[Re]vising an Old Song

Do you remember that silly song we learned as kids with all of the hand motions about the Church? “Here is the Church, here is the steeple, open the doors and there’s all the people.” I used to really enjoy that song. I think I must have bothered my brothers with that a ton. I figured if I had something like that stuck in my head, I might as well stick it in someone else’s head. The more I think about that song, I have a lot of reservations about it. I think perhaps there are good intentions for it but feel as though we are missing something. Here are a few thoughts.

“Here is the Church”

In this part of the song, we take our fingers and lace them together and cup our hands so our fingers are inside of our hands. What have we really just done though? We have just said, in words and actions, that the church is a building that houses our fingers (the body of Christ). This is not at all what the Bible teaches. The Church is not a building that houses the body of Christ but is actually the body of Christ. We are called to be the literal hands, feet, mouth, and body of Christ.

I remember growing up in that building people called the church. I was running around as most young children do when they have a lot of energy. When you have to sit through some boring message and sing from a hymnal and stuff, all of that energy is pent up in oneself and needs to get out. So I would run around with the other boys. That usually didn’t last too long because someone would stop us and say, “There will be no running in God’s house.” That seemed to work with me when I was little but now question the very statement. I have a few questions for that man or woman that stopped me from running in “God’s house.” If the building I go to is really God’s house, what about all the other buildings? If the “church” is the only place God lives, then why should I care about how I act at my home with my family or at school or the store. If God’s residence is in a building and not in my life, why should I care what anyone thinks or says outside of the building we call the church? Aren’t we told that the Spirit of God lives in each one of us? Doesn’t Paul tell us that our bodies are temples for God to dwell? Since I am a pretty logical thinker (or at least attempt to be), that would mean that the building that I go to is not God’s house but is a place where the temples of God come together to form the body of Christ and worship God. If someone would have told me that growing up, I could probably see why he or she told me to stop running. Coming together as the body of Christ is a beautiful expression of how we will one day live with Christ. I think we need to tell kids the truth. God shows up when two or more are gathered in His name. So, when we come together as the body of Christ, God shows up. In awe and reference of who God is, we should then take the time to worship Him for who He is and what He has done for us. This is the real reason we really shouldn’t run around in “church.”

“Here is the steeple”

I have been to a lot of buildings where people gather to worship God throughout my life and have to tell you that many of them do not possess a steeple. In my understanding, the purposes of steeples were to cause one’s eyes to raise and look at the sky (to heaven). Many of these steeples had a cross at the top to remind people of the death and resurrection of Christ. Finally some of them glowed, indicating and symbolizing that the light of Christ is here – we are lighthouses to the world as it were. One never had to look for a church for too long. Just look for a steeple and most likely it was a church.

The problem with that logic today is that many churches do not have steeples. The Well for instance does not possess a steeple. We meet in a warehouse next to an ambulance workshop in an industrial park. Several other churches have the same kind of layout. Some meet in movie theaters as well as homes. Some meet in storefronts while others meet in barns or hotels. In short, the logical steeple story is not all that it is cracked up to be. A church is not determined by the size of its steeple. It is determined by the actions and relationship individuals have with the Creator in both a communal setting as well as a personal devotional setting.

“Open the doors and there are all the people”

Here is the hardest part of this song. Statistics tell us that the Church is not really growing, as we would like to suggest to our young minds. In fact, it seems as though it is doing the exact opposite of what we would really like it to be doing. I am not going to depress anyone with stats regarding the petering off of the church. So many books are being written as to whose fault it is while others are solely slamming the institution of the church for its demise. If you would like to read any of them, I guess you could waste your time to do so. I would rather focus on how we can fix the problem. In doing so, perhaps we could open the doors of the building and see a lot of people who are sold out for Christ. Putting it bluntly: Stop your complaining and get your ass in gear. Instead of blaming a church, Let’s as a couple of questions:

