Saturday, February 21, 2015

Quit Inviting People to Church

I grew up in a church that had a planned “Invite a Neighbor Sunday” and attended two others that had a “Pack the Pews” and “Plum Full Sunday”. I don’t know if the latter was started by plum lovers or if it just sounded more appropriate for a rural church. As best as I can remember they were all great successes in filling up the building...for one Sunday. We put on our best clothes, we had a potluck lunch, we spent a couple of weeks reminding the membership we would have lots of people there and needed to be friendly. We did it up right, got lots of people to show up, patted ourselves on the back then came back the following week to the regular people doing the regular things.

I grew up with the gospel of attendance. “Do not forsake the assembly.” Wow, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that spoken as if it were the 11th command-ment. I was taught to be at“ church” but somewhere along the way, the message got lost that I was supposed to BE THE CHURCH. It’s as if someone has confused church, the body of believers, as church, the big place where we focus on God for 3 services a week. In that time, we have started inviting people to a somewhat organized, somewhat dysfunctional group of people where the invited are supposed to find God. Is anyone else seeing the fallacy of this?

Let’s try this. Invite people to encounter Christ. Invite people to see what a disciple really looks like, what a disciple talks like, what a disciple cares about, what a disciple puts their money and time and energy towards. Invite people to meet the church that is looking back at them, eye to eye, face to face. Jesus didn’t tell Peter he was going to erect a building on a rock. He told Peter he was going to build the church on the confession that Jesus is the Son of God. People don’t need to see how we do worship. They MUST see our confession of faith lived out in our lives daily, consistently, full of love and grace and compassion. People need to see the church Jesus wants established, an active body reaching out, touching lives, pouring out what he is wanting to pour into us. The gates of Hades will blow apart the building on Main Street but it can do nothing to the soul focused on God, full of faith and hope for the victory that belongs to those who are in Christ.

I recently had a conversation with someone about a friend of theirs who doesn’t like churchy people. Sadly, what the friend doesn’t understand is that people who meet at a building and talk about those who don’t show up are not churchy people. Churchy people should be the folks who look like Jesus in the eyes of others because they are being the church and acting like Christ to those around them. When Paul tells husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church, he didn’t mean they should love their wives 3 times a week. He meant, and even said, they should be ready to give their lives (death to self) to their wives. We are all called to the same with the people around us. We don’t love them when they are in a big building with us. No, we love them when their lives are falling apart. We love them when they are struggling with pornography. We love them when their spouse walked out on them, when they’ve had an affair, when they are struggling with materialism, when they are struggling with hatred, when they are struggling with drug abuse. We love them in the middle of a messy life. That’s church! That’s the body of believers showing their belief in a Christ who can heal the broken. 

I encourage you as I encourage myself, don’t invite someone to church. Be the church in their lives. Be a reflection of Christ in the middle of their mess, their pain, their frailty. Be the church and people showing up to meet in a building will take care of itself.

Grace and peace.

Jeff Jones
Decatur, Texas

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Unsedated Life

A few days ago, I listened to a person describe their drinking problem. 

Their story was similar to other stories I have heard.  She said, “It started a little at time, but it increased over a short period of time.”  As she shared out of deep emotion, the following comment caught my ear:  “My drinking became more than “binge” moments.  It became a state of mind that sent ripples through the other parts of my life.  My binges weakened me in ways that I was not fully cognizant of at least initially.  I slowly lost the capacity for thinking about things that really mattered.  Things that used to get my attention – good things – lost their attraction.  I became rather dim-witted.  I was functional but mostly not present.  Though not “under the influence” all the time, I was sedated in spirit to any real sense of God’s presence in my life.” 

Her words jogged my memory about an article written by Dr. Keith Ablow entitled “America is Drunk.”  The article underscores the growing reality of how intoxicated people are becoming with everything from boos and drugs to celebrity culture to our total immersion in the surreal.  He makes the eye-popping comment that an increasing number of Americans are choosing to be “non-present” for large segments of their life. 

Deeper into the article he lays bare the real issue with these various forms of drunkenness:
“The fact that we are doing this as a culture is the single most ominous psychological trend we have ever faced.  I am not exaggerating.  Unchecked, it will literally create an absentee nation, unable to summon real vision to confront real threats, unable to summon real courage to defeat real enemies.”

