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My friend Amanda commented on my last post entitled “Compel Them” with a very good question…how? How do you compel them to come to the Master’s table?

I hope some others will respond to this as well, but here are my thoughts on the matter. I’m going to sum it up in the three R’s: relate, reveal, and restore. And for the sake of those of you who don’t have time to read an epistle, I’m going to do this in three parts.

Relate
The church is failing deeply in this area. Behind our “shiny plastic steeples” we hide ourselves away in cocoons of self-righteousness. The ‘world’ (pronounced with the proper inflection of impending doom) has no ability -nor desire, and can you blame them? – to relate to us and our facade of unreachability. What good is it to make the occasional foray into the wastelands of sin-saturated reality when our air of supperiority or, at best, pity keeps us utterly untouched by the grit of their suffering?

David had a calvinist friend explain evangelism this way: “We are searching for brothers and sisters that we know are out there, we just haven’t met them yet.” The problem is, those brothers and sisters are seldom looking for us in return. (This analogy evokes recently viewed episodes of The Locator…but I digress). We must relate to the unsaved. I think about churches who hold rallies for motorcycle riders, who go out into low income housing projects and pick up trash, fix screen doors, and plant flowers. On a personal level, I think about people who take groceries to families in need or give selflessly so that underprivledged kids can go to summer camp. To reach them we must go to where they are, not just physically but emotionally, and socially. We go to the place of their need…the place of their interest. We become relatable. It’s Jesus talking to the woman at the well about never being thirsty again. It’s all the parables He told. It’s when my husband does a few optical illusion type magic tricks when he witnesses to a group of people on the street. If we’re out to find our “missing family” we can’t be so unapproachable that they would never want to be a part of our “family” at all.

Part two – REVEAL – will follow shortly! Discussion is welcomed!

Compel Them

My husband and I have been attending my moms church since we’ve been staying in Sanford and the other Sunday we were privileged to hear the pastor present the church’s vision. He said he had summarized it into two words so that anyone in his congregation could easily remember it and share it with someone who wanted to know what their church was all about. “Compel them” was the phrase he chose to use, coming from the scripture in Luke 14:23 “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”

Compel them to come in. If you read that passage in its entirety the reason the Master sent the servants to the highways and hedges was that the invited guests had made excuses as to why they couldn’t come. This parable doesn’t just apply to Jews versus Gentiles, religious folk versus common folk; it also applies to modern church people and the hurting world we find so easy to ignore. Sometimes we ‘church folk’ become like the invited guests who were “too busy” to come running at the Master’s invitation.  We reassure ourselves that the invitation always stands, that there will be plenty of time to arrive fashionably late.  But there is a paradigm shift in the kingdom; namely the Master is extending His hand again in this season to the undesirable ones….the ones we don’t see as fit for His table.  Look at the church world today; what kind of church is growing the fastest?  The ones that reach out to the urban Samariatan…the church plant that is only 10 years old yet is running close to a thousand unkept, tatoo covered, barely sanctified, marvelously saved ones….  We must be careful we don’t find ourselves, as”‘dyed in the wool Christians” so to speak, on the outside looking in – criticizing but not partaking.

Are we His servants?  What did tell His servants to do?  “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”  How often do we really compel the unwanted to the feast? A church sign I read today said “the gospel is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” Sometimes we forget we’re beggars…sometimes we forget what it’s like to be hungry.

We attended an evangelism conference one weekend and the key note speaker said something I will never forget. (I’m going to paraphrase all but the last bit in quotations, just FYI). If you want to grow your churches you go to the highways and byways and compel them to come. That means you get the crack addict saved, the alcoholic saved, the homeless man saved by whatever means you have! Its not throwing a tract at them from two feet away and saying Jesus loves you and hoping for the best…you compel them to come. And when they do, your church better be prepared and ready to actually be Jesus hands and feet, because when the Magnificient Master comes and brings life where only death once dwelt, that crack addict is going to go back to his alley, grab his friends by the arm and say “What the h*** are you doing just sitting here? Get off your a** and come on, you’re coming with me to church!” As we sat there with all those ministers, who responded with a mixture of nervous laughter and a small hesitant applause, he fixed a sly smile upon us and said, nailing the point upon my heart forever, “And some of you are going to talk more tonight when you go back to your rooms about the fact I said h*** and a** than about anything your church could do to compel the lost to come.”

The whole thing just floored me and as the word ‘wow’ ghosted across my lips, there was a definite deep feeling of EUREKA in my spirit that left me giddy. As I glanced over at my husband I saw a fire in his eyes and a grin that told me he felt the same thing too.  This is what evangelism means…this is what the great commission means.  Getting over getting your hands dirty because dirty hands are a natural consequence of dragging those mired in sin out of the filth they don’t even see anymore.