Am I being the body of Christ? Am I actively engaging with the world around me as well as other believers? Do I have a meaningful, personal relationship with God? Do I often find myself complaining about how things in the church are going rather than trying to find ways in being pro-active in making necessary changes? Do I allow myself to be available to the needs of people and the needs of the Church (the building and the people)? How is my prayer life with regards to all of this? Is God being glorified through my life? What does being apart of the Church really mean to me? These are a few hard questions I am asking myself and encourage you to ask as well. I am telling you – you might not like what you have to hear or what you see in response. What I hope will happen for me and for those who care to ask those questions is life change. What I mean to say is – God is all about life change. It is why we read the Bible and why we do what we do as the body of Christ.

I don’t have all the answers in getting all the people back in the church. In fact, the freedom of it all is that the Holy Spirit is the one responsible for that part. I have to do mine though: Be available and love those who walk through the doors. I need to welcome them as I would any member of my family. That means if someone new walks through our doors, I shouldn’t just sit and talk to the same people. I should greet them and welcome them. I think loving people is a missing component to our churches today. It is something we oftentimes pretend we have it together.

In closing I will just say this. Even though the song I learned so long ago has personal significance and meaning, I need we need to take another look at where we are as a Church and where we ought to be. Though everyone loves to do the hand motions, perhaps we need to learn a new song that encourages us to be the body of Christ – the Church. Any thoughts?

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Stories from the Homeless (28)

There’s something about helping those who are homeless that I have come to understand recently. The more you do it, the more you feel inclined to do it. Maybe that is something I have written before or something but the fact remains that up until this point of the journey, I haven’t considered myself one to actually help anyone. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I still really struggle sometimes if we are actually doing anything at all significant. There are so many different groups in the city. The “City of Brotherly Love” has plenty of food options for the homeless and one can get clothes anywhere. What makes us different? What makes us any different from the 100 + organizations or volunteers out there that essentially do the same thing we do on a Monday night? The more I go to Philadelphia, the more I am convinced that I need to figure that out. In any case, here are some highlights from Monday night.

Last night was a different night. Jathan from Wisconsin was bringing several of their youth kids to hang out in the city with us. I am glad they were here. When we met up, we began walking over to the Free Library – a place we have gone now for awhile. As we were walking up, there was a man asleep on the sidewalk in tattered clothes. I am not sure the youth with Jathan would be prepared for what they might see. The man had no shoes and smelled. I felt like the Priest in the story of the Good Samaritan or something because I ended up just walking by the man who probably could have used a lot of help but I was unprepared to help him out. Convinced I should at least see if he needed something, I returned to him, or where he was just at, only to find that he was asleep. We left a lunch and a pair of new underwear wrapped in a lunch bag for him when he awoke. As I walked away, I looked back. Still asleep I thought to myself.

The “Food not Bombs” people were set up as usual. They had a lot of people sitting there, eating the vegetarian food. I could sense that a lot of people did not like what they offered but I saw that they were eating it anyway – I guess they were really hungry. I walked up to two guys and began to talk to them about life and the street. The one guy Ray told me that he was actually in real estate. I had to laugh and then he realized why I thought it was funny. I have never met a homeless real estate agent before. I asked him what the problem was. He just looked at me and said that the market was tight and people are harder to work with. He was from Baltimore and was hoping to find something better up here in PA. With no luck, and the inability to pay rent, he found himself on the streets for the first time in his life. After talking for a while, I gave him a lunch and told him that it wasn’t much. He just smiled and said thank you. With that, I allowed him to go on his way and do his thing.

I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Free Library for a little so ventured off to a spot I had gone before – just a couple of blocks away. This is where I saw all of the makeshift homes people made against a factory building and met a guy named “Black.” Seeing all the “homes” made for the night, I saw a man on a beach chair by himself. His name was Art, and he was stoned beyond recognition. He must have asked me at least five times what my name was. To make him feel comfortable, I did the same. We talked about New Jersey for a little. He said he wanted to get his SS card but couldn’t stop taking drugs. He wanted to work but no one would probably hire him. I told him that I would pray for him and gave him a lunch. As I sat there, I realized he feel asleep on me. I guess all that he had taken today made him tired. And, judging by his face and his age, he must have been.

