Blooming Outside the Box

A friend asked this question of those of us who have not been able to attend in-person church services for months at a time due to restrictions imposed by pandemic protocols: What have you missed about church attendance if you have been a regular church attender?

Note: I’m not addressing arguments against either the potential misuse of political power in church closures or the potential lack of consideration for the vulnerable in defiant church openers right now. That discussion tends produce more heat than light when many people in church leadership are doing the best they can with information that is still changing.

This is what I miss about attending local church on a Sunday morning. I miss seeing people who are not on the internet. Some people cannot or choose not to participate on Zoom or other media meetings. Sadly we are losing touch.

I miss corporate worship that includes children and young adults and, well, everybody together in the same place.

I miss celebrating the sacraments together.

I miss hugs and kind touches on the shoulder.

But thinking about my response to this question has made me realize something. Quite a while ago I learned that if I wanted to go deeper in knowing the Lord I could not depend on once a week attendance in a pulpit-centered church in a dedicated building no matter how much I liked the pastor/s. We have moved and been moved several times throughout the years. Every group seems to specialize in favourite doctrines and passages of scripture after a while. Many pastors teach at a level that new believers will understand. Steak dinners are rare. Easily digested blender-processed food is more plentiful. It’s risky to address mystery and pursue what it means to know God at a deeper level without appearing elitist or annoyingly holier-than-thou. I learned to appreciate what was offered and seek more through books, podcasts, webinars, courses, and conferences myself.

Some popular churches focus all their efforts into looking after God’s P.R. and continuing to do what they do best. I admire them, but eventually, something always seems to be missing. Although I’ve gone kicking and screaming, the Lord seem to arrange circumstances that kick me out of the nest if I get too comfortable in places like this. Sometimes, it’s the drive to know Him that pushes me out of the box.

I’ve taken courses from all sorts of lovers of Jesus who are outside the local church and outside my usual tribes. I’ve been involved in both online and face-to-face “parachurch” ministries for quite a while. I now realize that, for me, parachurch organizations have often been a healthier example of being the church than the pulpit and pew crew. The causes parachurch groups support may be different, but they have this in common. Participants are passionately involved and have actual relationships that are the result of working together in hard-won unity. They go beyond “fellowshipping” with the back of someone’s head. The ones that aided spiritual growth the most realize the necessity of prayer and worship and acknowledge the problems of being limited to denominational-style distinctives and limited forms of expressing praise. They recognize diversity and that people flourish in an environment where creativity is honoured and lay people can offer their best.

The question I am tempted to ask now, instead of what do you miss about church services, is this: What do you miss when church means only in-person attendance at a traditional time and place? If your local church has been closed or has switched to online services, has this time of being the church out of the brick and mortar box revealed anything to you? In what ways are you seeing signs of new growth? What has blossomed in your life?

There is a divine mystery—a secret surprise that has been concealed from the world for generations, but now it’s being revealed, unfolded and manifested for every holy believer to experience. Living within you is the Christ who floods you with the expectation of glory! This mystery of Christ, embedded within us, becomes a heavenly treasure chest of hope filled with the riches of glory for his people, and God wants everyone to know it! (Colossians 1:26,27 TPT)

Overflowing With Kindness

You’re kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it

    and very patient with people who fail you.

    Your love is like a flooding river overflowing its banks with kindness.

 God, everyone sees your goodness,

    for your tender love is blended into everything you do.

(Psalm 145:8,9 TPT)

When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister was not helping with the serving and doing what women were expected to do, he confronted her with this: “Martha! Your anxieties are distracting you from what is really important!”

Sometimes we are so anxious about what might happen we forget that when we invite him in, the Saviour is right here in our hearts. Even though we are anxious about tomorrow his goodness surrounds us today. When we set down our worries we can see beauty again.

Bring Your Melody

Spring snow

Let the entire universe erupt with praise to God.

    He spoke and created it all—from nothing to something.

 He established the cosmos to last forever,

    and he stands behind his commands

    so his orders will never be revoked.

 Let the earth join in with this parade of praise!

    You mighty creatures of the ocean’s depths,

    echo in exaltation!

