Thursday, August 30, 2012

Re-post: Ladderball and the Case for Intergenerational Ministry

This blog is a re-post from a previous entry post-choir tour back in June.  As a new school semester starts, what steps are your church taking to bring the generations together?  As a young adult in ministry, who's often the youngest person in the room (or nearly) during choir practice, I know my generation is hungry to work with those kingdom members who've already been where I am.  There's a lot to be learned from the older generations, but assumptions are often made on both sides of the generational divide, the big ones being:
1)  The young people just want to take over.
2)  The old people have nothing to teach me.
Vital congregations mix things up across the societal divisions from race to economic to generational.  What is your church doing to build the bridges?  Our faith family, through our youth and seniors ministry is beginning to bring in some innovative ideas, for which I'll be telling stories later, but to start with - what is your church family doing?

I just got back from youth choir tour to Nashville!  The first choir tour that I've ever planned and run as a worship pastor.  There were lots of precious moments, and many Aldersgate experiences along the way.  This is the first post of several focused on one of the best ministry experiences I've ever had.

Let me start off by saying that this tour was very different from previous tours that this youth choir had been on.  This was the 19th youth choir tour for my church, and needless to say it's become a juggernaut of a tradition.  It's become foundational in the fabric of our youth and music ministries and much of the year is devoted to fundraising and planning the trip.

The first major difference in the trip was the number of youth on tour.  The tour had had upwards of 80 students in the recent past, 35 last year (my first tour, I attended and directed the music, but our youth pastor ran the trip as it was my third week on the job).  We took 17 students this year.  There were and are multiple reasons for the small size, but there you go.

The second big change was that due to the  size of the group, the huge tour bus was out of the question.  Our church has even had the same bus driver for nearly all of the choir tours.   But we couldn't really justify the expense, and had to go with vans.  Very different, but turned out to be totally awesome.

The third big change was that we weren't able to book churches to sing at.  Many church were able to, and did, lodge our group, but no one (out of more than a hundred churches) was able to host a concert.  There were also many totally justifiable reasons for this, but again, there you go.

So where did we sing?  Retirement villages and nursing homes.  The youth had done the occasional retirement home, but how would they take to a tour entirely devoted to ministry to the elderly and disabled?

Our first gig was at a very nice retirement community, more of a condo living set-up.  A good way to ease in to a tour with more of a missional vibe.  When we had called the place, recommended to us by the church that was hosting us that night, the activities director enthusiastically invited us to share a concert with them.  They would also feed us dinner and would love it if we would play ladderball with the residents.

What's ladderball, you ask?  Apparently it's quite the phenomenon.  You can check it out here.  Think about it as a game of horseshoes that you can play indoors.

The concert was amazing.  The theme music to our tour this year was devoted to the Beatles, although we do a substantial sacred set during our concerts as well.  But the Beatles music was very important to the tour ... Not only are the Beatles awesome and the choir sang the music extremely well, but the Beatles were the soundtrack of the residents' youth.   We encouraged the residents to sing along, and they sure did.  Often times during that first concert our choir swelled from 17 to 75.  I couldn't see it, but I could see the looks on the students faces as we sang, and they were totally digging the joy in the room.

After a dinner of shepherd's pie came the real fun, a youth vs. residents game of ladderball.  A game that's more difficult than it looks.  The scriptures tell young people not to let people look down on them because they're young; I would add that we shouldn't let young people look down on older folks just because they have grey hair.  These folks had skills.

After an hour and four full rounds of ladder ball, the set was tied at 2 and 2, we came to a sudden death round.  One of our adults, all of whom participated throughout for the students' team, came in to give the students a win by one point.  I'm not going to lie, the win felt good,  but I did feel a little bad for winning.  But only a little.  There was a lot of heckling going on, on both sides, and it was hilarious.  Our youth were handing out nicknames like crazy.  Intergenerational ministry happened.  Something I'm starting to think of as the Promised Land for Christian Ministry.

