Sunday, March 22, 2020

SANCTUARY: A Place of Refuge for Spiritual Refugees

Sunday Night Sanctuary
March 22, 2020

I’ve been painfully aware of the dwindling population among USA churches for the past 2 decades. Prior to that, I lived in a church fantasy world of believing the notion that if we would just, “win the lost at any cost” our pews would always be packed. Well Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore…

To be perfectly blunt right off the bat…the whole approach I just referenced is a value statement related to our decline. “They” versus “us” rather than the collective family of humankind in search of the Sacred, the Divine, the Beauty of God. Winning the lost often looked like counting how many people we could BS into saying the “sinner’s prayer” and receiving Jesus. I’m through with the bait and switch…as well as the other definition of BS.

A professional counselor friend of mine shared a parable fitting for this challenge: “If I’m strolling along a city sidewalk and suddenly I’m confronted with a scene of person after person leaping from a 3rd floor window, falling to certain injury or even death, I do not shame them angrily for being stupid enough to jump…NO! I quickly seek to determine what could be so bad on the 3rd floor of that building that makes jumping seem  preferential over staying up there! 

The church of the west continues to witness a steady “run for your lives” stampede from our once solid sanctuaries. Even a casual internet search bears out my point. Estimates range from 25% to 50% of the next 2 generations have exited organized Christianity. As a pastor of over 45 years, I admit the reality of my own participation in failing to seriously carry out and gather a collective healthy assessment of what could be so bad about who we are that would make a 3rd floor leap seem better than staying… 

As of January 2019 my wife and I left the church we pastored for 30 years and began a journey of discovery. We went out in search of “spiritual refugees”, or the “one sheep”, as described by Jesus. Our promise to any we would find was to “listen and love” as best as we could. No BS and no attempt to shame anyone back to the 3rd floor. Did we find dysfunctional excuses or blame without appropriate self evaluation? Of course! But I’d propose we are ALL  guilty of that, now and then. 

However, the great majority of those we have found represent a very real demand for an authentic renewal in the western Church. In ways great and small, multitudes are isolated within the church walls or simply walking away. They aren’t rebels flicking the bird at a steeple…they’re treasures with stories too compelling to ignore any longer. 

We were always supposed to be a “city of refuge” and a sanctuary for the pursuit of a beautiful spirituality. Many of them (myself included) believed the church would be a beautiful sanctuary for restoration but found too many sad compromises from that purpose to tolerate any longer. 

What compromises? Here’s a partial list of what my wife and I have discovered:

  1. Commitments to purity, culture wars, righteousness, and a determination to change everyone else to make them look like us. For instance, the “LGBTQ agenda” became our war cry against human beings made in the image of God rather than a construct for the potential of healthy, adult conversations. Think about it; the woman at the well (John 5) represented everything a good Jewish boy should shun! But Jesus took the risk of a healthy adult conversation that demonstrated his genuine interest in her life’s journey. I’ve learned to listen to ONE person sitting in front of me rather than fighting a group and their agenda. The more I fight a group, the less I’ll be trusted with one person coming to me with a trust for love. More to unpack about this at another time…
  2. Political marriage for the purpose of national influence. I do not care which side of the spectrum we’ve married, it was not a marriage made in heaven. “No one can serve 2 masters” according to Jesus, yet we’ve been determined to prove Him wrong. The Kingdom of God introduced by King Jesus can certainly participate and influence systems around us with salt and light…but we can only serve one higher power at a time. To hear some preach, you’d think the call to follow Jesus is stone cold equal to becoming a card carrying Republican. No! Two masters is one too many. More to unpack about this at a later time…
  3. Pure and simple ~ a failure to grow in an honest pursuit of LOVE. Loving our neighbor, our enemy, ourselves and God. Love; the final reality. Love alone is credible. Love; the ONE value Jesus proclaimed as THE value of His people. MUCH more to unpack about this at another time… 
In order to unpack the above (and more) we are offering Sunday Night Sanctuary. Stop by beginning Sunday March 22, 2020 at my Facebook page from 6pm to 7pm CST.

The definition of sanctuary is simply this; a sacred refuge and a space to become a whole spiritual human being. My wife and I want to do our best to provide that kind of space. A sacred place for becoming, belonging, and loving toward a dynamic of living beautifully and powerfully. During this time very Sunday night we’ll offer prayers, confessions, messages, and Communion toward that end. A brief Sanctuary to build upon for a lifetime of sanctuary Love. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Sunday Night Sanctuary

Sunday Night Sanctuary

As of January 2019 my wife and I left the church we pastored for 30 years and began a journey of discovery. We went out in search of “spiritual refugees”, or the “one sheep”, as described by Jesus. Our promise to any we would find was to “listen and love” as best as we could. 

