Church: The Difference between Gettin’ and Goin’

How can something be both exhilarating and saddening at the same time?

Watching a herd of horses run free over the range raises this paradox with me.  Let me explain.  The horse was created to run.  When it runs, unencumbered and free, it is clear that God intended that animal to run.  While its wild, it eats, sleeps, and poops…is that all it was created to do?  God created that animal to be able to do so much more.  A mustang has never backed from a cue, slid to a stop spraying dirt everywhere, turned a steer, or worked a cow.  Only in its partnership, in its community, can a wild horse ever understand the fullness of what it was created to be.  Running free is part of its nature, but only alongside humans, can the horse ever understand fully what is was created to do.

I struggle with writing about this stuff because my wound is still so fresh.  In short, I am still struggling with some things that the Church has done to me.  Im really no different from you…the Church is made up of hurting people who ultimately hurt people.  Your wounds are just like mine (and if you haven’t been hurt, you will someday be).  I was lied about, hurt, and taken advantage of by people who claimed to be serving as well.  I was betrayed in many meetings by people who were supposed to be leading the Church.  I watch as the Church does all the things that I asked them to consider over the last years accomplish all of these things in a matter of months after letting me go.  I say all this (trying to be as vague as possible) to let you know that the Church has hurt me.

I also want you to know that as a member of the Church, I hurt people.  I wasn’t as compassionate and caring as I needed to be.  I wasn’t as clear a picture of Jesus as I need to be for my students.  I wasn’t as willing a servant as Jesus called me to be and I liked more about working at a Church than being the Church.  I hurt people, with words and actions, by the dozens and hundreds.  Their wounds at my hands (and vicariously the Church’s hands) are no less excusable than my wounds.  The Church is a screwed up entity sometimes.

No wonder many people say they are too busy, full of hypocrites, and tired to go to Church.  No wonder they say the Church is too money hungry, irrelevant, or trying to guilt trip them.  We are not a great looking Bride for Jesus sometimes.

But the Church needs you.  It needs me.  It needs us.

A few years back a pretty successful book was released with the title, They Like Jesus but Not the Church.  The premise of the book is pretty simple:  everyone wants more Jesus and less Church.  I wonder how their Church experience is…

I believe our love/hate relationship with the Church has more to do with our expectations of the Church and less to do with the Activity of the Church.  Too often we come to Church expecting to be feed, be entertained, be whatever.  A consumer mentality…what can I get from the church?  I understand the Church is not a building, but the people.  But on Sunday morning when you show up to worship, what are you expecting?  Lights, action, candy?  When we walk into Church with the consumer mentality…WE WILL ALWAYS BE DISAPPOINTED!  The Church will ultimately disappoint if we walk into every week with expectations of this or that.  So we need a different attitude to enter with.

What if instead our Spirit was filled with expectation, training, and passion for the week ahead.  Too many times I showed up to Church wanting it to do something for me, but what if my purpose of going to church was to pour into, serve, and challenge everyone else in the pews with the love of God?

Remember those old hotwheel sets?  The ones that had the two spinning wheels that shot the hotwheels cars through the track.  Just as it would loose steam and return to its starting position, the wheels would shoot it back through the track.  Remember how you used to get your cousins to lay in front of it and shoot them in the forehead…yeah me neither.  What if church was like that?  A place where, just as you are loosing steam from the week, you show up, ready to pour into someone, give them some teaching or encouragement, only to send them out again with more fire, passion, drive, and excitement.   What if every church member showed up to give to others on Sunday morning?   As a sunday school teacher, offering passer, doughnut guard…how would your church look different if the consumer mentality ceased and an attitude of depositor reavealed itself?

As Andy Stanley points out in his book Deep and Wide, the Church has become less a movement and more of a stagnant.  Jesus, post resurrection, in his final words in the book of Matthew, tells his disciples to:

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28.19-20)

The first group of people were movers…goers…sentees.  Jesus makes it pretty clear that his followers were to be on the move.  They were to go out and teach, preach, do and be.  The church is a community of believers sent out to love people, teach people, serve people.  It will only become a community like this when we decide that we are going to invest in it, not take from it.

