Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hijacked Jesus

These are my ponderings on the "popular issues" the church in America faces today.

These days, spirituality is hot, religion is not.  Community is hip, but the church is lame.  Both inside the church and out, organized religion is seen as oppressive and irrelevant.  Outsiders "like Jesus" but not the church.  And insiders have been taught they'll do just dandy with God apart from the church.

Through my 20 years of conversations I've come to the conclusion that the young tend to be the most disillusioned about religion.  (If you just took offense and are about to close out this window because I used the dreaded "r" word, you're the perfect person to keep reading.  So keep reading.)  It is unquestionable that the youngest generation is impressionable and idealistic.  I would say that the young are much less interested in church and religion.  But if you think about it, this makes sense.  The young have always questioned the old, big and institutional and they have latched onto the eccentric, unique and independent.  So it's a natural reaction for the young to be suspect of the historic faith.

Over the past year I've heard the same sentence an incredible amount.  I'd heard people say it before, but never this much, and never with this much angst and anger behind the words.
"I mean, I like Jesus, I just don't like the church."
I've heard this from the mouth of both the outsider and the one raised in the church (which is even more sad).  Karen Ward, an emergent church leader in Seattle (Can I get a "what what" from my hispters!?) was quoted in a book about creating churches in the postmodern culture.  She said 95 percent of the nonchurched in her area have a favorable view of Jesus.  She also said, "so Jesus is not the problem.  It's the church they dislike."  First Karen, why are you leading a church?  Second, hold the freaking phone Karen.  The Jesus that those nonchurched people like is certainly not the Jesus who calls sinners to repentance, the Jesus who claimed to be the Son of the Most High, or the Jesus who died for our sins.
If you think you like Jesus, think again.
You've hijacked him into some hippie, whale-saving, dread-having, open-minded, spiritually ambiguous guy, who loved lesbians and preached peace.  This Jesus is pretty much Bono in a bathrobe.  This Jesus is more "hang out" than holy.  This Jesus has simply taken a razor to the harsh edges of the gospel so that it's not so offensive to you.  I don't want a hijacked Jesus who is openhearted and never-offending.  Jesus was transcendent and personal, but He warned of judgement and demanded repentance.  Sin, salvation and the necessity for new birth were what he preached.  The apostles preached Christ dead, buried and raised for our justification.
That was their message and the world hated them for it.

Despicable Me
It's wrong when the church wears unpopularity as a badge of faithfulness.  But, on the flip side, we cannot assume that we have failed because outsiders dislike us.  I fear that in our self-esteem-oriented, easily offended, suffering-averse world, the church is too eager to be liked.  Christianity has an image problem.  Sometimes, this is our own dang fault.  At other times, our lack of an image problem has been just as damning.  We're indistinct from the world.  Nothing sets us apart!  Nothing suggests we have a transformed life or renewed thinking bound by the Word of God!  We lust after academic recognition and cultural validation.  We fancy ourselves fashionable and look around hoping the world will take notice of us.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4: 3-4 says, "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.  In fact, I do not even judge myself.  I am now aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted.  It is the Lord who judges me."  We need to fall on our faces before the Lord Most High and beg Him to show us our sin.  Where sin is, there repentance should follow.  Where sin isn't, we need to keep doing church whether it makes us popular or not.

Insider Angst
Ok ok ok.  So I get it.  Outsiders are unhappy with the church.  But why the heck are Christians sick of it!?  I have a couple thoughts on this.
1.  Church is boring.  Sermons are either too long and dogmatic or too breezy and superficial.  Worship has become formulaic and services are monotonous.
2.  They are tired of the outdated Christian subculture.  Today's young adults (that 'young' populace I spoke to earlier) feel left out.  The church imbibed one generation's tastes and now we, the offspring, want to spit it out like a baby who doesn't like processed spinach (but who could blame the baby?).  It's one thing for the church to feel like a time warp to take you back one hundred years.  It's another thing entirely when it brings you back to the 1990's with the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  The church tried too hard to be relevant a generation ago and now we are paying the price.
3.  Church-leavers hate the megachurch.  They disdain the orange-vested parking lot attendants and the ubiquitous greeters around every corner.  You show up, sing songs with a group of people you don't recognize and sip coffee from your Starbucks to-go mug.  The megachurch made suburbia king and pastors godlike CEOs.  This may seem harsh.  It is.  But this is what many have come to know as church over the past few decades.
4.  Disgruntled insiders feel like church is abusive.  We could fill entire stadiums with people hurt by the church.  Let's clear one thing: church abuse doesn't mean physical harm or even verbal tirades.  Abuse for the "church-is-lame" crew is when someone claims to speak the Word of God without reference to the wider community, when difference is demonized, and when control is exercised to maintain the institution.
5.  The Church seems inauthentic.  People are just going through the motions.  The smiles are as fake as the designer shoes.  Greeting-card theology passes for spiritual meat.  Doubt, denial, questions and suffering are all embarrassments.  The church just isn't real.

