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.

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.

The First Birth Annoucement

Advent 2015We love to get birth announcements in the mail. The announcement usually arrives with a picture of the baby, the proud parents and sister and brothers’ names and their weight and height. For a baseball card comparison, it’s life’s rookie card. Jesus’ parents didn’t have to send out a birth announcement because of an angel of the Lord did so for them. I am bringing you good news of great joy.

Do you know the rest of the announcement? It’s important stuff. “Do not be afraid, for I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.” Eugene Peterson calls the birth of Jesus “an event for everyone.” We focus on the good news for us and our lives, but what about for everyone else. Not to mention that the very first words after the birth of Jesus are “do not be afraid.”

As we open gifts on Christmas morning, are we also willing to open our hearts and spirits? Are we willing to embrace that the birth of Jesus is good news for all the earth? Are we willing to quit letting fear rule our thoughts and actions?

Our land today is ripe with fear and misunderstanding and all of the bad fruit that fear and misunderstanding produces. Perhaps I am a bit naive but I still believe that we are stronger together than we are apart. I believe there is no “us” and “them” but only “we.” As a follower of Jesus, I am concerned that if we will not work for and stand up for peace, then who will.

Very soon, a word of hope will be spoken into our anxiety and fear. Are you prepared to receive and believe this word? It was the first birth announcement.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people.”

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

I get it. I really do. The recent terror attacks abroad and the Syrian refugee crisis is a tough issue. Our elected leaders have a really difficult task, in terms of deciding how to balance welcoming people into our country while maintaining a level of security that protects our nation. I get it. The terror needs to stop and the people committing it need to be brought to justice. The world needs peace and security. Continue reading “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room”

#Kellyonmymind, the Bible, and Capital Punishment

Kelly GissbenderToday is a sad day because one of God’s children, one of God’s beloved, has been executed by the state of Georgia. Capital Punishment is nothing new of course; Jesus was executed by the empire, the prevailing kingdom of the day. Kelly Gissendaner’s story was unique in that is was not her crime that was in question, it was what happened to her while prison that brought her such a passionate following.

I had the privilege of spending a year while in seminary as a chaplain at Metro State Prison, Continue reading “#Kellyonmymind, the Bible, and Capital Punishment”

From Danny- Lord, Teach Us to Pray

In any relationship, what happens when you don’t communicate?

The relationship grows stale, it doesn’t grow.

This is why prayer is so essential to the spiritual life. Phillip Yancey writes, “prayer is cooperation with God, a consent that opens the way for grace to work.”

Many make the mistake of believing that Christianity is about adherence to a series of doctrines and creeds. Christianity is about a relationship, a relationship with God that grows out of talking and listening to God. I believe we shy away from prayer for two main reasons. The first is that we think we don’t know what to say and the second is that we are afraid to really listen, for we might actually hear what God is saying to us.  Continue reading “From Danny- Lord, Teach Us to Pray”

That Old Time Religion(s): College Football and Church

The southern part of the United States has two old time religions-college football and church. Our neighbors homes are currently adorned with different flags from about fifteen different teams. The truth of the matter is that in the fall, a large number of people spend their time doing two things on weekends, attending football games and going to church. When one says, “give me that old time religion” in this part of the country, they mean two different religions. So, what’s the connection? Right off the bat, I see these four connections. Continue reading “That Old Time Religion(s): College Football and Church”