No More Apologies (or Labels)

Church

“Oh, I’m not that kind of Christian.” I have uttered those words more times than I can count. As a child, playing with neighbors, in the halls of middle and high school, in social gatherings in college, in offices I’ve worked in, and now, as an ordained minister, seemingly to most every person I meet. I’ve grown weary of apologizing for my faith. Maybe you have as well. Continue reading “No More Apologies (or Labels)”

Membership Has No Privilege

Am Ex

Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. 24  All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them.  Luke 9:23-24

I read church signs. I think its a professional hazard or something. Some signs are great, some are informative, some are so ridiclous that they are funny (and I assume most find them that way as well. One small church near us had “Stop, Drop, and Roll Won’t Work in Hell on their sign one day. I am hoping that didn’t attract a lot of visitors.”)

Today, I saw a sign that literally stopped my in my tracks. I quickly pulled into this church’s parking lot to make sure I read the sign right. Unfortunately I did. “Membership Has Its Privileges.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why people don’t go to church and what our congregation can do to change people’s minds and hearts about church. We are beginning a new Sunday evening service at the end of February called The Table. We are committed to the truth that there is a place for everyone at the Table.

Perhaps the Church (the big “C” church) is our own worst enemy. That sign reminded me of many people’s perception and even their reality about the church. Church is an exclusive club where the select few receive special privileges. Take it even further. The Christian faith is an exclusive club where those who believe the right way receive special privileges. Privilege is defined as” a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”  Privileges elevate one over another or over many. If I join Costco and you don’t, I have the privilege of buying three gallons of ketchup and you don’t.

If you read the Gospels looking for some privilege of following Jesus, you might be disappointed. On several occasions, he mentions taking up your own cross and following him. He mentions losing one’s life (at least losing one’s so called life.) More often than not, he goes out of his way to go places no one else would dare go. “He had to go to Samaria.” No one has to go to Samaria. But Jesus does. Would you? Would I? No privilege to be found in Samaria. However, there is life to be found.

The church can offer the gift of being a part of an inclusive movement for wholeness.

The church can offer the gift of being able to find our true self and God’s true calling upon our life.

The church can offer the gift of being unconditionally loved as well as teaching us how to love unconditionally.

The church can offer the gift of grace and radical welcome

The church can offer the gift of a real and meaningful life.

If you want privilege, get an American Express card. If you want to lose your life so that you may find your true life, well Jesus has some ideas about how to find that.

Why Are You in Line?

Lottery Ticket

It was a Friday afternoon and I was leaving Camp Christian to run a quick errand to the Flash Foods in Gordon, Ga. I was going to the Flash Foods because I figured it would be much quicker to go there than the Piggly Wiggly across the street. I pulled into the parking lot expecting to run in and pick up the one item I needed. The line was out the door. Out the door and into the parking lot. I could’t believe it. I soon discovered the source of the line- lottery tickets.

Gordon, Ga is a poor, rural community save for those who work at the local Kaolin plant. Let’s just say resources are slim- even the Huddle House closed. Yet on that Friday, people were lined up out the door looking to trade what little they had for the hope of something more.

When the lottery became legal in the state of Georgia, I was 18 years old. Myself and some buddies were volunteering at Vacation bible School the week the scratch off games started so each morning on the way to VBS, we stopped to buy lottery tickets. Since I was 18, I bought the tickets for everyone. (I hope the statue of limitations has run out on that crime) Being that it was the first week every other card was a winner. Surely it couldn’t be this easy.

And that’s the rub isn’t it. It’s not that easy. I’m not talking about winning the lottery. I am talking about being truly alive. I’m talking about living a life filled with experiences and relationships that truly make us richer.   Now, winning the lottery isn’t a bad thing. Any type of financial security and our good stewardship of those resources are not a bad thing. In fact, its a good and faithful thing. But it’s not the guiding goal of our journey through life.

When we line up for a lottery ticket, it is with the hope that we can find something more.  We are all searching for something and perhaps we believe we can find it in the power ball numbers. The truth is that we simply need to wake up each day and be inspired by the gift of life and the presence of God. We don’t need to win the lottery to spend more time with others, to love our neighbors, to serve the least of these,and to figure out what the heck God wants us to do with the one precious life we have. We are desperate for something more and the good news is that the more we seek is available to each of us all the time.

I’ve come to believe that the people lined up out the door that day were looking for something more. The good news is we don’t have to come up with the right numbers to find it.

Faith, Hope, and the Force

Star Wars is back! One could argue that it never really went away. I didn’t see the original movie until I was in high school and have never been what I would call obsessed with the Star Wars series.  It wasn’t until recently, with the hype of the new movie and with the prodding of some friends and colleagues that I began really digging into the Star Wars universe. One of the hazards of being a preacher is always asking yourself, “Is there a sermon here?” In the Star Wars story, I discovered a whole series.

Could Obi Won Kenobi’s description of the Force be more appropriate for God? “The Force surrounds each and everyone of us.” Issues we face today such as the struggle between good and evil, sacrifice,  self-denial, the greater good, and embracing mystery are all present. Both the Bible and Star Wars have much to say about these parts of life.

We hunger for something on which to center our life. Followers of Jesus and characters in the Star Wars series share this longing. I also love that this is a story in which the entire family can find meaning. Parents who first saw the movie as a child can now share the story with their own children. Grandparents can tell grandchildren about taking their mother or father to see the original in the theater. I don’t recall a movie with a more inter generational audience than The Force Awakens.

I’m looking forward to working with friends on this new sermon series that begins at Sandy Springs Christian Church (www.sandyspringscc.org or like us on Facebook) on January 10.  You can listen online as well. All of our scriptures come from Jesus’ early life and ministry in the Gospel of Luke (what other Gospel would you use?)

My hope and prayer is that we can see our hearts captured by an old story that’s just as meaningful and relevant today as when it was first written. That we can see just how God surrounds all of us.