Why we need people…not only in family, life’s journey, friendship…but in “church”

2https://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2018/october/worship-anywhere-why-church.html?paging=off

Check that link out above!  Karl Vaters is a fellow clergy guy…he writes not only a blog but a regular column for Christianity Today.  He is a “champion” for “small church” in an age that “worships” the large gatherings of mega-institutionalism.  The article is worth the read but the HEART of it is here:

“I don’t go to church to worship Jesus. I go to church to worship Jesus with other people. Because I need to worship Jesus in the company of others. We all do.

I need to worship Jesus along with…

  • People I know
  • People I don’t know
  • People who know me
  • People I share life with
  • People I share common beliefs with
  • People I disagree with
  • People who love me anyway
  • People I have to love anyway”

I couldn’t agree more!

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Some “Habits of the Home”

1Habits of the Home

Today I want to share some small things that you can do in your home with your family, no matter what the size. These are great habits that can continue to solidify your commitment to building a Jesus-centered home.

1. Family Verse. Every week, month or even year, your family can choose a verse from the Bible and then recite the family verse at Sunday dinner. For example, one family chose Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

2. Fishbowl Prayers. I think it is a good habit to make a point of adding some type of intercessory prayer at meals to make sure we make a habit of focusing outwardly as a family towards other people’s needs. I don’t do it 100% of the time because a) I’m generally hungry and b) I can’t often think of things to pray for on the spot. I read a story about a pastor who figured out an easy way to handle this by keeping a fishbowl in the kitchen. The family is invited to write prayer requests on cards or slips of paper and place them in the bowl. At meals, a member of the family pull one out at random and pray for that person/situation.

3. “One Meal” Fasting. In my personal life, I try to fast one meal sometime every week. No, I’m not Catholic. But it’s a practice I think makes a lot of sense for Protestants too, which is why I’m including it here. Why? First, fasting is a “time-honored” spiritual discipline and tradition that is BIBLICAL and theologically sound. It’s something we can all do together as families. Second, many Christians around the world do still fast from meat on Friday, so there’s also a greater sense of corporate fasting as the body of Christ. Third, the practice of fasting is ancient. Why reinvent the wheel when there’s something we can do that Christians have always done? We’ve been very good at keeping this fast, though it isn’t fully meeting my expectations yet in terms of focusing our minds on the things of God.

4. Thanks Log. I’m going to start keeping a “thanks log” in 2019. Whenever something good happens in my life, I am going to try to append a dated bullet point about it in an MS-Word document. I don’t want to make this a huge chore or burden, but I want to start compiling a list of “thank you God’s.”. It’s amazing the sheer number of things that go right in our lives on a daily basis that we don’t really remember or take stock of. Re-reading some of these periodically always helps keep me in a thankful and humble frame of mind.

None of these is earth-shattering or totally unique I know. That’s the point. They are just simple, small habits. But there’s no reason not to do small things as well as large ones.

What about you? Have any good habits from your home you’d like to share? Email them to rdugall@apu.edu because we need to be sharing what we’ve learned and what works with other people.

This is actually TOO GOOD to not bring to your attention!

2I get all sorts of emails…some, or I should say MOST, welcomed…others not so much.  This “online magazine” has articles that never seem to disappoint.  Here is an article that I read this morning that is simply great.  Do I agree with every sentence?  Well, maybe not but, overall, it SO works!  Are you interested in “church?”  Are you NOT interested in “church?”  Here is a good article that will challenge you either way.  It may look trite for me to simply say, “I like it” but that’s the truth!

 

CHOOSING CHURCH
There are lots of reasons to avoid church, but here are the reasons to look again.

Appears in Fall 2017 Issue: A Church for the World
by Marilyn McEntyre

Some of us remember Enid Strict, the infamous and wildly popular “church lady” played by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live. Enid was a caricature of the busybody finger-shaking moralist no one would want to share a pew with. Her routines included condemnations of all things sexual, judgments on the rich and famous, and a little “superior dance” she performed to music played by an organist named Pearl. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit to having watched SNL, let alone laughed at the antics of the church lady. But I did. I have also shared Jane Austen’s wry amusement at the Reverend Mr. Collins’s obsequious panderings and laughed out loud at Stella Gibbons’s portrayal of Amos Starkadder, pastor of the Church of the Quivering Brethren in Cold Comfort Farm, who delivers stock hellfire sermons in Scottish brogue. Figures like these continue to amuse readers and viewers by exposing the false pieties and self-serving practices of Christians at their worst.

Caricatures of Christians and their churches go back to Chaucer and beyond, some finding their inspiration in the Gospels themselves, where Jesus not only rebukes the Pharisees but also makes them look ridiculous. We’re an easy target. Churches have never occupied an altogether comfortable place in culture, even where they have borne the state’s imprimatur. North American churches, shaped by settlers who imported their own, sometimes unorthodox versions of ecclesial practices, have been home to outliers, autodidacts, and undisciplined zealots. Frontier congregations found their relationship to Rome, Wittenberg, and Canterbury stretched and thinned by distance and the unceremonious necessities of survival. American churches bear the shame of having sanctioned slavery and even genocide.