The problem is I like to spend too much time in my ‘scared place’ as Pastor Mark calls it. You know, what  I’m talking about – that place you go to, whether mentally or physically when things get frightening or overwhelming.  When I was a kid it was behind my daddy’s recliner. As an adult, its youth ministry. Its the place I’m not afraid…the place where I’m utterly at ease…safe. I know what I’m doing, I’m confident. No one can mess with me here. The disciples had a ‘scared place’ too.

John 20:19 “That Sunday evenings the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said.”

There they were in their ‘scared place’ and Jesus shows up and offers them peace! How great is that? But then, if you read further, He imparts His Holy Spirit on them, empowering them to carry the good news to all the world.  Awesome!  Go God!  And so what do they do?  They stay right there.  Jesus leaves, is seen by hundreds of witnesses, but there’s not a single disciple among them because they are still all locked up in their ‘scared place’!

Jesus comes back eight days later (John20:26), reassures a doubting Thomas, and pushes the disciples out of their comfort zone.  He tells them to meet Him at a designated place (Matthew 28:16) where He would give them His final instructions, namely, “Go and make disciples.”

But I want to stay in my safe place!   I want Jesus to show up where I am hiding!

But Jesus is calling me to GO and compel them to Him.   I need to realize if I stay in my safe place Jesus is going to leave me right there.  My witness must be intentional, not accidental.  I’ve got to go where I’m not comfortable, go where its scary, and bring in the lost ones before its too late.

Time to start compeling…

I’m Almost There

Petra has been going around the house for the past week singing a made up song that is mostly unintelligable save the frequently repeated phrase “I’m almost there…” (sung in long drawn out, overly dramatic tones). The phrase is now stuck in my head and I’ve therefore been pondering it and what God might be trying to tell me.

I’m almost there. Almost at the place where all my life is not a giant question mark and there is actually a light at the end of the tunnel. We will find a nice place to live that we can afford in a good neighborhood. We will all make new friends and find our niche in a new church. I will have a job teaching social studies again, which is what I do best. Its just around the corner, I can feel God reassuring me. I’m almost there.

I’m almost there. Almost to the place where the healing that seems so fleeting right now – for my husband, my mom, my brother, and myself – is something I can firmly grasp. We will find joy again…we’re almost there.

I’m almost there. Almost at the day when I see Jesus face to face… When all my unanswered questions melt away in His manifested grace… I will stand before my Father God redeemed, recreated, restored, ransomed, renewed. It won’t be long. I’m almost there.

To say a lot has been going on in my life of late would likely qualify for the ‘understatement of the year’ award.  One of my friends recently commented that the past four months I had apparently hit the “motherload of trouble” and there isn’t any apparent end in sight.  In four months I have:

  • lost my father to suicide
  • discovered my husband was suffering from severe clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • resigned from our ministry position at church, that neither of us wanted to leave but we had to because of the above
  • faced the prospect of quitting my current job and both of us having to find new employment in the worst job market in decades
  • begun the process of packing and finding a new place to live
  • been forced to be away from my husband and little girl at least 4 out of 7 days (and nights) a week

I don’t say all that as some kind of pity party.  It is what it is.  But all of this hitting me like an earthquake – aftershocks included – has made me delve into some spiritual waters that I had, at best, been merely dabbling my toes in before. I’ve always been an obsessive reader, but more for entertainment than for real study.  The past few weeks I’ve started reading a lot of material to help me get a grasp on everything that has occurred.  I’ve read a book on grief, which has helped me put some perspective on my journey and my mother’s journey through dealing with our loss.  I’ve read – and reread – the book which I commented on in another post, Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic by Anne Jackson.  It has helped me see that David and I are not alone in this ‘epidemic’ and many of the things we experienced are frighteningly common in the ministerial life.  Sometimes just knowing you aren’t the only one going through something is enough to give you strength to face it.

In the past week I have been avidly reading Michael Yaconelli’s book Messy Spirituality.  Now I’ll give you fair warning.  If you haven’t read this book and aren’t comfortable with reading a lot of things that will fly in the face of traditional, mainstream (most especially holiness) doctrines, then you probably shouldn’t read this book.  I don’t agree with everything Michael says, but he has stretched me in some ways that I think I needed stretching.