 Lightning, hail, snow, clouds,

    and the stormy winds that fulfill his word—

 bring your melody, O mountains and hills;

    trees of the forest and field, harmonize your praise!

(Psalm 148:5-9 TPT)

When I find myself wanting to respond in anger to those who would call evil good and good evil, the Holy Spirit, who sees from the beginning to the end and back, reminds me to change my focus. He tells me to look up and bring my melody to join with the parade of praise creation sings every day.

It’s a matter of perspective. He’s not worried. He’s got this.

That Time They Tried to Cancel Jesus

The Garden

Cancel culture is not new and it is nearly always about the struggle over who has power and control.

When you get down to it, the struggle over who is in charge goes back to the beginning when the serpent asked Adam and Eve, “Did God really say…?”

The conspiracy to silence Jesus of Nazareth began as soon as he challenged people who wanted to maintain power. From the time he disregarded their rules by healing a man with a withered arm on a day defined by a tradition to trump mercy, the religious leaders started plotting how to cancel not only Jesus’ influence, but his existence.

It started with public criticism. Where John the Baptist was accused of being too somber, Jesus, according to his critics, was too easy-going. “A drunkard and glutton!” they said.  Then they began to intimidate anyone who associated with him by threatening to cancel their access to the synagogue. The parents of a man born blind were so afraid of the religious experts, they refused to say who was responsible for the stunning miracle that gave their son sight. “Ask him yourself,” they hedged, “He’s of age.”

Jesus continued healing the sick and talking about the Kingdom of God despite misinformation they tried to spread about him. “Don’t be fooled,” they warned. “He is doing this by the power of Beelzebub. This guy is a danger to our way of life. He habitually blasphemes, calling God his father. We have witnesses right here who can attest to the fact they heard him say,  ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’”

Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd who hoped he would be the one to bring them health, wealth, and freedom from political oppression. The crowds that cheered became the crowds that jeered.

Mob mentality is a strange phenomenon. We’ve seen it at work on the streets, at concerts, and on media lately. Fans can turn alarmingly quickly when they don’t get what they want. When it appeared Jesus was not going to take down the government, they cried for revenge the way an embarrassed suitor can turn selfish “love” into revengeful hate when his plans are stymied. They somehow became convinced they should release a known criminal instead of Jesus.

Jesus knew about the plans to silence him and cancel him permanently. He knew what he was walking into. In the end the powers of hell influenced religious, political, and military authorities, as well as people in the streets to join the call to cancel The Messiah. As a line from the song Via Dolorosa reminds us: But he chose to walk that way out of his love for you and me.

God’s ways are not our ways. Only a God so humble that he would let humans do their worst to himself could prove his love for them in the most counterintuitive way. Only a God so wise would give them time to let that sink in.

All the powers of darkness cannot cancel The Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus conquered death to prove he is Love and the Light of the World.

He loves you. He loves you. He loves you.

Jesus: “How could I describe the people of this generation? You’re like children playing games on the playground, yelling at their playmates, ‘You don’t like it when we want to play Wedding! And you don’t like it when we want to play Funeral! You will neither dance nor mourn.’ Why is it that when John came to you, neither feasting nor drinking wine, you said, ‘He has a demon in him!’? Yet when the Son of Man came and went to feasts and drank wine, you said, ‘Look at this man! He is nothing but a glutton and a drunkard! He spends all his time with tax collectors and other sinners.’ But God’s wisdom will become visible by those who embrace it.” (Matthew 11:16-19 TPT)    

The Street

Immediately the Pharisees went out and started to scheme about how they would destroy him. Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he left by another way. Massive crowds followed him from there, and he healed all who were sick. However, he sternly warned them not to tell others or disclose his real identity, in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah:

 Take a careful look at my servant, my chosen one.
    I love him dearly
    and I find all my delight in him.
    I will breathe my Spirit upon him
    and he will decree justice to the nations.
 He will not quarrel or raise his voice in public.
 He won’t brush aside the bruised and broken.
    He will be gentle with the weak and feeble,
    until his victory releases justice.
 And the fame of his name
    will birth hope among the people.
(Matthew 12:14-21 TPT)