Thursday, October 17, 2013

What is the church?

   Have you ever watched video of somebody hang gliding? It's fascinating, isn't it? They strap themselves to this enormous, winged contraption, run toward a cliff as fast as they can, then fearlessly leap over the edge. After a few seconds of free-falling, the wind eventually catches the fabric covering the wings, and they can begin to maneuver their way across the countryside with very little effort of their own.

   While I doubt that I'd ever have enough courage to attempt such a thing, I can still feel myself being swept away as I've watched others do so. The sense of freedom must be absolutely incredible. The views, astonishing. I know beyond a doubt it would be an absolutely breathtaking experience.

   One thing that becomes evident as you watch them do this is the way they use the wind to take them wherever they want to go. They don't fight against it, because doing so would be futile. They simply ride it out, and allow it to take them.

   What if, before jumping over the edge of the cliff, the hang glider decided that he or she wanted to bring a few creature comforts along with them? What if they decided to bring a cold drink to enjoy along the way? What if they tucked some food away in case they became hungry? Maybe they'd also want to bring their smart phone so they could take pictures, listen to music, and post about their experience via Facebook? Or maybe they'd bring their laptop along for the ride. Obviously, the more they brought along with them, the more their weight would increase, making them less able to maneuver, the more distracted they'd be from simply enjoying the beauty of their surroundings, and the more likely they'd be to end up crashing to the ground in a heap.

   So, how does any of this even relate to the question: "What is the church?"

   It all has to do with the mental images that come to your mind when you hear the word "church."

   During the days of the early church, this "church" was not a building. It was a gathering of believers for the sole purposes of teaching, encouraging, and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. They met wherever they could, from homes to street corners, from markets to hill sides.

   While doing so, they prayed, asking for guidance from the Spirit of God as to what they should say, where they should go, what they should do, and who they should speak with. They continually and consistently sought wisdom and guidance from God Himself, being completely open to wherever He might lead them, whenever He might lead them there. Once they had arrived at a specific location, knowing beyond a doubt that God had led them there, they prayed some more, asking God to speak to others through them. But here's the fascinating thing to me: They never allowed themselves to become too comfortable in any location. Once it was apparent their work was done there, they prayed for God's guidance and moved on. They lived their lives with one simple understanding. As Jesus Himself said to Nicodemus;

Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  - John 3:6-8

   The church in America - from my own personal experiences - has become something very different. We've become very comfortable in our beautiful buildings, with our stunning video images, our state of the art sound systems, our slick presentations, our comfortable seating, and the list goes on and on.

   We invite everyone and anyone to enter these buildings..........buildings we've paid an enormous amount of money to buy and maintain..........We play some music for them, we teach them a lesson about who we know God to be, and we send them away until they can return the following Sunday and watch us repeat this performance.

   If we're not paying attention to our true purpose as believers, we can do this week after week, month after month, and year after year without once feeling a true and significant movement of the Spirit of God within those walls.

   We can, and in many cases have, become like a hang glider jumping off of a cliff with a Lay-Z-Boy recliner strapped to our backs. We jump off of various cliffs, expecting the wind - or the Spirit of God - to fill up our wings and allow us to soar to incredible heights, without even realizing that the things we've insisted upon taking along with us for the ride are making it impossible for the wind to make any sort of real and lasting impact upon the world through our self-ordained ministries.

   So how do we fix this? The answer is simple. We start being the church again. We start by praying, asking the Spirit to speak to our hearts, to guide us to where He wants us to go, to give us the words to speak, and to immediately act upon His leading. We let go of the American church mentality of needing bigger buildings, flashier presentations, and thereby release ourselves from the unnecessary burdens that holds us back from the experiencing the true freedom of jumping off of that cliff, feeling the Spirit fill our wings, and allowing Him to lift us to heights we never dreamed possible.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Control is not Love

   I can remember it as if it happened yesterday. I was a young musician, returning to the Chicago area after spending a few years in San Diego, California. I had an incredible passion for music for as long as I could remember being alive. Some of my earliest memories as a young boy involved waking up very early in the morning, turning on a radio my family kept on a kitchen counter, and listening to music at low volume while the rest of my family slept. As I grew older, music continued to be something I was incredibly passionate about. I wouldn't simply listen to it, I would literally study it. I always seemed to have this deep awareness and understanding of the various instruments, how they worked together, and how they complimented one another. It was an awareness that most people I knew didn't share, and the only way I can describe it would be to say that it was simply wired into my DNA.

   I was 21 years old when I returned to Chicago, and I had a dream for my future that very few people understood. By that time in my life, I had spent countless hours playing my guitar and writing my own music. It was my absolute passion, and one which I believed I was beginning to excel in. Upon returning to my family, I expressed my desire to go back to school in an effort to pursue a lifelong dream - to study music and become a professional musician. I had decided to enroll at Berklee College of Music, which at the time was the premier music school in the country.

   The response I received from my family was far from supportive. I was mocked and ridiculed. I was told that I was nothing more than a dreamer. I was told that what I needed to do was to go out and get a "real" job, and forget about those crazy dreams of mine.

   I heeded the advice of my family, firmly believing they only wanted what was best for me and for my future. I began to believe their words - that I was just being some sort of a dreamer, trapped in a fantasy world. After all, real life didn't work that way. People took jobs, made a living, and put food on their table. That's just the way things were to be done. The dreamers of the world were destined to end up poor, disillusioned, and defeated.

   I eventually took a job that paid fairly well, would supply me with my needs, and would be stable and consistent. I stayed at that job for 27 years.

   While I'm grateful to have been given the stability this job gave me, I never once felt as though I belonged there. I never felt truly fulfilled by it. It was, after all, just a job, and it never became anything more. Meanwhile, the questions have always lingered in the back of my mind. What if I had pursued my dreams? What if I had poured my entire life into something I was truly passionate about? Where would I find myself now had I done so? While I fully understand that we can never go back, those questions will always remain in the back of my mind. Is it possible that I would've failed? Absolutely. But what leaves a more bitter taste in one's mouth? Striving to live out one's dreams and failing, or never giving those dreams an opportunity to be realized?

   When I think back upon who I have always been, and what I've always felt passionate about, I remember Psalm 139:13-14

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

   If these words are true - and I believe they are - what does that say about this passion for music which has always been hard-wired into who I am as a person? It says that it's there for a reason. It isn't an accident. God intended for it to be there. That's not just true for me, it is true for every human being on this planet.

   Throughout the course of my life, I've heard countless stories of people who have had dreams for where they'd like to see their lives go, but who have at some point become involved in relationships with others who didn't share those dreams, and in an effort to keep the peace within those relationships, they let go of the very things they'd always been passionate about.

   More often than not, the people they find themselves committed to don't see the value of those dreams because they fear they will lose the other person if those dreams are pursued. They have a vision in their mind as to who this other person should be for them, as opposed to seeing them as the person they were created to be.

   But what is genuine love? Genuine love says "I love who you are as a person........I love that you are passionate about these things........I believe you've always had this passion to do these things because - just as I am - you are "......fearfully and wonderfully made...."

   If we truly love someone, we will never insist that they do away with the things they are passionate about. We will instead support, encourage, and inspire them to be who they were created to be by God Himself, and we will be filled with joy as we watch them excel in the areas the were created to excel.

 "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

   I don't see anything in those verses saying "Love is forcing others to live their lives in a way that we would live ours......insisting they give up on their dreams to make us feel more comfortable." If we insist that they be who we want them to be and let go of their dreams..........we aren't loving them........We are controlling them.