One of the topics he addresses is the modern epidemic of “fast living” and what he means by that is not the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” that a lot of us immediately think of, but literally living fast – speeding through life at warp speed to the point that we leave our family and our spiritual life behind.  He eloquently expresses a concept that I have been feeling but really hadn’t expressed openly.  “Speed damages our souls because living fast consumes every ounce of our energy.  Speed has a deafening roar that drowns out the whispering voices of our souls and leaves Jesus as a diminishing speck in the rear view mirror.”  This was one of those “ah-ha” moments for me…something my exhausted body and spirit had been screaming at me, but me too-tired brain just couldn’t compute.  I don’t grow faster spiritually by doing more, more quickly.  It’s not more church activities or more bible studies or more events that cause my faith to strengthen or my heart to heal.  I like this other quote as well:  “Christianity is not about inviting Jesus to speed through life with us; it’s about noticing Jesus sitting at the rest stop.”

I think the devil doesn’t have to work nearly as hard at pushing us to destroy ourselves with blatant sin, when he can just push us to do more ‘good things’ to the point that we destroy ourselves with exhaustion, burnout, ‘soul fatigue’ and the disillusionment and withdrawal that follows.  He doesn’t have to convince us to turn our back on God if he can make us accept the equation GOD = church work.  But Jesus came to give us rest!

Most of us have lived so long at this breakneck pace, we don’t know how to rest anymore.  When my brother and I would sit down and talk about what could have motivated my father to commit suicide, one of the conclusions we came to was that daddy’s retirement was the key to his unraveling.  He didn’t know how to handle retirement, or not having a schedule, not having a million things to do.  He had worked all of his life and suddenly, when retirement was forced upon him, he was lost. He didn’t know how to rest.  To my father, having nothing to do translated into having no value.  “Rest is the ultimate humiliation because in order to rest, we must admit we are not necessary, that the world can get along without us, that God’s work does not depend on us.” (p. 98)  I wish he could have seen what I am beginning to see; that being with Jesus is more important than working for Him.

Matthew 11:28 (NLT)
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Farcical Worship

This is a repost of a blog I did for my friend Sarah at her site Living Between the Lines.  I liked it enough (*self-appreciatory chuckle*) to repost it here.

I’m about to type a phrase I use often, though you might find it offensive:

Jesus really doesn’t give a flying flip.

Okay, before you light the torches and grab the pitch forks, hear me out.  When I say this, I’m not referring to Christ’s sacrificial love for mankind, His unending love and grace for the sinner, or His eternal patience with His often disobedient chosen ones.  Nope.  I’m talking about the traditions of men…the modern pharisee-isms and ridiculous expectations the church has placed on Christians and non-Christians alike.

When I read Matthew 15, I come to understand that there are a lot of things we freak out about in the church world that don’t phase Jesus one bit.  If anything, Jesus is frustrated with us for the way we handle things.

Matthew 15:1-9 (New Living Translation)

1 Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, 2 “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”  3 Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? 4 For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 5 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 6 In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
8 ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’”

Farcical worship – how much of that is going on in the modern day church?  How many times have people become bitter backsliders, not because of inner struggles with temptation, but because of deep hurts caused by judgemental church people who were supposed to be their ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in Christ?  There are too many instances and examples of this to name, so I’ll just touch on a few that really tick me off and make me want to ‘turn over the tables in the temple.’

Jesus doesn’t care if you wear jeans to church.  Honestly.  He doesn’t care if your hair is purple or pink.  He doesn’t care if you get your nose pierced.  That Tweety Bird tattoo on her ankle is not a one-way-ticket to the fire and brimstone.  Jesus doesn’t care if you wear flip flops.  Seriously.  What do you think He was wearing walking the roads of Galilee?  And just to really go out on a limb, lightening is not going to descend from on high if you step foot on the sanctuary stage wearing a modest-length short.  Don’t annoy me with that “give Jesus your best” line either – for some people that nice pair of jeans is their best. You might find some teenager’s mohawk distracting, but I find that hideous flower print dress Sister Sanctified is wearing pretty distracting too.  Get over it!  Jesus cares that you are modest in your attire. Giving Jesus my best is about giving Him my devotion, my heart, my service, not about how much money I spent on the clothing I’m wearing to cover this tabernacle of flesh.

