Sunday, July 24, 2011

No Turning Back

As I continue my God-initiated journey toward the "promised land" that God has hinted at in Scripture and by the Spirit, I have made some discoveries in the wilderness.

First, the "wilderness" is a difficult place. People don't buy time shares in the "wilderness". Generally, it is a place to avoid because it presents challenges to our comfort zones. But the wilderness is a very biblical place to be when God is in charge.

In the wilderness, we have to decide if the journey is worth it. And the only way to value the journey is to value the One who leads us on the path. For the children of Israel- like us in so many ways- they consistently lost sight of their Wilderness Guide and focused on their comfort. Focusing on their comfort created confusion about the God they had so tangibly experienced during the Exodus.

Tangiblility. That's a problem for all of us- especially Americans. Like the Israelites, we need to accept a God who is intangible yet quite real. We need to embrace a God who remains mysterious yet reveals Himself in unmistakeable ways. Our poor memories of life in Egypt tend to trump a God of power and love who has taken us on for better or worse.

I'd like to believe that there were plenty of people in the Israeli camps that voiced their allegience to the God of their fathers. Perhaps they said something like this: "Yes, I remember how we ate in Egypt and how we could predict each day's activities. But I can also remember God's intervention. Having experienced God- even once- has changed my outlook and I can never go back. To do so would require me to deny not only God, but my very real experience with and because of God. No matter what today brings- or the many todays yet to come- I choose to follow this God who I can't figure out and I cannot define. I may never realize God's ultimate desire for me, but having encountered God (an experience that God initiates), I have something in my life that prohibits me from returning to the culture that kept me in bondage."

I think that the 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost may have felt the same way. They had experience Jesus and in spite of 10 days of confusion, anticipation, and probably not a little impatience, waited for something they had never experienced simply because the Jesus they knew had told them to do so. Instead of returning to their cultural and spiritual routines, they stuck it out until whatever was to happen happened. They had enough of a taste of something transcendent- yet very human and very real- that they knew they couldn't return to the life they once knew- a life they were probabaly quite comfortable with.

Paul is another example of someone who after encountering Jesus, had to chart a new path because he could never return to the Egyptian judaism that he knew so well. A new and more powerful Player had entered his existence and his life was redirected in that Way.

Similarly, I have been drawn toward the God of the universe by God's initiation. And in spite of the challenges, lonliness, confusion, and wonder, I realize not only can I not return to the land of Egypt (read: American Christianity), I don't think I want to. No matter what lies ahead, I choose the "us" that is God and me. I welcome others who share the same affinity to join me in the quest. Thankfully, there are others and in time we will share community.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Obscurity in the Midst of Celebrity

It's not hard to see who America worships: rock stars, movie stars, and popular personalities. We worship those who are bigger than (our) life. We aspire to some level of notoriety as evidenced by seeking any and every opportunity to be on TV. Note how people in a crowded TV shot can't wait to wave at the camera and "be seen"- even though it will amount to nothing in the long run.

As an aside, I am curiously amazed how grieving family members upon the tragic and untimely death of a loved one due to a shooting, car accident, or other random event, make themselves available to be interviewed by the local news media. It's great for the news station but doesn't it reveal a lack of true grief on the part of the family? I couldn't imagine being on TV talking so matter-of-factly about how my teenage son was shot by someone and how he was such a good boy within 24 hours (or less) of the event!

I digress.

I was part of professional church ministry for over 25 years. During that time, I sought to be relevant and- here it comes- entertaining. I created contemporary services designed to attract the masses and to be quite honest, make me look like a celebrity. Thankfully, I was only nominally successful because had I been as good at it as Willow Creek (the model I tried to reproduce in my context), I might not be where I am today: Out of professional church ministry.

The institutional church must be "relevant" to remain in business and its leaders have to appear bigger than the lives of those who sit in the pews. The church must employ the same strategies employed by celebrities in order to survive. Christendom must advertise itself (remember Jesus' brothers advising him about marketing himself?), compete with not only other churches, but every other thing someone might choose to do with their time, and then, produce a "show" that will make it impossible for the attendee to choose something else next Sunday. It is the pastor's job to be creative and entertaining enough to pull this off. (Don't let someone tell you this isn't true; I've been there and know that of which I speak!)

That's a lot of cultural pressure.

As I reflect over my years in that bubble, I often experience regret. I wished I could've been more aware of what I was doing and how much I tried to fit God's culture into my culture instead of exploring ways in which God could confront us with God's counter-culture.

I am on a journey of faith and discovery in which I hope to encounter the God of the Bible I have read all of my life. A God who transcends any and every culture to show the way of life for all of humanity. To do this apparently requires "repentance" on my part (new thinking patterns) that is inspired by God's Spirit and not the spirit of the age.

I am OBSCURE because it is counter-cultural. It is also trans-cultural. It allows God to be in charge without my attempts to be attractive and popular. I trust that the way God may reach people in America may have to be in some radically different ways.

This is difficult because I am a product of my culture. I have spent over half a century being groomed as not only an American, but as an American Christian. I welcome the process of detoxing the system that is so ingrained. I also am encouraged to see that others have similarly awakened to a bigger God than what the institutional church is able to produce and market.

The wilderness may not be transient place on my journey to God; it may be the place where God dwells. It may be that its in the storm where we find Jesus comfortably resting in a boat. Can our Americanized theology swallow this?

I hope I will continue to invest my currency in a set of values that are eternal and have been around a lot longer than I have.