, nevertheless when given a chance, people still flock to celebrate this grand tradition of lights, giving, and in our neck of the woods, Candlelight Services.  Christmas Carols are made new every season as radio stations hurriedly slip into the season the day after Thanksgiving!

Through the ages, the thought seems to beg our awareness that out there somewhere, in the now myriad of galaxies, dwells a Being far more powerful than the rich and famous, more loving than the best of Mom’s, while surpassing the capacity of the most enterprising Dad.  Even the Atheist is driven to argument!

Our falling short of the minimum goals we set for ourselves, let alone what scripture explains as the expectations of God, has driven the religious throughout the millennia to describe the need for a sacrifice(s) to appease this Being.  The beauty of Christianity is that this very One, lovingly offers to become that sacrifice!

Preserved in the Jewish tradition is the need for a lamb without blemish; perhaps what our self-righteousness would require in return for our repeated sins?  I believe God knew this about His Creation, and before the foundation of the Earth, foreordained that He would become flesh, the sinless sacrifice!  His demonstrated unattainable sinlessness, validated by his power over the very Laws of Nature, and salted with unending compassion for the outcast, would enrage the self-righteous.

This Babe of Bethlehem, as prophesied by the Prophet Micah, and announced to shepherds, would grow up a common man nearby Jerusalem. Later as a sacrificial Lamb, would be led to slaughter just outside the Holy City, by the very ones “called” to enforce the unattainable requirements of the Law.  God ever uses religion, though often contrarian to the ways of the religious.

The story goes that wise men, Magi from the East, brought gifts from afar, gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil.  Each perhaps symbolic of who this holy child would become, how his life would end and ours would be redeemed!  What a gift!

Merry Christmas, to all!

The Crisis of Choice – The Chaos of Change

coffee-cup-1350307722zz7When I began this series last Monday, I had no idea that it would have the impact on my life that it now has.  What began as a typical Monday morning season of prayer for spiritual orientation before the phone starts to ring, may have now become a life changer?

I am almost nine years into a Word spoken to me on December 28, 2008, “My Church is in Foreclosure.”  Since that time, I have been amazed at the struggle within the Body of Christ, as so many have watched the industry of church (little “c”) undergo enormous change, and in some cases church campuses have actually closed down. Yet, anytime significant change occurs, especially in established institutions, the faithful fight ‘til the end.  I am included in that lot, believe it or not!

Most of my adult life has been given to the Church and unlike many who migrate throughout the institution seeking comfort, I have chosen to suffer through crisis after crisis, serving only two; one rather small rural and one mini-mega.  However, I have consulted with numerous denominations and in several states, the challenges all seem similar, which has implications for the model.

When I first “heard” that Word from the Lord (I believe He still speaks), I recall flinching at the thought that such a harsh word would now be mine to communicate.  That was when the gentle Savior I have come to know, took me immediately to Revelation Chapter 5.  If you have been reading my posts long, you may have already beat me to the punch! Though I knew little more than a title for this post when I started this series last Monday, my devotional read today has me at that same place as in 2008!

“Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.  And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”  But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.  I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.  Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”1

“Deeds to property would often have a brief description of the contents on the outside, visible without opening it, and details on the inside. It is not unreasonable to see the scroll as a sort of “title deed to the universe”, as it was written both on the outside and on the inside. This theory explains John’s consternation when no one was found worthy to open the scroll: the contents of the scroll are not a mystery to John, because he has read the brief description on the outside of the scroll and knows that it is the document that proves God’s ownership of the universe. If no one were able to open it, would the world continue as it was without God’s intervention; would there be no relief or justice for the martyrs? Happily, Jesus was worthy to open it, being perfect in justice and in mercy, in authority and in humility.”2

 

After reading several Theologians’ thoughts on the significance of the scroll, this seemed to make sense to me.   What originally came as a startling statement of rebuke had become a very rational and loving declaration.  It makes sense, when an institution designed to be salt and light gets as far off course as the American Church, why would the rightful owner, “the prince of the kings of the earth”3, not reclaim and transform it for His purposes?