All of this said, I want to caution you.  I would never try to refute people's individual experiences with the church.  Some people have been hurt bad.  But I believe that some of the church-leavers angst may be self-induced.  I think it's possible that a good deal of the problem for church-leavers rests with the one leaving and not just the church.  I've been hurt by the church.  I've been disheartened.  But in the end, the biggest problems came from my own heart.  I'm not discounting external pressures, or difficult situations or the many ways believers hurt each other.  But I feel bad for myself.  I lose faith.  I doubt the Word of God.  I don't want to forgive.  I get embittered.  I grow lazy.  But these are sins in my heart.  Others can make life difficult for me.  I'm the one who can make it unbearable.  But before you write off the church completely, think about this.

Are you rejecting the institutional church or the faith?

If "Christians" are interested in a Christianity free from doctrine, demands, and damnation, they aren't just sick of the institutional church and its unflattering quirks; they're tired of the Christian faith altogether.  That gets real dangerous.

Is a car still a car without an engine?  Is a head still a head if it doesn't have a body?  Is a friend still a friend if he can't stand your wife?  The church is God's building with Jesus Christ as the foundation.  Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her.  He makes her beautiful.  She is his bride.  She may be a lying, no good, double-crossing poor excuse for a wife, but she's his wife.  Who wants a friend who rolls his eyes and sighs every time their wife walks into the room?  From what I see in this day and age, some people think Jesus wants friends like that.  They roll their eyes and sigh over the church.  The church we love is as flawed and screwed up as we are but she is Christ's bride nonetheless. And I might as well have a car without an engine, or a head without a body as despise the wife my Savior loves.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Breaking Points-Part One

I'm named after Naomi's daughter-in-law.  And let me tell you.  Those are some big shoes to fill.  Since my name is Ruth, the book of Ruth is my go-to book when I open my Bible and feel directionless.  So I've read it COUNTLESS times.  And yet, this last time I read it I learned the most.

It was surprising to me when I found out that some of my closest friends didn't know the story of Ruth. I didn't have judgement towards them, but because she's my namesake I figured, everybody knows about her, right?  Wrong.  Let's talk about Ruth.  But in order to talk about Ruth we have to start at the beginning.

The first people who come on the scene is Elimelech, his wife and two sons.  No mention of Ruth, she comes later.  The first sentence opens the book by telling us that Elimelech was a sojourner in a foreign land.  The country of Moab to be specific.  This is big because they were Ephrathites.  This means that they were from the town of Bethlehem in Judah.  So they were Israelites.  They were Jewish.  And they had traveled to Moab.  This could only be from necessity.  And we see that it was from necessity.  A terrible famine took hold of Bethlehem.  This is near impossible for us to grasp.  "Oh yea, a famine."  But you (most likely) have no conception of what the heck this means.  You can definitely conjure up some commercial that zooms in on some skin and bone African kids only wearing a piece of cloth covering their privates, while some rich white guy walks through the slums and talks about how your dollar a week can feed kids in Malawi for 12 years all while Sarah McLachlan rips your heart out with some slow, sad ballad in the background.  (Shoot, what did I learn about run-on sentences?....)  But we don't get this.  We have never experienced anything like this.  Even if you've gone hungry for a while, or your family was real poor when you were a kid, we don't really, truly GET this.  Even the poorest American is richer than third world countries.  We have never experienced a famine.  Famine is what drove Elimilech and his family from their Bethlehem home.  I can't imagine how bitter and confused they must have been.  Bethlehem literally translates "House of meat" or "House of Bread".  I can't imagine the thoughts Naomi must have had.  "House of bread my a**."  Ok.  Maybe not, but she was only human.  Bitterness and upset had to have crossed her mind and heart at some point.

Famine in Bethlehem were only the beginning of their troubles.

To sojourn suggests continual travel.  But in the case of this family, it became a more permanent thing. Being an immigrant isn't an easy thing.  It brings a gamete of troubles and woes that I don't understand.  I was born in the states, I've lived my whole life in the states and I don't foresee any major moves in my near future. (Knock on wood?)  I'm a home-body.  For sure.  But Naomi's homesickness went unrelieved thanks to a lack of modern technology.  But homesickness was minor compared to what happened next.  In one sentence Elimelech is wiped off the page and out of the story.  The death of Elimelech was not a milestone Naomi ever desired to cross.  Naomi's heartbreak goes unmentioned for now.  A women loses her husband.  Many women have lost their husbands.  But holy buckets.  Take a second.  A women loses her husband.  I'm sure that Naomi was thrown into grief that would ebb and flow for the rest of her days.  But thank God she still had her boys.

