Tuesday, August 30, 2016

While we're assessing....

The change we long for in our country and our homes and our churches and our families and our work places starts with our personal assessment.  We can't skip to any of those outside of us, hoping that when those things change, it will be time for me to change.

Nope.  It doesn't work that way.

Change starts with one person and one person only.

You.  Me.

How can we expect others to change and make our world better if we're not putting the same expectation on our own hearts?

Is that really fair?

So, here I go, getting in your business again, but taking it to another level.  A  level that doesn't include you alone, but what you alone participate in collectively.  Clear as mud?  Great!  Hang in there!

It's going to take a little bit of an objective imagination, and you may get a little uncomfortable in the process, but I think if you're brave enough to at least try to look at this objectively you may be able to set aside your defensiveness or shame (Please, please, please - don't feel shame or guilt from these few posts!). 

Let's look at our circumstances and our places of living life as objectively as we can, shall we?  Let's remember, if you're a believer, God is the one with the greatest assessment skills and used those assessment skills to see the need for a Savior.  Let's take a deep breath.-really, take a deep breath .....................and ask some questions about our living spaces, shall we?  Those places we spend our time, not just our homes, but where we do life, our spiritual life, that is.  

If we start with our churches things that are happening in our country might make more sense.

(It is this writer's personal opinion that as goes the church, so goes the country.  If one is hemorrhaging so might the other.  We can debate another timewhich is bleeding out more.  Just bear with me.  You can swirl these words around, chew them up, or just spit them out, that's your right.  But I think if we really want to see change, we have to ask some hard questions in all areas of our lives).

Still with me?  Great!

Here we go.

Take a look around your towns and cities on a weekday.  Which parking lots are fullest?  Which parking lots are empty?

I noticed a few months ago, as I was visiting in the south, the buckle of the Bible belt, as I passed church after church on my way to the store that all the parking lots were empty.  But as I passed a hospital, the parking lot was packed!

Does anyone find that as interesting as I do?

You do!  Oh thank goodness, I thought I was the only one!

Remember those personal assessment questions I asked you in the previous post?  Ask them in relation to your church?  I know your parking lot is always busy, not just on Sunday, I'm asking the other people reading this.  Humor me, would you?

Is your church growing, not in numbers but in the sense of community amongst its members.  Is there anyone in your church or small group (taking into account the larger churches) that would tell their disgruntled ex church member neighbor that there is a plan in place for meeting the spiritual needs of each and every person who walks through the door, from the smallest in faith to the greatest pillar?

If someone were to ask you what steps of faith your church group has taken collectively in the last year, what could you tell them?  Have they paid off a huge debt?  Have they started a ministry for orphans and unwed mothers?  Are they in the process of taking in refugees? (These are examples, people, not tell tale must be done or we're ground hamburger!)

Would you say that you have expanded your circles to include people you didn't know a year ago, but have made it a point to meet someone new each week and have met that goal?

Have you bristled at first at the changes your church has tried, and now a few months or years later, you see the benefit of stepping out of your spiritual comfort zone for the sake of reaching others in your community?

(I know these are tough uncomfortable questions, and I wish I could just skip them, but I think they are important to ask).

What about your parking lot?  Is it empty during the week?  Does the pastor's car sit there sporadically along with the janitor's?  Or are your church's doors swinging day and night?

See, people go where they can get attention.  Where they can be heard, where concern is shown.  That's why hospital parking lots are overflowing during the week and doctor's appointments are so hard to get.  

It's why bars stay open during the day and into the wee hours of the morning.

The church doors are closed.

When the church doors stay closed, people take their worries and fears where they can express them. Where they can be fed and nourished and acknowledged.

There's a lot of expressing going on in the United States right now, wouldn't you agree?

I left the church 16 years ago, because the practices many held did not seem to mirror how I saw Jesus behave when I read his word.  (Taking into account my own issues besides, it's been a battle I wouldn't wish on anyone).  I've been standing in the hall way, looking in the rooms, trying to find the place where I really see him, not just a cheap imitation of him.  (That's painful to write, so it's got to be hitting a nerve for you too, maybe.  I'm sorry, if there was a different way I could get what I think God has shown me without causing pain, I would).

I grieve for our country and where it's headed, but I grieve for God's people even more.  We all have gotten caught up in taking sides, whether by choice or just by birth.  We have taken sides spiritually, politically and sooner or later, there are going to be no sides left to pick.  

How do we get those parking lots full everyday?  What are we willing to do cause a traffic jam at a church's driveway on a Tuesday afternoon, like the ones on the expressway on a Friday afternoon?

There's no perfect church, but there is a perfect God.

The church's ways aren't perfect, but God's are.

If we're brave enough to assess ourselves personally, I hope we're brave enough to take it to the next level.

If my faith is weaker than it was five years ago, wouldn't it make sense that same weak faith would effect those who I live life with?

If my bravery was diminished the moment I saw, as a teenager what happened to someone wanting to sing a new song in place of an old hymn, why should I care about being brave if it's only going to get shot down by those afraid to step out of their comfort zone?

If we're afraid to rock the boat as a leader, why do we expect those we lead to stand up for injustice outside of our circles and on the political stage?  

My heart longs to go where God's people are thriving.  I do so much better with people who spur one another on to bravery and greater faith than being with Debby Downers never willing to try anything new.

(I'm laying my heart out here, friends, please be kind.  If we could meet for lunch I'd share my struggle, I would tell you my whys and show you my journals as God has led me to find my way back into his visible family.  

C. S. Lewis wrote, in Mere Christianity:  

"I hope no reader will suppose that 'Mere Christianity' is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions - as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.  It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.  If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.  But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.  For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.  It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at.  I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.  When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise.  But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping.  You must keep on praying for light; and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.  And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling.  In plain language, the question should never be:  'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true:  Is holiness here?  Does my conscience move me towards this?  Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door keeper?'
    "When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.  If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more, and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them.   That is one of the rules common to the whole house."

So, what does your room look like?  Is it warm, with cozy chairs and nourishing meals or is the fire only started once a week, and the chairs stacked after use and paper plates used for baloney sandwiches on stale bread?

The world is ready for a warm fire, a delicious array of food on their plate as they sit in a cozy chair, getting warmed by the fire of common faith and fellowship around a great and beautiful Savior.  They just don't know it yet.

They've been standing in the hall a long time, peering in, finding their excuses not to come in, but longing for someone to invite them with a sincere and humble heart.  Someone who is not uncomfortable not having all the answers, who can keep the fire burning and the plates full when they don't.  Who brings an ottoman to rest their feet on and throws a shawl around their shoulders to snuggle into.  Where there is no fear of a fire going out if they come in, but instead the fire will burn more brightly, it's sparks moving upward and and resting on the others in the hall longing to come in.



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