You take a second look at them as you reach out to exchange with them a peace that sometimes passes understanding.

Yet churches have survived the potshots of satirists and, more consequential, internal disorders and diseases that have afflicted them for centuries: pride, envy, anger, avarice, gluttony, lust, and sloth—just to review the short list. A lot of them not only survive, but also thrive. Many are repositories of great spiritual wealth hidden behind flaking paint and dated amber windows. They are a last resort for people who have tried bars, bowling leagues, service clubs, and block parties and still find themselves lonely and directionless. They offer surprises to people who come as pallbearers to their mother’s funeral only to find themselves wanting, for reasons they can’t quite name, to return the following week. They preserve language that lifts the mind out of the muddy waters of media-speak and into unnerving encounter with the Word that was in the beginning. Some of them. Not all of them.

By virtue of moving around a good bit, I’ve had occasion over the years to visit churches, choose among them, and change my mind occasionally. What I want and need from church now isn’t at all what I hoped for at fifteen, when I spent Sunday evenings in earnest Bible study with the youth group, or at twenty, when I emerged from years of camp songs into the quiet dignities of liturgical worship, or at thirty, when I found deep respite in the sturdy silence and simple practices of Quakers. There were stretches of time when, afflicted with church fatigue, I didn’t go at all. I was a cradle churchgoer, child of missionary parents, and the very idea of sleeping in, reading the Times in my pyjamas, and heading out for a Sunday morning bike ride was both tempting and unsettling. Ultimately, it was unsatisfying, so I returned, but my stretch of churchless Sundays did give me some understanding of and sympathy for the inertias that keep people away from church.

There are a number of reasons not to go to church. At risk of stating the obvious, here are a few:

Some churches are clubby and exclusionary. They have a house style. Long-time parishioners know all the moves, liturgical and social. They refer to their favourite person of the Trinity in a socially correct way. There appears to be a dress code. They shake hands with visitors at the “coffee hour,” but don’t exhibit much real curiosity about what might have brought them there. The dominant demographic is painfully apparent. Those who don’t fit the profile might consider going elsewhere.

Some churches offer easy, oversimplified preachments that provide scant help to those grappling with the complexities of contemporary life. Sermons tend to reiterate familiar condensations of the gospel message, but only the parts of it that pertain to a rather insular range of concerns, with a heavy emphasis on comfort rather than challenge. The intention seems to be that people leave feeling affirmed, though it also seems likely that some leave feeling hungry, restless, and unsatisfied.

Some churches’ efforts to be relevant lure them into imitating popular culture in language, music, and technology, all rather less effectually than their secular counterparts. Sometimes this involves screens and electric guitars. Sometimes it involves adults attempting awkwardly to sing along with swaying high school vocalists. Sometimes it involves banners and slogans. Some notion of a common denominator appears to determine worship style, but the result is a confused mix of media and a diluted message.

Some churches are boring. Their sermons, websites, and congregational enterprises tend toward the predictable. They play it so safe, seeking not to offend anyone anywhere on the political or theological spectrum, that they become lukewarm. And we know what Jesus does to the lukewarm.

Some churches are partisan. They support candidates and single-issue voting. Rather than nuanced reflection on doctrine they become doctrinaire.

The list is depressing. I edited it down. But here’s the thing: the list of reasons to go to church is longer and more interesting. Compelling, even. It’s a list I’d be glad to share with the cynical, the indifferent, and the uninformed. It’s not an indiscriminate invitation to hasten out next Sunday seeking the nearest steeple, but a challenge to find, even if it takes some church-hopping, those places where the Spirit is working quiet wonders among ordinary people. Here are five reasons, not necessarily in order of importance, I would give the reluctant and the skeptical to check out church, despite their reservations:

A healthy church will help you get over yourself. One of the primary aims of good preaching is to invite us into a story much larger than our own. In a healthy church, conversation about what the privileged owe the poor will be made local and urgent every time the story of the rich young ruler is read. Personal wealth and the wealth of the nation will be re-examined with a critical eye every time the parable of “bigger barns” comes up, or the camel squeezing through the eye of a needle. Shared prayers of thanksgiving will not only reflect but also awaken gratitude. In a healthy church people’s needs are made known and other people organized to help meet those needs—deacons, elders, volunteers who take food to the housebound or take people who can’t drive to doctors’ appointments. In a healthy church you begin to recognize yourself as someone with gifts to give—time, money, energy, expertise—and you begin to want to give them, because the grace that comes with giving is suddenly so startlingly apparent. You find a compassionate curiosity growing in you that leads you into conversation with people you might otherwise have avoided. You take a second look at them as you reach out to exchange with them a peace that sometimes passes understanding.

In an urban church we attended for a time homeless people came regularly to worship. Some were disruptive; one mumbled, one snored, one wandered around the back of the sanctuary. They were familiar folks who weren’t getting nearly the help they needed. One was unwashed, and smelled. Sharing a pew with him was challenging, but when he happened to sit close by the thought never failed to occur to me that next to him is exactly where Jesus would be. By choice.