When we aren’t connected to a church we lose steam and we don’t get to be all that God created us to be.  God created us to live in community.  Just as the horse can’t be all that he can be to accomplish a task that he didn’t even know he had…we cant be all that we were created to be to be sent out to a lost and dying world if we aren’t part of the community!  We were made to live out our faith before the world, and the only way to successfully and continually do that is to be sent out repeatedly from a community of believers…the Church!

A Great Chase

DSCN3181“If you ain’t been bucked off, then you ain’t been on many” so the old cowboy proverb goes. Everybody at some point in time hits the dirt early, gets bucked off, or fails. When the collision, that we talked about last post, takes place, how do you respond? Do you assume the fetal position and prepare for another impact? Do you get up and go back for some more?

When the collision of Genesis 3 happened, between a good and holy God and His independent and rebellious creation, God refused to give up on His people. Hear me know, its not that God didn’t know that we would become rebellious and sin, nor was He caught off guard by our decisions and actions, but simply that our rebellion gave God the opportunity solve the problem we created. It was at this time that God went into pursuit mode!

One of the coolest (and most dangerous) places to be in the arena is in the roping box. Here is where some of the most powerful athletes in the world come hurtling out of a steel box at speeds of 30 mph chasing a calf or steer. All of their energy and power directed to the chase.

I am amazed at God’s pursuit of humanity.  Nine verses after the sin in Genesis 3.8, God proclaims that the offspring of the woman “will crush the head of Satan.” (Genesis 3.15)  Years later when Israel has been in bondage for 400 years in the land of Egypt, the Hebrews were certain that God had forgotten them and cut them loose.  But God is shown in the book of Exodus ruthlessly pursuing his people.  He is kind to the midwives (Exodus 1.20); He heard their groaning and remembered their covenant (2.24); He differentiates the plagues from the land of Egypt and Goshen where the Hebrews stayed; He opens the Red Sea (13); and many more…

For what purpose…because he promised Abraham long ago that he would be blessed and the whole earth would be blessed through him (Gen. 12.1-4)  God is one a quest to capture the hearts of His people.  All of the things He does are for the purpose of his people falling in love with HIm.  He got up from the collision in Genesis 3, and shot out in pursuit of His people…of which you are one.

A Bad Collision

A Collision in Process
A Collision in Process

“No one ever bought a ticket to see a bullfighter get away from a bull.”  This was my consolation, without thinking mind you, to a bullfighting student that had just got freight-trained by a large and angry bovine.  The sad part is its true.   No one goes to a rodeo wanting to see someone get run over, but they certainly don’t want to miss it if it happens.  The collision, the tension is what keeps people coming back.  If everyone who tied their hand in and nodded their head stepped off after 8 seconds, then it would become boring.  With each and every ride, every bullfight, there is a certain amount of unpredictablity and danger.  WIth each story the same rings true.  Every story has conflict in it and just like the collision you see above, the fault can be placed squarely on me.

In Genesis 1 and 2, everything God had created was good.  In the case of Adam and Eve, it was very good.  God had created man and woman with some specific purposes that were good for them.  He created Adam to work in the garden, to rule and care for the earth, to lead the relationship with Eve.  With Eve, she was created to bring children into this world and to help and support Adam.  Together they were created to comfort and support one another, to become one flesh, a to walk and talk with God.  All these things were very good when God created man and woman.

Enter the snake.

Adam and Eve were in paradise, living with God, when the snake showed up.

His first words to Adam and Eve reveal his mission of distortion: “Did God really say…”  Satan’s mission is to distort, warp, and alter the things of God.  Satan questions the words of God (Gen 3.1) and then he questions the goodness of God (Gen 3.4-5).  Satan’s charge, that God is keeping the good stuff from Adam and Eve, pushes the right buttons and they succumb to the temptation.  This story is a little too familiar.  How often do we feel like God is hoarding the good stuff?  How many times have you felt like God was killing your fun with His rules?  Sex in the confines of marriage…huh?  Serving the Lord with your finances?  Laying your life down for others?  Focusing on others needs instead of our own?

