Dark room, flickering candles and sad faces… Good Friday?

 

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It’s Good Friday… A day that I have a very strange relationship with. The truth is, I have never really known how to act on this day. Sad? Happy? Somber? What does Jesus want me to feel? Am I allowed to laugh, work, or play? Images from my childhood of walking into dark church buildings, flickering candle lights, dark clothing, and sad faces plague my memory, leaving me feeling a variety of emotions, none of which can possibly be the intended purpose of our Savior on this day.

So what am I supposed to feel today? What am I supposed to do today?

Here is a hint… the answer has nothing to do with going to church.

Several years ago, my family experienced the pain of unexpected death. My cousin Abe died of a brain aneurism way too young, and left those closest to him feeling confused, angry, sad and lonely. It had been a long time since I had spent significant time with him, but he had always held a special place in my heart. Abe was quite a bit older than me, but growing up, he always treated me as if I was his equal. He made me feel like I mattered. When Abe’s wife asked me to sing at the memorial service I was more than honored to play a role in remembering his life. At this point I had played and sang at numerous events in front of lots of people, but this was different, and I wasn’t prepared for the feelings I would feel that day. As I began to sing “Only a Paper Moon,” by Harold Arlen, a song that Abe sang to his boys at bed time, memories of his life rushed to the surface. I remembered the things that he stood for, and the things that he had told me. I remembered the way he smiled at me, and the way he laughed. I remembered the things he believed in strong enough to give his life and heart for. Before I knew it, I was crying, and simply couldn’t sing anymore. Luckily my brother who was singing with me, was able to hold it together long enough to get through the song. The emotion I remember feeling strongest that day as I stood in front of his friends and family, was a strong desire to honor him, the way he deserved to be honored. I remember wanting to rip the tags out of all my t-shirts, because that’s what Abe did. I remember wanting to dress like him and talk like him. I remember wanting to love what he loved. Not because he was perfect, but because I wanted to honor him, and that felt like the best way to do that.

I have spent this entire week reflecting on the historic events we refer to in human religion as, “Holy Week.” What have I discovered? It truly was a Holy Week. The presence of God in the events leading to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus were not accidental, and they were anything but typical. Jesus journey to the cross is the most inspiring story ever told, and it was more than a story.

As I come to Good Friday in my reflection, I find myself in the same struggle over the events of this day I have felt my entire life… yet I am sensing more clarity in it than I ever have before.

So what does Jesus want from me today? How am I supposed to act, and feel? What would bring him the most honor on a day I am remembering the incredible sacrifice he made on my behalf?

Simple.

Love what He loves, live like He lived, cherish who He cherishes.

The best way to honor my cousin Abe was to uphold the things he valued and cared about, and the same thing is true about Jesus.

So today, instead of drooping your face during a dark candle lit service, wearing dark clothes, or praying somber prayers in an attempt to feel worthy of the sacrifice made for you, choose to honor Jesus, and His death by living, loving and serving like He did.

Today, honor Jesus by extending grace to those who deserve it least, serve those who are seeking to take advantage of you, and give to those who are seeking to take. Pick up a child, look into their eyes, and tell them they matter. Search out the poor, abused, outcast and overlooked for the sake of showing them the incredible worth they have in the eyes of their creator. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable, pray for those who persecute you. What if today, Christians everywhere, instead of going to a church service followed by dinner and drinks, chose to acknowledge the memory of our Savior’s death by aligning our hearts, and hands with His? What if today, we chose to truly live like Jesus. Nothing would bring more pleasure to our Savior today than for us, His followers, to lay down our lives to see what He died for become a reality. Friends… today, let’s bring the kingdom to earth, in memory of the one who gave it all.

Then, it would truly be a “Good Friday.”

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Church attendance doesn’t matter… or does it?

 

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Ever wonder why your pastor seems to go on a Twitter frenzy every Saturday night? Have you noticed that the week before daylight savings, all your social media feeds are jammed up by pastors from every local church reminding you to set your clocks correctly? Don’t they know that nearly every person over the age of 13 in this country has a smart phone that will automatically change overnight?

Here is why…

Your pastor wants you in church on Sunday.

