Don’t let the Great get in the way of the Good

I’m a big fan of vision. I understand its power in motivating people, getting them excited, and helping everyone to double down in their efforts to get something done.

But sometimes we allow a great vision of what we could be doing to get in the way of the good work we should be doing.

What exactly do I mean? Consider these examples from the life of the church.

  • Imagine a church that invested serious time, and some treasure, in a great coffee ministry to attract new people. Not necessarily a bad idea, but a series of these new visions forced the community to defer maintenance that was needed on the facility. Eventually, this led to an emergency closure of the building due to structural issues caused by a leaky roof.
  • Then consider the young pastor who devoted a lot of time in a great new social media strategy for his old church. And while the strategy had the potential to pay dividends down the road, the pastor was also neglecting to care for his existing flock through visitation and relationship building. Without eager partners, the church’s ability to welcome those new people was stymied by a lack of enthusiasm for any new ministry offerings.
  • And then there is the arena of our personal discipleship. For many of us, it is easy to get excited about a great mission project, or some essential task that provides us a clear sense of our importance. However, the day-to-day nurturing and development of our spirituality, that basic soul care which will prepare us for the unexpected, we often find boring and tedious.

The thing that kills people…

The homeless don’t just die of hypothermia, mental illness, and addictions.
I think some just die from a lack of touch. Loneliness.
The same is true for the elderly.

We have so often made touch dirty or sexualized it. That’s a shame.
I try to hand out hugs, as much as communion, while doing ministry in the park.
People need human touch. Jesus got this for sure.

Hug someone today (especially someone who probably won’t get a lot of them.)

There. Sermon over.
Enough talk.
Go. Do.  🙂

Jerry Herships is a storyteller, love monger, spiritual entrepreneur, and founder of AfterHours, a experimental faith & action group based in Denver Colorado. Jerry helps to feed 700+ poor & homeless every week and does church in bars all over the city that they call Happy Hours. He loves wine and God.

Photo Credit: Cropped from “Homeless and cold” by Flickr user Ed Yourdon.

Battling Demons

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Mark 1:21-28, The Message translation 

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]I have devout Christian friends who often post on Facebook about battling with Satan, detecting Satan’s presence in a stalled car or an unsent email. I say this not mockingly; most often, the friends report Satan’s presence as resulting in an internal battle that is waged between feelings of angry frustration and calm acceptance. In this way, their beliefs are very similar to the true meaning of jihad, the internal struggle that unfolds when we wrestle with our emotions in the face of adversity.

These friends, in the main, believe that literal demons must be expelled from a person; that is, external forces that can overtake our bodies and distract us from the work of God must be expunged. On the whole, I do not share this pneumatology. But the Bible speaks of demons. Is there another way to frame their existence?

For some of us Christians, battling demons means facing our belief that demons are not real.

I just left the funeral for the church…

I went to a green liberal arts college for undergrad back in the late 90s. While environmental issues were in the public sphere already, many of the conversations we had were way ahead of the curve. As things go whenever anyone tries to predict the future, some of the forecasted calamities never came to be. In fact, if all of the environmental predictions we discussed came true, many of us wouldn’t actually be here still to debate them.

Some of the stories we tell about the church and its future, or lack thereof, remind me of those days. We speak of the church’s future demise as if we can predict how the story ends when in reality we can do no such thing; the future hasn’t been written. The church does have its own version of climate change deniers, but we also have the sky is falling sort whose lack of hope can torpedo any initiative to try and do something new.

I was the odd person out at my environmental college. I didn’t have an overwhelming concern or care for the environment. I didn’t hate nature, but I wasn’t really sure about the benefits of recycling, the dangers of overpopulation, the sources of global warming, etc. In short, I wasn’t a tree hugger (a term of affection there) and I wasn’t predisposed to care about spotted owls. 

The Arbitrary God of Most #NFL Prayers

“Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you,
and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!”
Psalm 79:6

It is often noted that the Book of Psalms offers an eclectic mixture of theology and an honesty that can be equal parts refreshing and disturbing. Case in point, Psalm 109 details a terrible list of curses that one can only hope tells us more about the psalmist’s angst than it does about the actual character of God. We should be thankful that, more often than not, people don’t take these rhetorical flourishes too seriously; and remain troubled by the times they do.

Where the Psalms offer a glimpse into the prayer life and practical theologies of the psalmist(s), we might also say that the true character of a church can be discerned from the hymns/songs they sing and in the way the community prays.

We are all capable of using words and concepts which don’t represent God well, especially when we are trying to process a personal crisis or respond compassionately to the grief of others. And most churches still sing a song or two that makes their theologically-educated pastor cringe his or her way through, praying that someday no soul will ever need to sing Onward Christian Soldiers again.

People of Abraham, unite!

We Christians sometimes forget that God did not start with us. The original covenant was with our spiritual ancestors, the Hebrews. Through grace and the fullness of time, prophets came bearing the message that salvation is available to all persons, Jew and Gentile. Reasonable people can debate as to whether or not the invitation was always available, and if human consciousness needed to develop before realizing the truth about God’s radical, equalizing love, but the fact remains that we Christians owe a deep debt to our Jewish brothers and sisters.

So, too, do we owe something to our fellow Muslims, who worship the same God as do we, who honor our Messiah Jesus as a central prophet and as foundational to God’s definitive revelation. Too often we forget that Muslims are sons and daughters of Abraham, as are we, and that our faith lives are orientated in the same direction. All Abrahamic faiths emphasize care of the stranger; all promote peace and compassion in the face of a world that values violence and oppression.

To be sure, there are uncomfortable passages in the Tanakh, the Christian Testament, and the Quran. There is violence; there is a sense of spiritual arrogance; there are passages that deem to divide. We cannot deny this, and we must be honest about that which makes others uncomfortable by admitting that it makes us uncomfortable, too. 

Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth?

“We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” –The Gospel of John, 1:45-46

Abortion. Marriage equality. Racial tensions. The airwaves are filled with talk—divisive, hyperbolic talk—defining Us and Them: Real Americans and the enemies; patriots and traitors; the honorable and the despicable.

And the Church, sadly, has engaged in it as well. We talk. All the time we talk, and increasingly people are not listening. They see the hypocrisy; the divisions; the anger; the vitriol; the hatred. They like the message of our Jesus but they really don’t like us.

Can you blame them?

I think a question that faces us in the 21st century Church is this: “Can anything good come out of Christianity?”