At first we went out to meet one on one, then it progressed to a group, and then to other personal contacts as schedules and life allowed. We’ll still attempt all of the above but as life allows today, in the day of COVID-19, the idea struck us like the promise of Spring ~ meet online, via Facebook Live (to start off) and provide a Sanctuary; a spiritual refuge for these refugees. 

The definition of sanctuary is simply this; a sacred refuge and a space to become a whole spiritual human being. My wife and I want to do our best to provide that kind of space. A sacred place for becoming, belonging, soul food and loving toward a dynamic of living beautifully and powerfully. During this hour every Sunday night we’ll offer prayers, confessions, messages, and Communion toward that end. A brief Sanctuary to build upon for a lifetime of sanctuary Love. 

So, stop by beginning Sunday March 22, 2020 at my Facebook page from 6pm to 7pm CST. 

Monday, March 02, 2020

Make choices out of clear headed, freedom based thinking ...

I just read another post/Tweet loaded with a command from “God” to vote for President Trump; unequivocally, unquestionably, and without a slight consideration for any other thought or choice. This post, along with dozens of others like it I’ve seen, makes it clear that any other choice is only a choice for evil. It places shame on anyone whose thoughts may be tempted to consider the dark side beyond “God’s choice” in President Trump. 

Read this carefully... I completely disagree with this process of shame based, broken rationale. Everyone, please...make your choices out of clear headed, freedom based thinking. When any church demands conformity for political ideals, run away from those demands and *think* for yourself. Vote President Trump, Joe, Mike, Bernie, etc...because you alone believe in your choice. your choice. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

"This Was Bad Behavior. We Are Sorry. Please Forgive Us."

At age 66 I've lived through more public church scandals than I care to list. All embarrassing, some catastrophic, and some requiring serious legal action. But none of them are akin to what I'm witnessing now. Today's scandal is far and away more baffling than any I've ever witnessed before.

This is NOT a political statement. This IS the voice of a pastor/elder/bishop with 45 years of experience struggling to speak truth for whoever has an ear to hear. This IS also one of the greatest heartaches I have experienced in my role of "preacher."

The doubled down, overtly "prophesied", spiritualized endorsement of President Trump by some high profile church leaders and their followers is a sadness that will haunt the Body of Christ for decades to come. Those of us who did not join this chorus will spend an inordinate amount of our future making sure that our listeners knew exactly how we felt about this but ALL of us will be picking up the pieces for a very long time.

When prophets declare our 45th President to be the Isaiah 45 Cyrus, we have sadly diminished our potential witness. When ecclesiastical leaders hold church rallies for the faithful to cheer and chant with near worship like praise for President Trump, we have placed a bushel over our lamp. When prophetic words are wrapped around the realities of this national political duress in an attempt to make it look like something other than it really is...AND, when TV preachers look at the camera and declare, "If you don't support our President, I doubt your salvation", the Good News becomes the evening news excusing thousands MORE of a generation who are already walking away, to break into a full sprint.

I am a lifelong pentecostal/charismatic believer. I LOVE the Holy Spirit and all the gifts and fruit available to me by the Spirit's power. Early in my training I was taught a simple principle of the prophetic; "No mates or dates." By definition and extension that meant, "NEVER use the Spirit for control, whether subtle or otherwise, for any kind of gain over a flock or person." NEVER. But what is happening now is well beyond "mates or dates"...some are in a full scale attempt at political endorsement via the Holy Spirit's gifts.

I repeat ~ this is NOT a political statement. Endorse anyone for any office you'd like, in your own name but NEVER in the Name of Jesus Christ. NEVER.

We have one way out of this embarrassment, one statement to attempt at making this right, and one opportunity to heal this terrible behavior. Even those of us who have not participated in this can participate in a solution. I'm not a Catholic priest but I am a member of the Universal/Catholic Church and as such, I have often offered apologies (for whatever it is worth) for the broken and evil behavior of clergy abuse. In that spirit, I invite all my sisters and brothers in Christ to the following effort...

As soon as possible and with as many of us as who are brave enough to do so, I believe we must say with authentic humility, "This was bad behavior. We are sorry. Please forgive us."

Sunday, January 05, 2020

21st Century Magi

To all who feel like a homeless spiritual troupe wandering/wondering with a simplicity of love for God BUT uncomfortable with and wary of brittle fundamentalism waving swords of Bible proof texts, BE OF GOOD CHEER. The Magi/Kings/Wisemen of the Christmas story are our forerunners. 

They had no Bible or established religious support for their journey...just a curious star in the night sky. They are the ultimate party crashers. No formal invitation except their deep contrarian spiritual instincts. They stepped onto a stage of profound harsh "Religion Inc." so bound up with Bible proof texts that the ultimate promise of the Bible, sleeping in a manger, was completely missed by professional blindness... in spite of the astrological radiance in the inky black skies. 

