Monthly Archives: April 2014

Thank you, Dear Friend, for Exposing My Manifold Sins

My Dear —————,

I was recently made aware of your letter of complaint submitted to my supervisors regarding my participation in a rock band called Foreplay. Of course, I did not see this letter before its submission, but I’m sure that was a mere oversight on your part, considering that my best interests are always closest to your heart.

I must say, my friend, that when I became aware of your letter and the nature of your complaint, I wept. I cried bitter tears. I did not mourn the harshness of the accusation. Certainly not! No, I mourned my own spiritual blindness and hardness of heart that led to this latest deviation from the straight and narrow road of good Christian values and morals. How could I have ever thought to dishonor Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, by playing rock music in a band with such a horrid, filthy name? How could I have dared to transgress the Word of God by deciding to go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah, taking part in this band called… “Foreplay”?

No ForeplaySo, my friend, I am eternally and gratefully indebted to you. It is always gracious friends like you, folks who persistently point out my sins, faults, foibles, oversights, and transgressions, who make the most profound difference in my life. After all, where would I be without you? I suppose I’d be on the wide road to death and destruction every single time, were it not for your close scrutiny and righteous outrage over a fallen Christian like me- and a pastor, no less!– playing secular music in a band called “F*r3pl@y” (just the sound of the name is now bitter gall in my mouth). What a lewd and vile word that is!

And yes, I can now see how the mere appearance of a Christian and Man of God in a rock band called “Foreplay” would only send the worst of messages within the highly impressionable minds and hearts of those poor, witless souls around me, especially our youth and children. Why, they might walk away with the impression that “foreplay” is something other than the disgusting, sexually impure and filthy act it is. After all, we want people to enter into good, holy, wholesome Christian marriages, free from even the slightest hint of any base, sexual deviancy of which “foreplay” is a prime example. Oh how I mourn the irreversible damage I have done to these poor souls who now fully embrace… shall I say it… “foreplay”. God forbid it!

My friend, as always, your assumptions about my motives and behavior are, of course, flawlessly accurate. While I play all of this secular trash we dare to call music, I have fully succumbed to every evil influence around me. I have made a mockery of Christ! There is no possibility that I could have ever been the light of God, the grace of God, and an example of Jesus Christ to those around me who would ordinarily flee from righteous saints such as you.

No, I confess that I have sunken into the most miry pits of sin and thrown myself into dens of iniquity filled with sinners destined for the very fires of Hell. I have drunk the unholy, ungodly wine of debauchery and have drowned myself into an orgy of lust, filth, and sexual perversion to the point that I fully resemble a very child of the devil. But now, because of your stern, most godly of criticisms, there still may be hope for me, the chiefest of sinners.

So now, I begin my season of repentance. In sackcloth and ashes, I wail over my manifold sins.

Once I have spent an adequate amount of time fully steeped in the guilt and shame I so fully deserve, I will take action. It will be the necessary course of action which surely you would expect. I will immediately resign from “F*r3pl@y”.

I will individually call my band mates to inform them of my decision. Furthermore, I will follow your most godly example, and roundly condemn the depravity of their wantonly foul, sexually lewd, corrupted hearts. I will plea with them to run from the blazing hot grip of Satan and become like us- upright, godly folks who shun and roundly condemn even the mere appearance of anything we perceive to be sinful in other people.

Alas, however, they are probably reprobate, Hell-bound, souls created for destruction. But at least they would have heard the righteous decree of God- Good News for us, but a deserved pronouncement of condemnation to everlasting death for them. Hallelujah!!

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Chris Owens, former bassist/vocalist of the evil group known as “F*r3pl@y”

 

P.S.

NOT!!!!

P.P.S. Read Matthew 7:1-6. If you’re still reading, you might also want to ponder Mark 2:13-17.

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Inside-Out Churches

Y’all come!

If you build it, they will come.

Our doors are always open for you.

church steeple peopleFor a long time, since 313 A.D., in fact, the church has operated under the model of attracting and drawing people within the walls of a church building in order to encounter God, meet Jesus, and become disciples. This model hails from the days the church found itself in a predominantly Christian culture in which church attendance was the norm. In that era, the church was at a shared center of community life with other institutions like schools, civic associations, fraternal clubs, and local governments.

