Posts Tagged ‘church culture’

“We do not have time to waste our lives coasting out casual, comfortable Christianity.”

— David Platt, author of “Radical,” addresses the Urbana 2012 conference.

“What plan or dream will you give your life to that is more significant than this?”

Friends of ours were talking about their daughter. During lunch periods at her public high school, she’s befriended a girl who’s pregnant. Eventually, she invited the girl to youth group at church.

“Will I be judged?” the girl asked.

“Yes, by some,” our friends’ daughter responded. “But there will be a lot of others who won’t. They’ll be glad you’re there.”

That’s the most real, honest answer I’ve ever heard to that kind of a question. No one finds universal acceptance in any social situation – even at church, where we should. Kids who are told to expect total grace from a church youth group will be disappointed, and maybe disillusioned.  I’ve seen it happen too many times.

At the same time, the answer promises this girl that she will indeed find a measure of love, acceptance and yes, grace.

The girl is thinking about it. A lot of us who don’t even know her are praying for her. We’re praying that she’ll see Jesus.

I think maybe she already has.

I’m reading a profound little book right now, called “Chaos and Grace” by Mark Galli, the editor of Christianity Today magazine.  Galli proposes that the American evangelical church is addicted to safety and control, and thus has a terrible time getting about the business of following Jesus.

Which reminds me of a scene in the 1997 sci-fi film, “Contact.” Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, is chosen as the lone passenger for a sphere-shaped spacecraft that humanity had been instructed by extraterrestrials to build. The plans did not include a seat or a harness, so human engineers added those to keep the occupant from flying around inside the capsule. In flight through interstellar wormholes, Ellie is strapped into the seat, but the turbulence is so great it nearly knocks her unconscious. Finally, she does something counterintuitive. She releases the harness and floats gently into the air, while the seat finally breaks free and slams into a wall.

By releasing control and trusting in the greater intelligence that devised the ship and its method of travel, Ellie floated freely and safely as the capsule arrived at its destination. Had she trusted in her own concept of safety, she’d have been crushed.

Sometimes, it’s only in giving up the safety devices we know and cling to that we find true safety in the care of God who knows what’s best for us.

Galli writes (p. 154):

It’s not hard to see how quickly stewardship of our time becomes a means to control and order our lives, rather than an opportunity to begin each day asking, “Spirit of God, to where will you carry me today?” Most likely it will be to the usual places, where we’ll meet the usual assortment of people. Once in a while, he’ll call us to forsake the golden opportunity in order to send us to the desert. Other times he’ll magically transport us to a place or calling we never would have imagined possible. But even when he again carries us back to the same office and classroom, to the same people we meet every day, we will know this: that our lives are not our own, and that the Spirit has given us these people and this place to do God’s work.

“If that is not liberating, I don’t know what is. Scary, to be sure. Requiring more faith than we seem to have on most days. But imagine how freeing it would be to release the death grip we have on our lives and just let the gracious and loving Spirit of Jesus carries us where he would each day.”

Ran across some great words today from Max Lucado’s book, “Fearless”:

“When fear shapes our lives, safety becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the risk-free life. Can the safety lover do anything great? Can the risk-averse accomplish noble deeds? For God? For others? No. The fear filled cannot love deeply. Love is risky. They cannot give to the poor.  Benevolence has no guarantee of return. The fear-filled cannot dream wildly. What if their dreams sputter and fall from the sky? The worship of safety emasculates greatness. No wonder Jesus wages such a war against fear.”

You can read the entire chapter here.

Legalism. We hate the word and all it conjures. Jesus hated it, saving some of his harshest criticism for the Pharisees and their fanatical attention to the law while ignoring the heart.

I grew up knowing Christians who would burn records, condemn certain books and never be seen at R-rated movies, yet who were horribly racist, or gluttonous, or indifferent to the poor. The church is experiencing a backlash against this sort of selective legalism, and that’s been a good and God-honoring thing.

I wonder sometimes, though, if disillusioned Christians (me included) have become so resistant to legalism that we also shun the ideas of personal holiness and intentional living.

If, for instance, I park myself in front of the TV some evening, scroll through a hundred channels and eventually land on some mindless reality show and veg for an hour, I’m probably not honoring God with my use of that time.

On the other hand, if I intentionally engage the same show, with an eye toward the spiritual state of our culture, and pop culture, then I probably am honoring God with that time. I’m engaging my brain and I’m letting the Holy Spirit, in effect, sit there next to me and have a conversation that I later can share with someone else.

In Philippians 4:8-9, Paul writes:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

T.J. Addington, in his book and blog, “Leading From the Sandbox,” writes about intentional living — which he boils down to mean, “Does my schedule reflect my personal priorities?”

Take that thought further: Do my entertainment choices – even when no one else is looking — reflect my personal priorities? Or, more precisely, do they reflect what I would like for my priorities to be?

Maybe the more-common question is: Is it worthwhile for Christians just to spend time being entertained, with no higher purpose? Just a little time to rest and recharge?