The name of our tour this year was the "All You Need is Love Tour", and a whole lot of love was passed around that night.  The activities director said she had never seen her seniors so active, and I had never been so proud to be a youth choir director and worship pastor.  I've learned an awful lot about the goals of our youth pastor at our church ... doing what ever we can to get the different generations of our church to mix up and do life together.  It happened on our choir tour, at every gig in one way or another, and we aren't turning back from keeping it up in the years to come.

How does your church intentionally get different generations to work together?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ministry Bloopers, or How to Run a Race With Perseverance

I'll never forget the first time I played the keys in worship.  It was great ... Until it wasn't.

At my first ministry job, I was blessed with a stellar band, including a great piano player.  He was on staff as an accompanist, and in addition to accompanying duties he served as a kind of band leader for me.  I was new to contemporary worship ministry, and he was a great resource as somebody who could speak 'rock band', considering I had no idea what I was doing when I was just starting out in the ministry.

Anyway, as a music major I had to learn how to play piano, even had to learn how to read  lead sheets and chord charts and the like (think musical short hand for pop/rock musicians).  I had been practicing piano a lot, because upon starting grad school there was a whole other level of keyboard proficiency I had to attain (yay - for organ). 

So when my piano player went out of town, I took it as an opportunity to step in and try some new things.

It went extremely well ... I had probably practiced for this service more than any other.  I function well under that kind of pressure, and I like setting goals.  The main goal was to lead from the piano for Sunday morning, get through it, and assess later.  It was great, until the invitational hymn.

This was the tricky one of the set for the morning - Step By Step, by Michael W. Smith.  Did I mention this was seven years ago?

My pastor stepped out at the end of his sermon, as most pastors do, offering the invitation to the church family ... I was ready for my cue, as was the band.  The drummer counted off, and two bars in my fingers and my mind got more than a little mixed up and I played some mean junk.  And by junk, I mean horribleness. 

I late out an epic "Arghhh" into my mic ... One of the classic exclamations that can be found in a comic book when somebody gets punched in the face.

Needless to say, things came to a screeching halt.  The pastor looked at me, and we both laughed.  The band laughed.  The congregation laughed.  I'm sure I was all kinds of red.  But we picked up right on the verse and finished the service strong. 

It was pretty embarrassing, and I gladly handed back the keyboard reigns the next week.  But you know what?  Nobody ragged on me.  My pastor didn't rag on me.  The band may have elbowed me in the ribs about it, but it was all in good fun.  What leader hasn't messed up?  What the experience taught me, was a lesson in humility ... That I'm supposed to have it.  Here was the Jesus Juke - Christ was humble, all the way to the Cross.

I messed up - but that was alright.  I came back next week and continued to run that race of perseverance that Paul talked about.

Do you have any worship bloopers?  How did you deal?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Prayer for Saturday

What would Sunday be like if we all took the time to say a little prayer to prepare to receive the blessings of the Sabbath?  What if we all took the time to pray today, even right now, for God to bring a revelation to us tomorrow on the Lord's day?

Let's take a little time together.  Let's find out, together.
A Prayer for Saturday

Prepare our hearts, O lord,
   to join together with your whole congregation
      to praise and serve you.
Reveal your presence to all who will gather
   in adoration and self-offering.
To those who cannot for good reason
   go gladly into your house,
   give your strength and consolation,
that they may know of the concern
   of their communities of faith.
Make us receptive to your word for us,
   and enable us to know and do your will.
Bind your people together in
   a shared faith, a common witness,
      and compassionate service to the world;
through Jesus our Savior.  Amen.*
*From This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer, by Laurence Hull Stookey

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Day I Knew My Son Knew Me

A convoluted title, I know, but about a month ago there was a profound experience between my son and I, and I learned a lot about God at the occurrence.  It was an event that every parent has at some point, but still more than a little miraculous.

At the beginning of the summer I had the great pleasure to lead an awesome group of youth and adults on our annual youth choir tour.  It was awesome.  Great ministry with an amazing group of young people.  The one bummer to the whole thing was being away from my 5-month-old and my wife for seven days straight.

