Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Relevance???

     In the past I have not been a fan of Chick-fil-a. Not because of anything personal that I have against the company or their food. It is simply because the Chick-fil-a located in my home town does not sell fresh food and the restaurant is usually unclean. In my travels it seems that I inevitably experience these circumstances. This is considerably frustrating because I have always heard such good things about their quality of food and until recently have not  had the privilege in partaking its fried poultry goodness. However, all of this changed once I moved to South Carolina three years ago.

     One day my family was running errands and we were all starving (not literally look at my pic).  While debating where to eat lunch my oldest son noticed that there was a inflatable shark bounce house/giant slide hybrid in the parking lot of my city's only Chick-fil-a. We reluctantly agreed to yield to his request for lunch. We strolled in the restaurant and to our surprise this franchise was well kept and the service was outstanding. I being the optimist and spiritual leader that I  am... leaned over to my wife and said "too bad the food is going to suck!"

      We found a table opened our mouths and with an astounding glance at my wife's look of bliss I  discovered  the claims of Chick-fil-a's glory were far from mythical and were now within my grasp. We absolutely love this restaurant and I would dare say my family is now their #1 consumer.  I chose to convey my history with this business so you can understand just how special it is for us (after all they introduced us to the cookies and cream milkshake...............................be right back).

    (mouthful of milkshake)

          A while back I was pulling up to Chic-fil-a's drive-through window and I noticed a sign on the menu that read Pirate Day. The employees all had patches, toy hooks, and the gentlemen working the window even had a bandanna and a toy parrot. I,  believing myself to be the most creative citizen in my county wished to share my comedic magnitude with employee in a fun and obviously relevant way. So I rolled down my automatic Prius window and said in a cliche Blackbeard voice "arrrggghhh matey what be the chaaarrrrrrrgggggeeeeee?" I thought myself to be quite the amusing customer...but to my amazement the employee just looked annoyed. He didn't even giggle!!!

"But how could this be?" I thought  "Jack Sparrow himself would have soiled his panties all over the poop deck from laughter ." I reasoned.

   Embarrassed and confused I pulled up 15 feet to check my order. As I was inspecting the food I was unaware that my window was still slightly cracked and emanating from the gunmetal Suburban behind me I heard the words "Arrrrrgggghhhhh matey give me a waffle fry or walk da plank arrrrrrggggghhhhh." I suddenly realized that I was not the comic genius I had previously thought. Not only was I unoriginal I had actually irritated the person I was trying to connect with.

     Is it like this with church? Do we make claims that our church is unique because of our style but once examined it is almost identical to the church downtown and still operates like the traditional church across the street? Is being "relevant" with a culture that is sick and despises Christianity showing any promising results?

     I meet with many ministers during the week and do you know how often a pastor claims to practice a unique approach to ministry.  I then wonder at the end of the day if my community hears the same cliche' pirate voice?

For The Kingdom

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What a Mess!!!

      I make this statement multiple times during the week. My new career as a Pastor has made me aware of just how broken our world really is.  However in 10 years of "ministry" I have never experienced the real hell (for lack of a better word) that is saturating the lives of God's children.  In the past eight weeks I have experienced more life and the turmoil that ensues with being trapped inside it than I ever had in my history of "church work".

     I came to this realization when I discovered just how uncomfortable I was around those whom society would consider to be least or poor. I recently had an experience in aiding some homeless people in my city. During which I was uncomfortable and even afraid. On my way home I questioned why I felt this way and as I reflected upon my career I saw that all of my attention in ministry was directed toward the Sunday service.  What little socializing and coaching that I had done benifited middle class individuals/couples whose sin was similar to mine and therefore seemed much easier to address. However, my horizons have been broadened and with that expansion  came a great deal of discomfort and self realization.

     The weight and tension of human depravity was not unexpected. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. How could I not with such an unusual and unpopular approach too ministry. What I did not foresee was how frequent these situations would occur. I also did not calculate the toll of the emotional involvement that I would experience. Though I disagree I now understand why most churches shy away from ministry that is catered to the "least of us". It is easy to deal with the sins of those whom we are comfortable with. It is not a challenge to aid those with sin that is deemed socially acceptable,  but extremely difficult when those sins have heavier cultural ramifications. (Please note that there are many instances that require PROFESSIONAL counsel. It is inappropriate and foolish for unqualified clergy to counsel certain issues such as addictions, suicidal tendencies, mental disorders etc and I frequently send referrals to qualified agencies. There are many organizations in which we can partner who are suited to fulfill such roles. However we can still befriend these people, meet their physical needs, and coach them spiritually.)

     So why do it?  Why do something different that is so demanding, frustrating and painful?  I have found an interesting axiom in these past few months. What is so strange about evolving your approach to ministry beyond the walls of an institution;  is that in the midst of the struggle...there is life.  Not the conversion of oxygen into carbon dioxide, but abundant life.  I have found that the scriptures speaks absolute reality when it communicates the benefits of total self sacrifice.

     I think of God changing His approach to sins atonement by no longer asking for a sacrifice, but giving all He possessed (Himself) to an undeserving world. I think of Jesus saying if we want life we must loose it, and the more I give my life to those infected with sin the more I see that their sins are mine too. The way it manifest may be different but the result is still a perfect God who's heart is broken on my account. It was OUR sin that tore the flesh from the bones of God's Son and nailed His innocent hands to a beam.  As the world gripped the hammer of judgement the weight of mankind's sin was identical and unmerciful with every blow driving the nails that pierced Christ's hands and feet.

     I now see my mess and my need to be cleansed, and I see just how level the field of depravity is. I see the need for me to cease my sympathy and allow my pride to subside so I can offer my honest empathy. My sin and others like it may be more comfortable and manageable in this realm, but is still a detestable steaming pile in the eyes of my Father.