It may not seem that acknowledging guilt would be a particularly attractive reason to attend church, but you find, if you do it, that it’s amazingly restorative.

God loves you with infinite, unconditional love, we learn in church, but to experience that love fully, you have to get over yourself—excessive concern with your own welfare, your own family, your own ambitions or failures. When you enter into the life of a church, you are freed to be a servant. It is true that you can discover the joy of generosity and service elsewhere. But healthy churches are reliable places to find those opportunities, every week at the back of the bulletin or in the newsletter or on the website, to witness the fruits of the Spirit, who brings humble efforts to fruition, and to be reminded by story, song, and your neighbour’s example what Christlike looks like.

A healthy church will allow you to acknowledge guilt and experience forgiveness. As Toni Morrison’s wonderful character Baby Suggs puts it to her congregation, here you can come to “lay it all down.” It may not seem that acknowledging guilt would be a particularly attractive reason to attend church, but you find, if you do it, that it’s amazingly restorative. Most of us carry around guilt like a stone in a pocket. Sometimes you get so used to its weight you stop even noticing it. So it can take a long time, if you’re leading what seems to be a decent and innocuous life, to get to a place where guilt becomes pain and you long for forgiveness.

When you do get there, a healthy church is a good place to go. Of course, the first place to go might be to those you’ve offended, to ask directly for forgiveness or make amends. Jesus endorses that bit of common sense, as does every Twelve-Step program. But if those you have offended have died, or are unavailable, or if your guilt has metastasized into pervasive unease or a troubling awareness of complicity in culture-wide injustice, it requires a different kind of healing—one pastors and priests are trained to help with. In churches one may discover how significantly pastoral care differs from psychotherapy, and why one might need both.

Guilt is hard to release on your own. I’m often puzzled when I hear well-intentioned advice to “forgive yourself,” since in my experience that would be a lot like pulling myself up by my own bootstraps. When I do manage to “forgive myself,” it looks suspiciously like rationalization. I can shift the stone from one pocket to the other and relieve the stress on one aching muscle, but it’s not the same as “laying it all down.”

Until you’ve tried it, it’s hard to imagine the complete release that can come with full, open-hearted confession. And though the act of corporate confession repeated weekly in many churches may seem rote, speaking it creates an opening in the heart that widens over time into willingness, even eagerness to be “cleansed,” released, forgiven, and to find that energy begins to flow again that has been tied up in the arduous business of ego-protection and self-deception.

It’s certainly possible to give and receive forgiveness without benefit of church. But within the church a dimension of forgiveness is taught and practiced that is peculiar to Christian worship. Forgiveness, as the church understands it, is a mystery: we are, as Luther put it, simul justus et peccator—completely justified, and completely sinful. The forgiveness Christ offered and the church makes available is absolute. Though there may be work to do on a human level, once we are “clothed” in Christ’s righteousness, we can walk in freedom, straight to those places where we have amends to make, and make them with lighter and more hopeful hearts. We can afford to confess because confession doesn’t mire us in shame, but lifts us into sure and certain hope and a life of gratitude.

These are theological truths that can only be grasped in faith, but they’re worth exploring even for the unbeliever, especially when therapy has worn thin and relationships are frayed and you find yourself pretty sick of your own addictive habits. Kneeling in a healthy church and reading with others that we have sinned “in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone” may both reframe the pain of guilt and relieve it.

One form of confession seems to me an especially rich reflection on the nature of sin (a word we’re unlikely these days to hear spoken without irony anywhere outside the church). It includes these lines:

We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. The first time I heard it, I thought of the drone strikes, white-collar crime, and shady corporate practices I like to condemn, and took instant account of my own complicity. One dimension of sin is the general pollution we all live with. I look at smokestacks spewing toxins into industrial communities or at contaminated rivers or orchards where pesticides leave residues on human skin and realize that the “goods” I take for granted involve me in evils I need to recognize—not with personal shame, perhaps, but with determination to work, once I am “forgiven, restored, and strengthened,” to help stop the harm and heal the earth we share. These concerns are large and weighty. A healthy church equips us to tolerate an awareness that could be crushing if we tried to sustain it all alone and then to act.

A healthy church will invite you into countercultural community. It won’t be an extension program in civil religion. It won’t (and I know there are faithful folk who disagree) fly the national flag in the sanctuary. It won’t stamp its seal of approval on “our way of life,” whatever that has come to mean to comfortable North Americans. It will “afflict” the comfortable. It won’t offer cheap grace. It will help you share—and want to share—accountability for practices that affect the vulnerable. It will expand the repertoire of questions you raise about what is “normal” in the culture you inhabit. A healthy church will look at norms with a critical eye, holding them up to the light of Christ, which involves deep reading of Scripture and deep engagement with biblical ethics. It will lift you out of your cultural landscape enough to take a long, even transcendent, view of it. It will lead you to identify with and act on behalf of the disempowered—migrant workers, prisoners, people with no health insurance, people whose lands and water have been expropriated or contaminated, underpaid labourers, victims of domestic abuse. The list goes on. A healthy church will have the conversation and invite you into it. It will provide you with dates and local leaders and action plans. It will teach you to pray as you go.

