What is the Church?…

Recently I was approached to discuss and defend my political viewpoint in light of my theological perspective.  This aquantance doesn’t have the ability to couple a Christ follower the opportunity to be anything but a conservative Republican.  My present beliefs and lifestyle hopefully represent consistencies formed from years of learning, mistakes, and values.  These beliefs certainly are polar to what I accepted and practiced in my younger and less evolved life.

We agreed to have a civil discourse dealing with certain topics without need for debate, just plain discussion for the purpose of understanding each other.  I respect the willingness of my friend to comprehend other viewpoints and hopefully this will stay civil.  I personally feel no compulsion to persuade others to my belief system, especially dealing with politics.  There is no right answer, no right side to align with, no need for us versus them.  We each come to the place of understanding having walked divergent roads of growth and experience.  Therefore expecting each of us to completely agree seems fool-hearty at best.

The first question posed to me asked what is the purpose of the church?  A rather open ended question that leaves much room for opinion. 

Here is what I wrote…

In short the purpose of the church should encompass providing a sanctuary of hope and healing for the lost and hurting.  A place where action impacting the community near us and and the world around us is initiated and continued.  A safe haven of rest where the outcast of society are able to find refuge.  A locale of challenge for believers to walk more in the true image of the Christ.

I don’t feel the church is an induction station or boot camp preparing for battle.  I find the analogy of warfare offensive.  The church is about mobilizing its people to be lovers of other people.  Just like Jesus taught.  Loving people implies not killing them with hateful attitudes and actions.  Love is the overarching theme of the bible, not judgement.

The church, to me, is not looking for complete obedience to it whereby acceptance is granted to only those who willingly comply.  Individuality is what drives the healthy church.  The collective gathering of differences sharing the cause of kindness is what makes church so meaningful.  I feel no need to act like everyone else, look like everyone else, nor believe like everyone else.  I find no calling in scripture to enter into a personal cloning program.

Relationship forces us to encounter contact with Christ in a much more personal manner than rules could ever hope for.  Rules, especially one devised for the purpose of control, force us to withdraw from relationship and focus on a tally system of merit.  This is not my understanding of grace.

The church should be a place where ALL are welcome, loved , and accepted.  This is the responsibility of the bride-this is the promise of the bride.  We come as life finds us…filthy, unworthy, and in great need.  Each of us a sinner in desperate need of grace.  At no time is sin ever detailed by degrees of shame or offense.  All sin is equally problematic.  No sin worse than any other.

I understand the need to shower first before getting into a pool.  I do not understand the thinking that demands we come to the church already clean.  Besides, who are we cleaning up for?

When the church spends its time focusing on particular sins and grossly overlooking others—then the church has simply lost its way.

Actually when the church casts more care on shortcomings of others instead of sharing compassion and understanding then it truely has lost its way.

I tend to ramble.

A Man Worth Remembering…

 

Think back to a time when you first met someone who instantly attracted your attention.  Maybe it was a kind smile possessed, a generous action performed , or even eyes that had a story to tell.  Someone who seemed to live life with such confidence in who they were that little impacted their very being.  One who drew you into the soul of their existence by just being present.  Compassion, care and understanding worn as an overcoat on a winters day.  Thought of anyone yet?

My grandfather was just such a man.  To look at him, he wasn’t an imposing figure who caused fear just being in his presence.  No, he was a slight man who mostly spoke in quiet tones.  A man who certainly would look to avoid conflict when possible instead one who tried to create new friends from those he had previously opposed him. 

My grandfather was a walking welcome sign with vacancy light continually lit up.  He always had time for another.  He had no other ability but to be perpetually hospitable with time for any problem imaginable.  When I walked beside him my feelings of possibility arose, vulnerability was far removed, and I was the prized prince.

Having no paternal role model available I was a willing student studying the class of life by the great professor.  His life was led by example not so others would follow but because he knew no other way.  Hindrances of needing to be liked or valued never showed their ugly heads.  He was followed like a cub after a mother bear.  Following because life was found in the example shown.