Boys were a big deal back then.  They were a big deal because they were the continuation of a line.  The name carried on thanks to them.  But, girls were a big deal too.  They are the oven for the bun after all.  Naomi's boys were her pride and joy and all that she had left.  Since she was thrown into single-parenthood she had a duty to them.  She had to find them wives.  (We're getting closer to Ruth!  Shoot, spoiler?)  Now here, a problem is posed.  The boys, Mahlon and Chilion are Israelites and they're in Moab.  Moab was not the place to be when searching for that perfect Jewish bride.  In fact, Moab was the last place any Jewish parent wanted to search for a wife for their boys.  Moab was a land descendant from the incestuous encounter between Lot and his oldest daughter.  They served a god who demanded child sacrifice.  In short, Moabite women were a Jewish mother's worst fear.  In that day and age, fathers negotiated arranged marriages.  But with no father to negotiate marriage and no money, land or prospects to entice a Moabite family, the pickings were slim.  To be blunt, Ruth and Orpah were not from choice families.  Things just kept getting worse.  After the marriages to these less than desirable women, a decade passes without any sign of a child.  This, is devastating.  Like I said earlier, a woman was nothing if she was unable to have children.  It's heartbreaking for Ruth, Orpah and Naomi but it's also nothing short of embarrassing.

That's as bad as it gets, right?


The sons die next.  Naomi's precious sons.  Ruth and Orpah's beloved husbands.  In another simply constructed sentence they disappear from our minds and concerns.  We're left grieving with Ruth, Orpah and Naomi.  Naomi had nothing now.  Literally.  She's left with no one to carry on the family line.  She's left with two Moabite daughters-in-law.  She's left with the epitome of a broken heart.  She's left with no hope.  In 24 hours, Naomi's already lacking social status hit rock bottom.

I'd like to believe that Naomi's faith in Yahweh, El Shaddai, Adonai Elohim was strong enough to take these blows.  I root for her.  I want her to withstand famine, displacement, widowhood and childlessness.  But come on.  She's a human.  She was lost, heartbroken and utterly shaken.  Many people brush by Naomi.  But I count her as Job.  Her struggles were equally as earth shattering.  If not more!  Job lost his wealth, his children, his health.  But Naomi?  She lost all of that plus her husband.  There was no hope of continuation of her family.  That was a shame and loss that couldn't be healed.  We seem to think that the more mature believers we are, the thicker our spiritual skin will become. It's a sign of spiritual failure when suffering gets the better of us.  BALDERDASH.  This throws us into a downward spiral farther away from the One who can take our suffering and provide hope and peace.

Naomi has a choice to make.  Stay in Moab or return to her hometown with some tiny hope that she would find safety and solace with her relatives.  So she packs up what little she has and leaves with her daughters-in-law in tow.  They get on the road and make it a small way when Naomi abruptly stops them and orders them to go home.  Her determination to carry on without them is ironclad.  Her words are met with astonishing resistance.  I can just imagine that their cries and wails could be heard for at least a mile.  Their grief and tears seem to spill onto my hands as I turn the pages.  Naomi has definitely underestimated the bonds of love and grief.  For the young women, Moab offers hope while Bethlehem only offers permanent widowhood.  Naomi can't stifle her feelings anymore.  She's overwhelmed with grief.  Terrible, abundant grief.  She makes another plea for the girls to return to their families.  Maybe they can get remarried, have families!  After all, they're still so young!  There is potential in Moab.  But that hope does not flow over to Bethlehem.  So Orpah follows her mother-in-law's advice.  She goes home.  With tears and goodbyes, she returns to Moab.  But Ruth, she stays.  Ruth pulls up herself up by the bootstraps and tell Naomi to stop arguing.  Ruth is determined.  It was no halfhearted decision.  It was a commitment to the grave.  And it was less a decision about Naomi and more a decision about God.

Ruth was a risk taker.
She made a decision for God.
And He would bless and reward her for her commitment to Him.

I pray that I will be a risk taker like Ruth.  And I pray that you will be a risk taker like Ruth, too.  Take risks for God and you don't know what you'll get.

But I can guarantee that it'll be good in the end.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"Twuuuu Wuuuuuv!"

I watched the Bachelorette all season, baby.

Let me tell you: the finale was torturous.  Literally torturous.  But!  Emily Maynard, the sweet little southern-drawling belle from Charlotte, North Carolina, was the Bachelorette of the century. 

She was perfect. 

