Consumer “Big Church” Mentality and Old School Community

Elders from Turkey

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I don’t recommend church-hopping at all, especially because I did it so much in my early years of faith.  Though I haven’t been the best example of it, I think people ought to be committed to a community where they serve.

Within the mega-church, it’s REALLY hard to plug into a community. People might get together in Bible studies, but when they’re busy caught up in the American frenzy, they might not have time to really dig into each other’s lives.  This is not always the case.  In fact, there are many great little “sub-communities” in some mega-churches.  But often, many people slip through the cracks in large churches.

There is great community in smaller, more intentionally loving churches.  This is something the mega-church needs to learn from.  Ironically they already are with the addition of home groups and community groups of 12 people or less.  It’s funny that the most thriving mega churches also have a slew of vibrant small communities that meet in each other’s homes, study scripture, pray together and do local outreach together.

Some smaller bohemian church communities lack biblical counsel.  It’s not because people don’t want to know about the Scriptures, but just because many are young and resistant (I know how that is!).

Not every young Jesus follower has a person of wisdom up in their face, saying:  “C’mon!  Get committed!  Stop being a bum and read about and study the words of this poor rabbi that you claim to follow!”  Luckily (though I don’t believe in luck), I’ve had at least a few bolder older people like Doug that have called me to the carpet, and challenged me to live for Jesus.  To truly grow, I had to get into the scriptures.

I don’t wish to affirm Marx’s view of religion as the “opiate of the people”, but I still feel like a junkie without his needle if I don’t read the Bible at least once in a day.  It’s not out of compulsion anymore like it used to be, but just so fulfilling that I want more of it in me.  Yet conversely, it still makes me uncomfortable to read the Bible!  Seriously, who in their right mind wants to read something that will reveal their most bitter darkness, and compel them to consider their human state before a Holy God?  We’re honestly weak, and messed up, but God is so merciful.  The more I read of Him in His Word, the more I get to see reality through His perfect eyes.  And I continue to admit my own blindness.  This strange, paradoxical hunger to want my weaknesses exposed is birthed out of two things; For one, I’m convinced of God’s perfect will and way, and secondly, I feel seriously compelled to respond to it!  At least more so everyday…

But if I just read God’s word, and filled my head with a bunch of “theological knowledge”, then I would just be a Biblical egghead.  I need to practice what the Word says, and it commands me to be generous, help the poor, live purely, speak the truth even if it means losing job security, pray, worship, love the scriptures, suffer for the sake of eternity, pick up my cross daily, sell my possessions and give to the poor.  And I’m also supposed to love all people; love people that love Jesus, love and rebuke people that claim to love Jesus even if they don’t act like it, and love people that don’t know Jesus…

MAN!  I would love to see churches learn from each other!  What if we had really solid Biblical teaching, and also had intentional, loving, compassionate community too?  This would be a tough balance without faith in Jesus!  But it would be more like the Church of the New Testament.  Striving to become the Church Jesus wanted is a wonderful, life-long pursuit.

Jesus Lovers Don’t Vie for Job Security

In my short era of working within and for various churches as both a paid worker and a volunteer, I have seen a lot of people who get into political vying to keep ministry positions.

It’s certainly practical to want to stay employed, and to make sure you’re doing well at what your particular “job” is.  Even within the church, we need to do our job well, as for God and not as a people pleaser.  We are to obey our earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as we would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” (Ephesians 6)

Yet what I’ve often seen in the church is a form of patronization.  People will say anything, do anything, and even play insidious political games in order to keep their role or position in the church, and ultimately, their salary as well.  It ought not to be this way.

When we have a culture like this that exists in the church, everything of integrity falls to pieces.  When people who play games and vie for position and security have a voice that’s heeded, those that have integrity and want to serve out of sincerity get thrown under the bus.  It’s often backwards in our American church culture as opposed to the ways of scripture.

When John talks about “the world”, he says this:  Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2)

It’s simple enough, the world in scripture is not defined as “those outside the church”, or “THAT style of music”, it’s defined as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life”.  Yet it’s truly disheartening to the Lord’s heart to see his people covet and compete and play a role in ministry when they’re called to be above reproach, honest, self-sacrificing and courageous.

To truly follow Christ in America is to abandon the trappings of job security, and follow Him at all costs.  Even if it means losing a job for the sake of lifting someone else up.  Even if it means getting black labeled and falsely accused by a fellow “brother in the Lord”.  We are not commanded to be faithful to institutions, men or human doctrines.  We are called and commanded to be faithful to the Word of God, no matter what hardships will come.  And when we sense that those hardships are overwhelming, we only need to remember our brothers & sisters overseas in persecuted countries who face hardships we couldn’t imagine.

How my Dad Became a Jesus Freak

Hard Core Jesus Freak

Image by tkksummers via Flickr

My Dad was raised a Fundamentalist.  When he was 13 years old and about to be baptized into his church, which many could have easily labeled a cult since they honestly thought they were the only denomination going to heaven, he began to question their doctrines.  They simply told him he was a son of the devil for questioning them.

