My latest thoughts on church

I think about church a lot – and these are the some of the thoughts I have been thinking lately, though not all of them are original with me.

1.  The church is not a place, but a people.  You really can’t go to church, you can only be the church.

2. Church buildings have a tendency to cause people to forget what being the church is all about.  They offer comfort, convenience, and complacency.  We plop ourselves down in the pew (or chair), enjoy the music, and listen to the lecture – and think that we are all that  spiritually.  And we forget about that “gates of hell” thing.

3.  We like to call it our church.  Or Pastor Mel’s church.  Or my grandmother’s church.  But it’s not – it’s God church.  And if we could just remember that, we might not be so concerned that everything go “our” way.

4.  The church needs to get up off its property.  If the best things that happen in a church only happen in the church building on Sunday, I have to wonder if anything really big is happening.

5.  I grew up in a church where we always had invitation so that people could respond.  (My “favorite” invitations were those ones when visiting evangelists would toss this out, “If no one comes on this stanza [the 423rd of the night], then we’ll close this service.  And then someone who couldn’t hold it any longer would slip out to use the restroom and the evangelist would see her – and stanza 424 would start.)  There may be times for invitations, but I think small groups are a better place for me to respond.  I have to interact externally on the message.  I can share what God did in my heart.  And then I have several people to encourage me as I move forward.

6.  Small groups also allow for impromptu discipleship.  Curriculum-based classes have their place, but aren’t always very applicable to life.  Small groups let you deal with the issue of the moment.  Think about this – Jesus taught in the synagogue, but we have little record of what He taught.  But then He also taught along the way – and that’s the teaching that stuck with the  disciples – and made it into the Gospels.

7.  I love the word engaging.  I think “church”  (I don’t like how I’m using this word) should engage people.  And there are lots of ways to do that – some of them elaborate and funky, some of them simple and straight forward.  There are also lots of ways NOT to do this – and some of these ways we’ve really perfected as the church.

8.  I recently heard Geoff Surratt say that ministry programs should come with expiration dates.  I like that.  Too often programs outlive their usefulness.  And too often we assume that programs will accomplish things for us so that we don’t have to mess with them (like life-on-life evangelism).

9.  I like the idea of multi-sites churches.  They stretch geographic boundaries so that people living far away can be near.  They allow  churches to invest in more ministry rather than more facility.  They get new churches started with enough critical mass and programming staff to help them be viable from the start.  They provide great support and accountability.

10.  I don’t like the idea of multi-site churches.  They assume that every community needs the exact same thing as the original church.  They relegate some ministry to the “super people” while others who are capable aren’t utilized or developed.  They are about the “mother ship” being reproductive, but the satellite church cannot.  In my mind, there must be some version or hybrid of “multi-site”/”church plant” that would work the best.

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The absolutely correct technique for squeezing the toothpaste tube

The absolutely incorrect way to squeeze toothpaste

The absolutely INCORRECT FAULTY WRONG way to squeeze toothpaste

There is a right way to squeeze out toothpaste.  And that is how I squeeze mine.  I start at the bottom of the tube and work upward – then after I have put some paste on my toothbrush I give a little squeeze at the top of the tube that sucks the toothpaste back into the neck  – thus leaving no mess.  It’s simple.  It’s effective.  It’s the right way to live.

There is a wrong way to squeeze the toothpaste.  And that is how my children squeeze theirs.  They grab the tube and with no thought of consequence just squeeze anywhere.  It’s awful.  It’s wrong.  But I am not here to condemn them – no, their squeezing habits seem to be genetic, passed on to them by their mother.  And the whole family has accepted the fallacy that as long as toothpaste comes out, it doesn’t matter where you squeeze.

For years I have lived with this burden – but since I’ve always had my own bathroom, I ‘ve been able to separate myself and to live the right kind of toothpaste life.  But not any more.  Now, I’m sharing a bathroom, and now I’m having to live with icky, gooey tubes of toothpaste.  And I’m trying to be happy about it.