The coolest thing about our night was the prayer circle we had. It was such a large group. A couple of people prayed and we left. The more I realize what we are doing there, the more I realize that we need to do more. It isn’t enough to just hand out sandwiches and leave. I am convinced that we need to share more than just a PB and J with people. We need to dig deeper and invite ourselves in to their world with hopes of being accepted and wanted by them. As I said, there are a lot of groups doing what we are doing so we need to be intentionally different. How we are going to do that, right now, I am not sure. What I do know is not going and not doing anything would be the worst thing we could do. So – I am going to keep going.

Stories from the Homeless (27)

I had an individual tell me the other day that the reason they don’t help the homeless is because they have not been invited to do so. Let me write that again: I had an individual tell me the other day that the reason they don’t help the homeless is because they have not been invited to do so. I didn’t know they had to be invited to be the light of Christ. I didn’t know that one had to be invited to be the ears and eyes of Jesus. I guess I missed the invite or something because I thought it is just supposed to be a lifestyle thing. I guess I have to find that list though. God knows I don’t want to do something like helping those who are less fortunate simply because I wasn’t invited to help. That would just be horrible if I lost my invitation. I must be around here somewhere.

Seriously friends. When we have to be invited to help the homeless, I am no longer helping the homeless. I will sit on the couch and eat ding-dongs all day until I get sick. If you want to make an excuse for not loving the poor or help those who are less fortunate than yourself, please don’t tell me the reason is because you weren’t invited. If you really want to piss me off, then be my guest. What a load of crap.

Tonight we had a group of 7 of us go. They weren’t invited to go. They just showed up and decided that they weren’t going to sit on their ass. They wanted to serve God and others. Sounds like a good plan to me. I guess it sounded good to them as well. We went to the Free Library again. Seems like we have better luck there than Love Park. We can be a little more “grass roots” with our approach, which I think most of us really wanted from the beginning.

Seeing it was another busy night, I walked around for a little. I saw Danny again. He was wearing a “Hell boy” hat and shirt (both red) and a pair of blue shorts. He said that he had his first shower in almost a month, which is good because I was sitting next to him and was not prepared to smell what he might have smelled like had he not showered. We sat and talked about drugs for a bit. He was and still is a big drug user. His “claim to fame” as he calls it is crack. He says that is why he is on the streets in the first place. He doesn’t want to have a lot of money because he would just buy crack with it. As long as he has his health and his teeth, he says he is okay with living on the streets. He is about to have his 49th birthday soon. He doesn’t get angry when people look at him wrong because he blames himself for his issues and his current situation. I guess that is good that he places the blame on himself rather than others but I wonder how much would have changed if he had someone to encourage him and disciple him as it were. I am not sure if I could answer that at this point but perhaps he would be a little different about all of this. I couldn’t tell at that moment but looking back, I think he was high. He said he also liked weed and did pretty much anything to do it. Sexual favors were easy enough (guy or girl) if he could get something to keep him mellow.

The guy who was with him was no different. He said his name was Doug and has been on the streets for about 10 years. He was a scruffy looking guy with a black hat, a gray shirt, and a pair of size ten shoes he says was one size too big for him. He panhandled all the time. He figured it was better than stealing because people would always give a dollar here and a dollar there. After a good three or four hours, he would have well over 100 dollars. I thought perhaps he was lying until he showed me the day’s work. Not too bad for a homeless guy with a decent gut. He didn’t need any food tonight. He said he had a 32 oz stake and was full.

