Wouldn’t it be nice

Read this at Pirate Christian Radio which claims to be free from the scurvy plagues of pop-psychology, goofy fads, self-help, pietism, purpose-drivenism, the prosperity heresy, contemplative mysticism, seeker-sensitivism, liberalism, relevantism, Emergent nonsense, and the sissy girly Oprah-fied religiosity that is being passed off as “Biblical Christianity”..

I don’t know if PCR is all that or not, but it sounds awesome.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Church could be like that, focused on Christ, on love and truth, simple worship and the things that matter?

K, so you were expecting this, right?

Keep 6

Did you ever use Sunday for resting, or for what I like to call sabbathing? I know, it’s radical, and somehow it sounds wimpy – to rest instead of work. Sounds crazy. Most of my life I spent the sabbath (or the sabbath replacement – Sunday) working like a dog because I was the pastor. Based on years of tradition I thought that I, as a Christian, was obliged to do so.  And when not pastoring I felt constrained to do some form of labor on Sunday for “God’s sake.” But what if we started doing something totally radical: using Sunday to do the 4th Commandment.

I know you could question my motives, “Mark, you’re older now and are seeing things differently because you need a little more down time.” Or you could point out that my week is more physically demanding than in recent years. But I’m not saying we all need a shorter work week. Nor do most of us need a better excuse for being idly self-adsorbed. I’m saying that God’s idea of resting a day is a pretty good idea. Oh wait, it isn’t an idea, it is a commandment. A commandment many religious leaders absolve us of cause we’re not Jewish.  In God’s week resting is doing something, it’s ceasing to labor for our own successes and celebrating about the Creator and his creation.

Taking a whole day to do what? Well, to savor what God did or is doing. Get a kick out of Creation. The possibilities of a day spent for this are endless. Think about it, spending a day enjoying what you love about God’s universe.

It’s worship. I mean what kind of person would give a whole day to sabbathing away from the personal profit treadmill? Answer: a worshiper. Isaiah’s admonition is a serious one but the outcomes are all positive: “If you watch your step on the Sabbath and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage, If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy, God’s holy day as a celebration, If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’making money, running here and there—  Then you’ll be free to enjoy God! Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all. (Is 58:13-14).  Yeah, it should be a God thing. A day on the golf course may not be an act of worship for some of us. And, yes, the idea has been perversely used and abused, how many people in religious bondage fear hell because they missed church. Oi! Jesus’ attitude towards the religious bondage crowd was unambiguous enough (eg. Luke 13). In Genesis 2 the language is about rest and refreshing.  Did God get jazzed just admiring the world? What did He see and think as he rested before his finished creation? Biblical examples of sabbathing involved people and feasting, celebrating and enjoying – what some of us would define as partying.

For some, church and sabbath are synonyms.  And for some church is the perfect place for sabbathing.  I can’t say that it is for me.  Maybe it’s because church is so focused on church success themes, and its own needs and traditions and dreams. Work. Or maybe it’s me, maybe I come preloaded with a church-business mindset, or is it the hectic part of getting myself and kids – etc. there on time? Surrendering the day to sabbathing changes it. Worship, fellowship, sharing can all become exciting, real, personal things done for no other reason than celebrating God and his very cool creation.

What if we stepped out of the same old business-as-usual and spent the day finding new ways to enjoy the finished creation and its Creator. What am I saying? I’m just saying that the 4th Commandment, like  the other nine, is a good thing and as a worshiper you will be much enriched by giving it its place in your life. Maybe you should step out of the rat race, the Christian rat race as well, and rest on the day of rest, enjoy the creation just for the joy of it.