Often the thought in the back of my mind is similar to the thought Satan gave to the first couple…”You better take care of yourself because God won’t!”  So we choose to go it alone.  Follow our own desires.  Make our own rules.  Choose our own path.

This path runs the opposite direction of God.  And I, like Adam and Eve, take the fruit, take care of ourselves, and disobey God.  The collision happens and the tension arrives in the story.  A bad collision between a holy God and His very good, yet independent creation.

This collision turned everything upside down: work (2.15) became toil (3.17); ‘be fruitful’ (1.28) became ‘increased pains’ (3.16); ‘naked and no shame’ (2.25) became ‘covered and hidden’ (3.7); and ‘walking with God in the Garden’ (3.8) became ‘banishment’ (3.23).  Man (and Woman’s) purpose had become tainted with their disobedience.  The tension has arrived in the story.

The collision happens in Genesis 3 for the same reason it happens today, we don’t trust that God knows what He is doing.  I caused the collision in Genesis 3.  I was there with Adam and Eve…I ate the fruit…and take it from a guy who has been in a few collisions, there are always consequences.

For the wages of sin is death…(Romans 6.23)

A Good Beginning

He was on the phone pacing in the dorms at Rodeo Bible Camp.  I could tell it was a pretty serious conversation he was having on the phone.  I grabbed a couple more thing and headed to the door when he hit his knees and started crying.  I could barely make out his words through the sobs.  Walking over to him, I knelt down and put my hand on his boot.  Doctors had just found tumors in his Dad’s bladder and were rushing him into surgery.  I felt like I had stepped into the middle of a story that was going terribly wrong.

I had missed the beginning of the rodeo.  I had been at a camp the week before and it ended Saturday morning.  Tricia and I sped toward the arena and arrived in plenty of time for the bulls.  There was a different feeling at the rodeo.  I walked towards the trailer of one of the stock contractors and found his wife standing outside talking with another woman.  She was telling her about the accident that had happened the night before as they were running calves through.  The horse accident resulted in a broken pelvis and a world turned on its head for this family for the next 8 months or so.  I walked into a story that had gone terribly bad.

The message came across my phone between clinic times at camp.  He fights bulls at the PRCA level and was up north in Minnesota when he texted to chat.  I finished up what I was doing and called him back.  We chatted for a while about rodeo, travel, and life on the road.  Every time I talk to him I get a little jealous of him.  But then he told me about how he was struggling with traveling this year.  His wife, who had traveled everywhere with him for the last 2 summers, ever since they were married, has developed a back problem.  This started a problem with the insurance company, doctors, and others.  She just wants to travel with him, he just wants her there, but her back wont let her.  As I spoke with him, there was no jealousy present this time, but a feeling that I had stepped into a story gone wrong.

Stories go wrong all the time…its called conflict.  Conflict is great for TV ratings and DVD Sales, but horrible in day-to-day life.  There is no escaping it however, because everyone of us was born into a story gone terribly wrong.

Genesis starts off the story of God’s interaction with man like this “In the beginning God…” [berisith ‘Elohim].  At the very first, before all else, was God.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit existed as a community, three persons in one being having the same desires and will.  God wasn’t dependent on anyone or anything, but the love and community was so perfect, that God decided to create something to share it with.  So…”In the beginning God created…”  He took to building, creating, molding, forging.  Jesus was there as God “spoke” [d-b-r] the Universe into existence (John 1.1-3).  The Holy Spirit loves creating and played His active role in creation.

In this process, everything was created.  All the matter and energy that ever was came out of God’s creativity in the beginning.  At the end of all this process after 5 days of creating, on the 6th day, God makes man and woman to look like Him and to show Him off (Genesis 1.26-28).  God had started this whole creation process with Man in mind.  With all of the rest of creation God declared it good, but with this new piece of handiwork, God declared it “very good”.

The story of humanity has changed quite a bit since God declared us very good.  The “very good” has become very seldom as we deal with cancer, divorce, neglect, abuse, death, sickness, deceit, greed, and toil.  “Very good” is not a word we would use to describe the world we live in.  The second everyone of us was born, we stepped into a story gone very wrong.

But know that the story began very good.  We have a good God who created us to live in his presence forever.  We may have walked into a story gone bad, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way.