Jesus doesn’t care if you are black or white or brown or yellow or polka-dotted.  He doesn’t.  He doesn’t think our churches should be segregated by color.  What Jesus cares about is the state of the heart.  Are you redeemed?  Are you ready to face a holy God on judgment day?  Along those same lines, Jesus doesn’t frown upon interracial marriages OR the children who are born into them.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think there is such a thing as an ‘interracial marriage’ in God’s view at all.  And don’t give me that “society is just so difficult for the children from that kind of relationship” line either.  What you mean is “I just don’t know if I am comfortable with that.” Racism is sin.  If two people are desiring to build a life together, the only question we should ask is are the two people in this relationship saved to the uttermost? Are they living a ministry of marriage?  Are they raising their children in the faith?  If my daughter finds a man who loves her with passion, tenderness and respect second only to that of his love and devotion to Christ, then I don’t care if he’s an alien from planet Xenon.  Period.  Instead of freaking out about whether your kid is dating someone who looks different, why aren’t we freaking out because they are dating spiritual corpses?

Jesus doesn’t care if the music you worship to is southern gospel, contemporary, hymns or punk rock.  No really.  He doesn’t.  There are no voodoo demons in the drums.  Satan is not summoned by the sound of an electric guitar.  Playing Christian rap backwards will not reveal subliminal messages telling your grandkids to start wearing their “pants on the ground”.  My husband is fond of saying, “If God can sanctify me, He can sanctify a style of music.”  And this one goes both ways.  Just because it’s a hymn doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit can’t move in the midst of it either.  You don’t have to have four thousand repetitions of the chorus of Revelation Song for God to touch you!  Jesus just doesn’t care what it sounds like, or even if there is even any music at all – He cares where your heart is when you worship Him.  He cares about your focus, your passion, your sacrifice of praise.

Jesus doesn’t have a sliding scale for sin.  Joe smoking cigarettes is not higher up on the Sin-O-Meter than Sue gossiping.  Sally’s drug abuse does not create a more nauseating stench in the nostrils of God than John’s lying.  Tom’s adultery does not separate him further from God than Jill holding back her tithe to punish the preacher.  Sin is sin.  All sin separates us from Him.  All sin is offensive to His very nature of holiness.
…..All sin will send us to a tortured eternity in hell…
….but all sin was covered by the blood of the Son of God upon the cross of Calvary….
We need to stop acting like the blood of Christ was enough to cover some sins, but not others.  We need to stop acting like people need to clean up their act before we allow them close enough to our altars for Christ to clean their heart.  Jesus doesn’t care where they’ve been…He only cares about where they are going.

So how many things are you focusing your thoughts, time and energy on that Jesus really doesn’t give a flying flip about?

My friend Sarah is co-hosting a discussion on the book Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic by Anne Jackson over at her blog Living Between the Lines.  If you are in any way connected to either full time or volunteer ministry, you should read this book.  It is extremely eye opening!  At any rate, I started writing my commentary to her posting and realized it was going to be way too long to contain in a comment box.  So here’s my take on Chapter 4 which covers External Risk Factors.

I think a major risk factor, when it comes to pastoring anyway, is the mindset of many churches (I almost said ‘small country churches’ there, but I corrected myself, realizing it really exists everywhere) that it is the Pastor’s job to do everything, be at every event, and participate in every activity. If there is a ministry meeting, the Pastor should be there to give input.  If there is a church “work day” the pastor better be right there on the roof washing the steeple.  If there is a Sunday School class party, the Pastor is obligated to attend.  Holidays should be spent having special church services, not visiting relatives he never sees.  (Side note:  If he’s a youth pastor, he should be at every ball game, every recital and every play of every kid in his youth ministry.)  If someone’s cousin’s sister’s brother-in-law’s uncle is in the hospital with gall bladder surgery, the pastor should drop everything he is doing and rush over there, because only prayers by the pastor, in person actually have any worth.  He should work every fundraiser, attend every birthday/Christmas party, be the first one to arrive and the last one to leave.  He’s paid to do this, after all – and he really doesn’t have anything else to do except preach on Sunday and Wednesday.

The expectations aren’t limited to the Pastor though.  His wife better be at every baby/wedding shower, every engagement party, every tupperware/pearl/Southern Living/Creative Memories/Pampered Chief party (and buy something) or you can go ahead and count on there being some evil talk in the church about her.  Many churches still expect her to play the piano, be the president of Women’s Ministries, head up the nursery, teach Sunday School, coordinate the prayer chain, prepare food for every death, and basically do a full time job for the church without a cent of pay.  His children should act like little adults, not children, should never misbehave, never get cranky, and never act unspiritual in any way.

Even when all of this is done, you will still hear comments of “So you are a pastor, huh?  So what do you do the rest of the week?”  “You know, you really don’t act like a pastor’s wife.”  “You know, I really think we should have a (insert various ministries here) at our church.  Why don’t you go ahead and head that up?  You have Friday nights free, right?”  “Well, I’d really hoped your wife and the baby would have come too.”

