Monday, August 29, 2011

Disconnect

I had an older man tell me there was a disconnect between my vision and my life. Then he paid for breakfast.

My two-year strategy to "throw all chips on the table" in reaching the town of Leesburg for Jesus was impressive. The plan included prayer walks, a name change, new t-shirts, service blitzes, and teaching specific to evangelism and integrated ministries. If our church budget stayed afloat, I considered throwing in a cotton candy machine.

The disconnect was my front porch. Its address posts a Warsaw address, not a Leesburg one. Years ago my wife and I decided to live closer to majority of our church members. In my brief stay at Leesburg Grace, the church has never surpassed two families (or couples) from the town. We are a commuter church. The previous week, another older leader assured me, "There is nothing unbiblical about going to church outside of one's neighborhood." If this were so, most American churches would be unbiblical. (Oh, wait....)

To be honest, I don't want to leave my front porch. We have established roots and made spiritual connections in our neighborhood. These are God-directed. But I also feel compelled to preach and perform the gospel of Jesus to the broken and hardened town of Leesburg. This cannot be accomplished from my front porch. Nor can it be accomplished alone.

So I wrestle. Can I live with the disconnect? Can I alter my strategy so that it reads "mostly in" instead of "all in." Can I move the church to Warsaw? Can I move my neighborhood to Leesburg? Can I continue with "business-as-usual," and use our savings on a cotton candy machine? Only time will tell...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bread and Cup

Leesburg Grace is now offering a Gluten-free "This is My body" offering at Communion. We started this yesterday as our worship service closed with the Bread and Cup. It was appropriate because the sermon focused on Christ's humility and the Corinthian church's disarray. Their communion services provided a picture of freedom-gone-bad. Apparently the church's wine was better than the vat at home, and the bread fresher. Corinthians were gorging themselves on blood and body (1 Cor. 11:23-34). It's no wonder the early church earned a reputation for cannibalism.

Paul was not happy about this abuse of ordinance. The one bread was supposed to symbolize Jesus' broken body. The one cup reflected Jesus' shed blood (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Together the imagery remembers Christ Jesus humbled, crucified, and given as a substitute for the sins of the world.

Certainly, there is something mysterious about this picture of body and blood. Throughout church history it has excited disputes and incited divisions. Some suggest the elements literally turn into the body and blood of Jesus (i.e., Transubstatiation), as if the glorified Christ weekly transmitted His DNA from the heavens to our bakeries and vineyards. Fortunately, this change is in essence, not in form. Otherwise, I imagine, if a wafer felt like a flap of skin on one's tongue, we might have a collection of spit-0ut-flesh to clean off the floor.

Others suggest that the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, but Jesus' presence visits during the act of worship. Martin Luther authored this idea, both a reaction to Catholicism and the absurdity of Jesus becoming the elements. Luther's doctrine of "consubstantiation" was not wrong: Jesus is present during the Bread and Cup offering. Then again, Jesus told His apostles He would be with them "always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). In essence (or do I mean form?), Jesus is present with any meal, cup of coffee, or afternoon muffin blitz.

A plain (i.e., surface) reading of the Scriptures would suggest that Jesus' bread-breaking and wine-gulping gesture was a metaphor. Symbols and images help us remember deep spiritual truths. So we erect crosses in our churches to emphasize forgiveness. We wear prayer bracelets on our wrists to compel prayer. We put stuffed monkeys on our computer screens to ward off the demons of pornography. And we eat bread and drink grape juice to remember salvation is neither earned nor merited. It is received.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Salvation and Free-Range Neighbors

When my neighbor mentioned being saved, my ears perked up. Religion and faith commitments had not come up in previous conversations. To this point, talk centered on tattoos, birthday parties, and the lovely things our children do.

Interaction among neighbors is common where we live. Our neighborhood is free-range. Kids roam the streets, fight with water balloons, play princesses, invent clubhouses, and fight witches. They also trample our grass and pillage our fruit bowl. Liz and I always intend our home to be a place of peace and welcome. The flies and ants and children have taken advantage. Parents are slower to respond.

The other night we hosted a bonfire. Kids flocked to the fire pit. They roasted marshmallows, chased one another, and stretched the limits of bedtime. We made a special effort to invite parents, and several responded. I strummed my guitar while they chatted. Two times during the conversation, one of the parents slipped in "when I was saved."

My wife and I picked up on this. I started strumming the chords to Amazing Grace. My wife invited the neighbor over to share more of her story.

I have mixed emotions about this "saved/unsaved" language. It can be exclusive and turn people into targets. It can also inspire us to be better neighbors. As someone who has enjoyed following Jesus, I want others to share in the same comfort and hope. I want people to be saved. And I want them to gather on our lawn.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Confession - Scattered Metrics

My dog ate a can of peanuts. I didn't catch him in the act. I know this because I cleaned up a pile of his feces in the backyard before mowing. He leaves pretty clear evidence of his trespasses. Strings and candy wrappers are not uncommon findings.

I once read a book called Collapse about civilizations that have ceased to exist. More often than not, petrified poop carries traces of human DNA. The implication is grotesque: When the going gets tough, people eat each other. We rarely catch cannibals in the act, but we know whom they had for dinner because we excavate their excrement.

Christians, like most humans, are full of crap. You can guess our indulgences by our digestive track. You may never catch us in the act, but dig around in our septic tanks for a few minutes and you can infer various guilty pleasures. Peanuts in the grass. DNA in the fertilizer. Envy in the grass clippings.

The Bible warns that some day every deed will be exposed, every motive laid bare, every word echoed, and every action will demand an account (1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10). Shame and fear are typical reactions to this exposure (Gen. 3:8-10; John 3:20). So we lock the door when we're in the bathroom. And we wash our hands after we flush.

There is, of course, a better way. "Confess your sins to one another," John the Beloved disciple suggests, "and God who is faithful will forgive and cleanse you of any unrighteousness" (1 John 1:19). James, the brother of Jesus, adds, "And pray for one another that you might be healed" (5:16).

Sunday morning gatherings do not often lend themselves to public confession. A minute of directed confession by the pastor as the service and songs begin usually suffices. Right or wrong, this is the case. However, confession as John and James describe it take place best when the church is scattered in hallways, coffee shops, backyards, or bathroom stalls.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Road Side Service - Scattered Metrics

A recent graduate called me last week for a ride. His car broke down on the side of the road. He'd just purchased it with money from his sales job. Unfortunately, he wasn't left with enough cash to purchase gas.

When he called I was in the thick of my sermon preparation. I was investigating Jesus' sign miracles and habit of helping others. I initially asked the young man to call someone else from our church. If no one else was available, he could call me back. A few minutes later, my study of Jesus demanded I act like Jesus. I called him back. Sure enough, no one else was available. (Or perhaps they were screening their calls afraid a sales' pitch was on the other end of the line!)

By the time I picked the young man up, he was drenched in sweat from the stifling heat. We drove to his car to collect his personal items and his stock of cutlery. The car ride to his house was enjoyable. He talked about his growth and development since graduating and entering the work force. He confessed to being lazy. And he learned about reading gas gauges.

Road side service is one of many examples of health in the scattered church. When a church collaborates in service--community gardens, oil changes for the elderly, babysitting for parents of little ones, meals for the sick, intervention for addicts, financial aid, and carpools--it expands its power and exalts Jesus. The Christ Hymn of Philippians (2:6-11) is rich with servant imagery and predicated on the call to be united in love (2:1-5). The "mind of Christ" is fully committed to road side service.