What a sense of humor…what a pleasant disposition…what an ability to make others feel loved…what an ability to make a scrawny boy feel safe and wanted. 

There is an Old Testament phrase – “kinsman redeemer” which refers to a family member that steps in to meet the need when a parent has left the life of a child.  This individual was required to assume all duties and responsibilities of the departed parent.  To make sure the child was cared for, protected, and taught how to live their life.  What an awesome amount of responsibility placed on a kinsman redeemer.  In Old testament times this was not a voluntary consideration it was mandated by the law.  My kinsman redeemer needed no law to step in and love me.  My kinsman redeemer needed no law to protect me from harm.  My kinsman redeemer needed no law to guide me to the right steps of life.

I miss him today.  I miss him greatly.  I wish he could see what I have become.  I would love for him to care for my children the same way he cared for me.  My kids will never know the greatness of this man except whatever shows through me.  I doubt it will ever do justice to him.

I find it shameful that during his life I didn’t have the ability to see my grandfather the way I do today.  How much more he could have taught me.  But…he taught me plenty, much that has shaped me into my person I am.  I refuse to live with regret as it defines our lives keeping one forever unable to become.  He would never stand for that.

Live a life of freedom…release encumbrances that bind you to worries of yesterday or hopes for tomorrow.  Look to see the story in others eyes and take the time to listen.  Provide comfort and protection to those that are unable to provide for themselves.  Step up and meet the needs of others not out of obligation but out of desire to help.  Provide vulnerability to people scarred but the hurts of life.  Give people a safe harbor to rest when weary from the storms of life.  Help people to walk tall and proud, lift the weight of burden from another.  Smile…and then keep smiling.  Be pleasant to be around.  This is what my grandfather tells me.  This is the  voice I hear in my heart.

The way my grandfather lived his life was by exemplifying the essence of the Christ.  While not shouting from the rooftops or village steps the message carried forth with crystal clarity the urgency of love. 

Too much time is spent trying to copy the holy.  The focus should ensconce being holy.  Imitation falls far short of the original.

Raymond Crofoot…you were certainly an original.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct…

Have you ever encountered an individual who was so obtuse, so obnoxious, and so demeaning that each time encountered a feeling of physical discomfort arose? 

Every time I was in this gentleman’s presence he found reason to dismiss my mere existence.  He made me feel small and insignificant.  My opinions were minimized and made to obliterate any sense of self-worth I may have possessed.  He would rally those around to join in his parade of humiliation.  He created a cadre of of yesmen laughing in concert at his continued exploitation.

Some background.  He was a pastor of a large church and considered a wonderful Godly man by those in his church.  He was recognized as a mantle of truth bringing lifechanging hope to the masses.  To me he was nothing short of a bully.  He was not a bully by stature he was a bully by status.  I thought he was a punk.

Each week my church held an open gym for the local clergy to play basketball.  I considered myself an above average basketball player having played a couple of years in college.  I was the lowest staff member on a multi-staff church and as such subject to much grunt work and minimization of my value.  When I approached my pastor about this hazing he told me to suck it up and act like a man.  In my youth when my manhood was questioned my ability to rise up and succeed increased.  This time was to be no different.

Each week this pastor would pick me out and find ways to administer cheap shots and talk poorly about my skills.  To someone not far removed from his pagan roots these were actions that previously led to a fight.  But as a brainwashed servant right out of seminary trying to find his place in the world, instead I kept myself in check.  I imagined this ongoing period of testing would conclude if I just acted with class and kept my composure while showing respect where it certainly wasn’t earned.

Damn if this guy wouldn’t relent.  Week after week he continued with his harassment.  I prayed and prayed for relief and yet somehow this pastor avoided hearing God ask him to knock it off.  I had to regularly deal with this guy and I was stuck.

