Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hey Jude

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Jude v. 3

Hey Jude,
I’ve read you’re letter, and as the pastor of one of the most popular, fastest growing, and talked-about churches in the area I feel I should respond. I just gotta say that your message and approach aren’t going to work in our time and culture. Your “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” is way out of style. I’ve learned by experience some things that work and I’d like to share them with you:

Convenience: We’ve learned to remove all the barriers that would keep anyone from being inconvenienced or uncomfortable when they come to our church. It’s all about you from the time you pull in the parking lot until you rush out the door to beat the lunch crowd. We tout ourselves as a place for people who hate church and the hypocrites who go there. We are real people, and real people always take the easy route. Our Saturday evening services are packed out every Fall, so no one has to make the choice between church and the Titans.

Coffee Bar: We started with one pot in the lobby and it didn’t take long to find out we needed more flavors. Things really took off when we had an outside vendor come in to sell name brand coffees. It’s enhanced the fellowship so much that sometimes we have a hard time getting folks out of the lobby and into the auditorium or small groups.

Great Music: Yes, it’s SHOWTIME and we’re proud to do it with excellence and plenty of volume. Doesn’t matter what genre of music you enjoy, we’ll hit them all on a rotating basis. Just sit back and listen to some of the most talented musicians and vocalists in town. We’ll even throw in a few non-Christian songs along the way so it doesn’t feel too much like a worship service. And if the music gets too loud for you we have ear plugs you can pick up on your way into the auditorium.

Technology: If it’s cutting edge, we’ve got it. You’ll never find us behind the times. We’re willing to spend whatever it takes to stay with the latest trends. Everything is on the big screen so you don’t miss a single detail. The videos and graphics we use are eye catching and attention grabbing, and always leave you wanting more.

Relevant Topics: Many churches do this, but we have it down to an art. You know, all truth is God’s truth, so we use whatever we can to keep things interesting and fresh. We don’t want anyone bored with the same old stuff. We’ve almost finished my sermon series “Big Brother: Learning to Live Together in God’s House”. The clips we used from the TV show really brought home some great points to us about love, acceptance, and harmony within the Body of Christ. I’m still studying for my next series: “South Park: Spiritually Shocking”. I’ve decided not to censor the language in the clips we’ll be showing; it adds to the power of the truths we can learn from those humorous little folks as they interact with each other and in the world around them.

Cool Leadership: We’re fortunate to have a staff here that is second to none, and I think I can say without reservation that they are the coolest bunch of people I’ve ever worked with. No one has any religious or theological hang-ups, we just love people and want to be part of seeing them living fulfilled and happy lives. As pastor I’ve learned what it means to be all things to all men. I can play whatever part is necessary to relate to whoever I need to at the time; the only role I won’t cast myself in is that of a typical church leader. I’ve found that people love a renegade who prevails and refuses to accept a mediocre life. And I have to confess that I’m getting really attached to my big loud bike and black leather jacket……. I just hope they never go out of style.

This letter is, of course, completely fictitious. Unfortunately the attitudes, ideas, and most of the examples are factual.

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Jude v. 17-25

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

God and a Gremlin

I recently found a picture of my first car: a 1972 AMC Gremlin. Purple; the factory color was called Wild Plum. Black vinyl interior with a bench front seat. No air conditioner. Three speed manual transmission with a 232 CI straight six engine. Not exactly the most popular car to have in 1978, when most of us guys were reading Wheels and Deals weekly and scanning the used car lots for a late 60s or early 70s muscle car we could afford. The Gremlin belonged to my parents, was in pretty good condition, got good gas mileage, and they didn’t want much money for it. Beside those things, I thought it held some possibilities of becoming a “cool” car. It was surprisingly fast through its first two gears and definitely different in appearance. The addition of an AM/FM 8 Track player with tri-axial speakers, new carpet, bucket seats, Hurst gear shift, fog lights and floor mats with a cartoonish devil and the phrase “Dirty, Mean, and Nasty” made my little car respectable enough to keep me satisfied.
Unfortunately, those floor mats were an accurate description of my life at the time. After 17 years of going to church and always being the compliant child and outstanding student, the second half of my senior year in high school found me making choices that led to me living a double life. I never missed church on Sunday and never missed an opportunity on any other day of the week to do whatever my flesh pleased. The Gremlin was my transportation to and sometimes the scene of many of my exploits.
This went on for nearly two years before God brought me to repentance and began to change my life from the inside out. Although my life was dramatically changing, the Gremlin remained much the same, the exceptions being that I got rid of the floor mats and replaced the 8 track with a cassette player. Some time later I covered the fading purple with a nice bright blue paint job, but the biggest change in the car was the way it was used. I now drove it to church with purpose and passion. It was transportation for younger guys in the youth group to church, fellowships, and early morning Bible studies. The car that was once the scene of ungodliness was now filled with prayer, conversation, and music that brought glory to God.
Eventually I had to let the car go after many years and miles, but the memory of it makes me smile and give God thanks, because it reminds me of His grace. When God brings redemption He takes those things considered common and despised and uses them as only He can. He takes the things that were formerly used for the kingdom of darkness and brings them into the kingdom of His dear Son, transforming them by His glory and for His Glory.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:9-14