No Condemnation Here!

Welcome!

Every so often, I am “surprised” by my children greeting me as I come through the door from the garage into the house.  As I open the door, they are both crouched a few feet back, and together they jump up and yell “surprise!”

Honestly, I’m not really surprised.  I hear it coming.

More honestly, nothing could make me happier.

A good friend of mine once imagined out loud that heaven must be Mrs. Johnson’s doughnuts and touch football. He said this, of course, as a way of saying that he understood those two things – eating doughnuts and playing football as pure joyful relaxation.

I might define heaven as being greeted at the door by my children, full of energy and joy.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they might rather be upstairs playing or watching a show.  It doesn’t make any difference to me if they went to the back door begrudgingly at mom’s request.

All that matters in that moment is the beaming faces of my children glad to see me.

Comparing oneself to God can be really risky, but when I think about being greeted that way, I cannot help but wonder what joy it might bring God when you and I take the time to stop whatever else we are doing and welcome God into our presence.

You can shout “Surprise!” if you want.  God won’t likely be surprised; but I can almost guarantee God will smile. Even if you do it because someone else suggested it, give it a try.

I can imagine a little of what God must feel like.  And it is very, very good!

If it is true for Muslims, isn’t it true for Christians?

This past Sunday I preached about corporate worship. (I don’t mean the worship of corporations, but worshiping together with others) I chose not to approach it from the angle of being requiredor commanded, but rather stressing the benefits, the need, the value of worshiping together.

It turns out the Federal Bureau of Prisons agrees with me; there is power in worshiping together. John Walker Lindh, well known a decade ago as a young American convert to Islam who went to Afghanistan and joined the Taliban, is part of a group suing the Federal Bureau of Prisons for the right to pray together. They are allegedly allowed to gather, to talk politics, football, etc., but not to pray.

I told you there is power in gathering for worship and prayer!

What we worship

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I took this picture as I drove home from a meeting in Oklahoma City 10 days ago. Every casino I passed on I-35 that Sunday morning had a fairly full parking lot.

We have been hearing for years that worship attendance in the US is in decline.  This is apparently true for worship AT churches.

The parking lots at casinos has me thinking that attendance to what we actually worship is, perhaps, growing.

Should I Let Go?

This was originally a vlog entry, but it didn’t work.

I’m home today with Eliza who is getting over the croup. Having been in Dallas all day yesterday, I’m feeling really out of my routine.

Rachel called – she and Chris are/were planning this Sunday’s worship and wanted to consult me.  Not that I’m a worship consultant, but because I will be there with them Sunday for the 10:50 service.

Eliza is being baptized this Sunday morning. You are invited.

I had asked several months ago if I could take part in the service. Chris graciously invited me to preach, but I’d rather hear his preaching than mine.

I have found over the years that I’m just not very good at participating in worship when participating means sitting in a pew and following the steps in the bulletin.  I don’t insist on preaching every time (obviously), but feel better and like I’ve worshiped if I do something.

Is this something I should let go of, and learn to participate in worship as most of the congregation does?  I look forward to your input.

Presumed… non-Christian

Some months ago I was at a worship service where the song leader was trying to get the congregation more involved in singing.  He said, ‘Some of you don’t have anything to be happy about, but I want you to sing like you do!”

Taken in context, he was saying to these folks that since they weren’t Christian, they didn’t really have a reason for joy.

It’s a spiritualized version of calling kids “little heathen,” or one of many other little terms that we’ve developed, but as I heard him say this, my first thought was, “Who is he to say that non-Christians have nothing to sing for/be happy about?”  We’re in a service of worship of a God who isn’t willing that any should perish, but wants all to come to eternal life.  We serve and worship a God who, from the very start, wanted and still wants, fellowship and relationship with all of Creation.

I pointed this out to the musician after the service. It seemed like he got it.

The deeper point, though, is on what basis do we make such quick categorical assumptions that whole groups of people aren’t Christian?

Why does it seem some are quick to judge?

What are you into?

I already posted about this over on emergent Waco, but I want to go further here.

In a conversation with one of our youth here, I was told that he wasn’t “into religion.”

I pondered what all to do with that statement, and answered that sometimes I didn’t think I was all that into religion either.

His response, when I asked what he meant, was that he used to go to church, when he was little, but then someone told him he didn’t have to go anymore, and he quit going.

Is that what not being “into religion” means?  I can’t tell you how many people have told me they feel like they can worship God as well on the golf course or lake as in church (not that they do; just that they can).   So, perhaps, all those people just aren’t really “into religion” either?

I don’t mind telling you, I’m still a bit mixed on it all myself.  One of the few specifically memorable experiences I had at seminary was reading Bonhoeffer’s writings about “religionless Christianity.”  Those words wedged into me in a way that I’ve not since been able to shake.  They haunt me – more some times than others.

The only place that religion is defined in the Bible, James 1:27, says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

I don’t think that is what anyone means who says they aren’t “into religion.”

I think what they usually mean is that they aren’t into church.

There are aspects of church I’m not into, either.  When church is about maintaining a decaying bureaucracy, I’m not into it.  When church is about going through some supposedly spiritual motions because “we’ve always done it that way,” I’m not into it. When church is getting more people into a social club, I’m not into it.  When church is about offering people a hypothetical “get out of hell free card,” I’m not into it.

When church is about self-congratulatory stands against the next thing youth culture has adopted, I’m not into it.  When church is about fine-tuning definitions of who’s in and who’s out, I’m not into it. When church is about how many pipes an organ has or how great the lead guitarist is, I’m not into it.

On the other hand, God is not worshiped and cannot be worshiped, the same way on the golf course or lake as in the church. I suppose one can offer help and hope to widows and orphans from the green or a boat, but to keep oneself unstained by the world – ah, there… you’re going to need help.

We followers of Christ, we people of God need each other. We absolutely cannot make it on our own.  For this, if for no other reason, we need the church; we need religion.

Where the church (or religion) isn’t about the people of God caring for widows and orphans and helping one another remain unstained by the world, it really isn’t being the church. Where the church (or religion) is truly living as the Body of Christ, mutually supporting, admonishing, edifying, correcting, encouraging, challenging to remain unstained, that’s what I’m into.

What are you into?

That’s what I’m into.