Some churches are sanctuaries where immigrants and undocumented workers can find safety and compassionate help while they figure out survival strategies. Some churches participate in projects organized by Habitat for Humanity or the International Rescue Committee or local homeless shelters. Some organize their own versions of such endeavours. One example of imaginative, humble service is our church’s taking over a laundromat once a month, arriving with stacks of quarters, letting it be known that homeless folks can get two loads of laundry washed and folded while they wait. Some pack lunches. Some repair and distribute bikes. Some supplement medical care through parish nursing. The list is long. Many of these things are being done outside churches, of course, but when church people do them, even if they say nothing about Jesus, and often they don’t, the love, humility, convicted consciences, and real joy in service that animates their efforts rarely goes unnoticed.

On Sundays, and they are not infrequent, when I don’t really feel like getting dressed and going to church, but do it anyway, I invariably leave with a gift I could not have foreseen.

Where government falls short, the church often steps in. If you look into the “breach,” wherever it gapes, you’re likely to find church people who have leapt into it once more.

A healthy church will give you access to a treasury of words and music. It will bring you into a centuries-old conversation that includes the whole “communion of saints.” Where else are you likely to encounter words like “blessing” or “grace” or “parable” or “holy” or, for that matter, “shibboleth” or “Sabaoth”? Where else are you likely to encounter a conversation that takes you to the ancient world and back, bearing gifts for the present, sometimes wrapped in antique language?

Among the most memorable sermons I’ve heard are a few that focused on a single word or phrase from Hebrew or Greek. One drew attention to the word schizomeno—meaning in Greek “ripped open.” It occurs twice in the Gospels: once when the temple veil is torn the day of Christ’s crucifixion. The other is when “the heavens opened” upon Christ’s baptism. But they didn’t just “open.” They were ripped open. God broke into history with a voice and an act of salvation unlike any other. The drama of that moment would be easy to overlook without the guidance of someone who struggled through seminary Greek in order to help us read more deeply the challenging, mysterious, much-maligned text we call holy.

In that text the church is guardian of a cultural treasure like no other. There are sacred texts in other traditions, to be sure, worth study and reflection. But this one is unique in its multiplicity of sources, its rich, ragged stories, sometimes riddled with gaps, its many literary genres, in the way it gives access to a God who will not be reduced to human dimensions and in the simple fact that it’s a taproot of Western culture. It is the source of archetypes, conceptual structures, metaphors, and mythic symbols that give our psychological and social lives shape and depth. Seventy-five translations of the Bible still exist in English. One can spend many months in Bible study considering what difference the differences among them make.

To study the Bible with people of faith is to see it not only as an object of academic or antiquarian interest but also as a living word, a source of intellectual challenge, inspiration, comfort, uncomfortable ambiguities, and endless insights for people who gather in willingness to accept what seems to be God’s invitation: Wrestle with this. Healthy churches wrestle, working out their salvation over coffee and concordances, knowing there is nothing pat or simple about the living Word, but that it invites us into subtle, supple, resilient relationship with the Word made flesh who dwells, still, among us.

Healthy churches are places of divine encounter. The disenchanted who have suffered from warped pieties and the skeptical who haven’t met a believer who meets their standards of intellectual integrity may simply not believe this. Nor might a person who has a thriving meditation practice rooted in non-Christian tradition: it’s become distressingly easy to point to churches that don’t, in fact, foster the silence, contemplative practices, or sustained, unstinting prayer that deepens and widens awareness beyond rationality or convention. But a healthy church does those things. It provides a place, a way, an invitation, and a sacred space in which, if you come with an open heart, you may find yourself, in spite of yourself, practicing the presence of God.

Singing is one way to “enter into God’s courts.” Few places are left where people gather and sing. Yet neuroscientists say that singing together promotes integration of brain functions, alleviates depression, and promotes mental health. When we sing we learn viscerally and audibly what it means to be “one in the Spirit.”

Hearing sacred texts read aloud also brings us into alignment with others who inhabit the same story. It is our story—all of ours—available to be entered and explored like a great territorial preserve. I have sometimes found that hearing a familiar phrase read aloud—”Be not afraid,” or “Come and see,” for instance—suddenly emerges in the context of a service as personal address. We gather in church because private, silent reading is not enough: we need to hear the living word breathed by a human voice.

And the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion—whatever name it is given in a particular denominational tradition—has become, for me, Protestant that I am, the moment of encounter I most eagerly await when I go to church. When I walk forward and kneel at the Communion rail, though other ways of receiving the sacrament have their logic and legitimacy, I make, each time, a new act of consent to God’s invitation to participate in divine life. I am reminded again of the shocking intimacy expressed in the words “This is my body. Take. Eat.” The message each time seems to me something like, “Do you get it now? How utterly I enter into your very being, your body and breath, to make you a Christ-bearer?”