The truth is that it doesn’t really matter how you squeeze the tube if you want toothpaste, just apply some pressure and out it comes.    A little squeeze can produce a lot of paste.  Any kind of squeeze.   I hate to admit it, but it’s true.

But without the pressure nothing comes out.  And all of that good cavity-fighting protection stays stuck inside the tube.   Kind of like our lives.  God put all kinds of potential in us, but that’s where it stays – until He starts squeezing.

I don’t like to be squeezed.  I don’t like pressure or stress or adversity.  But I have to wonder if God is merely trying to squeeze more out of me.   If He is, then that is good news.  And whatever technique He chooses – I’m sure that it is absolutely the correct technique.

Date night at Kroger

We’ve moved.  We no longer live 5 minutes from Lowes, Home Depot and Menards.  That means that date nights are going to look a bit different for the time being.  Come on, admit it, you’ve gone to dinner, decided that there are no movies worth watching, and then ended up at the home center.  Oh, and maybe Barnes and Noble for some coffee before the night is over.  Ah, the romance of it.

Last night my wife and I headed out for some time together.  We checked out a few walking trails in the area – and then ended up at . . .  Kroger.  (Sadly, Home Depot’s on the other side of town.)  But I found Kroger more fun than I thought.  You see, it’s been a while since I’ve really shopped at a Kroger.  We didn’t have one near our old house.  We did.  But it went out of business.  Not enough dating couples, I guess.

Anyhow, here are some of the highlights from date night at Kroger.

  • Personal Watermelon.  No joke, that’s what the sign called them. (What do you do when your watermelon crop comes in softball-sized?  You turn things over to the marketing department.)
  • Curved shelving. It was amazing how it made the experience seem so much more upscale.
  • Little tubs of ice cream – about the size of something you might put in your kid’s lunch bag – uh, on second thought.  Really, what is the point?  I guess it saves you from having to purchase an ice cream scoop for those giant almost half-gallon containers.
  • Mini-sized Pringles.  Were the original sized Pringles just too big?  Nothing worse than having to save half a chip for later.
  • Paper towels.  You know how they always give that little per oz. price on the sticker – not with paper towels, they tell you price per sq. inch.  Seriously.  Can’t you just see the guy on the cell phone calling home to his wife, “Uh, honey, how many sq. feet of paper towels should I get?”
  • Pop cans.  Here in Michigan you have to pay a .10 per can deposit  – and then if you remember to take them back you get your money back.  Not in Indiana – no deposit there, and if you would like to recycle you merely set the items by the curb.  How convenient is that?  Of course, then they charge you for picking it up – whether you put anything by the curb or not.  (And I think that right there is the reason that the state of Michigan is broke while the state of Indiana still has millions of dollars in the bank.)

Spending the evening at Kroger?  Fun.  Spending the evening with my wife?  Priceless.

9’s

So I watched “The Nines” today.  Celebrating the date, somebody got the big idea of having various Christian leaders share via video the one thing they would most like to say to leaders in the church – in nine minutes or less.

I liked it.  It was free.  I could watch it online at home – and go for a snack whenever I wanted.  And if I didn’t like one speaker – I only had to wait nine minutes or less for the next guy.  I lasted for about five hours before my eyes glazed over and my mind went numb, so I didn’t hear everyone.  But I did hear some good, encouraging stuff.