He continues:
"Because drunks have no capacity to tolerate suffering or to see the future clearly or to summon extraordinary creativity from deep inside themselves or to stand up and double down with courage that resonates as so completely real, so entirely sober, that our adversaries buckle at their knees….See when you drug yourself five to ten percent of your life, that experience (or rather non-experience) can contaminate the rest of your life, too.  Because suppressing your truth – including your anxiety and your resolve – for one day in 7 days is enough to tip the balance of your thinking away from introspection, away from insight and away from real involvement with others and the world around you.” 

I think most people are familiar with Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.  But, we miss the trailing comments Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 7:1-2. 

The English Standard Version reads:  Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God

The Message puts it this way:  With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.

At first glance the text reminds us that our bodies are mobile temples of the Holy Spirit.  But it says a lot more!  Paul makes the point that God is present and working in our lives not simply because we have been baptized into Christ, but because we are opening space in our lives for Him to work. 

We can claim God’s gifts and promises but not separate ourselves for His purposes in the world. 
Our lives can fill up with all sorts of things.   While we may not get up in the morning thinking about pursuing sin, neither do we get up thinking about what it means to be an instrument of righteousness.  We essentially function in a “non-present” kind of existence.  And, Sunday morning assembly becomes the only “space” we have available for God.    

We can live our lives “drunk” on a lot of things:  self-medicating, experiences, money, travel, the surreal in any of its many forms.  The idea of temple can become nothing more than a place we go once a week – similar to what Old Testament Jews thought about spirituality shortly before God handed them over to the Babylonians.    

Cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit.” 

I think Paul’s words remind us that living in the Spirit is much more than a touch-feely sort of thing or an hour and fifteen minute assembly experience on Sundays.  Walking in the Spirit is about giving ourselves over to the struggle to reach for “clarity and focus” and, evaluating what space we have available for Christ.  Is there something that has me distracted?  What is it exactly that has us in its power?  What do we need to clean out…in our behavior, actions, or spirit that has us in a perpetual state of sedation to the things of God? 

I think it was David who said in Psalm 139:23-24:
   “Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
    And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting

O Father, help us to live in a greater cognizance of your presence and calling.  May our lives be your instruments for the manifestation of your reign in the earth.  Help us to clean out what needs to be cleaned out.  Awaken us from our sleep.  Give us the strength to live in the struggle that is holiness.  Our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak.  Increase our faith.  Amen.

Randy Daugherty
Stephenville, Texas

Monday, January 26, 2015

Resisting Worldly Myths

I am a Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Professional Counselor who sees many clients who have been involved in an affair. Many of these clients are Christians who never intended to get into this situation. In fact, they are shocked themselves that this could happen. So, what does happen? All situations are not the same, of course, but there are some patterns that I think we should be aware of.
First of all, there is generally a distancing from God. Reading the Bible stops (if it ever existed). Praying becomes less or very surface. Missing church is common. Hanging out with single friends replaces friendships with married couples. Spending time with the children, friends, work, sports, etc., leaves no time to focus on being with the spouse. Conversation becomes routine and mundane or negative and critical. One focuses on what one does NOT like about the spouse, instead of the positives. Some myths come into play as well. Here are a few examples.

1. “My kids are resilient, it won’t hurt them.” (Children may carry the scars for years and often repeat the behavior.)

2. “We are just friends.” (If the person pulls your emotional investment away from your spouse, he/she is NOT a friend.)

3. “What he/she doesn’t know won’t hurt them, secrets remain secrets.” (It will be found out and it will hurt others.)

4. “I’m only ……texting, chatting on the internet, calling him/her.” (Affairs generally begin with frequent conversation that brings one emotionally closer to the “friend” than to the spouse.)

 5. “I just want to start over with a clean slate.” (If children are involved, this is impossible.)

6. “I can make wise choices when I am drinking.” (People frequently do things they would never do if they weren’t under the influence of alcohol.)

7. “My situation is not like other people’s situations.” (Adultery is not unique, it is WRONG.)

8. “Even though he/she cheated on ________they won’t cheat on me.” (Don’t count on it.)