I know a number of people who hesitate to talk about Jesus or Christ, but are comfortable with the term “Christ-consciousness,” meaning a higher state of awareness and awakedness to divine presence within and all around. Many mystics have testified to extraordinary moments of vision, transport, being subsumed in the Light, filled with the Spirit, empowered in sudden, inexplicable ways. As far as I know, none of them, Christian or non-Christian, has experienced the benefit of such experiences without two prerequisites: humility and community. We gather in churches because our combined will and willingness, our collective energy, our voices attuned and our attention directed toward God, enable something to happen that is far less likely to happen alone or at random.

Distracted, reluctant, confused, or apathetic you may be on any given Sunday, but if you go, something will happen. A word, a phrase, a flicker of candlelight, a gesture, an image, an extended moment of silence—all these have their effects. On Sundays, and they are not infrequent, when I don’t really feel like getting dressed and going to church, but do it anyway, I invariably leave with a gift I could not have foreseen. It’s not always the sermon—a good sermon is hard to find. And sometimes the readers read poorly or the person behind me can’t stop coughing or someone won’t take the crying baby outside. But underneath the distractions and irritations runs a current so strong it carries me in spite of myself. I float in mighty waters.

Not all churches are alike. Not all churches are healthy. The troubles that afflict unhealthy churches are nothing new: they are dishevelled or diseased or fatigued or torn by infighting. But even those churches contain within themselves the seeds of renewal. They aren’t simply dying institutions, irrelevant and poorly run; they are cell and tissue of the body of Christ. Within them people we may not enjoy but must engage with are, in very fact, brothers and sisters who belong to us and to whom we belong by a tie stronger than blood. All of us who labour and are heavy laden come to receive “the gifts of God for the people of God” and find that God’s people are also ours.

Yes, it is simply an “I love it” article

From a website dedicated to being an “apprentice” of Jesus – aka Disciple:

Goodness Gracious
By: Keas Keasler

When was the last time you teared up watching a movie, not out of sadness, but because you were inspired? In the opening scene of the 1998 film Les Misérables, a criminal named Jean Valjean is brought by the authorities before an old bishop. A day or so earlier, the bishop had opened his home to this man and provided him with a warm meal and a bed to sleep on, only to be taken advantage of and robbed by him in the middle of the night. Now the man has been caught and, as they say, the chickens have come home to roost. Surely he will be sent back to prison and locked up for another twenty years. Yet instead of condemning Valjean and retrieving his stolen goods, the bishop offers him the silver candlesticks he had “forgotten” and lets him go free.

Although I’ve seen the film several times, this scene always leaves me all choked up. This unexpected and astonishing act of goodness on the part of the bishop moves me beyond words. “Goodness gracious” is a proper way to describe it, for goodness and graciousness conspired in a way that changed Valjean forever. It also left its mark on me. When I first saw the movie I remember thinking to myself, “I want to be like that old bishop.”

In his new book The Magnificent Story, James Bryan Smith looks at the story of the gospel through the lens of what are often called the three transcendentals – beauty, goodness, and truth. In my opinion, beauty and truth are more readily identifiable, but what exactly is goodness? Smith defines goodness as “that which works for the benefit or betterment of others.” That which is good makes us better, builds us up, and inspires us. And the power of goodness is its ability to benefit all who encounter it – even those who only witness it or hear about it.

The latest findings in science confirm this. Neurologists say our brains are chemically wired to reward us for performing acts of kindness and generosity. It only takes a small act of generosity for oxytocin to be released in the brain—and oxytocin is most people’s favorite chemical. It’s what makes us feel warm and fuzzy. It is also an antidote to depression. And here’s the thing: not only does the person performing an act of kindness get a shot of oxytocin: so does the person on the receiving end of the act. Even someone who merely witnesses the act of kindness gets a shot of the feel-good chemical. Just seeing or hearing about human acts of generosity inspires us to want to do the same. It would appear that God has structured human life in such a way that goodness is contagious.

I’ll mention one more movie that had me teary-eyed and inspired. In The Two Towers, from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo and Sam are engaged in a long, hard struggle against the dark powers of Mordor. At a certain point it appears that all might be lost. Frodo is exhausted and at the end of his rope, but Sam reminds him that all great stories have heroes who found something to hold onto when others would have given up. Frodo then asks, “What do we have to hold onto?” To which Sam replies, “That there’s some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.”

Those words grabbed me so tightly that I could feel my eyes starting to sting and my cheeks growing warm. Why? Because the great temptation today, living in a broken world with so much confusion and pain, is to become calloused and even cynical about what we see around us. It’s easy to become resigned to the way things are. Yet the beautiful, good, and true story of the gospel begs to differ. The gospel declares that God has not given up on this world but is at work healing and restoring it. The gospel insists that there is good in this world, and that it’s worth fighting for.