Any of you that have run trips like this (mission trips, tours, retreats) know that it's a 24/7 job from lift-off.  There's not a lot of time to call home, and when it is a good time for one person, that doesn't mean it's a good time for the other.  Leanne was actually on a mission experience of her own (with Wesley) meeting volunteers during the Central Texas Annual Conference annual conference-wide mission trip.  So, it was doubly difficult for us to connect at any point during the week.  Compound that with the fact that my son can't talk yet.  I know, silly, but it should be said.

I missed my boy.

The drive home, from Monroe, LA to Duncanville was excruciating.  But not because of the students, adults, or anything else; it was hard because I could only go so fast.  There was a lot of anticipation; I mean, what if he was a totally different kid when I got home?  Another silly thing, but one that I understand most parents have when they make that first trip away.

I'd called ahead, so Leanne knew the exact time to meet us in the church parking lot.  There was a huge sigh of relief when we pulled in and they were waiting for us.

I jumped out of the van as soon as I put it in park and ran over to hug on my family.  Leanne handed me Wesley and he curled up on my shoulder and had a laughing fit.  He been smiling and chuckling for a couple of months, but this was a full on fit of laughter.  And it was right after Leanne handed him to me after I'd been gone for a week. Do you know what this said to me?

My son knew who I was.  After just a few weeks, they say babies start to recognize their parents.  We're usually around the most, and they can even hear our voices in utero.  After a few weeks out in the world they start to turn their heads when they hear us (parents) talking.  They'll start to smile and grin when we come close.  He'd been doing that for a bit.  But here was this little guy, curled up on my shoulder and just laughing away.  He recognized me as his dad, and that no one else is.

My son knew who I was.

It was a crazy, emotional revelation.  And looking back on it, definitely a God experience, for my wife and myself.  It's gotten me thinking about what it must be like for God when a child (all of us) recognizes that God is God, and no one else is. 

If you just a read a few chapters of the Psalms, the Psalmist rights frequently of a delight in the Lord, and a returned delight to us when we delight in our service to the Lord.  The Lord delights in our recognition of God's grace and lordship, just as I laugh everytime my boy shoots me or his mama a smile. 

God revealed a little bit of God's Own Self to me the day my son recognized me.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Meditation: Sabbath Interrupted

I'm not a preacher, but lately I've found myself wanting to test those boundaries in myself.  When my wife asked me to plan and lead the worship services for a youth worker sabbath, I jumped at the opportunity to write the liturgies.  But then I thought: who's going to speak?

I'm not one who believes that a sermon is always necessary.  We've all been in many worshipful services that didn't require a sermon, and this retreat didn't require one at any specific moment.  With our evening worship service, our opening worship, we needed an opportunity to set the stage for the weekend, and justify to these workers spending their time relaxing with one another.

They needed to know, not only isn't ok, but it's also necessary as Christians to take some time and retreat.  Here's the meditation I wrote to get us started on our way.

First, read Luke 5:12-16, then ask yourself as you read: how do I make room in my own life to rest in the Lord?  How do I rest by myself?  How do I rest with my family?