9. “With this person, I leave my problems behind.” (No. You get a new set of problems.)

10. “I know this is wrong, but it makes me happy, and God wants me to be happy.” (No, God wants me to be HOLY, which will bring me JOY. Doing wrong does not bring lasting happiness. God desires OBEDIENCE!)

11. “If I could just find the right person, I’d be happy.” (Being the right person is more important.) Spend time with your spouse! Find things that you enjoy doing together, and appreciate the qualities you each bring to the marriage. Focus on pleasing God!

Susan Green 
Abilene, Texas

Thursday, January 22, 2015

When the Children Have Grown Up

One of these days you’ll shout, “Why don’t you kids grow up and act your age?” And they will. Or, “You guys get outside and find something to do…and don’t slam the door!” And they won’t. You’ll straighten up the boy’s bedroom neat and tidy…bumper stickers discarded…spread tucked and smooth…toys displayed on the shelves. Hangers in the closet…animals caged. And you’ll say out loud, “Now I want it to stay that way.” And it will.

 You’ll prepare a perfect dinner with a salad that hasn’t been picked to death and a cake
with no finger traces in the icing and you’ll say, “Now, there’s a meal for company.” And you’ll
eat it alone. You’ll say, “I want complete privacy on the phone. No dancing around, no
pantomines, no demolition crews. Silence! Do you hear?” And you’ll have it. No more plastic
tablecloths stained with spaghetti. No more bedspreads to protect the sofa from the damp
bottoms. No more gates to stumble over at the top of the basement steps. No more clothespins
under the sofa. No more anxious nights under a vaporizer tent. No more sand on the sheets. No
more iron-on patches. No more knotted shoestrings, tight boots or rubber bands for pony tails.

 Imagine a lipstick with a point on it. No baby sitter for New Year’s Eve. Washing only
once a week. No PTA meetings. No car pools. No one washing her hair at 11 PM. Think about it!
No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and library paste. No more tooth fairy. No giggles
in the dark. No knees to heal, no responsibility.

 Only a voice crying, “Why don’t you grow up,” and the silence echoing, “I did!”

Author Unknown

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Start the Lawn Mower

"For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near." (Ephesians 2:14-17)

A while back, I was studying the concept of peace. My study revealed an amazing truth. When biblical writers speak about peace between God and man they present peace as something that comes with a high price tag. Peace comes via Christ’s sacrifice. They use graphic language: death, his body of flesh, his shed blood. They never speak about it in a light-hearted way. One of my favorite professors at ACU often reminded his students, “When God makes peace, he bleeds.”

In our dealings with each other, do we view peace like that?

In the movie The Straight Story Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight. The script follows the true story of an event in the life of Alvin Straight, a 73 year old man living in Iowa. Alvin had been at odds with his brother for over 20 years. And, more than anything, he wants to set things right. But, failing eyesight and no driver’s license have taken away his driving privileges. His daughter offers to drive him to Wisconsin to see Lyle. “Nope”, he says. “I need to do it on my own steam.” So, Alvin goes to “Plan B”. He tunes up his riding lawn mower and sets off for Wisconsin. Almost 30 days and 320 miles later he finally reaches his destination. The last scene is a touching one. Lyle’s eyes widen with curiosity as he sees his estranged brother pull up to his house on a 1966 John Deere lawn mower! “You drive all the way up here on that?” Lyle queries. Alvin walks to the porch and extends his hand. “I figured it’d been too long since we talked and I didn’t like the way we talked the last time we wuz together. I wanted you to know that I was serious about patch’n things us.” What a story!

A. J. Muste said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.

It’s easy to argue, divide and bicker at one another. Got a family? Ever been to church? Served on a ministry committee or two? You know what I’m talking about. Sometimes in the name of what’s right we forget about “what’s right”. We forget that we are created in the image of God and for community.

Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

In Ephesians 4:3 Paul says it is our responsibility to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Unity comes with our baptism into Christ and renewal through the Holy Spirit. The “peace keeping part” is our responsibility.

Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers”. I confess that its easier to sit in a room with a concept than to imagine what it looks like put into action. Who among us hasn’t done that? Anybody can analyze peace. We can talk about it. We can load our minds up with scriptures about peace. But Jesus said “peacemaking” is where the real action is. It’s what really counts. The Hebrew writer says we are to “pursue peace” ( Hebrews 12:14). Why? I think it’s because forging the kind of ties within community that reflect the presence and reign of Christ is something you have to “want”.

Jesus wanted to establish peace between us and God. So…he entered human experience. I think that’s the message of the text in Ephesians 2. “He came and preached peace.”

Have you ever thought about what our lives, relationships and congregations would look like after thirty days of concerted efforts at “peacemaking”? What conversations are “out there” waiting on us? What breakthroughs are just around the corner? When we lay our lives in the context of the gospel story, we hear God's call to make our peace with living as conduits of peace. It sends us into the world and into our relationships with other believers as people “bent on making peace”.

Can’t find your car keys?  No problem. Start the lawnmower.

O Father, may the peace of Christ so rule in our hearts that we surrender our wills to your will, our view of people to your view of them. Awaken us to the expectation and promise of peacemaking as a way of life. Keep us from running from the hard tasks that come with making peace. Strengthen our hearts for the challenges that Satan puts in our way to keep us comfortable with thinking and habits that are less than what the gospel calls us to. Thank you for Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Randy Daugherty
Stephenville, Texas

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What is Your Hope?

Be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within you with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15)

If someone asked you to tell them about hope what would you say?

Hope is a forward looking word.  It anticipates something beyond this world.  But what?  Paul talks about people who have hope and those who don’t (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).  Jesus is described as the “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Ask most any Christian about hope and why they have it and they will quickly respond;  “Jesus died for the sins of all mankind (Romans 5:6-11)!  He has set us free through his death in our stead. He saved us!"  Of course, there are scores of texts that make that point.  But, what does being saved mean?

But, let’s fast forward this conversation past the part about Jesus' death as atonement for our sin to something else…something that has often been missed in our discussions about hope.  Jesus’ death is a critical piece of the gospel story, but so is the resurrection.  In fact without the resurrection everything else falls flat. 

Hope is not about going to heaven.  It is about living for the resurrection. 

Sound crazy? Odd?  Heretical?

Truth is, we have more Plato in us than we would like to admit.  Ask most Christians and they will say something like, “We die, our body decays, our soul goes to heaven and, after the judgment (whatever that is and however it happens) we are with God in a blissful “spiritual” existence forever.  Most often the conversation about the afterlife is about “going” to heaven and staying there. 

Yet, isn’t it interesting that when the apostle Paul speaks about the next life for the believer he speaks of heaven as a “weigh station” of sorts.  It’s a place we go for “a while” until our final destination occurs. 

The final destination for Paul is the resurrection and a new creation (Romans 8:19-24).

1 Corinthians chapter fifteen is a riveting and thorough discussion about the resurrection.  Paul lays out an exciting vision of the life that is to come.  Adam’s sin in the garden brought death…literally…into our lives.  Scripture emphasizes the fact that we are mortal beings – not immortal.  Only God possesses immortality (1 Timothy 6:16; Romans 8:9-11).  Jesus brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:9-10). 

Believers in the city of Corinth were confused on this point.  They leaned more toward Plato and the concept of the soul (disembodied spirit) than what Paul had taught them in the gospel, namely, the resurrection of the body.  In 1 Corinthians 15:35-57 Paul explains this in detail.  Our future as believers is the resurrection of the body although it will be magnificently different in ways that Paul cannot describe.  “We are waiting to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).

Death is beaten on the very turf where it beat us…our bodies. 

Jesus’ resurrection was more than a show of divine power.  It serves as a precursor to what is coming.  Jesus is the first born from among the dead ones (Ephesians 1:20-21; Colossians 1:16-18; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23).  The angels said after his ascension that he would come in “like manner as you beheld him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11).  Paul says the “dead in Christ will rise first” and then believers who are alive at his coming will rise with them to meet him in the air (to welcome him!) when he comes with his mighty angels (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). 

The Jews in Jesus day, for the most part, held the belief of the resurrection (John 11:20-25).  Jesus said that a day would come when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice.  Some would come forth to a resurrection of life (1 Cor. 15) and others would be raised to be judged and destroyed (John 5:25-29). 