And as Smith reminds us in The Magnificent Story, we have a place in this story, too. “We were made not merely to hear it,” he writes, “but to be in it.” The gospel is an invitation to enter into this divine drama and join God in spreading his gracious goodness. Will we do so?

Immerse Bible Project – Joshua

At our two faith communities in Long Valley, Idaho, we have embarked on our second of six volumes of the Immerse Bible.  What a great project!  We did the “Messiah” volume earlier in the year…now we are jumping into the “kingdoms” for the remainder of 2018.  The first book we are studying is the book of Joshua.  AS IS USUAL, now, I immediately have my friends do an internet search for the Bible Project to be able to view their EXCELLENT summaries of every book in the Bible.  Their “poster” for the book is depicted below.  These are great resources for learning more about the Bible as well as being a well-informed and “trained” Bible student!  Check them out sometime!  Click over to the Bible Project and do some “exploring” of Joshua with us!

Joshu poster

Discipleship Training Materials

I’ve been assembling, writing, and producing Discipleship Training materials for many years.  The illustration below is ONE image (thanks to Bob Logan) of a process from which we journey as disciples to faithfulness to our identity as Jesus followers as well as action that is consistent with that identity.  If you want to check out those resources (especially the bible studies related to this illustration), check out THIS LINK.

what does a disciple look like OSLC.001

Underlying Themes in Richard Rohr’s teachings…for your consideration

Many of you know that I am a Richard Rohr “fan.”  That word, “fan” is not meant to cheapen Rohr’s work…it is rather to indicate to you how much I admire Rohr’s thinking and bravery in stating spiritual realities and truths.  Rohr has been used by the Lord to challenge and encourage my thinking and deepen my desire to delve deeply into an experience of God.  Below are some of Rohr’s “basics” that are communicated in all of his writings and teachings.  See what you think!

SEVEN UNDERLYING THEMES OF RICHARD ROHR’S TEACHINGS

First Theme: Scripture as validated by experience, and experience as validated by Tradition, are good scales for one’s spiritual worldview. (METHODOLOGY).

Since the Reformation in the 16th Century, much Christian infighting and misunderstanding has occurred over the Catholic and Orthodox emphasis on Tradition (which usually got confused with small cultural “traditions”) versus the new Protestant emphasis on Scripture, even “Scripture alone!”

(which gradually devolved until each group chose among the Scriptures it would emphasize and the ones it would ignore). Both currents have now shown their weaknesses, their blind spots, and their biases. They lacked the “dynamic third” principle of God Experience: experience that is processed and held accountable by both Scripture and Tradition, and by solid spiritual direction and counseling.

Perhaps it is worth noting, on this feast day of John the Baptist, that he let his personal God Experience trump both Scripture (which he hardly ever directly quotes) and his own Tradition (which is why this son of the priestly class had to move his show down to the riverside). Maybe this is why Jesus both builds upon him and yet clearly moves beyond him and, in effect, critiques him (Matthew 11:11 [1]). Jesus clearly uses and respects his own Scriptures and his Jewish Tradition, yet interprets them both in light of his personal experience of God.

Second Theme: If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and on our side (FOUNDATION).

This theme summarizes the solid, but broad and inclusive, Christian doctrine (“the Perennial Tradition”), that underlies much of Rohr’s work.

If we want to go to the mature, mystical, and non-dual levels of spirituality, we must first deal with the often faulty, inadequate, and even toxic images of God that most people are dealing with before they

have authentic God experience. Both God as Trinity and Jesus as the “image of the invisible God” reveal a God quite different—and much better—than the Santa Claus image or the “I will torture you if you do not love me” God that most people are still praying to. Such images are an unworkable basis for any real spirituality.

Trinity reveals that God is the Divine Flow under, around, and through all things—much more a verb than a noun; relationship itself rather than an old man sitting on a throne. Jesus tells us that God is like a loving parent, who runs toward us, clasps, and kisses us while we are “still a long ways off” (Luke 15:20). Until this is personally experienced, most of Christianity does not work. This theme moves us quickly into practice-based religion (orthopraxy) over mere words and ideas (orthodoxy).

Third Theme: There is only one Reality. Any distinction between natural and supernatural, sacred and profane, is a bogus one (FRAME).

Almost all religion begins with a specific encounter with something that feels “holy” or transcendent: a place, an emotion, an image, music, a liturgy, an idea that suddenly gives you access to God’s Bigger World. The natural and universal response is to “idolize” and idealize that event. It becomes sacred for you, and it surely is. The only mistake is that too many then conclude that this is the only way, the best way, the superior way, the special way that I myself just happen to have discovered. Then, they must both protect their idol and spread this exclusive way to others. (They normally have no concrete evidence whatsoever that other people have not also encountered the holy.)

