I was just having this conversation with someone in our church. We’ve been doing this sermon series on all the times Jesus either did something to demonstrate that we don’t need to fear, or He just said “Don’t be afraid.” The thing we were talking about is how odd it really is, that no matter how good God has proven Himself to be, and no matter how good things may be in our lives, we still have this nagging worry where we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Why is that? Why do we still drag around that nagging feeling when the vast majority of our experience has been good, in fact more than good, and we’ve even seen God come to our rescue when the shoe has dropped in our past?
I’m honestly asking you the reader: why do we have this nagging fear that the other shoe is about to drop?
Yesterday I got to swap pulpits with my friend Richard Gotthardt from Santa Cruz Bible Church. While I was there I got to catch up with a friend, and co-worker in ministry, Michelle Whiting who serves on the Santa Cruz Bible Church staff. She was so excited that our two churches were practically experiencing the true unity of the body of Jesus Christ, and she said, “I wish more churches would get over their fear of losing people if they did something like we’re doing today.”
Yeah about that idea. You see a lot of churches do have this fear that if they were to swap pulpits, or any way expose their people to another pastor’s teaching or gifting, that they would lose their “market share” (people who put their buts in their seats at their church). I shared with Michelle Whiting that I actually learned this whole fear is a silly myth. About two years ago Faith Community Church participated with Elevation, Santa Cruz Hope, and Westside Community Church in a complete pulpit swapping month where 4 of us pastors taught a sermon series by teaching one time in each church over the course of a month, and where each church got to hear from each pastor. Of course the fear we all admitted to was the fear that some of our people might really resonate with one of the other pastors and choose to check out their church. I loved that all 4 of us could be honest about that fear, and were still willing to do it anyway! But after we did the whole thing we were all surprised to learn our fear was a total myth. We learned that while our people, in the churches where we served, absolutely loved hearing from other local pastors they also fell that much more in love with their own pastor. That was true in all 4 churches. Ain’t it funny the things we tell ourselves that hold us back? Ain’t it funny what myths we cling to that limit the ways in which God can work through us?
Yes, I know the word “catholic” in my title is not capitalized. I purposely didn’t capitalize the word catholic because, if you didn’t know, when the word is written with a small “c” it means “universal.” Thus, I love the catholic/universal church representing all those who have a pure and simple devotion to Jesus as Savior and Lord, covering all time, and all space, and all divisions of the 33,000 Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic church, and my Orthodox sister and brothers of faith. This catholic body will make up the people described in Revelation where it says, “I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9)
This coming Sunday I’m going to be preaching at Santa Cruz Bible Church, and their pastor Richard Gotthardt is going to be preaching at the church where I serve – Faith Community Church. Why are we swapping churches? There reason is pretty simple – we want to tangibly share in the unity of Jesus’ body. Richard has become a brother as a pastor and I appreciate him, and I want our people to hear from a great pastor from the church just around the corner. I am eager to speak at Santa Cruz Bible Church because I want to thank them for the many ways they are pursuing Christ and loving the city of Santa Cruz. My hope is that this Sunday will be a way for our two churches to tangibly practice and protect the unity of the church in our city. I guess my question to you, my reader, is how are you practicing and protecting the unity of the church in your area?
For years I’ve had this special place at a local Christian camp. It’s this place tucked away along the trails where old Redwoods shoot up towards heaven and where three running creeks converge at a waterfall and then head downstream towards the ocean. So many times I’ve met with God, wrestled with God, and poured my heart out to God in this beautiful location. It’s a very special place to me! But Miley Cyrus, and her film crew, heard about my special place and they came and filmed a music video in the very place that is set aside for me and God. Who said they could come and do that!? If you care to watch Miley prancing around in her bikini in the music video for her song “Malibu” you can click on the link.
Last week I was able to get away for a time to spend some more time with my God in my special place at the waterfall. As I sat there I laughed out loud about the filming of Miley’s video in that place. What a nightmare it must have been to film and how intrusive it must have been in that quiet place. But of course to some people, who adore Miley the pop-star, that waterfall location is now more important because Miley has been there. Not me! Miley the pop star filming a video in my personal God-space is kind of hilarious. Miley’s video doesn’t make that place more important to me because nothing, and no one, can replace the many intimate and life-changing encounters I’ve had with God and that place. Do you have a sacred place that is reserved for you and God alone, a place that cannot be made more special or tainted by a pop stars music video?
This reminds of what the American poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once observed:
Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.
I did it. I took my family to watch the Avengers Infinity War movie this weekend. My poor son’s kept stumbling into spoiler conversations at school with friends who couldn’t keep the movie secrets to themselves and so they begged me to take them to see the movie before all the spoilers had been spoiled for them. So my family is now a part of history – we are a part of the biggest box office haul in the first week of a movie release in movie history.
You know what struck me about the movie? The bad-guy Thanos, the guy in the picture with the very weird chin, is a fascinating and stunningly accurate portrayal of evil. He is a guy who thinks, well actually is completely convinced, he’s accomplishing a great good while perpetrating unspeakable evil throughout the galaxy. Yes I know, this movie us just a super-hero soap opera, but it explores a reality we don’t often consider. People who have perpetrated the greatest violence, and evil in our world are people who are convinced that the “utopian” goals they are trying to achieve allow them to leverage their power in whatever way is necessary to achieve their ultimate goal. This was the line of thinking in Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the list could go on. When I listened to Thanos I found myself seeing him as a gut check for us who are the people of God that we never allow our ends to justify our means. The way God achieves His beautiful end result, and wants us to partner with Him in achieving that end result, must be as beautiful as the end result or that end result will not prove to be beautiful.
Once again I stood outside right after worship, and I just looked around me. Our church was serving breakfast burritos and everyone was eating, but I also saw the beauty of a genuine church community. I saw regulars talking to new people, adults playing with children, hurting receiving support from concerned friends, a hand on a shoulder with a prayer. It was community and it was beautiful. But the truth is, about a half-dozen years ago I didn’t see it as all that great because – it wasn’t big enough. I’d become convinced that we needed more people, more money, more movers and shakers, we just needed more to really experience community. This conviction absolutely blinded me to the beauty of the actual community God was creating right in front of my eyes.
It reminds me of this insight from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his little book “Life Together” as he addresses what community around the person of Christ is and is not.
If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ. . . Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day-to-day as God pleases.
The way Christians have, for decades, felt about our place in the western world is this sense that, “we have brought so much good to western culture, and so we have earned the right to be heard, and earned the influence to bend culture towards our concerns.” This is generally the idea behind Christendom. It’s this idea that, for Christians, the west is “our home” and “our place” – this place where we are a majority that must protect the power and influence we have worked so hard to get for the good of us and everyone else. You can see very quickly how this mindset leads to the culture-war mindset so prevalent in so many Christians right now. But I hate to break the news, Christendom is dead and no longer is shared as a majority view in an increasing post-christian culture.
Now saying Christendom is dead, is not the same thing as saying Christianity is dead. Far from it. It’s just that we who are following Jesus have to redefine ourselves back to the way followers of Jesus started – as strangers and foreigners who engage culture less with the “You owe me” attitude, and more with the ongoing probing question that asks “How can we engage the culture we are in via the mission we are on?”
I encourage my readers to think critically about this issue a bit, and consider how your frame of reference as a follower of Christ may need to shift. To help explore this a bit more, take a moment to read Ed Stetzer’s fabulous Christianity Today article Our Call: Missionaries In A Secular Land to think through some of these vitally important ideas in your specific ministry context.