Saturday, October 24, 2015

And ye shall know them by their Fruity Pebbles...

“Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of 'the flock.”― Christopher Hitchens

When Christianity came to be it was at the death of its founder.  The people who were left were a little over 100 shut up in a room praying for, well, something.  In a moment those people were transformed, including those closest to the one murdered by the Romans under the directions of the very people that man came to be a witness to.

A following day, while before a crowd of thousands, one of those followers stood up and publicly condemned those who facilitated the murder.  In a public morning rebuke the over 100 became over 3000.  That group continued to grow while suffering persecution from the Jewish worshipers and Greek culture.

Contemporaries of the time offer little insight into what was going on, other than a “new Jewish sect” was growing.  We know it was gaining momentum with the Jews themselves before being opened to the Gentiles of the time.  Many affluent women joined from the Hellenistic culture and opened their homes to teachers of The Way.  The term “Christian” was actually a badge of shame early on in the New Testament church; and when you said you were part of the “church” you weren’t speaking about a building or denomination you were discussing the idea of being a part of something: a called out group of people illuminated by a truth that you accepted and followed, loving a God revealed to you through his begotten Son and loving your neighbor as your own life.  It was a religion born from a death, grown in persecution and had a reputation of how the followers loved one another.  

People sold land, inheritance that had been in the family for generations, so that those who had nothing would have their needs met.  Leaders were setup to be servants, given an example from a life who served others.  The one they called Lord never demanded worship, he sought people so he could know them and be known of them.  At one point he called his disciples friends.  If there was a kingdom where the top of the pyramid was flipped with the Royalty on the bottom this appeared to be it.

“We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think religion stops people from thinking. I think it justified crazies.” - Bill Maher

Centuries rolled on, a book was assembled from different authors, a hierarchy installed, denominations set, mission focused and a desire to convert the world became a goal.  The Renaissance led with Humanistic thinking brought about the Reformation.  The men of the time questioned the deviation from the original intent of the church and its active members to worship man and a religious institution in contrast to the Author and Creator who made it all.

Soon no matter what part of theology you claimed be it Eastern Orthodox, Western denominational-ism, Catholic or Protestant the “church” ceased being about the people and passed into the execution of the process and tradition.  If you went to “church” on Sunday it was a place, not a people.  Supported by tithes and offerings, still mission minded the leaders built larger churches to house more individuals who over time became more disconnected with one another.  The vulnerability of need and weakness became a facade to right living and that facade became the belief.  People en masse no longer sold what they had to fill the need of another, at least not publicly or corporately.    A pastor today who teaches the doctrine of the original founder to a mega church of a thousand or more would be hard pressed to look at his batch of disciples and call them “friends”. 

“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”― Christopher Hitchens

People outside these teachings can easily spot the hypocrisy of its followers.  This isn’t new, but the reaction to dealing with the hypocrisy has changed.  Early on the Apostle John, who survived many trials and wrote a few books of the bible, dealt with a leader of a group of believers who had a less than loving approach to people:  
 3Jn 1:9-11  I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.  (10)  So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.  (11)  Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

The early church had no problem calling harmful and unloving behavior of other leaders out into the light.  Unkind words and actions were rebuked, not hidden.  Not only was it called out, but people were told unkind acts that hurt others showed the person committing those acts has never seen the God that sacrificed his life for them. Believers were not told to extend grace to those in leadership who were not in unity.  These people were facing persecution and death, they didn’t suffer hostile attitudes.  To do so was to allow that behavior to continue.  Paul wrote the same to his disciple Timothy:

1Ti 5:19-20  Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (20)  As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

If the called out assembly today dealt with the internal issues it has with its own leadership of this kind, would accusations and a brand of “unloving people” cease from the outside world?  Would a directional change to following the master and his example be enough to adjust the outward testimony churches have?

“One would go mad if one took the Bible seriously; but to take it seriously one must be already mad.”― Aleister Crowley

The men quoted aren’t describing the 1st century church in scripture; they are describing the church they saw in their time.  If the fruit of the church today is a reputation hypocrisy, a lack of gratitude and a desire to keep failing leaders in place instead of rebuking them and removing them if need be then it’s not a church.