But those times have long since passed. More and more people consider Christianity and the church as “organized religion”- dated, irrelevant, backwards, judgmental, a waste of time and energy. So now, churches are desperately doing everything they can to fight against the surging tide of irrelevancy by trying to become as relevant as possible.

So we try more modern music and technology. We create programs and sermons that try to speak to perceived needs and questions. We try to provide the biggest, best children and youth programs. We revamp our church buildings to be more inviting and appealing. We design cool websites. We try all kinds of media marketing strategies. You get the idea.

There’s one problem, however. Nonreligious people don’t care. We might attract church shopping religious folks and a few people who have had a propensity towards organized religion in their past. As for people who do not claim any kind of religious identification, we’re not even a blip on the radar screen. And these folks are the fastest growing religious demographic in North America.

However… most of the people in this fast growing nonreligious demographic believe in some kind of God. Many consider themselves spiritual but not religious. Many pray. Many look into and explore different kinds of spirituality, sometimes in group discussions. But when you introduce institutional Christianity into the conversation, watch how fast they run!

Clearly, our churches’ efforts to attract non- and nominally religious people into our churches to do churchy stuff is dated and dying.

Grim as this reality looks for churches, there is plenty of hope and possibility if… if…  we are willing to turn ourselves inside-out to become a highly relational people in a movement. If we are willing to become full-fledged disciples of Jesus who live as Christ and gather as his church in the everyday world in order to bless people, live the way of Jesus, and invite people to see and taste the goodness of Jesus we are living and giving, then we will find our way in the 21st Century.

I’ll give you an example.

Over the weekend, I preached and worshipped with Solomons United Methodist Church. Their pastor, the Rev. Meredith Wilkins-Arnold, very much embodies this kind of inside-out, highly relational way of being a disciple in the everyday world. She connects and networks with anybody and everybody in her community. Because of that, she is becoming the Solomons community’s go-to person for spiritual care and support. They know her and trust her.

In a few weekends, the Solomons Island Tiki Bar will be opening, and on opening night, thousands of people will overrun this little island. While many churches might begrudge something like that, the disciples of Solomons embrace it. Out in the street, they set up a hot dog and water stand. Passersby can walk up, interact with the people of Solomons and get a free hot dog and water.

Now, they don’t harass the crowds with religious tracts and tons of literature about their church. That kind of thing rarely works. If anything, it can be counter productive. But they talk with folks. And they have a separate tent set up on the street for prayer. If anyone has a need to be prayed for, someone from the church will be there. They won’t cram Jesus down people’s throats, but they will love people with gifts of care and prayer.

Key to this effort is the attitude behind it. It’s not a self-serving lure to get people into their church. Rather, it’s a selfless act of blessing other people because God loves and blesses them, too.

Solomons isn’t alone in their missional efforts. Other churches are beginning to wake up to the kind of world we live in, and are turning their churches inside-out, too. They gather in their church facilities for worship, prayer, and learning, yes. But more and more of their efforts are outside of the church building, within their communities, networking, community building and organizing, people blessing, and gathering as the church in non-traditional places like homes, schools, coffee houses, and other public places.

These churches are demonstrating something that we all desperately need to reclaim: the church is not a building or an institution. The church is a people. The church is a who, not an it. We are flawed but growing disciples of Jesus, experiencing an abundant life of gracious love, and we want to give as much of that away as we possibly can in order to bring wholeness, justice, restoration, and shalom to our communities.

The bottom line for these inside-out churches is not the number of people sitting in their pews or lining their offering plates. The bottom line is number of changed lives becoming Christ-like. (And no, sitting in a pew or a Sunday School class does not at all guarantee a changed life.) The numbers they count are how many people in the community have been served and prayed for. They count dollars gathered to feed and house the poor. They equip leaders, not to run internal church programs for people to attend, but to develop accountable disciples of Jesus who exist to bless the world around them as a testimony to the love, grace, and truth of Jesus Christ.

There’s a lot more that can be said here. Much of it has already been said by others. But you hopefully get the idea.

Let’s flip inside-out, Jesus style!