In keeping with the theme, the following are the nine statements or ideas that stuck out most to me:

1.  Scott Hodge – Pray to hear from God every day – then pray for the faith and courage to obey.
2.  Skye Jethani – The Bible is filled with people facing intense pressure – and God always met them.
3.  Steven Furtick – Sometimes when you do exactly what you are supposed to do, the brook dries up.  But that’s ok – because God will move you to the next place.
4.  Reggie McNeal – The church doesn’t have a mission.  The mission has a church.
5.  Greg Surratt – Innovation often grows out of desperation.  Desperation moves us to new places.
6.  Rick Rusaw – The question is not  “How can we be the best church in the community?”  but  “How can we be the best church for the community?”
7.  Jim (sorry I missed your last name) at Flatiron Church – The world isn’t looking for truth as much as they are looking for truth that works.
8.  Teresa McBean – This simple question:  “Am I living a transformed life?”
9.  Leonard Sweet – With Christ I can do all things; without Christ I am nothing.

Check out the hand

The big move is over.  At least the first stage of it is.  We left South Bend three hours behind us – and we moved into the basement of my mother-in-law’s house.    To be honest, it’s not as bad as it sounds.  She lets us out for 15 minutes of exercise every afternoon.

We’re getting settled in.  We signed Allie up for a couple of classes at the high school today.  And she was the lucky recipient of a tetanus shot.  She didn’t even cry.  Fifteen-year-olds are so brave.  (I am a little concerned how the shot might affect her left texting arm, though.)

Lindsay goes to schedule  her classes tomorrow.  She can’t wait.  She’s thinking about taking Guitar – but she doesn’t have a guitar.  That might be a problem.  She’s also plugged into a U14 travel soccer team.  Very fun.

Luke will be taking all his classes at home.  He’s is quite fine with that plan.  (How do home schoolers do recess?  Do their moms make them go outside and play?  I’m thinking yard work.)

Speaking of mom, Kelly’s gearing up for some major home schooling.  She’s never tried it – never wanted to.  But that was then; this is now.  Kelly is pretty excited to be Allie’s chemistry teacher.  Allie is masking her enthusiasm rather effectively.

Max the Dog is ok.  He misses his fenced back yard.  Now he’s on a tether.  He doesn’t really care for it – so today he took action.  He broke it.  Your average terrier couldn’t do that.  But then, Max isn’t your average terrier – he’s a German Shepherd.

I’m ok, too.  Yesterday I went to a Toastmaster’s meeting.  I thought it would be a good place to meet some people.  It was pretty fun, but I was bummed that I didn’t win the impromptu speaking contest.  But I’ll be ready next week!

All in all we’re doing well.  We’re adapting.  We’re in a new place, sure – but the family is all together.  That means it still feels like home.  And the kids are adjusting well, too.  Of course, that has more to do with the fact that Grandma has cable TV than anything else.

I’m happy, too, because now I live in Michigan.  I’m excited about that  not because I was born here, but because now when people ask me where I’m from I can hold up my hand like a mitten and point to my little spot just below the thumb.  I’ve always wanted to do that.  Check it out.  Life is good.

We're about half an inch above Ann Arbor.

Can you see me? I'm about a centimeter above Ann Arbor.

Twenty-seven feet of life

uhaulLast week we did it.  We packed up our entire house and put it in a 27′ moving truck.  Nine rooms, one basement, one shed, and one garage full of stuff.  Seventeen years full of stuff.  Five people (and one dog)  full of stuff.  And we got it all on one truck.  (Ok, that’s not totally true – we shoved some of it into a car and couple of vans, too.)

We lowered the door on the truck and at the same time closed a very long chapter of our lives.  And then we headed on down the road – 27′  of life headed God only knows where.  I think I must feel a lot like Abraham felt when God told him to leave his country.  Unlike Abraham, I’m still in my same country.  For now I’m in a different state, but it’s  still the same country (though I already miss being a Hoosier).  And fortunately I had a 27′ truck.  Abraham?  I don’t think they had trucks back then – or Rubbermaid tubs.  I don’t see how he pulled it off.

Hebrews 11:8 seems to mean more to me these days:

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”

I can relate to that last part – not knowing where I’m going.  But God knows – and that has to be good enough.  He’s promised to be my guide – so I’m doing everything I can to follow Him – because I’m hauling 27′ of life behind me.

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