We then talked about wasting food and how horrible it was that we do it so often. I agreed with him, telling them that I work in a restaurant that wastes a lot of food. He said the rich have it too easy. Doug said he would eat whatever people wanted to throw away while he washed dishes for a fancy restaurant. The owner found out and he was fired for eating food that no one wanted. He couldn’t understand what the problem was and, I guess if I was in his position, I wouldn’t either. I left Danny and Doug and told them that I might see them next week (which is usually up to them and where they are on a Monday night).

I then meet John and “Sparkler” – two people who were not married but assumed the marriage role for one another. This included anything that “married couples do.” John was wearing a maroon shirt and pair of blue jeans while Sparkler wore a gray hoodie and a green skirt that was torn in several areas, showing its age. We began talking about the homeless situation in this area of the city. They said that it was hard because people wouldn’t accept them into their fellowship because they weren’t drug dealers or ‘investors.’ John is working on a book while Sparkler makes the money doing whatever she seems to do. She was quiet a lot of the time. John did most of the talking for her and he. I guess that is how it works. As I looked at John’s arms, I could see that he was lying about the drugs because there were needle marks all over them. When I asked about them, he looked down, then looked at me, and said that was an “issue” he had a long while ago and it was fixed. I guess I was mistaken about the earlier comment. He wasn’t lying, or so it appeared. I had no reason not to believe him.

After talking to those two for a while, we headed back to our cars and prayed. I am glad we did. Next time someone says that have to be invited to help the homeless, I hope I am not around. We all have a responsibility to those in need. We are never above anyone or any issue that comes about. We must do our part and help those who need it most. It is our responsibility. Let’s get to work!

Just so you know, that’s not right

Just so you know, it isn’t right. That is the thought that continues to run through my mind every time I replay the events that have taken place this past week. The event was simple enough. Within the safety and comfort of an individual’s house, a family figure made a statement concerning a girl who I personally know. This individual was not very happy about this girl coming over to the house to enjoy an evening of fellowship with a group of people who were most likely going to end up watching a movie or something. This person’s statement was something to the effect of: “Why does she have to come here?” Needless to say, I was a little upset about the comment. This individual knows nothing about this girl and her love for the Lord. In short, she really knows nothing about the girl at all. Within ten minutes of this statement, the girl walks through the door and this individual “changes her attitude” and acts as if the statement that she had just said went unheard by the rest of us sitting there at the table and puts on a fake smile and mask to entertain this girl. Not only did it appear as though this individual changed their tune, she acted as if she was actually happy for this girl to be there, introducing herself as if they were going to be best friends or something. Just so you know, that isn’t right.

Before we examine the issue at hand, I have to say that I know understand what it is like from the receiving end of a hypocrite. There have been plenty of times in my life when I have been on the giving side of it but now have seen the receiving end of hypocrisy and I have to tell you that it makes me sick to my stomach and above all, ridiculously angry. So, before I attempt to take a spec out of another’s eye, I will take the log out of mine. I am not perfect. I have been a hypocrite more times in my life than I would like to admit. Seeing these events come to fruition has given me an “insider’s look” at sin in a way in which I cannot fully describe. What I will say on that matter is that I now have another thing I need to work on in my life. So, in light of that, this post will center more on me than the actual event written above. I use that event to show how it has provoked me and challenged me to change my words and my thoughts. It has given me a new perspective on what it is like for others to see my ugliness and sin displayed in a bright light that cannot be hidden or concealed by the darkness. It has also shown me that words are powerful and have an effect on my walk with God and with others (family, friends, etc…).

When I heard those words come from this individual’s mouth; when I saw this individual pretend to actually want this girl in their house; when I saw how their mannerisms changed almost immediately, I realized how God must feel (at least in some small way), when I do the same thing to others. I never realized how powerful my words are. I guess it isn’t something one likes to think about.