 

 

 

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I’ve Decided I’m an Atheist

No GodSomething has been brewing within me for several years now that I have been too ashamed, too embarrassed, and very afraid to admit.

I’m an atheist.

After a long journey of thoughtful introspection through a continuous strain of disillusionments, disappointments, but also eye-opening clarity, I’ve concluded that there can’t possibly be a supernatural deity who somehow controls and influences things.

Interestingly enough, I learned this lesson in the church through my work as an ordained pastor.

On Sunday mornings, I have preached wonderful sermons about God and Jesus. I learned that I could tell all these stories with great conviction without really having to anchor my life to any of it. I tried this, just for kicks- preaching powerful, passionate sermons about things I had struggled to believe. I found I could put on a great show. The people would walk away inspired. “That was a beautiful sermon, Pastor!” But then nothing changes. Everyone goes back to life as usual. I did this for weeks on end and realized that I didn’t need a god to do any of it. Great, emotional shows. Happy people. Same people. Week after week. Where is the divine in that?

Then I noticed that there was no need for deity in any of the church’s activities. People talked about God. I talked about God. We said nice little prayers to God. But I looked around and realized that it was just decent religious people doing good people things. This went on for month after month, and then I concluded that if there really was a deity, there should be more than this- a lot more. But there isn’t. I could have started a wonderful charity group or a recreational club, made no mention of deity and have done the exact same things.

I looked at the way we learn. I have taught lots of Bible studies. I do love to teach, and for many years, I walked away stimulated by the deep discussions we were having. People get jazzed about discussing things, often in painstaking detail, bringing history and the writings of scholars into our learning. We eat it up! People walk out thanking me for a thought-provoking, powerful study. Those same people would come back, week after week, but I began to notice over time that nothing would change. We’d end up talking about the same things. The same kinds of speculative questions would be asked. It was all superficial. People spoke in generalities about God, people and the world. Still, nothing new happened. I didn’t see any real changes of heart that led to improved behavior or priorities.  There were no grand ideas generated that would lead to anything positive or constructive. Thus, there was no deity needed or involved in any of it! Once again- no god doing anything supernatural.

And then I looked at they way we pray. Prayer time in worship is more of a support group and story-telling time than what I would imagine prayer to be– getting on our faces before God in submission, fully relying on the strength, power, mercy, and love of God. No, we turn in prayer cards for this hurt, that surgery, this and that struggle, and say nice little prayers with tears, hugs, and tissues to go around. And there is never any evidence of supernatural intervention, other than what a doctor could do. After a while, I thought our time might be better spent creating a doctor and patient support group for mutual encouragement. Meanwhile, there was no real evidence of a god or deity; anything people described as “God’s intervention” I could find a natural cause for. I could see that! Why couldn’t these people see it?? No god, no deity… just religion wrapped up in emotion and speculation.

But what really led me to conclude that there is no god is the suffering of the poor all around us. We read and study in our Bibles that Jesus loves the poor and fills their mouths with good things. But there is not a smidgen of evidence for that anywhere. I looked at the priorities of my church and other churches in our neighborhood. Sure, we all do canned food drives, fill poor kids’ backpacks once a year, and maybe even serve a meal in a homeless shelter. But anyone can see– an atheist like me can see!– that these are token gestures. Lives aren’t changed. No one is removed from poverty and suffering because of a canned food drive. I had always heard that love, relational love, changes lives. I had heard that communities bound together in a common cause for the kingdom of God changes lives. That would take no less than the work of a deity through people who claim this deity as their god. But it doesn’t happen. The poor still suffer while we religious people sit in our church buildings. Why say we believe in a god and carry on about religion when our neighbors still go without a home, without good food and water, struggling in addictions, alienated, and alone. If there is indeed a god whom people claim works through them, then this “god” has failed.

So, it’s very simple. If I can be a Christian and have no real need for God other than self-help– and I can get a therapist or read a good book for that– then there is no need to bother with the notion of a sky-god who controls and influences things. Leave that to nice ancient story books like the Bible.

Oh by the way, Bible discussion group will be held after Sunday morning story time and mutual support group… A creative, able-minded, talented atheist like me can lead all of that!

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April Fools! But… my point is far from a joke.

 

 

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