Sabbath Interrupted
There’s no rest for the weary – and yes those of us in ministry are often among the weary.  Kingdom building is no easy task and those of us here have chosen to give much of our time – either professionally or as a dedicated volunteers – to building that kingdom through building relationships with the youth of our faith families.
The Sabbath has traditionally been a day of rest for God’s people … A day to relax, a day to worship; a day, for Christians, set aside to reflect on the Resurrection.
Recently, however it’s grown.  Pastors, worship leaders, children’s and youth ministers, a crazy lot of volunteers WORK to make a restful Sabbath happen for God’s people.  And we work really hard, don’t we, to help others rest, relax, sing, pray, dance, study, play games, swim, go to ball games, eat … Prayerful worship, bonding activities for youth and their families take a lot of time and effort – on the day of Sabbath rest.
We do try and rest.  Maybe on Saturday, maybe during the week.  But how many of you have cell numbers that are public knowledge?  How many of you have facebook and twitter accounts with group pages for your youth that light up at all hours with prayer concerns and joys?  We also better be careful not to miss every youth concert or ball game.  And we truly don’t want to miss a thing … We who are called to be “Little Christs” are trying to make other “Little Christs” that will go out into the world and make more.  Making disciples can easily be a 24/7/365 business.
Christ wasn’t always the best Jew … It was a common complaint amongst the scribes and Pharisees.  I mean, his job was healing and teaching right?  Heaven forbid he put those gifts on display on the Sabbath!  I’m sure he wanted very much to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy … But hurt and disease don’t own calendars.  We can’t type in to our Google Calendars – “I’d like a day off from hurt people every Saturday.” 
It was Christ’s calling to heal us, and he didn’t turn anyone away.  But we do find him often trying to sneak off and pray.  Spend time alone with his Father.
At the end of our scripture passage, that’s exactly what he’s doing.  After he healed the leper, after the crowds of hurt people dispersed, he would “withdraw to deserted places and pray.”
We know that that approach – a personal Sabbath Time, if not a day, didn’t always work for Christ.  Just before our lesson for this evening, in Luke 4:42, we see Christ trying to get away to regroup, and the people searched for him, found him, and demanded of him.
I suppose a lesson here for us would be is that if our phones are lighting up right now with the good news and bad news of our children and youth, we’ve probably done something right along the way.  We’ve modeled Christ in some form, and the people call on us out of need.  That’s not a bad thing – it means we’re doing good work as Ministers for Christ.
But every once in a while, like Christ did, and like the ancient Jews wisely knew, we need to put a fence up around a block of time and give it over to rest that we so need.
Didn’t God take a day to rest after six days of creating the heavens and the earth?  When we don’t take a little time to rest, we’re saying we know better than God.
But better yet – when we take time to intentionally rest – we’re actually Glorifying God.  I mean, it is a commandment after all.
So let us together, this evening, and tomorrow morning, as we are able, take this time together and rejoice.  We have time to rest.  We can glorify God through rest. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Retreat! A Sabbath Worship Starter

Raise your hand if you're in ministry (staff or volunteer) and you're good at remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy?

While most of us do remember the Sabbath, those of us in ministry work pretty hard to create God experiences for other (which are God experiences more often than not for us as well).  My wife, Leanne Johnston, Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Central Texas Conference Center for Evangelism and Church Growth (Methodists are wordy ...) this weekend is offering a sabbath retreat for conference youth workers.  She asked me to plan worship for the occasion, which I, of course, jumped at.

The idea of the 24-hour or so period is to gather youth workers from across the conference to spend time together, in prayer, worship, and fellowship with one another.  It's an opportunity to share concerns and joys, and to bond over what's great and what's hard in youth ministry.

Here's the liturgy for the opening worship.  I'll cite sources and provide commentary as I go!  I invite you to use whatever part(s) you need.  Instrumentation for the retreat is acoustic guitar and percussion - and whatever anybody else brings to the table.

Liturgies for morning prayer and closing worship are coming!

Youth Worker’s Sabbath Retreat 2012
Friday Evening Worship:
We Lay Our Burdens Down

We Gather
Opening Song – Meet With Me  A great gathering song, by Ten Shekel Shirt
I'm here to meet with you
Come and meet with me
I'm here to find you
Reveal yourself to me

As I wait, you make me strong
As I love, draw me to your arms
As I stand and sing your praise, You Come
You come and fill this place
Won’t you come, and fill this place

Invocation: written for the occasion
Almighty and merciful God,
we come together tonight because we desire rest.
We need rest, and it’s hard to make the time.
But you set the example for us,
 after You created all of this beauty around us:
You rested, for a day.
Divine creator and healer, we need your help tonight, this weekend.
Come down and dwell in the midst of us during this time of rest,
Send us your Spirit, the Holy Comforter,
that we might find a measure of rest and peace, together. 
Passing the Peace
As you take your seat on the floor, we invite you to show one another signs of God’s healing, restful love and pass the Peace of Christ

Song – Blessed Be Your Name a worship standard by Matt Redman
Blessed be Your name in the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow, blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name when I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness, blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name when the sun's shining down on me
When the world's  all as it should be blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering blessed be Your name