In fact, it appears that every 500 years or so the church is due a reformation; the last occurred in 1517!

Change is not without crisis.  Just Google “Chaos Theory”: “the branch of mathematics that deals with complex systems whose behavior is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences.

These are exciting times, why not begin to think differently, even ask the Lord, “if we as a congregation were willing to give up everything that we have built over time, even change how we do church, what might that look like?

I was thinking about content for this final post yesterday as I was blowing leaves.  An analogy for the church came to mind.  I love the Church and I love coffee; drinking my second cup as I write.  When I get a bad cup, I don’t decide to quit coffee, I consider new beans!

Maybe you should try an intermittent Latte (for us Pentecostals, a little Pumpkin Spice) and at times a new Barista.  Yet, these are at best temporary fixes, if what you really need is a completely new model of coffee maker!

1 Revelation 5 NIV.

2 http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/6129/what-is-on-the-sealed-scroll-in-revelation-5-8

3 Revelations 1:5b KJV.

The Place of Separation – a line in the sand!

Church Refuges

I must say that yesterday’s post was very uncomfortable for me and though not intended personal, may have felt that way for anyone serving with me over the last 40 years!  Why did I write it, perhaps spiritually compelled in this current series?  From a prayerful and precious Manger Moment (see initial post), I was led toward an overwhelming awareness of where we are in the Body of Christ. It would be a difficult moment, if held accountable, to explain the gap between the profession of the Church and the condition of our nation.

For those End Times advocates, I would ask, have we allowed prophesy to become nothing more than justification for our failure, rather than the Divine caution intended, if we fail at delivering the Good News?   Have we truly been salt & light in this nation?

Yesterday’s stinging rant was constructive only if we can now move toward the Crisis of Choice.  I have not yet written that post, yet each day my devotions seems to further this series like trajectory . When I picked up on my annual progressive read through scripture this morning, I found the Lord’s rebuke of the church of Laodicea: “ I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” 1

Last Sunday, I listened as my own pastor (a most difficult task I am sure) masterfully unpacked the language of the Lord’s Prayer, specifically around, “lead us not into temptation.”  Here the lexicon tracts us back to the days of the Exodus, and a place called Massah.  “And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”2   Taking one step further, the prayer can be interpreted, lead us not to a place of suspicion.  They doubted Moses leadership, even after witnessing and walking through walls of water, as the Dead Sea opened up as dry land!

This is uncomfortable for me!

Life and leadership has its pitfalls and perils.  How does one walk the sacred life journey with passion, recognizing their own warts and failures, while sharing responsibility for collective decisions made on their watch?  Still, one must be sensitive and quick to move, so as not to miss moments for strategic corrective action; and yes, while living above cynicism and suspicion!  Quite the task, this leadership (and follow-ship) thing!

As I reflect on the moment, where our nation is politically, socially and economically, the challenges are great.  Yet it is in perilous times that leadership has its greatest opportunity.

As I ended my last post, much too long for a blog, hopefully my readers took the time to glance over the report cited. 3   Putnam’s “scissor graphs” make apparent the existing wealth gap and the growing socio-economic divide, often a consequence of housing.  Unfortunately, many neighborhoods are left blighted as upwardly mobile individuals move out.  Poverty then compounds its misery with issues of family structure, absentee fathering, etc., posing quite the dilemma for children trapped in this population; among which we find one third of our highest performers!

Though it is not the mission of the Church to remedy all social ills, its role is not simply to get people safely into the next world.  Our mission is to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  Dr. Putnam’s book “Our Kids” and data from others seem to imply that we are at a crucial juncture in America.

Putnam’s recommendation is Universal Early Childhood Education.  He proposes (with optimism) that we were at this same place in the late 1890’s!  The wealthy could provide higher learning opportunities for their children, while the majority of the working class had little or no option. Out of that came the universal high school and an economic boon which followed.  The risk of similar return on investment seems much better odds than business as usual, with an estimated 5 Trillion Dollar load that will follow, if we do nothing more than continue our “toxic charity.”  Bam!