The false leap of logic is that other places, images, liturgies, scriptures, or ideas cannot give you access. “We forbid them to give you access, it is impossible,” we seem to say! Thus, much religion wastes far too much time trying to separate itself from—and create “purity codes” against—what is perceived as secular, bad, heretical, dangerous, “other,” or wrong. Jesus had no patience with such immature and exclusionary religion, yet it is still a most common form to this day. Idolatry has been called the only constant and real sin of the entire Old Testament, and idolatry is whenever we make something god that is not God, or whenever we make the means into an end. Any attempt to create “our golden calf” is usually first-half-of-life religion, and eventually false religion.

Fourth Theme: Everything belongs and no one needs to be scapegoated or excluded. Evil and illusion only need to be named and exposed truthfully, and they die in exposure to the light (ECUMENICAL).

We now know from cultural studies and historical experience that groups define themselves and even hold themselves together largely negatively—by who they are not, what they are against, and what they do not do. We need a problem or an enemy to gather our energies. We usually define ourselves through various “purity codes” to separate ourselves from the “impure” and unworthy. Pure worship (“what we are for,” or in support of, and what we love) is much harder to sustain. Thus, most reformations and revolutions need someone else to be wrong much more than they need any discovery of a higher level of consciousness themselves. This is an absolutely core problem.

Thus, Jesus never affirmed opposition or contrariness, because he knew that it was merely a same-level or lower-level response to the problem (even when empowered by some new and good ideas). The new group was infected by the same hubris and oppositional energy, and would soon engender the same kind of “reformation.” Thus, the endless progressive-conservative pendulum continues to swing and yet we do not move forward spiritually. “Emerging Christianity” is trying not to make this mistake, and hopes to be an inclusive notion of religion that is not against this or that. Evil and sin do need to be named and exposed (not directly fought!), however, and this is the prophetic role of religion. Without prophecy, religion is uncritical of itself and ends up being largely self-serving. Jesus’ starting point was never sin, but human suffering.

Fifth Theme: The separate self is the problem, whereas most religion and most people make the “shadow self” the problem. This leads to denial, pretending, and projecting instead of real transformation into the Divine (TRANSFORMATION).

It is really shocking how little Jesus is shocked by human failure and sin. In fact, it never appears that he is upset at sinners. He is only and consistently upset at people who do not think they are sinners. This momentous insight puts him centuries ahead of modern psychology and right at the center of rare but authentic religion. So much so, that most Christianity itself never notices or addresses this pattern. It is an “inconvenient truth.”

Early-stage religion is largely driven by ego needs: the need to be right, the need to feel morally superior, the need to be safe, and the need to project a positive image to others. At that point, religion has little to do with any real search for God; it is almost entirely a search for oneself, which is necessary—and which God surely understands. But we do this by trying to repress and deny our actual motivations and goals. These are pushed into the unconscious and called the shadow self. The shadow is not the bad self, but simply the denied self, which is totally operative but allowed to work in secret—and never called to accountability from that hidden place.

Most people (not just religious people) focus on their shadow self—to keep “feeling good about themselves”—and their ego enjoys a perpetual holiday. It is a massive misplacement of spiritual attention. You can be a prelate or priest in the church with a totally inflated ego, while all your energy goes into denying and covering up your shadow—which then gets projected everywhere else. What you don’t transform, you will transmit.

Sixth Theme: The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines (PROCESS).

Although related to earlier themes, this is also building upon them in terms of development of conscience, recognition of grace, concrete practice, and spiritual direction. In other words, how does transformation actually and concretely happen?

Ladder-climbing Western culture, and the clinging human ego, made the Gospel into a message of spiritual advancement—ascent rather than descent. We hopefully do advance in “wisdom, age, and grace” (Luke 2:40), but not at all in the way we thought. Jesus again got it right! He brilliantly and personally taught the way of the cross and not the way of climbing.

We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. God absolutely leveled the human playing field by using our sins and failures to bring us to divine union. This is surely the most counterintuitive message of the Gospels—so counterintuitive that it largely remains hidden in plain sight.

Seventh Theme: Reality is paradoxical and complementary. Non-dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion (GOAL).

Reality is “not totally one,” but it is “not totally two,” either! All things, events, persons, and institutions, if looked at contemplatively (non-egocentrically), reveal contradictions, create dilemmas, and have their own shadow side. Wisdom knows how to hold and to grow from this creative tension; ego does not. Our ego splits reality into parts that it can manage, but then pays a big price in regard to actual truth or understanding.

The contemplative mind will be at the heart and center of all teaching in our new Living School. Only the contemplative mind can honor the underlying unity (“not two”) of things, while also work with them in their distinctness (“not totally one”). The world almost always presents itself as a paradox, a contradiction, or a problem—like our themes of “action and contemplation,” “Christian and non-Christian,” or “male and female” first did. At the mature level, however, we learn to see all things in terms of unitive consciousness, while still respecting, protecting, and working with the very real differences. This is the great—perhaps the greatest—art form. It is the supreme task of all religion.

We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. God absolutely leveled the human playing field by using our sins and failures to bring us to divine union. This is surely the most counterintuitive message of the Gospels—so counterintuitive that it largely remains hidden in plain sight.

What if we sold all our church buildings? What would happen?