You give and take away, You give and take away
My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name

Psalm 62:5-8
Evening Song – Can I Lie Here this song, by David Crowder is the theme for the weekend. It has a soothing quality that's wonderful for prayer.  It almost sings like a chant.
Can I lie here in Your arms; can I lie here in Your arms
My only calm is You save me

Can I lie here in Your arms; can I lie here in Your arms
My only thought is You save me

Can I lie here in Your arms; can I lie here in Your arms
My happiness is You save me

Oh how lovely this place, to be with You, to be with You
Oh the brightness of Your face, here with You, here with You

Oh my only calm is You, Oh my only thought is You
Oh my happiness is You, Oh my happiness is You
To be with You, to be with You
Gospel of Luke 5:12-16
Meditation – Sabbath Time Interrupted I'll provide the text later
We Lay Our Burdens Down A basin with water is at the center of the room, and all participants are given a piece of dissolving paper to participate in the focal point of this evenings service
What is keeping you from relaxing in the Lord this evening?  Are there barriers in your ministry that need to be laid down?  Write them on the paper provided and then dissolve them in the water as your pray for the Lord to intercede.  Take your time.
Closing Hymn:
Can I lie here in Your arms; can I lie here in Your arms
My only calm is You save me

Oh how lovely this place, to be with You, to be with You
Oh the brightness of Your face, here with You, here with You

Oh my only calm is You, Oh my only thought is You
Oh my happiness is You, Oh my happiness is You
To be with You, to be with You

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Contemporary Hymn Top 10 (Today)

This list actually changes daily.  I could write a new one for the world tomorrow, so I better get cracking!  It's all I can do not to start writing out this list by season.  Maybe that's next ...

I dare you not to have your worship pastor add all of these hymns to his/her list tomorrow.

Our God, Chris Tomlin
One of my all time faves, this hymns carries a lot of power, culminating at the bridge with an ode to Romans 8, "And if our God is for us, who could ever stop us?"  For a service on miracles, this is the song of praise.

Beautiful Things, Gungor
A hymn on rebirth and new beginnings with and indie music vibe, there's more to this one than an easy chorus.  It really speaks to a need for newness and a God that'll meet you wherever you are to help you find it.  It's earnest chorus on "You make me new" is not just an affirmation of God, but a cry for that newness that can only be found in choosing to be a new creation in Christ.  I urge you though ... Some churches just do the chorus.  Don't avoid the opening stanzas of the hymn.  They speak to pain, but later to the medicine.

Like a Lion, Daniel Bashta
This one is really raw.  I didn't like it initially, but I blogged about it's necessity here.  Let heaven roar, y'all.

Mighty to Save, Hillsong
This one is a standard, to be sure.  It's been a little over done, I mean, what worship leader hasn't done a cover of it?  But they do it because it's good.  Good enough even to make it into the new hymnal supplement of the UMC, so you know it's been checked out.  You could almost call it traditional ... It's one of my favorite Easter hymns for a contemporary crowd.

God of Justice, Tim Hughes
I first heard this hymn at a wedding, of all places.  But when you listen to the hymn, a pensive take on Micah 6:8, and you knew the couple (future, current missionaries to South Africa), it made total sense.  Micah 6:8 is a much tougher call that people want to admit ... To seek justice, kindness, and mercy for all of God's people.  It's amazing how a song can tell a scriptural story and help you remember it.

Salvation is Here, Hillsong Chapel
This one is on repeat in my car right now.  There are a lot of different versions of this hymn (if you want rock, check out Lincoln Brewster), but I dig the chill vibe of Hillsong Chapel's cover.  The arrangement, which is a little more subdued than the original, is almost a plea for the salvation that the writer knows is there for the asking.

Hold Us Together, Matt Maher
This song is really just fun.  Maher wrote it after a plane ride with a man who's finances had just gone south during the worst of the 2008 recession.  It speaks to the real role of Love, it doesn't take the easy road, but it holds us together.  And I've sung it at about five weddings.