How does this relate to Church?  I recall our own North Carolina Governor, James Hunt sharing with me personally, after being involved in his signature program, Smart Start.  He was excited about the differences we were making in Forsyth County through a church collaborative with a local Family Resource Center.  His thoughts, the best childcare in N.C. can be found in churches…and the worst childcare in NC can be found in churches.  It depends on whether the funding and staffing are the result of a sense of call to missions, or as an income generator to subsidize existing facilities.  Our own center, then serving 1000 indigent families eventually closed after the mild recession of 2001!  Hello!

We can do better than this, for where there is true vision, there is provision!  It will however, require new models, higher levels of community collaboration, perhaps even mergers of small competitive churches.  

More often than not, we compete among ourselves, with church resources drained by the needs of ill-placed pastors or a few aged and often related families living in denial!  Brick and mortar assets in most cases were originally intended for Kingdom Business.   When the culture shifts, and the market changes, as with any business, new models are needed.  Often in the marketplace, facilities are merged or “branches” liquidated for the sake of the greater good!

I dream of such a day for the Church!

To be continued…

1 Rev 3:15

2 Exodus 17:7

3 https://www.theopportunitygap.com/the-report/

 

Herding that Hurts!

Scapegoat

I apologize for the poignant photo above, it seemed unavoidable to my conscience as I searched media files to best capture this post!

This past week has been quite interesting, in that I have consistently felt the need each morning to continue unpacking my 43 years of church hindsights.  My main objective, as noted in my first post,  A Manger Moment, has been an emphasis on being real with each other, while maintaining a personal intimacy with God.  That is no easy road!

I had hoped to cultivate an awareness of how easily reconstructed is the now symbolic “veil of separation” modeled in the Old Testament Holy Place.  That veil symbolized our sin and separation from a Holy God.  It was intentionally “rent in twain” by God at the very moment of crucifixion!  That must have made such a powerful statement to the reigning High Priest the first time he noticed that top to bottom tear!  Perhaps evoking a similar reaction as recorded from one of the guards  responsible for the crucifixion: “Surely, this was the Son of God!” as the rocks split and darkness fell!

Like the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum, it now seems, that all I needed to avoid I may have learned in the more dysfunctional moments of my years of service in the institutional church.  I know that is harsh, but being real in the Body of Christ is often difficult, given the politics of many of our  little “c” churches. Interesting to the “world” I am sure, given that one of our major tenants is unity and repentance!

Any time a group of people circle their wagons around certain opinions, especially those “Biblically framed” there comes a resistance to any voice not of the same opinion.  Just ask Jan Hus c. 1372 – 6 July 1415, burned at the stake for insisting that both elements of communion be shared with his Czech believers.  I should now be more forgiving of myself and those with whom I have served.  I am sure at the time we were all well-meaning and mostly naïve; but, even subtle agreement to less than full transparency always leads more toward darkness than light!  I trust the reader will allow that of me as we move forward?

Maybe this series is about my own repentance.  Ironically, in my annual read through scriptures, I find myself this week in The Revelation, with John’s stinging record of the Lord’s Word to the seven angels of the then seven churches.

Has this practice of holding dear to our opinions regarding major tenants of the Church been error for all these years?  I doubt it, for many sins are cited by John the Revelator as requiring firm stands!  The thought here might be as simple as reexamining the model, especially the hierarchical structure which we continue to hold fast; a leadership style that now seems to be failing us, even in the market place.  In a nation once majority Christian, many of our community leaders, at least among those boomers still anchoring our society, must have learned much of their leadership practices in church; fortunately for the church, those skills are now being honed by academia and the workplace and questioned by Millennials!