As the pastor of a young church, utterly committed to changing the narrative of church in America, I understand the importance of language in the shifting of a culture from one ideal to another. I also understand that the American church has been crippled by its over programming and over emphasis on gatherings. Throughout the history of the church, men and women in my role, have effectively taught people that what matters most is going to church and stuffing the offering plate, basket, bag w/ a handle, or if you’re church is really hip, a credit card machine.

We count the number in attendance, and the dollars we collect. If its true that we count what we value, then its clear, what we value most, is showing up.

From up front, your pastor has made statements like…

“The Church is not a place or an event, it is people.”
“The Church is not about nickels and noses.”
“You being here is not what matters most.”

Because any leader who is listening to our ever changing culture knows that the sole focus on weekend services will not fulfill the great commission.

As a result, we find a new trend emerging in an already “community allergic society,” that is saying,

“Gatherings don’t matter, going to church isn’t what God cares about.”

Since the launch of my Church plant in 2009, I have made all of the above statements intentionally devaluing church attendance with the goal of teaching my people that the church is so much more than something we do once a week… I still believe that… at the very core of who I am. But, Here is my confession…

I want people to show up on Sunday mornings… the more the better, and so does your pastor.

There, I said it… you knew I felt that way, and now its out there. For better or worse.

Admittedly, many of the feelings I have in relation to people showing up on Sunday mornings are about my own personal insecurity, and a desire to measure my worth with all the wrong things. I love the way our gatherings feel when our space is packed, and really struggle when it feels empty. I know myself, and my battle against that is ongoing. But if you are willing to listen, I would love to give you a few reasons why I believe you being in church on Sunday morning matters to your church, to the church in America as a whole, and most importantly, the Kingdom.

1. Your church gathering needs you

Let me say this in a way that is incredibly clear. The church is not a program, building, or gathering. The church is a family of servant missionaries, passionately immersed in the community they are called to love. When empowered by the Spirit, equipped with the gospel, and unified around a mission, the church is most aligned with the heart of Jesus. It is not about programs… it can never be.

That being said, the church has some pretty effective tools for unleashing the gospel of grace in our world, and the Sunday morning gathering can be a really effective one. In order for that tool to be effective, you have to show up! Think about it… what makes the gathered church powerful is the breadth of personalities, and the variety of unique giftedness. There is something about us being together that puts the heart of Jesus on display like nothing else. Your church gathering needs you to show up because it is most effective when you do. You matter. Your church gathering is better with you there. So show up, because your church needs you!

2. You need your church gathering

If you are genuinely interested in being part of the kingdom narrative, you need your church gathering. The church was never meant to be a bunch of individuals scattered across the country on solo missions. The gathered church is paramount in our understanding of what we are ultimately called to. You do not have what it takes to be Jesus all by yourself, but together, Ephesians 4 tells us, we can, “measure up to the full standard of Christ.” Only together. The modern church worship gathering is a place you need to be, because it creates a constant reminder that you need other people. The bottom line is that we are better together. Our worship is better together, our impact is greater together, and our Sunday morning gatherings create an environment for others to experience the goodness of faith in community… which is what God intended all along. So show up, your heart needs it.

3. Being part of something big awakens your soul

In Revelation chapter 4 we get a small glimpse of worship in its purest form, and guess what… Everyone is there! Its more than a mega church… it is the entire church gathered for worship for all of eternity. It is the most perfect picture of the church, and in this context, more is definitely better. I am not saying it should be the goal of the church to be as big as possible, but there is a very important reality we need to understand. Being part of something bigger than us awakens our hearts to the kingdom call. When we isolate, our vision gets small, and we settle. The gathered church allows us to sense we are part of something bigger, shedding light upon our own selfish defaults, propelling us into an “us,” mentality instead of the, “Me” perspective that comes so natural and destroys gospel movement. The mission of the church is urgent, and it needs passionate people, fierce about grace, willing to die for something bigger. You cannot, and will not take on that heart in isolation, you need to be part of something that makes you feel small and at the same time empowers you toward a vision you cannot possibly accomplish on your own.