It’s a building full of people who have never seen God.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The StarFish Story Redux and in Color - As told by Brandon

My mom was coming over today at 1PM to celebrate her birthday.  I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks and I had flowers to pick up as well as a card.  Things have been busy, and everyone has been busy with things.  Katie, Collin and I pulled in at home after church.  Marianne drove separate and was already home with Brandon.

It didn’t take long when we walked into the door to get busy again.  Clean what needed to be picked up.  Let the dog out, because she pees on the fireplace stones now (Yay…), sweep the kitchen, wipe down the bathroom.  Grandma is coming over and let’s have the place look nice, because we are getting pizza!

It doesn’t make sense, but the kids clean because of it.

Everyone is busy.  Everyone is busy except Brandon.
Brandon is crying.  In the kitchen.  While we are all busy doing stuff.

“Buddy, what is wrong?”
“Buddy, why you crying?”
Nada.  Just some welling up tears.
“You want to tell me privately?”
A nod.

I take Brandon back into my bedroom.  He’s still upset and won’t talk and I let him know that’s OK.  He can start talking when he calms down.  Because if you have ever tried to talk to a 12 year old boy while he is sniveling and snot sucking tears it’s as effective as talking to a 42 year old man doing the same thing.  You just let that happen.

Finally, Brandon breaks.

“Dad, you remember the video this morning in church?”  

Of course I did.  It was a video, called "The Least" where the church left the building after hearing the message of the day and went out to live their lives, busy.  Busy and ignoring others.

The Least -Video

And immediately I knew.  I knew why he was hurting.

On the way home from church, on the corner of 131st and Bell Road, was a woman standing with the sign.  I couldn’t make much out as I turned the corner in a hurry to get home but I saw the last words written: “GOD BLESS YOU”.

“Dad, nobody was stopping.  Nobody cared.  Mom didn’t care, she just kept driving!”

And he was hurting again.  He was hurting and a video that was meant to prove a point about how the church wasn’t caring anymore was being lived out right in front of his eyes.  Not just his Mom, but his Dad, too.

I looked at him.  “You want to go help her?”

A nod.  A sniffle.

“Let’s go.”

A young man is walking along the ocean and
sees a beach on which thousands and thousands
of starfish have washed ashore. Further along
he sees an old man, walking slowly and
stooping often, picking up one starfish after
another and tossing each one gently into the

On the way to pick up gift cards and food, Brandon asked again.  “Dad, why didn’t mom care?”  I had to explain to him that people do care.  That his mom was trying to get home to finish making a nice place for MY Mom and Step-dad who we haven’t seen in weeks and were coming by.  How we get busy doing things for others and sometimes we lose sight of “the least of these” as Christians and forget, not on purpose, but in our cares for others we miss opportunities.

 “Why are you throwing starfish into the
ocean?,” he asks. “Because the sun is up and the tide is going out
and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”
“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles
and miles of beach and starfish all along it!
You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even
save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you
work all day, your efforts won’t make any
difference at all.”

We stopped at the corner of 131st and Bell.  She told us her name was Kristin.  She had a falling out with her Dad a while ago and hasn’t been home since.  He lives in Palos and he has seen her standing on the corner, but never stops.  The cuts on her arm, the track marks and burns covering her can give an idea of what kind of disagreements her Dad may have had with her.  Enough people gave up on her.

But Brandon didn’t.  

I introduced Brandon to her, explained why we were there and what Brandon learned in church today.  I gave her my info if she needed someone to call.  The church address if she ever needed to stop by and asked her if she had a home church that could take care of her.

Christians don’t just care for the body, we care for the soul…
…when we aren’t being busy.

She said she had enough to stay at a 4 hour motel tonight.  So she could get some sleep.  I gave her the gift cards for food and the lunch we brought her.  And then we left.

I looked at Brandon on the way home and I said to him “Buddy, guard that heart.  The one that cares for people, the one that breaks for people in need.  Guard that and never let this cynical world take it from you.  There is a verse that says ‘Guard your heart, for out of it flows the issues of life’. Don’t ever give up on people.”

I saw the woman on the way home.  I saw her and inside I felt that pang that there is someone in need.  But someone else will help.  Someone else will step up.

And someone did.  It was my son.

The old man listened calmly and then bent
down to pick up another starfish and threw it
into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”