Allow me to reference Fulghum’s  aforementioned reflections on Kindergarten;his first seven being:

  1. Share everything.
  2. Play fair.
  3. Don’t hit people.
  4. Put things back where you found them.
  5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
  6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.1

Why do we struggle so hard in the face of long proffered concepts like the priesthood of believers?  I certainly believe in leadership and the diversity of administrative gifts (my own training), but not when used to herd people toward personal agendas, often undisclosed, while many good men and women “fall by the wayside.”  In such a system, churches splinter, new plants proliferate and precious resources are scattered, both human and financial.

Religion apart from a personal intimacy that demands full disclosure and openness to the thoughts of others is flat out dangerous.  Too often I have gritted by teeth in hopes that the heart of those I have served would prove true in the end, while many, who’s hearts I equally trusted were threatened for their disruption of  “unity”; more often from an agenda laden leadership, than an honest attempt at nurturing spiritual health.

I must wonder how a country that encourages religious freedom and worship as a unifying factor can produce the numbers of churches that dot our landscape.  Should not those called to cherish such principles in the name of God, stay at the table until love has had her full work in our hearts?  Would not such devotion to each other allow congregations, as well as individuals, to grow in character by way of the sufferings and the joys of true transparency?

I am convinced that we have missed something strategic about the Thursday night gathering before Christ’s crucifixion.  There at the table, prepared earlier for the Passover feast, a religious custom kept my most since early childhood, Jesus begins to “read their mail.”  Frankly, as he so often does still today in our prayers!  He lovingly unpacked the personal challenges many would face going forward, prophecies of a future to which they were clueless.

The Gospels record a moment where He brings the disciples and perhaps a few others into a crescendo of transparency.  While they are experiencing the deep and painful community, so critical to birthing the Early (suffering) Church, Jesus seizes the moment, in a setting deeply ingrained in them by religion.  Paul also records the moment as Jesus reaches for the cup, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 2

This was not something new he was asking them to do, though certainly adding an additional meaning to this sacred practice.  I think at least in part, his “do this…in remembrance of me” may have been accompanied by an additional action.  I can see him, cup in hand, widening his arms, as he emphasizes this intense moment of deep community, true communion, strategically facilitated on the night before his betrayal.

To the contemporary church, his message might be twofold: first of course, the cup and the now convenient wafer, a sacrifice that absolves of us sin.  However, let me suggest a second, that  the “do this” was a reiteration of focus for both priest and parishioner upon true community, transparency, even confession of sins one to another.

We move too rapidly through our schedule communion, an error now reflected in the fragmentation of our churches, divisions across our greater community; and yes, even a thickening curtain of blindness among congregational leadership, as reflected recently in our national politics.  Please keep reading!

Why would I pursue such a conversation, one that risks airing dirty laundry?   Sin, our falling short of the glory of God, has consequences.  I humbly believe we are seeing that in our nation as we speak.  This most recent election has brought such division across America, a divide that continues to cut across the Body of Christ.  So many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, Protestant, and Catholic, black and white, rich and poor are now troubled by that divide.  I certainly wish our President Elect, his cabinet and congress well, though that is not my point in this series of blogs.  Rather a challenge to the Body of Christ to look again at what happens when we accommodate comfort, isolation in some cases and even blind unity, at the risk of being real with our brokeness!  Does this behavior not serve to reconstruct the religious veil of separation that Calvary “rent in twain from the top to the bottom”?

Love must be vulnerable and Body Life is always at risk, when we allow thin threads of personal preference and doctrinal opinion to separate us. Herding together under the pretense of unity, is often no more than a thinly veiled power play or naïve avoidance of a most necessary hurting together for the sake of the truth.  Left unresolved, this religious fabric thickens, soon qualifying more as a curtain of separation than some thinly veiled opinion.  Left unaddressed, we no longer will have church splits only, but civil unrest, underserved communities, and an opportunity gap that eventually costs more than our national debt can bear!  According to Robert Putnam and others, we are there once more! 3

 To be continued…

1 https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2399046-all-i-really-need-to-know-i-learned-in-kindergarten 

2 I Cor. 11:25b, KJV

3 https://www.theopportunitygap.com/the-report/