All My Fountains, Chris Tomlin
Some of my favorite hymns are built on an invitation ... Not to us, but to God.  "Come on and rain down on us, Lord." is a central lyric to this hymn, calling God down to dwell with us.  This hymns speaks to nourishment that can only come from God.

Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee, arr. by Charlie Hall
A favorite hymn that goes back generations, Charlie Hall has spun an accessible arrangement of this hymn that will appeal to all ... Especially in situations many of us find ourselves in with mix-ups of people who still yearn for something "traditional" in the "contemporary" context.

That's it for today!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Chasing #Hospitality

I had one of the best customer service experiences of my life this morning.  No sarcasm.  True story.

And it was at the bank.

I know ... the bank.

But I'm not kidding.  We were on the road, but needed to get some cash out to stock our cash envelopes.  So we weren't at our usual Chase Bank branch.  We were a little early in our plans for the day, so we decided to just jump in.  Even on a busy day, I find it never takes too long at Chase.

I grab a withdrawal slip, fill it out, and get in line behind another lady.  Immediately one of the three tellers (who was busy) greeted me and asked if I was having a nice day.  It didn't at all take away from her current work, and seemed very genuine.

While I was waiting in line one of the tellers called out to a customer who had just walked in the door she recognized as a regular at the branch.

The lady ahead of me moved forward to be served, and the receptionist stepped over to ask what I was there for ... I replied that I was there for a withdrawal, and she checked to make sure that I had everything filled out alright.  I did, so she moved on to help the person behind me.

Seeing a line forming, one of the bank managers stepped out from his desk to greet customers as well, including me.

I stepped up to my teller, and he immediately asked how I was doing today, before taking my information.  It was just small talk conversation, not particularly meaningful, but I truly felt like an important customer.  The teller broke down my withdrawal exactly as I asked, and I was out of there with a smile on my face.

The whole time though, I'm thinking, "Who's training these people?"

All the folks working at this bank branch had a spirit of hospitality about them.  It felt completely genuine.  I know it's their job to be hospitable, but how many places have you been to, where you're supposed to get good customer service, you actually get it?  Not many in my experience.

As a first time visitor to this bank, I know that if I was close by, it would be our bank.

Are our churches offering hospitality that makes folks want to come right back?  When you walk into a church building for a first time are you greeted by everybody?  That would be a #dreamumc.

Much like this bank branch, at the church it is everyone's responsibility to offer hospitality, it's not a job for someone.  Greet somebody new on Sunday morning.  You might make their day, and show them a little bit more Jesus.

Where was the best hospitality experience you've had?  The worst?

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Picture is Worth Four Words

In the wake of the Chick-Fil-A stories there have been a lot of pictures posted on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Pictures of nuggets, waffle fries, sandwiches, people proudly proclaiming their love of good chicken, and, well, certain beliefs ...  I posted last week on my feelings around the big theological/political debate.  I threw out my idea, and put it to bed.

Then a picture re-posted by a friend showed up on my twitter feed that made me stop and pause.

It was the picture of a guy standing outside of a Chick-Fil-A, watching the huge line of CFA supporters going out the door and down the block.  On the back of his shirt were four words that read: "Jesus is a (bad word)."  I won't say what it actually said.  It's more than a little NSFW.  Just use your imagination.  It wasn't good.

The friend didn't post the picture as affirmation, just asking the question, essentially, "What do we do with this?"

Like most people, my first reaction was more than disgust.  I mean, that's my Savior the guy is ridiculing.  He's breaking commandments.  And it's in poor taste.

But ... I want to know his story, and the stories of others like him.  At some point the Jesus he was shown wasn't good.  And it's not that Jesus needs to be painted as nice; Jesus wasn't nice.  But the Jesus represented to the guy is bad.  The fact that he wore this shirt outside of the CFA Appreciation Day is also very telling ... Christians were the ones in support of CFA, followers of Jesus.  Maybe this guy is gay, or maybe somebody he loves is.  Regardless, his shirt, which showed judgement of the Church, showed what he knows of the church.