So naturally he rebelled hardcore.  He began smoking cigarettes, drinking, and pretty much doing anything that would tick his parents off.  They still forcefully compelled him to go to a college that was affiliated with their denomination.  He soon dropped out of that school, went into the Navy, and began smoking dope and writing folk songs.  I still have great memories of finding his reel to reel tapes of songs he had written while living in a Quonset Hut in Guam during the Vietnam war.  I would play those things over and over, learning to play those songs myself.  I’m definitely a huge fan of my Dad’s music.

My Dad was in a rock n’ roll band called “Pyramid” through most of the 70’s.  It was a cover band that covered Crosby Stills and Nash, David Bowie, the Beatles, Lou Reed, James Taylor, originals and much more.  He was living in a Puerto Rican ghetto in Cleveland and playing gigs almost every night, then sleeping all day.  He was definitely heavilly into the drug and free love scene.

He and a few of the band members from that group, Rodney Psyka and Gary Jones actually wrote and recorded some really great tunes.  They were on the verge of getting a record deal with Columbia, but couldn’t produce a live gig akin to the quality of the record (they each overdubbed a few of the instruments).  So the deal became moot.  My Dad quickly got sick of the music scene and violently quit.  Though Rodney Psyka went on to have a decently successful music career with bands like “Breathless” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGvjFGwELjY (third from the right in the picture towards the end), and Michael Stanley Band http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQB4xf5JbPA&feature=related (he’s on the congas in the back)

So fast forward a few hundred empty whiskey bottles and roached out joints later, and I came into the world!  My Dad always loved me, but because of his background he obviously raised me outside of the church.  What he knew of “Christians” was judgment, condemnation, and a holy-roller mentality.

Man was my Dad shocked when I came out of the drug scene at the age of 18 and became a Jesus freak!  He spent a lot of conversations trying to argue me out of it.  I was not strong in my belief always in the early days so I would sometimes get overly defensive, and other times totally cave in to him.

Doug, a missionary from the Middle East, came and spent a year with my wife and I doing a meeting at our house back in 2004.  We called it “the Agora”, named after the Ancient Greek Marketplace, and set it up as a philosophical forum for Christians and people of other beliefs to dialogue.  Doug had certainly been through the wild scene of the 70’s, but had become wild for Jesus and hit the mission field.

My Dad used to come regularly.  He would argue with everything we said, trying to prove everything we were saying was wrong.  We would just try to stay quiet (which was hard for me, but Doug did a better job).  Listening always helped him more than arguing back, and I slowly learned to listen to him criticize Christianity to pieces, and then respectfully but strongly tell the truth of the gospel.

When I got a job offer to work as a music intern for my church, my Pops was so convinced that they were taking me for a ride, that he told me, “Alright Ben, if they give you that job, I’ll become a member of that church.”  I got the gig, and told my Dad that membership classes would be starting that Sunday.

One day my Dad came up to me after a Sunday service, his eyes and face beaming.  “I get it man!  I get it Ben!” he yelled.  “What are you talking about, Dad?” I replied.

“I’m in baby, I’m in!”

“What do you mean?”

“I accepted Christ!  I understand salvation and I’m going to heaven baby!”

From then on my Dad became a fireball.  A difference maker in that church.  He’s the type of guy that will hang out with the homeless, the orphan, the widow, the heroin addict and the barfly.  He’s able to share the love and truth of Jesus with these people, and they love him.  And hey man, it only took 57 years for the grace of God to overwhelm him!  How much has it overwhelmed you?

An Indian Iraqi American Hymn (Yes- I’m putting out some of my hippie poetry- bear with me!)

Nablus: The High Priest of the Samaritans c. 1920

Image via Wikipedia

Hey guys.  Thought I’d share a poem I wrote this morning with you all.  Wanted to see if you could read into the metaphors & overlying theme.

 

Teenage Dalit girl in the streets

Mother, Father

Refused the right for sustenence

Sold into carnal solicitation

Body brings meager rations

Great Brahmans walk by

The tip of my crown barely casts a shadow

They beat and rape me

Until I’m left to drown like a maggot in blood

I am waiting for love…

 

Iraqi Jesus lover in Baghdad

Left my descendants,

Allah’s lineage

Left to dwell underground

house to house

Singing and speaking the praises of my King

Opal-eyed mercenaries walk by

My convictions raise an eyebrow

They have cast off my head in the spoils of war

I screamed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”

I am waiting for love…

 

Young, black, gay adolescent

Ghettoes of America

I don’t know my Father

My Stepdad abuses me

I hide

Internet fantasy realm of copulation

Appearing

like a player to my peers and friends

Yet when darkness is cast upon the city streets

I contemplate if my suicide would even make them shed a single tear

A leper

I don’t know where to turn,

Only whom to fear

I am waiting for love…

 

Old religious man

Suburbs of utopia

“The post-war dream ain’t what they said it would be”

Isolation from my heathen neighbors

I just sneer at them as they walk their dogs

on the concrete

Yet I just read today in the sacred, ancient text

Of a Samaritan who dressed the wounds of a dying man

And the assertion that “faith without works is dead”

Hollow, monotonous, overfed

I am waiting for love…

 

 

Snap your fingers, drink herbal tea, beat bongos, and tell me what you think friends 🙂   Peace- Ben