Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Renounce Religion! Seek Only the Kingdom of God!

Before I begin this blog, I need to thank our church cleaning person. She does a great job keeping up with our very over-used building, but that is not where I need to thank her the most today. I need to thank Penny Hagar because she inadvertantly pointed me to a book on my shelf with an of off-hand reference she made in an e-mail this morning. She was talking about the author, Dr. Myles Monroe and his recent teaching on the Kingdom of God. She said it reminded her of what I was preaching and teaching at church. That little comment refreshed my memory of his book that I had given to me as a gift about a year ago. I pulled it off the shelf, read the preface and danced around my office. I'll get around to reading the rest of the book this week.

Here is a taste of what set my feet to jumping; "The greatest threat to the future of the world is Religion. Nuclear weapons, terrorism, AIDS... are simply tools used by religion. More wars have been fought in the name of religion than any other influence. Millions have died over the past 2,000 years under the destructive hand of religious zeal. Misplaced and misguided religious passion has produced such historical scars as the Crusades, the Inquisition, ethnic cleansing, and the horror of the Holocaust." Why did I dance? Because I love confirmation of God's Word in my heart.

Jesus did not come to start a new religion. He did not come to take sides politically. HE CAME TO TAKE OVER! His Kingdom is what He is all about. Jesus' proposal to us about His Kingdom is so expansive, that He promised that if we seek the Kingdom first (to aim at, strive for in all our pursuits) that every need of our life will be met. Read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6 and 7; it's Constitution of King Jesus and His Kingdom. No religious trappings, no religious bigotry and no religious big-headedness here. We are to think of birds and grass and flowers as the basis of our life and living. Forget about religious appearances, think perfume, fish and trees. And when it comes to the art of "preaching" (a personal favorite of mine) think of an authority that bounces the heads of current religious power brokers.

So, if there is a religious bone in your body that keeps you from living in the Kingdom, REPENT NOW. Change your mind and join me in a wild dance into the Kingdom of God!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

What if We All Just Started Loving God?

The egghead brainiac reading the title of this blog might ask, "Who is this lightweight author?" The warm fuzzy emotioniac might say, "O, yes! I feel that is soooo right!" The non-thinking, non-feeling average western Christian robotiac might read it and say, (in a monotone sound) "That's exactly what I am doing". But something, no.....SomeOne....inside me is crying out, "Hear, O Israel (the people of God's present chosing and calling; Romans 2:28,29), the Lord our God is One Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength....".

Loving God is no head trip, no warm fuzzy feeling trip and it is most certainly not an empty, passion-less, plain vanilla, pale, sterile, antiseptic, uninspiring, tranquilizing trip! At the risk of sounding obvious, it is about LOVE! You remember that thing called love don't you?

Unpredictiable, breath-taking, pulse pounding, mentally consuming, butterfly in your gut experience....LOVE. Sometimes maddening because your lover makes no sense but your inner connectedness to them is stronger than your need to "win". The motivation for poetry, songs, paintings, sculptures, carvings in trees-school desks-etc. The inspiration for novels. The reason Junior High boys take a shower. LOVE.

When did we lose the capacity to see that loving God came under these same catagories? Why do we put God last on our list of "falling in LOVE"? Who in our lives gets the love that is intended only for God? What mystery somebody are we chasing not knowing that when we find whoever "they" are, that we wasted our time chasing "them" and did not pour our love on the feet of God and then kiss those same feet in worship? What church would risk everything, and I do mean everything, to promote the all out, even reckless pursuit of just flat out LOVING God?

Well, the answer to the last point is; the church that I am shepherding here in Forest Wisconsin; Living Word Chapel. We might not do it perfectly, but the last time I looked, real love was not a science. In fact, the first time most of us "fell in love" and we asked some one to explain love to us, all we got was a goofy look in return.

I will do what I know to do to lead my flock to a passionate love for God. Why? Because religion is dead and church systems are failing. Calling people to an all out love for God is the only truth that will build the Kingdom of God and potentially create an authentic spirituality that is worth embracing. The church in America is dying for change, but just rearranging schedules or bringing in different worship styles is like giving a cadaver a flu shot. We must, TODAY, start LOVING GOD like there is no tomorrow. Like Saint Janis Joplin said, "When you hold somebody, you've got to hold them like its the last minute of your life, man".