When Jesus spoke about eternal life he did so with resurrection in mind. 

When someone asks us about our hope, we should tell them what Jesus accomplished for us in his death for our sins.  BUT, we should also emphasize what he accomplished in his resurrection.  He is the only one who was raised from the dead and, as they say, “stayed up.”  He has the power to give us life…literally…in a new body…forever.  His invitation to join him in his kingdom now and forever is the most fascinating and exciting experience we can participate in.  Paul says that the sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). 

Scripture doesn't spell out the particulars of what all “glory” means.  Then again, we are given some small portholes in scripture that give us glimpses of what the resurrection world will be like. Scripture says, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).   

How we envision what Jesus, Paul and others said about resurrection matters.  And, it should be a major piece in our conversation with people about what “hope” means. 

Choosing to be a Christian involves more than pleasing God and proving our obedience to His will.  As much as these things matter – and they do! – there is more. 

God is inviting us to be a part of something. That's the part that is undeveloped in our thinking and sharing of the gospel. We are living, serving, suffering, and teaching the gospel to ourselves and others toward something.  God will welcome us into a new creation.  His kingdom will be full of surprises, magnificence and adventure.  

Assembling with other Christians, standing up under pressure, standing our ground in the presence of evil and embracing the reign of God now should be empowered by this great vision of what God will do one day through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11) at the resurrection. 

Paul said, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.  The old things have passed away; behold new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Resurrection.  New things.  I can only imagine.  How bout you?

Randy Daugherty


Monday, December 8, 2014

I Don't Like the Cross

Yes, it’s true. I really don’t like the Cross. Mind you, I’m not talking about the one
we normally see in our “Christian culture.” You know the one of which I speak, the
cute one we see on T-shirts and pendants. I’m pretty OK with that one. Occasionally
I’ll see one on a billboard as I drive down the highway – no problem. Crosses adorn
walls of homes and offices – no issues here. I see them for sale all over the place…
polished wooden ones, roughhewn ones, iron crosses intended to look rustic, plastic
ones, etc. Those don’t bother me in the least. Those crosses are decorations and
are worn and displayed as a message to others. “I’m a good person” they say.  “I’m a
‘Christian.’” “I like Jesus.” There is nothing painful or offending about those crosses.
I’m not trying to be cynical or overly critical. I think most of the time people use
these things with good intentions. But allow me to be direct: they’re neither offensive
nor painful. How would the message be different if I displayed a picture of an electric chair on my wall? Or what if I showed up on Wednesday night wearing a T-shirt with a hangman’s noose prominently displayed on the front? Yes, that’s different, isn’t it? These things mean death in horrific ways. These machines of death are
offensive, not quaint. They’re shocking, painful, and contrary to my life. This, friends, is the Cross I don’t like – and for the very same reason.

The Cross I don’t like is the one upon which I must nail my Self. My Self is offended
that it must die. Death is neither quaint nor cute. I hate death, especially as it applies
to me. An aesthetically pleasing cross on a wall as a message to others about
who I am isn’t painful or offensive, but an ugly cross shoved in the dirt of my flesh
and upon which my will, nature, and desires are harshly nailed until they writhe,
gasp, and finally, reluctantly die is a message to me about who God is… and that
message is offensive to my Self. The cute cross that I like is about me and says I am
good. The Cross I hate is about God and says I am corrupt. The Cross I hate casts a
dark shadow that chills the warm feelings I get about how “good” I am in comparison
to others. The Cross I hate offers scorn, ridicule, and embarrassment as my Self
is displayed in all its naked, shameful ugliness. Nothing can hide when it’s nailed to
a Cross. Neither can anything live. I know that if I nail my Self to a Cross – not the
cute one, but the ugly one like Jesus had – it’s not coming down… it’s going to die

The Good News is that Jesus offers resurrection. Not for the old Self that died. It,
thankfully, won’t return if it really died. The resurrection of Jesus offers a new self,
one that is dead to Self but alive to God. That’s the thing about resurrection… you
can’t have it without death. And cute crosses don’t kill the Self; they keep it alive.

James McGee