7cfa7-livefaith_2Yesterday, I gave a message at our Outdoor Worship experience in McCall on the IDENTITY of a disciple. I posed what could be a threatening question but is a question that, nonetheless, is one that clarifies and recalibrates our understanding of WHO we are in Jesus as His Body. I started out with this story:

A few years back, some leaders in our faith community were exchanging ideas through email on some creative strategies on how to keep our spiritual focus on the mission of God. In the exchange, one of our leaders simply stated, “why don’t we CELL the church?” Unfortunately, when his autocorrect program on the email program he was utilizing “saw” the word “cell,” it “corrected” it to read SELL. So, the question was accidentally posted, “why don’t we SELL the church?” Well, I must say, I was surprised and (truthfully) excited for a bit that one of our leaders would be so bold. What is interesting though is that question DOES “clear the deck” on some preconceived ideas and long-held misunderstandings of what it means to be the Body of Christ in our time being faithful in our sphere to the call and mission of Jesus.

Imagine with me, what if we did sell? What would we do? What is the nature of the Church?

You see, answering that question will give you a clear opportunity to see what it means to own our identity as disciples of Jesus. Because the BOTTOM LINE is this – the church, the Body of Christ is an organism, alive and well, of people living the life of Jesus…being disciples and making disciples.

Faithfulness, Living in Grace and by the Holy Spirit, obedience, being the Body of Christ – those are the non- negotiables of “church” – of our faith gatherings. Buildings are icing on the cake. They are nice to have but not a non-negotiable – the early church lived happily and powerfully without them.

Here’s what would happen – when Jesus followers, filled with the Holy Spirit, moved by that which moved those early followers of Jesus 2000 years ago, we would:

LIVE – We would live our lives as followers of Jesus – we would be incarnational, embedded, indigenous – we wouldn’t be following personalities, historical movements, or pursuing membership in a religious We would be quickly discerning what it means to be a Christian in our time and place…as Followers of Jesus, that would be our passionate pursuit.

CONNECT – We would find ways to connect with others who follow the same    In  Ephesians  4, Paul says, we are of “one faith, one Spirit, one Father, one baptism”…in other words, ONE. It is in our spiritual DNA to seek out others who follow the same Lord.

INTEGRATE – We would seek out the other gifts of the Spirit because there is something that we are missing when we don’t have all the gifts, the other parts of the Body of Christ alive and well in our midst. We know that – if I’m a hand, I know I need more to be complete – YES, I am complete in Christ but I am also a part of HIS We need equipping  and releasing  in understanding  who  we  are  in Jesus  and how God has “wired us up” to take our place, that  significant place, within the  economy of God and His  “strategy” for mission in and through us.

INTENTIONAL – We would rely on ourselves for spiritual. There was a study done by a HUGE megachurch a few years back that showed that all that the church “does” for people does not create followers of Jesus but followers and “addicts” of church programs.  Jesus calls EACH OF US  to follow him – to be dependent upon him – we cannot create addictive organizations that feed off of making disciples into co-dependents. We must rather train, equip and release people to know experience and plumb the depths of God’s grace and love through their own growing relationship with Jesus. We must grow “self-feeders,” if you will…people who take responsibility for their own growth in Christ. Fellowship and being faithful in the context of community is important…creating spiritual co-dependents is not.

WORSHIP – GROW – SERVE – WE would find ways to worship, grow, serve – in other words, we would do something together to honor God in all we are and ..that’s in our spiritual DNA as well.

DISCIPLE – We would disciple others naturally – we would go and be amongst, people we knew, neighborhoods and meetings places in town we already inhabit and we would share our lives and gifts. We wouldn’t have to depend on “someone else” to do what Jesus is calling US to do.

DEPENDENT UPON JESUS – We would be ultimately more dependent upon the Holy Spirit and NOT co-dependent upon the church.  The transfiguration story is an important paradigm in this regard – we got it wrong – Jesus NEVER INTENDED for us to set up “booths”…Jesus never intended for us to memorialize and attempt to repeat spiritual experiences. The rear view mirror in our cars is the size they are so that we can KNOW where we’ve been but also so that we can see where we are and where we are going. We are not to idolize our past otherwise our God becomes our past. Jesus is moving NOW…how is that true in our lives? When we know that, we know that Jesus is calling us again to a renewed sense of dependence upon him.

BUILD – You see, what would happen, and I say this in love, eventually, we would build another building and eventually get to the point where another pastor or leader or teacher or prophet would have to ask the same question we began ..

WE WOULD BE THE CHURCH INSTEAD OF GO TO CHURCH

This is a wake up call type of a question meant to snap us back to reality – just like the churches of Revelation who are called to return to their first love, resist compromising our Kingdom calling as well as to be and to be “HOT” for things of God, so we too must always embrace the fact that WE are the Body of Christ released into our world to make a difference in people’s lives to God’s glory! Are you GOING to church…or are you part of THE church, the one that is moving and active…the one that is the manifestation of the presence of Jesus in our lives?