Somewhere along the line, somebody modelled a Jesus for this guy that was a (bad word), and wearing that shirt on that day meant something to him.  And that makes me sad for him, but also for the witness being shown.  When we claim the name of Christian, we are called to put on Christ for the world.

What I really want to know is what happened to the guy after that picture was taken on August 1 ... Did somebody try to show him the love of Christ, or was he damned?  What do you do when you're confronted by someone who hates your faith?

Friday, August 3, 2012

What makes 'us' different? A ChickFilA Response

One of the great criticisms of modern Christianity is that we don't live differently from anyone else.
Rev. Bob Farr, Renovate or Die
It's a common thought today amongst those that don't belong to a Christian faith community.  Why choose the church?  Why choose Jesus?

I posted the above quote from Renovate or Die, a book I'm working through, on Facebook and the first immediate response I received was:
What makes 'us' [the Body of Christ] different from anyone else?
It's a great, and important question.  My response:
Our intentional love and care for one another is supposed to set us apart ... And a faith that calls us to strive towards something larger, and show a love that calls others to travel on the journey with us. Radical hospitality not radical judgement is what defined Christ's ministry. Unfortunately the line between the two has gotten super blurry.
I think questioning why people, especially the unchurched, would choose to follow Christ is especially relevant given the hot topic for this week: the politics of ChickFilA.  What would Jesus do in this situation?  Stand with the LGBTQ Community and their Allies?  Or would he stand with the CEO of ChickFilA?  There's a whole lot of gray here when everybody wants to make something black and white.  Jesus might have something relevant to say in these matters.

As soon as Jesus decided to kick-off his earthly ministry, it was off to the races from the word, "Go".  For three years he didn't really stop moving and doing ministry for and with the poorest of the poor.  He spent most of his time ministering to those on the fringes, the poor and the sick, as well as the villains of the time like the tax collectors. 

Because the educated establishment of the time didn't care for Christ's methods (the might have accepted him as Messiah if he'd just quit being so radical), they constantly followed him around and asked him questions with the intent to trick him.  In one such circumstance we get a very important response from the Prince of Peace, found in the 22nd Chapter of Matthew:
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together.  One of them, a legal expert, tested him.  "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
He replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands." (CEB)
Christ adds no qualification to the term "neighbor".  A neighbor is just a fellow person.  And we know from his track record that he had a heart especially for the poor and disenfranchised. 

So, how do we apply these commandments to our ChickFilA situation?  Do we support a boycott?  Or do we support events like ChickFilA Appreciation Day?  Or how about this?

What would I like to see?

I know it's radical, but I would like to see members of the LGBTQ Community and their Allies march on ChickFilA franchises ... And ... Eat there.  We need to realize that while many of us have problems with the documented stances that the ChickFilA corporate office has taken with regard to 'loving their neighbors', the local franchise partners of ChickFilA and their staffs have nothing to do with that.  If ChickFilA is shut down, it's those jobs that are hurt.

I could get mad at ChickFilA, I'm certainly dissapointed with what I think is a horrible stance at the corporate level, but what if my wife and I showed up with a rainbow button on with a bunch of friends and said, "You may not love the people that I love, but you're my neighbor and I'll love you anyway."

Maybe I'm an idealist. 

What would the unchurched say of the church's actions on August 1st?  Would that compel someone to join the Body?  Forget thinking of the church as a building - the church is the People of Christ and the purpose of the Body is to grow the Body.  Where Christ worked so hard to tear down veils and walls, we end up building them back up, higher and higher.  Am I one that's building up those walls of division?  No.  But unfortunately the inclusive witness I and others want to proclaim is drowned-out by a Gospel of Exclusion.

Because it's Christians, very loud Christians, who have taken a stance on exclusion, and like it or not, one Christian often ends up speaking for the whole.  A loving witness trumped by one that isn't.

People say, "Love the sinner, hate the sin."  As I interpret the word, ChickFilA is on the wrong side.  But I have to love them and their people into a better way.  I think this has now become a question of evangelism.  Everything we as Christians do does matter to the world looking on. 

So, how are we [Christians] different?