The Sunday Show

It was like this. A decade ago. It’s Sunday, I am in church.  The chair I am sitting in is comfortable, clearly made with a guy like me in mind. In fact, everything is nice. And like all the other people around me I am sitting up straight and willingly/unwillingly participating in a kind of mass karaoke. The music is a little annoying genre-wise, but hey it’s church, and again, everything is nice. Everything is also well-coordinated, almost scripted, there are no disturbances and all the energies are thematically focused. The presentation is very pleasing. The singers are good. The guys are a little wussy but tolerable. The girls on the stage are probably screened/coached for the attractive female factor. Not in a sexual or indecent way, it is more like being in a Target commercial. It’s very visual. There is no question that this event is engineered with people like me in mind. Sometimes it’s not bad to be in someone’s target audience.

Easily bored I start admiring the facility itself. Sheesh. This place is set up like the USS Enterprise. Lighting, acoustics, visuals, color –  wow.  I was honestly impressed by this modern fusion of practicality and plenty.

And then it hit me; the answer to a mystery that has bugged me since I was ten. I know that Christian groups have gone to war with each other occasionally but I’ve always had a hard time connecting with why. Suddenly, sitting here in the coolest place in town I realize that there is a boatload of fortune to be had in the good will of the faithful masses. And it occurred to me that I was receiving a demographic smooze as a potential supporter of this sub-cultural phenomenon. but then a caveat occurs to me as I begin to realize that I am sitting here, comforted and entertained in the name of a Cause that defines itself by personal sacrifice. I don’t want to sound morose or introspective, really I’m not, but something about this makes me uncomfortable.

If that  hour on Sunday was used as a device to create connections to our neighbors, and if we used those connections to win and disciple each other, that would be OK. That would be better than OK, that would be fantastic. By all means then, use every thing we’ve got to introduce the un-redeemed to the Christ. But that has never been the reality in any place I have seen. And I think it’s because we are sold out to the enterprise of animating our heritage instead of healing the train-wreck messed-up upside-down un-redeemed lives all around.

It made me flash back to another church I visited many years ago in Valparaiso, In. There was nothing comfortable about it. The music was a cross between Garage and World beat, a lot of talent but not a stellar mix.  The room was full of distractions. The facility was a converted supper club, oddly arranged but working. It felt organized, organized like an avalanche. One look at the crowd and I felt like I was with my messed up neighbors. No one was dressed for church. It was as culturally diverse as the city it was in, which was a lot. It was obvious that the reason for being there was defined differently than other churches in the neighborhood. There was no sense of the usual “it’s out there and we’re getting some too” attitude (spoken or unspoken) about prosperity, nor did I sense the churchy attitude that considers the whole sordid hell-bound world too nasty to touch. There was more a sense of “we’d give it all without regret.”  And it seemed like almost every one had bought into that philosophy, from the goth-ish teenagers in the hallway to the 50 something white guy in the first aisle seat. They must talk  a lot about being unselfish. I felt welcome. It was easy to imagine Jesus as being very comfortable here. I mean, less role-playing more candor, less protocol more conversation, less spectacle more rapport, less membership driven more people driven, less marketing more loving. And it was growing like crazy. I miss that.

I’m know that what happens in a public meeting, at least as far as a church is concerned, is only a the tip of the iceberg regarding the true character of the group. If that does not feel at all like Jesus, what lies under the surface?

Jesus just doesn’t seem very membership driven to me, at least not in the way we are defining church membership. I think it would be better to define him as disciple driven, and so his hand-picked men. They did seem to have a sense that there was not a city on the earth whose inhabitants were not in God’s plan. And probably for that reason their “churches” were familiar to the people they gathered. Sadly, my city is like most cities, most of the churches are more about the church than the inhabitants of the city. Church growth is the same old dance of winning Christians to the churches. Winning them to churches that are more modern and better led than the last one. Even our missions have a popularity/marketing factor. At the other end of the pendulum, there are the stodgy and stale, pretending that things don’t change. I can understand the drift of the deChurched. I try not to be cynical, and I have been in church ministry most of my life, but I am dying for a church that is more like Jesus, less like everything else. Don’t get me wrong, I love the church and I love the show, the more off the hook the better, but it just seems like we are comfortable with church that is characterized by values unlike Jesus’.