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Weekend Nazi

Those of you who know me know that my hobby is acting. Down through the years I have played parts large and small in community theater, a small semi-professional stage and a wide variety of church dramas. I guess since I don't rock climb, parachute, hunt or anything else requiring some degree of non-work related risk, it is just my way of tempting fate. The difference is that in the other forms of risk-taking you stand a fair chance of physical injury or death. Most acting related hazards involve a bruised ego. Much less lethal but adrenalin inducing none-the-less.

Our church just finished a great run of an off broadway play called, "Smoke on the Mountain" and I played Burl Sanders. The character is a combination of Andy Griffith and Jed Clampett. I will spent several weeks trying to get rid of his 1930's southern accent (not to mention the songs I had to sing that are still renting space in my mind). Right after one of the productions, the lady who runs a local community theater came to me and told me that she needed an emergency favor. This week she is running a production of "Sound of Music" and the guy who played the main mean Nazi got a call to be in a movie out west and he bailed on her at the last minute. Could I please play the Nazi one week after playing Andy/Jed? The call of risk over rode my common sense. Last weekend, "ya'll come", this weekend, "HEIL HITLER".

Last night, at the one and only full practice I can attend before opening night tomorrow, I found myself hiding in a dark backstage corner, trying to read my prompts and getting ready to run across stage in my SS uniform chasing the missing Von Trapp family. Suddenly, I became aware of a tiny little red headed 7 year old hiding in another sub-staging about 10 feet away. She is playing the youngest Von Trapp. Well, the point is, when I could make out her sweet face I saw real terror looking back at me. That's when it hit me; I look scary in my jack booted, swastika decorated costume and she's getting ready to pretend to be "hiding" from the Nazi monsters that are soon to be stalking her.

I wanted to smile at her, or make a funny face, wave cutely, or anything to relieve her tension. But the moment was gone, my prompt came up, and I was off across the stage sounding like a German (from down south) yelling orders to find the Von Trapp family. This morning I can't get that frightened little face out of my mind. It was such a poingnant slice of time.

This might not be a profound blog, but I just needed some forum to "confess". I thought talking southern hick and singing old blue grass gospel music was haunting. Now, I'm really haunted! Sometime this weekend I NEED to find a moment with that little Von Trapp sweetheart and do what I can to make sure I don't become a permanent player in her inner stage of nightmares!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ned Flanders and Bishop Carlton Pearson

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had heard Bishop Carlton Pearson at a conference I attended in Atlanta. The setting was small and informal. He was asked to speak on the stir he has created of late when he says that, "God is not Christian". Not everyone in that room agreed with everything Bishop Pearson said, but I am certain that everyone in that room left the meeting knowing that a man of God had just challenged and blessed us. The good Bishop is saying some things that western Christianity needs to hear, even if, in the end result we still disagree. Truthfully, all he is really saying is that Christianity in 2005 has created a God in OUR image who gives us an excuse for hating the world, "God so loved...that He gave His only Son."

Another person I have heard recently is Homer Simpson's neighbor, Ned Flanders. He's not a preacher, in fact, he's not even real (and not just in the manner that some preachers and Christians aren't real); he's a cartoon character. But, he is the personification and compilation of what many outside observers have concluded to be a good picture of evangelical, fundementalist Christians. Homer once asked Ned where he had been and Ned's answer makes me hurt and giggle all at the same time: "We've been away to a Christian camp. We were learning how to be more judgemental."

Another speaker at the conference I referred to earlier said, "Jesus was crucified, not for what he said, but for what people said He said....and not much has changed 2005 years later." Sadly, the world is full of Ned Flanders and his flock who hear or see something on the surface and run to judgement faster than a speeding bullet. Ironically, it is for that very reason that the Holy Spirit is stirring Bishop Pearson to speak, so as to challenge what we have become.