The Magi of the 21st century are still searching for the real Jesus. Modern Wise People are suspicious of political power brokers trying to trick them and those who posture for positional influence. They're looking for something unassuming, without the sound and fury of political noise. They are more at home finding a teenaged mama holding her baby who is being sought out by grave-yard shift workers who smell of livestock. 

21st Century Magi have traveled from strange places, long emotional distances, and refuse to be denied. They don't look or dress like "us" so they surely don't appear to fit in. But to ignore them is to ignore a future as bright as EVERY STAR in the sky!

Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Potential of Ragged, Reckless Love

Very early in my journey of faith (circa 1970’s) I was confronted by the fundamentalist doctrinal establishment of the denomination God was using to draw me to Himself when I heard (loud and clear I might add) that divorce was a clear “Biblical” infraction. So clear an infraction that it would forbid anyone from serving in any leadership level in a local assembly. 

In Bible College, when I verbally noted (in contrast to this hard nosed view) that recovering drug addicts were beautifully preaching and leading us in a vibrant renewal, I was told that I was “young in the faith” and naive. And, after all, there was a "clear Bible teaching" about marriage and divorce. 

Well, I’ve observed that today’s “clear Biblical teaching” can easily become tomorrow’s sad commentary on our lack of love. There are so many examples I could cite …like racially mixed marriages (clear Bible teaching), men with long hair (clear Bible teaching), worldly entertainment (clear Bible teaching)... just to name a few.

What if today’s limited understanding of a wide range of cultural challenges will one day be compared to the ignorance about racial integration in the USA from the 1950’s and ’60’s? We had Bible verses! What if we’re so afraid of the extremes, the aberrations, and the fear mongering that we can’t see ONE person sitting in front of us asking for love? Asking for acceptance? Asking for a simple margin of patience from us while they sort out the madness (ours, theirs, and the wide world)?

Love refuses to lump anyone into a monolithic category. Love floods our vision with insight, sight into, and simply SEEING that one person beyond any and all character assumptions and assassinations. Love respects ALL humans even when a Bible verse seems to disrespect that very same human being. Love never fails. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

When I Talk About Love I'm Not Trying to be Relevant or Clever...

I'm known for preaching, writing, and posting about love. Some have called me "Bishop Love" or "The Dean of Love"... I guess I could be called much worse, so I'll happily accept the labels. But I want to be specific as to why I'm so committed to this topic...please allow me 10 minutes of your time ~

The best place to start would be with this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Please take some pains to read this carefully;

“I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say:”We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

The complexity AND simplicity of Love is found in the sheer impossibility of it. That's inherent to King's quote here because this statement requires us to remember that he actually survived his own home being terroristically attacked. We must recall that black churches were routinely fire-bombed and Sunday School children were my life the USA. King's creed and response? LOVE. More than simply being "relevant" or "clever"... he put his one life on the line for LOVE. I'm convinced that 21st Century Christianity is at a similar intersection today. 

The political bitterness of our time is a potential set-up for a raw discovery of the practice of Divine Love. Dealing with every hot-topic of our day from a Christian perspective must find a way to default to this "One Command" of Jesus Christ. I am convinced that we will either spend our energies on other methods or we will spend and be spent in a healthy and joyous practice of Love. 

M. Scott Peck, author of the classic book, "Road Less Traveled" said, "Real love is a permanently enlarging experience." Some of us get stuck in small definitions of love and fail to see a wide world dying for a mature and vital love... 

When I was 5 I loved my original dog, “Tiny”....but when I was 12, she got sick and had to be euthanized. I accused my parents of not “loving her” like I did because they made that decision. Well, I was right. They grew, but I was still a 5 year old kid in a 12 year old body loving a dog without an adult mind.

Mature Love is the most difficult, mind challenging choice we can make in a world of complexities and vast choices. But it is the choice Jesus said we'd have to make if we were to be known as His true disciples.   The path I've found through this narrow way (sound familiar?) is the path of LOVING ONE PERSON SITTING IN FRONT OF ME. If that sounds cliched, let me challenge you...

If I get publicly loud about political ideals and indignant about groups of people seeking to corrupt my world I might ultimately find ONE person, sitting in front of me, from one of those groups...seeking and perhaps even desperate for...Love. I can not afford to fight broad political groups when I am committed to LOVE ONE PERSON...sitting in front of me. 

Looking in the eyes of that ONE person, my broad generalized political statements will pale. That ONE person, whose singular "finger-printed" life story, will not fit my pat simplistic answers edited to fit on a political party platform. Like Dr. King, my passions had better be shaped by my real life, first hand experiences, or I risk making Jesus my poster boy for a current news cycle rant. 

I'm not suggesting we should be dispassionate about worthy causes...I'm simply shouting that we should remember that "ONE PERSON" who is disparate for love but might be afraid of us due to our loud political protests. 

Yes...that's a tough gig. Love is ALWAYS the hardest choice to make in the midst of our simplistic news cycle driven culture. 


“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” ~Erich Fromm