Words give encouragement, reproof, regret, lies, hate, love, support, advice, and many other things. They can also be given in certain ways to convey a thought or a meaning. If we say things in a certain way, others can sense how we feel with regards to our emotion, urgency, and conviction. In short, words are extremely powerful in nature. I am not going to attempt to take the time and do an exhaustive study on how words are used in the Bible or mention every time the word “word” or its variants are used. I will say this though. God’s word made the heavens and the earth. It was God’s Word that came to earth in the form of a man to save the people from destruction and separation from God for eternity. It is God’s word that gives us hope for a future and it is God’s word that we read and trust in to guide us through this journey of life and faith. Words are a big deal.

So – I am going to work on my words. I am going to watch what I say and try, to the best of my ability, to use my words in a manner that are honoring to God and to others for the sake of the love of Christ. If we use our words to tear people down, discourage them or even play the card of a hypocrite, that isn’t right. This is my challenge and I hope that you will join me in this effort in doing the same. What I experienced the other night was out of line and wrong. I hope that you will agree. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, I will say it again: Just so you know, that isn’t right.

Did God Create Evil?

A University professor at a well-known institution of higher learning
challenged his students with this question.

“Did God create everything that exists?”

A student bravely replied, “Yes he did!”

“God created everything?” The professor asked.

“Yes sir, he certainly did,” the student replied.

The professor answered, “If God created everything; then God created
evil. And, since evil exists, and according to the principal that our
works define who we are, then we can assume God is evil.”

The student became quiet and did not answer the professor’s hypothetical
definition. The professor, quite pleased with himself, boasted to the
students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a
myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, “May I ask you a question,
professor?”

“Of course,” replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, “Professor does cold exist?”

“What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been
cold?”

The other students snickered at the young man’s question.

The young man replied, “In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to
the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of
heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or
transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or
transmit energy.

“Absolute zero (-460F) is the total absence of heat; and all matter
becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does
not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have
no heat.”

The student continued, “Professor, does darkness exist?”

The professor responded, “Of course it does.”

The student replied, “Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not
exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can
study, but not darkness. In fact, we can use Newton’s prism to break
white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each
color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into
a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a
certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn’t this
correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when
there is no light present.”

Finally the young man asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?”

Now uncertain, the professor responded, “Of course, as I have already
said. We see it everyday. It is in the daily examples of man’s
inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence
everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”

To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist, sir, or at least it
does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is
just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the
absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what
happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s
like the cold that comes when there is no heat, or the darkness that
comes when there is no light.”

The professor sat down.

The young man’s name? Albert Einstein.

Doing Church: Three Days Later (Zambia Update)

Sunday, Todd spoke to our church. He had just gotten back from Zambia after being there for about two weeks. It is now Wednesday and I am still working through some of the things Todd talked about. I am just going to list a few things and give a brief statement or thought about each thing I have thought about. I hope I am not alone in these thoughts:

1 – We are so blessed in America: We have so much, use so much, waste so much, and yet somehow always seem to give so much of what we have. I think Maybe that is what makes America so unique. I am not sure how to process what we give and how we give but I guess we could always give more. That’s something I will have to come to grips with eventually.

2 – We really have way too much crap: Todd was talking about how much credit card debt we have right now in America and I have to be honest, it upsets me that I have some. I have taken some steps though in order to pay it off and not be apart of the statistic. What is more ridiculous is that the business for storage units is growing in phenomenal rates. So the stuff we can’t afford gets piled in our houses. We then can’t store it all so we are paying these storage places to store our crap that we can’t afford with the credit cards we can’t pay off. So, if I get this straight, we are paying a monthly fee, for way too much stuff, that we can’t own, with credit cards we can’t pay off. That sure makes sense doesn’t it? I think we all need to take a moment and go through the stuff we have and ask ourselves if we really need all that we have. When we come to the conclusion that we don’t, we should give it away or sell it to pay off our credit card debt.