I don't agree with everything that Bishop Pearson says, but I will tell you this much; I trust the Holy Spirit in him and in me to sort it all out and create more of the image of Christ in the Body of Christ, in the end result.

On a side note; last spring I had the wonderful opportunity to take my bride of 31 years on our first honeymoon to Jamaica. While there we attended a 2 day conference which included Bishop Pearson. I saw him a number of times back and forth on elevators, the hotel lobby and the beach. Now, I have been around preachers for more years than I have been married and I can smell pride and "fake" a mile away.... trust me when I tell you I have smelled all too much of that stench. But what I saw in Bishop Pearson was kindness, passion and REALITY, both on and off the stage. I hope that influence, and my own, helps to make the cartoon character, Ned Flanders, an obsolete image for my granddaughter's generation.

Bye, bye Ned.....

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Saint Janis

I love Janis Joplin. Her voice, her spirit, her passion and her hippy (albeit stoned) wisdom. At the Canadian Festival Express at Calgary, July 4, 1970, she said, "Everybody in the world wants the same "@#!" thing. They need the same thing....I don't understand why half the world is still crying while the other half is still crying too, man. I can't get it together. If you've got to care for one day, man....maybe you want to care for 365 can't....You got it for ONE day and that day better be your life. Because you could cry about the other 364 days but you're gonna lose that ONE day. That's all you've got. You've got to call that love, man....when you hold somebody, you've got to hold them like it's the last minute of your life." In an interview about her singing style she once said, "If I hold back, I'm no good. I'd rather be good sometimes than holding back all the time." ......AMEN.

Every so often I like to listen to her CDs and imagine that she's leading worship. I close my eyes and try to envision a cool church service with her throwing down her version of "Revelation Song" or "Jesus, Holy and Anointed One". I believe God had a calling on her life for just that purpose. I believe that her talent was God's gift that was tragically stolen by the culture of her day and lost on a church that was asleep at the wheel.

Whether she knew or not, she was desparate for the God Who gifted her. Whether we knew or not, we were desparate for the gift of God that was in her. I totally identify with her when she said, "When I hold back, I'm no good. I'd rather be good sometimes than holding back all the time." I preach based on that ideal. When I hold back, I'm no good. It isn't easy, but it is truth, and truth was never supposed to be easy.

I often wonder how many gifts from God, like Janis, are thrown away by the church because we are too self-righteous, too self-satisfied and too judgemental to see their potential gifting. Someone I heard recently said, "Christians are saints AWARE of Grace. Sinners are Saints UNAWARE of Grace." The Apostle Paul said that he was chosen for his calling from his mother's womb. That being the case, he sure did some destructive and nasty things before he was changed by the power of God. And I know the church of his day sure looked at him sideways for a while......but aren't you glad they finally got over their fear and received the man of God and his gift?

Ironically, God's goodness changed my life in the late 60's. I played a rough but mean guitar with no other idea of music except rock, the blues and alittle (cough, choke, spit) country. When I came to Christ and His Church, I was naive enough to think that my guitar could come with me. So, me and my Gretsch guitar came to the orchestra rehearsal. I started wondering if the song we were practicing was called, "Turn it Down" because 14 people around me kept chanting that phrase. One night, right after rehearsal, after everyone was gone and the sanctuary was empty, I turned "it" back up to just enjoy myself. I was immediately startled by a shouting deacon at the back of the sanctuary who wanted me to know, "This isn't a honky-tonk....turn that down!"

From that time forward, my Gretsch spent too much time in a closet, but in spite of that and many other unfortunate experiences, I remained naive and continued to love God. I just can't help but wonder how many others took their guitars, voices and gifts from God back into the "honky-tonk" (what a lovely term) and possibly died premature deaths, just like Janis. So, I take her wisdom; "You got to care about ONE DAY, man. That day better be your could cry about the other 364 days, but you're gonna lose that ONE day."

I'll be preaching tonight and I promise you this one thing; I won't hold back. Oh, and I'll be playing my new Gretsch guitar tonight too. Heh, heh, heh....I just dare any deacon within 20 miles to tell me to turn it down....