Please understand that choosing to habitually attend a service out of duty and obligation is not what I am talking about. My goal is not to guilt you into attendance, but to free you to love your church, get excited about worshipping with your family and engage passionately in the mission you have been collectively called to. I imagine a world where Christ followers are so in love with their church family and the mission they are on together that they can’t imagine missing the opportunity to rally together. I imagine communities that understand that together, they put the love of Jesus on display for the world in ways they can’t on their own. I imagine those people embolden by what they experience every week, confident in the reality that,

“My church is a place like no other, a place where all people are free to be themselves.”

I imagine people flocking to our gatherings because here, they can belong, they can experience Jesus’ life changing power all in the context of genuine relationship and powerful community.

I believe it is churches like this that will bring the kingdom to earth, unleashing the power of grace, resulting in the fulfillment of the great commission… the reason the church was established to begin with.

Show up! you matter.

Christianity’s greatest hypocrisy

Since the church was first established with broken, weak and feeble people, it was destined for a history and legacy marked by hurt, violation, abuse and most of all hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy.

Identifying oneself with Jesus, but choosing to live blind to who He actually is.

Before I get too far into this, one of the things we have to recognize is that when broken people attempt to imitate the son of God in word and actions, there is bound to be a whole lot of hypocrisy. We are not perfect, and we never will be. The church will always hurt people. Christians will always fail to live up to the standard of God’s holiness. Pastors will fall, leaders will break and churches will split. When God chose to use people to accomplish His work on earth, it was a choice for that process to be incredibly messy.

The bottom line is, our behavior, as, “Christians,” will always leave something to be desired in the eyes of this skeptical world looking on. As one of those, “Broken Christians,” let me be the first to say I am sorry. I am sorry that my life so rarely matches my words. I am sorry for what that does to the name and reputation of Jesus. I am sorry for being such a bad representation of the most amazing man that ever lived on this planet. Frankly, I am not sure why God chose me to begin with.

I am sorry for the hypocrisy.

At the same time, there is a whole lot of hope to be found in just saying it out loud. I am a hypocrite. My dad taught me that…

“The church is the perfect place for hypocrites to gather.”

Its true… if we are aware of our shortcomings we can allow God to shape us, mold us and form in us the value of graciousness. Our failures then, become a source of hope to the world instead of pain. It’s about seeing it, identifying it, and being humble enough to admit that we don’t have it all together.

But there is another kind of hypocrisy. It is the kind that takes root in a person, blinding them to the realities of their own mess, and magnifying the mess of others. It’s the kind that causes a person to use the beautiful gift of the gospel for personal gain, for an individual agenda. It’s the kind that seeks to divide, the kind that tears down instead of building up. It’s the kind that sees personal agenda and belief system as more important than loving people. This kind of hypocrisy tears down, creates disunity, and leaves the world going,

“Huh?”

Blind hypocrisy is the single most devastating issue for the church today.

Christians get so fired up and passionate about doctrinal issues, worship style and carpet color that they are willing to cause division to have their voice heard. In doing so we find ourselves in pursuit of our own agenda in the name of Jesus while blindly ignoring His greatest commands on our lives.

Love people.

I am amazed at just how easily we allow ourselves to become blinded by selfishness.

As Jesus followers, we are called to prioritize one thing above all else in this world. Loving, valuing, and freely giving of ourselves to people.

  • In friendship… Love
  • With our enemies… love
  • In the face of violation… love
  • When its easy, when its hard, when its painful… love
  • When someone disagrees with my view of God… love

As Christians we have learned to, “Go to the mattresses” to defend our doctrinal perspectives, yet don’t care about who we hurt in the process. In our passion and zeal for our “faith,” we find ourselves ignoring the greatest commandment of all. To love people.  We become the worst kind of hypocrite.

How did we get here?

Friends, God will protect His own church, God will take care of the truth… we are called to love. Period.

Love is the most powerful force in this universe.

If you call yourself a Christian, my challenge for you, as you enter your church building on Sunday is to pursue unity, understanding and love. To give yourself fully to your church leaders, your churches mission and your values. Look for ways to create unity, not be divisive. Search for ways to build up, not tear down. Give the benefit of the doubt, trust first.

Jesus reminded us that there is really only one way that the world will know we are His disciples… by the way we love each other.

Let love and unity be the lens you see the rest of life and faith from behind, and then and only then will we be ready to take our broken, messed up hypocritical lives into the world and put Jesus and His grace on display in a powerful way.