3 – Children in Zambia cannot attend school unless they have a uniform and shoes: This one bothered me the most. Why can’t a child who could quite possibly be the next teacher, doctor, lawyer, or diplomat go to school? When the Europeans brought the Gospel message to Zambia, they also brought their way of life and instituted it in their culture. So, since they wear a uniform and shoes to school in Europe, so much Zambian kids. The only problem is, there is no money to buy the clothes – thus, they can’t go to school. Since they can’t go to school, they have no education. If they have no education, they can’t get a job. Since they don’t have a job, there is no money. The cycle continues while the people of Zambia struggle. What the heck?

4 – Confession is a big deal: I don’t like confession. In fact, I wish confession were taboo or something. The simple truth is that confession aids in humanity (especially Christians who should be leading the way) being normal, showing we have faults and cannot do this whole living thing alone. That is the best thing about confession. The hardest is confession. It is a catch 22. For now, all I will say is that I need to embark on having a more confessional lifestyle, especially if I believe God has called me into the ministry.

These are the four areas that I am challenged in right now. These are the four areas that present to me a problem of wanting to be apart of the American dream, which seems more like an American nightmare. For whatever its worth, it just goes to show that we have a lot of work to do. Thinking back to Todd’s message, he said that they commissioned him to go back to American and led well. That sounds odd to you and I but for them, they understand our problem. We need to also. I hope we can finish this race well, to the glory of God. Amen.

Stories from the Homeless (26)

One thing I have come to realize is that those who are homeless have this thing about being prideful that is very hard to break. I keep going back to last week when I attempted to hand out fresh bread to anyone who would like it. Each time I attempted to do so, they would simply make some kind of remark about how they were not birds. I had to come to grips that perhaps they were not in need of food enough to want the bread that I had for them to enjoy. That happens sometimes I guess.

Last night, we split up into groups and walked around the city. I like it that way much more. We don’t look like a large crowd attempting to change people or something. We are a normal group of people who are walking around, talking to those who have made their beds on the streets. I am honestly not sure I can help you understand what I saw last night because I am still processing it all in my head.

When we walked past the Free Library, there was another grassy area in which several homeless people were making their beds for the night. Some just spread blankets out on the grass, took off their shoes, ate whatever food they had found earlier that day, and then laid their head down to sleep. Meanwhile, all around them, the city was still in full swing. Luckily for tonight (for them), it wasn’t supposed to rain. There was no need to find a wealth of shelter to keep them dry throughout the night. As we approached some city building, along the whole wall, there were homeless “make shift shelters” made for those who would sleep there for the night. One guy spent a good amount of time making his. Several bags of trash bags, which were filled, lined the wall. Then several cardboard boxes were put on top of the trash bags in order to make a roof. Finally, duct tape was placed on the cardboard and the trash bags to keep it all together. When I asked a guy named “Black” if anyone was in there, he just looked over and say yes. It was then that I decided that I would take a moment to walk along the make shift homes for myself and get a better look. The smell was so wild I can’t even explain it. I cannot understand how anyone could live in that filth.

I got to hand out two Bibles tonight. One to a guy who asked for it and one to a guy I offered it to. I am glad they took them. I hope they will not take it and roll joints with it or something. There is a lot of good stuff in that book.

We then saw Aaron. He told us about his life and how he has all of these issues going on with his head. I told him he should cut it and then maybe it would be all right but he didn’t think that would help. If you go to a couple posts earlier, you can actually see pictures of Aaron’s hair. He has not cut it in 13 ½ years. He has a lot of issues with his head. I hope you will keep him in prayer even though he could probably have it fixed if he was able to shave it off. He shared what it was like to get kicked out of churches and basically have no friends. Something I personally never experienced in my life, for which I am glad.

This might be a shorter post than normal but I am pondering a lot of things. I can’t get the images of the filth out of my mind. I don’t understand how someone can deal with that. I have been thinking about “Black” and his friend. All of what we have been doing this past year has been significant to my walk with God. The more I do it, the more I realize how absolutely blessed we are. That is the amazing thing about our trips. I truly am 100 percent blessed.