I think it depends on whether that entertainment moves me closer to God, or further away from God. As Paul would ask: Where am I fixing my thoughts?

If I watch a movie or TV show with a lot of extra-marital sex, or drunken debauchery, I notice something about my spiritual condition. It has sunk. Not because I want to emulate the people on the screen, but because I’m letting myself be entertained by watching depictions of sin. And then if I’m going to keep watching, I have to shut the door on God’s voice – like the end of the “Godfather” movies where Michael Corleone shuts the door in his wife’s face so the men can discuss the evil business they do.

And even in that little example I open the door to a “What’s appropriate for Christians?” conversation that makes people uncomfortable. I can watch the Godfather movies as a profound commentary on America, family and hypocrisy … or I can watch them as brutally violent gangster movies. I can watch “American Beauty” and be struck by its message about the spiritual emptiness of affluent suburbia, or I can watch it because it has a lot of sex and nudity. Where am I fixing my thoughts?

Can entertainment be spiritually neutral? Sure. If I watch a few innings of a Cubs game, my relationship with God doesn’t change much. Then again, I may get either angry or depressed about the sorry state of my team. Being a Cub fan does make one very cynical.

If I watch “30 Rock,” or reruns of “Seinfeld,” can I appreciate those shows’ great writing and wit, and get past their very unbiblical worldview and content? Again, I think it depends on my spiritual state of engagement and where my thoughts are fixed.

And can I watch “Caddyshack” and appreciate the … oh never mind.

The bottom line is, this conversation leaves more than one spiritually solid place to land. That makes legalists uncomfortable.  At the other end of the spectrum, it touches nerves. But our entertainment choices do affect our spiritual condition. Let’s not avoid the conversation because we’re afraid of lapsing into legalism.

I am concerned about the drummer at church. I’m not sure he’s getting any air.

A few years back, when the church first went to a semi-contemporary service on Sunday mornings, the drum kit was set up nonchalantly near the back of the stage. As far as I could tell, everything sounded fine.

Then, one Sunday, we walked into the auditorium to see the drummer behind a set of three Plexiglas walls. It looked a little like one of those old privacy screens people changed clothes behind in 1960s movies … but minus the privacy. I wondered what sort of international incident had occurred to bring orange-level security around this one man with sticks.

Church services proceeded without incident, with the drums sounding a bit muffled. This setup endured for a year or two.  I was never sure if the drummer was being protected from snipers, or it the congregation was being protected from hearing the drummer. And I suppose those sticks could have shattered during some crazed rendition of “I Can Only Imagine,” sending shards flying into the front row and causing untold splinters.

But apparently this was not nearly enough protection, or drum muffling, because now they’ve completely encased the drummer in Plexiglas – roof and all. He wears noise-blocking headphones, which is a good thing because it must be so loud inside that box that his teeth are coming loose. And I don’t even want to think about what it smells like in there.

Meanwhile, all I can think about when the band plays during church is the “Rock and Roll Creation” scene in “This is Spinal Tap” when Derek Smalls gets stuck inside the plastic pod and keeps playing bass while the roadies try to open it with a hammer and a blow torch.

I’ve since learned that this veritable Cone of Silence is supposedly about sound isolation. You don’t want drum noise bleeding into everyone else’s mics. But before the Plexiglas house I don’t remember this ever being a noticeable concern. I’m not convinced this whole thing wasn’t just about throwing a bone to the people who think drums are Satan’s noisemakers and, along with saxophones and ukuleles, never should be allowed in church.

So the next logical step, for the good of all involved, is moving the drummer completely offsite, to a secure location fortified by 12-inch-thick lead walls. The sound feed from the stage could be piped in, and he could play along without causing danger to anyone.

Also the church wouldn’t have to keep a blowtorch at the ready.

Typically, when I talk with someone about matters of faith, the conversation ends before I get to the part about breaking baseball bats over my leg, or smashing a pile of cement blocks with my forehead. I suppose if you get deep enough into systematic theology at some of the better seminaries, those topics come up.

To understand The Power Team, you have to forget all sense of logic and … well, even then, I’m not sure there’s a good way to explain The Power Team. Their mission statement includes this: “Drawing people from all walks of life together into one setting, through the use of performing visually explosive feats of strength, by incredible athletes, who share the life-changing message of the cross.”

Uh, OK. I guess I get it: They’re a troupe that uses high-octane entertainment to whip up the crowd, and then at the end of the evening they body-slam them (see what I did there?) with the Gospel. “Look, honey. That muscle-bound guy just blew up a hot water bottle until it exploded in his face. Now there’s a faith I can use!”

Think about Christian believers in a place like Libya or Saudi Arabia, who have to gather secretly and who risk imprisonment and even death for their faith. Think about Christians right now in Egypt, who are living their faith under threat of attack and murder by militant groups. How, exactly, would American Christians explain something like The Power Team to those believers?

I wouldn’t even know where to start. Except to apologize.