When is “family time” occuring in all of this madness?  How do you avoid burnout when you may very well be voted out if you refuse to juggle all these balls?  How do you have normal family relationships when the only time you see each  other is at church?

I didn’t grow up ‘in church’ – I was saved as a teenager, so my perspective on family life is much different than my husband who grew up in a pastor’s home.  We spent a lot of time at home and a lot of time with my extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins.  The only evening activities that ever took me out of that circle of family – and then only to a very small degree –  was girlscouts once a month (my mom was the troop leader), dance lessons for a few years once a week, and little league baseball during the summer (my brother and my two cousins were all on the team together).  That was IT! Most of my growing up was spent wandering in the woods behind my house with my brother, riding horses with my Grandaddy, swiming in the little above-ground pool in our backyard, or riding bikes up and down our driveway.  Mama was always there; we had her undivided attention.  Daddy worked a lot, but when he was home, we spent time together – shooting basketball at the top of the driveway, playing tag in the backyard, or just being together.

Already when I compare my daughter’s growing up to mine, I am saddened by how dissimilar they are.  How much of her life has been spent in church nurseries?  How much time has she had to entertain herself during practices of all kinds?  Home is the place we sleep to her – not where we live.  Grammy has an ‘outside’ – we don’t.

When I read some of the testimonies in this book of Pastors who made it a priority to be at home with their families at 5pm every evening my first inclination was to laugh rather bitterly.  And then I stepped back and really looked at the thing.  Is it any wonder so many ministers are plagued with poor health, failing marriages, depression and moral failures?  How do you have a healthy lifestyle when the expectations placed on you by church boards and often even the church congregations themselves are so UNhealthy?

So bottom line:  why don’t we say no?  Why don’t we draw a line in the sand and say, enough is enough?  Because our jobs are on the line.  Because most of us don’t make enough money in the ministry to have a cushion to get us through unemployment (gratefully our denomination has taken great strides to provide a safety net in that area) so we just keep toughing it out.  Because we were trained (like my husband) to think this lifestyle is normal and to be expected.  Because we think if we aren’t working ourselves to exhaustion “for God” we aren’t really loving Him with all our strength.  (That we equate works with love is some screwed up doctrine, isn’t it?)  Because we are riddled with guilt – of our own manufacture and that aimed at us by others – if we don’t.

Don’t get me wrong.  Like Sarah said in her blog, I love ministry – real ministry.  The kind where lost souls are saved, hurting families healed, addicts find deliverance, and the church really is the hands and feet of Christ.  I love being a part of that.  But all this other stuff…all this ‘adding to the law’ that I see in our modern church age….not so much.  I have a mission statement of my own:  I will not sacrifice my family on the altar of church.  Period.

It is a mad, mad, mad world.

Goodness Still

13 I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
~Psalm 27:13-14 (NIV)

The goodness of God is my saving point at this place in my life.  When all is in upheaval…when loyalties are questionable…when the future is so uncertain, I can be confident in the unchanging, unwavering goodness of my Father God.

In the song “How He Loves Us” by John Mark McMillan (not the Kim Walker version, though I like it too) there is a third verse which relates the story behind the song.  (John Mark had a youth minister he was close to who died in a car wreck, and he wrote the song in memory of his friend.)

Well, I thought about You the day Stephen died and You met me between my breaking
I know that I still love You, God, despite the agony
…they want to tell me You’re cruel
But if Stephen could sing, he’d say it’s not true, cause He loves us…

God’s goodness is found in the fact that, despite the agony, He loves us.  Despite the agony, “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  Not that all things are good, but all things “work together for good”.  Not that God needed this bad thing to happen to work His good will, but out of the destruction Satan intended, God’s goodness prevails and transforms.  He transforms death into life, pain into strength, struggle into progress, loss into empathy, shock into understanding.

I still don’t have all the answers.  I probably never will.  But of this I am sure:  I will see the goodness of the Lord active in my life.

If you’d like to read related posts on goodness, check out the One Word Blog Carnival over at Bridget Chumbley’s place.

ohn Mark’s story is much more elegant than my discovery of it. He had a youth minister he was close to and he’d been praying and praying for there to be a movement among the youth that he was leading. One morning, when they were meeting to pray he said, “I’d give my life for this if that’s what it takes to see a movement among these youth. Do whatever you need to do God.” That evening John Mark’s friend, Steven the youth pastor, died in a car wreck, and John Mark wrote the song in memory of his friend. For those not yet touched or affected by this song, we wanted to put our breath behind the song because we think it is one of those unique songs for the church at large to sing.