She’s blonde, skinny, and a single-mother with at least one tattoo who has enough self-respect not to sleep with all the guys in the house.  She uses words like “blessed” and phrases like, “God-willing” which makes the Christian sub culture love her.  She’s got a six-year-old daughter, which makes the feminists love her.  She has a few tattoos and just enough mystery that she appeals to a surprising amount of America.  Plus her story is just so crazy, so you immediately empathize with her. 

The season started out with a dose of drama that would entice the most traditional Amish community.  As the season progressed hearts were “broken”, tears were shed by more male models than I’ve ever seen in my life and one little southern belle “dated” 25 men at the same time.  There were spectacular dates, harsh words, breathtaking views of the places visited, and a few cold sores passed around.  As guy after guy got the boot, their emotional rant in their personal interview after the Rose Ceremony went something like, “I’m just so confused.”  Or, “I don’t know what went wrong.” Or, “She’s the love of my life.”  All said with a substantial amount of tears and snot.  Now, this really played to the guys’ advantage because they look sensitive and genuinely heart-broken on national television and they will have a million girls with low self-esteem waiting for them in their hometown airport ready to do anything for a chance at love with this poor, rejected, handsome, heart-broken, booty-call seeking bachelor. 

It was like a car wreck all season.  I couldn’t look away.  There were times when the depth of my soul felt embarrassed and ashamed.  But I didn’t feel embarrassed for the guys.  Heck, they did this to themselves!  Unless they were truly brainwashed by our culture there’s no way they really thought they would ‘find love’ on this nationally televised show. 

No, I felt embarrassed before the Preeminent Father of Love. 

We’ve made love a game.  Love.  We made love a game!  How dare we!?  Love was first shown to us by our Father.  How dare we make a show of it.  How dare we abuse it.  How dare we profit from it.

My embarrassment came with a certain level of conviction.  Isn’t there something I can do to show believers and unbelievers alike that I try to love to the best of my ability; to show them that I won’t make love a joke. 

I want people to think of me, “She loves well because the Father first loved her.”

I hope Emily Maynard is in love with Jef.  I hope he’s a good step-dad for Ricki.  I hope they make it work.  I hope they commit.  But more than those things, I hope Emily Maynard finds true love.  I hope she encounters the love of a Father who will never leave her, never forsake her, and never fail her. 

I hope Emily finds the truest love possible.

Monday, June 18, 2012


sabbath |ˈsabəθ|
1 (often the Sabbath) a day of religious observance and abstinence from work, kept by Jews from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and by most Christians on Sunday.

On the seventh day, God rested.

He took time to rest. He has given us minds and bodies and hearts that need rest. And He has given us a specific time in which to do so. God separated us from animals. He gave us working brains and hearts that are tender like His. In the same way we are made in His image and therefore we have a day of rest.

The Sabbath represents delight and refreshment in the presence of God and each other. The Sabbath is a day to rest and relax in order to better serve God in our actions and work the rest of the week. We wake up every day to a world we did not make and a relationship with God that we do not deserve. Our need to be busy and productive takes away and invades the space God cut out for us to rest!

God gave us the Sabbath to say, "Stop and be refreshed in my rest."

He replenishes us. He nourishes us with His faithfulness and His community.

We do not belong here.
This is not our home.
We do not serve a kingdom ruled by the clock and the tyranny of the urgent.
We serve a God who refreshes us and gives us rest.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I thank God for my piece of apple pie.

True statement: If I just get another tattoo, a calculator watch, a new pair of shoes, and a new lens for my camera I will be SO HAPPY.

I will suddenly become completely and totally content and I won't ever want another thing again. Or at least until the new Apple processor comes out this summer! Or until I see a new phone case I want. Or until I see an adorable summer dress I just HAVE to have!

Hold the phone. Sounds like I need to watch Madame Blueberry's Veggie Tale episode again. Stuff Mart didn't do her any good. And it doesn't do us any good either. The culture is great at making me think I just can't live without that certain hair styling product and eye makeup. I just won't be as pretty as the girl who uses that product! And everyone knows I have to be as pretty as her! What would I do if I wasn't!?

News flash America: tons of people survive every day without half the BALDERDASH you buy. So how about you try remembering that the ultimate price was paid for you. So no amount of BALDERDASH will ever make you happy.

Believer, you have joy, happiness, peace and contentment in Christ. So try seeking it in Christ today, rather than in the isle you just turned down as you read this on your smart phone with your cart full of BALDERDASH you simply don't need.

"I thank God for this day/for the sun in the sky/for my mom and my dad/for my piece of apple pie/for our home on the ground/for His love that's all around/that's why I say thanks everyday/because a thankful heart is a happy heart/I'm glad for what I have that's an easy way to start/for the love that He shares/'cause He listens to my prayers/that's why I say thanks everyday."

Such a simple melody and words. But how often we forget them. There's grace for you. And thank God Almighty there's grace for me. Lord knows I need it.