Inspiration comes to us in strange ways and at strange times.  It’s often difficult to determine the source of such wisdom and even more challenging to act upon this given direction.  I can’t say for sure it was God who told me to do what I did, realistically it was probably derived from a wayward portion of my youth. 

This one day the pastor was just too aggressive with me.  He hit me in the mouth with his elbow and seemed to look at me with contempt instead of sorrow.  I began feeling my anger rise and my body began to shake.  I knew if I punched this pastor my job would end before he left the building.  With no recourse available I just left and said nothing.

I waited in the locker room considering my options.  As I sat there it occurred to me what I should do and nothing was going to stop this from happening.  I quickly showered and went across the hall and hid in a classroom.  I knew these basketball games had a pre-determined ending so I waited.  My mission was now in front of me. 

I watched the pastor as he entered the locker room.  He was the last the enter so I allowed him to get into the shower then my time for revenge was to begin.  I quietly slipped into the locker room and removed his clothes, all the towels, washcloths, and paper towels.  Game on preacherboy!

I took all my found booty and hid it in a nearby room then retreated to my office at the other end of the church.  The gym area was at the far end of the church and allowed no access to the rest of the building without marching down a well lit hallway.  Preacherboy had a real problem.  He was left to stand in all the glory that God had blessed him at his birth.  His newfound shortcoming (excuse the pun) left him with very few options.  Who’s laughing now?  I failed to mention that the church employed two female housekeepers at that time.  This to me was an added bonus.

I went to work in my office thinking preacherboy had been down there now for over 30 minutes.  By now he had plenty of time to study himself (another senseless pun) and his behavior towards me.  I had to make a decision soon as this event was rapidly reaching a point of no return.  My decision was made…leave the ****hole to rot down there.  I smiled feeling somewhat vindicated.

Then my phone rang…It was one of the housekeepers saying these was a man screaming out of the locker room for me.  Busted!  I handled it like a true man of honor.  I told the housekeeper that the music minister hid preacherboys clothes in the classroom by the locker room.  I sat at my desk grinning like an idiot when I soon heard stomping coming down the office hallway.  I heard something about my ass and a reference about my mother.  What a mouth on this preacher.  Oh crap! he is yelling for me to come out and face the music.  So once again bolstered by a boost of adrenaline I…I hid under my desk.

After what seemed like forever he finally agreed to leave.  I heard my pastor and staff try to calm him down and tell him they will deal with me.  Oh well I thought “this had been a good job while I had it.” 

I then heard my pastor and the staff enter the office.  I’m now instructed to come out.  I reluctenly crawl out to see huge grins on each face.  They tell me they are proud of me and what I did was the funniest thing they’ve seen happen in church.  Relief fills my heart.  I’m now one of the guys.

People would be suprised at what happens behind the hallowed doors of the church.  It reminds us all that each one of us faces the same trials and temptations no matter how perfect they appear on Sunday morning.  Church is full of imperfect individuals even it’s leaders.  There is no need to hide behind your imperfections either.  Come join us as we celebrate the life of wacky humanity.  Just the way God made it.  Rejoice!  We are all honorary members of  humanity’s wack pack.

And yes, preacherboy stopped his taunts and found a new person which to prove his toughness.  Clay feet and all.

The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned…

Like many young people college was a time of experimentation, exploration, and discovery.  I found myself one day classified as a college freshman when only days earlier I was content having absolutely no purpose or direction in my life.  To this day I’m not sure how I graduated from high school having not attended most of the last two months of school.  Maybe it was decided to move me on and allow my poor influence the opportunity to effect a new group of lucky people.

Anyway, somehow I found myself in college with little understanding of why I was there or what I was supposed to do.  How my mom managed to get this college to accept me with my credentials was a feat of epic proportions.  I mean how particular could this college be.  Like Groucho Marx once said, “Any club that would have me as a member… I don’t want to be a part of it.”

So here I am sitting in class feeling completely overwhelmed by the whole experience.  I soon learn the college I am attending is a Christian college.  A small detail that somehow is never mentioned to me earlier.  When I ask other students what a Christian is they are only too excited to tell me in lengthy, emotional detail.  What kind of mess have I gotten myself into this time?  I’m an obvious outsider noted by the excessive length of my hair and the two outfits I own alternated each day.  My sleeping in on Sunday’s soon puts me on every religion major’s radar.  Somebody help me!

One day I have an awareness that something is amiss with my college experience.  Something just didn’t make sense that brought me to the point of utter confusion.  I looked at the other students in my class and studied them hard.  My time for this activity was plentiful as I never bothered to listen as the professor spoke.  I note the other students have short well coiffed hair.  I also notice most wear suits to class and the balance wore a shirt and tie.  Even the girls seem to dress like they worked in a bank.  They all seemed so much older and more sophisticated.  My best thinking tells me this must be the look of a Christian, complete with a briefcase.

Today was the day..I would finally participate in class…I would ask a question.  As I sat there in my sleeveless tee shirt, surfer shorts and flip flops I raised my hand to provide understanding and make my world right again.  The professor seemed shocked to see my hand reaching towards the ceiling and allowed me to ask my question with great trepidation.   I asked, “Dude, what class is this?” (dude was a word that found its way into most sentences those days.)  The class of lookalikes stared at me in disbelief wondering why this infidel sat among them and now he even had the nerve to speak.

I remember the look of compassion in the professors eyes, for the first time I saw this man for the kind individual he was not just the guy who talked all the time.  He said in the most patient manner, “what class do you think this is?”  I said “freshman psychology.”  Funny sounds burst forth from members of the class as they were let in on my stupidity.  “Son,” the prof said, “this is senior level Pastoral Counseling, the class you are looking for is located next door.”  “So that’s why I have no idea what you’ve been talking about,” I mumbled.  The kindly professor asked me to meet with him after the class was over to which I reluctantly agreed.

He started the conversation, “Son, you have a real problem. It’s much too late in the semester to switch classes.”  I answered with typical brilliance “Bummer man.”  He told me,  “Today I am going to teach you a lesson that you may remember for some time.”  I looked at him quizzically.  “We are going to make a deal together, just you and me. Today I’m going to teach you about grace. What I will do for you is give you a grace grade of D for this class. All you have to do is show up everyday and sit still and not sleep.  You need not take any quizzes or tests and you don’t have to do any homework. How does that sound?” 

Now I have never been much of a student.  Even when I tried hard reaching the level of a D grade was quite a lot of work.  Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth his offer was readily accepted.  Imagine my good luck.  Did I ever pull one over on this guy.

As the weeks went on I held up my end of the bargain.  I dutifully sat in my seat and tried to give each class my complete attention.  Towards the end of the semester I once again decided to ask a question.  This time when the professor called upon me there was no reservation, no reluctance, just joy.  He was delighted when I inquired about something that was said and added meaningful matter to the existing conversation.  He looked at me like a proud father.  His acceptance of me gave me a feeling of warmth, almost like I was appreciated and cared for.  Something I never forgot.

As promised, when grades came out I was graced with a D for that class.  Something I didn’t deserve or earn.  He gave me something I never could provide myself.  Dignity and self-respect.  Little did he know that generous gesture led me to question my purpose in life and seek a faith to provide comfort and meaning for my life.  I learned the meaning and value of grace.  Grace exists on a dimension beyond words for it’s experienced a time of real need.  Grace once encountered finds itself struggling for release to others who find themselves in need.  Such small efforts have the potential for lifetime effectiveness.  What a tremendous gift to share with others.  That wonderful little man gave me a chance at life by simply sharing God’s excellent grace.  Where ever you are I thank you.

When it comes to grace..give freely and often.  You never know the depth of impact one kind action may have on another.

I guess I didn’t pull one over on him after all!