On a recent Sunday morning I was getting ready for church, in fact I was in the shower where all good thinking seems to begin, and I began to wonder what was in store for us that morning. The more I thought, the more questions I had. The questions weren’t really spontaneous but more like a culmination of sorts, an amalgam of thinking from the preceding months, and even years. The heart of the question was why do our church services (in a variety of congregations and denominations that I visit) look the way they look? More specifically, why do most services revolve around someone instructing us for about 30 minutes, or more? Why is the sermon the focal point of the entire service? Is this really focusing on Jesus? Is this what Jesus intended when He instituted the church?

I speak with a lot of pastors about strategy, service design, structure, vision, mission and a host of other topics, but this specific line of thought and questioning is fresh for me. Preaching has always been an accepted part of the weekly gathering, at least in modern history. Most folks, including myself consider it sacred and would never consider lowering its place of prominence in a service. But this particular morning my thoughts were going elsewhere, and I’ve not been able to sideline either my thoughts or my questions since they began. In fact, I’ve leaned into them and explored them on a deeper level.

Somehow we’ve gotten to the place where we’ve divided the “service of worship” into two segments: Worship, and Bible Teaching. So much so that we often hear the comments, “Great worship today,” or “Great teaching today.” I just can’t accept that as being appropriate any longer. Here’s where I am: Because we’ve decided the weekly gathering is primarily an attractional event for evangelizing the lost or instructing believers our focus is not on celebrating Christ and His kingdom on the earth.

What would a service look like if the focus were not the sermon or a particular style of music? What if we really gathered to celebrate the kingdom of Christ? What would we stop doing? What would we start doing? Perhaps you’re part of a church already focused on the kingdom of Christ. Perhaps you’re developing a hunger for such a gathering, or perhaps you think I’m a bit foolish for even thinking about this. I wonder if our services aren’t kingdom of Christ focused because we don’t think that’s an attainable goal, or it doesn’t look like what we’ve come to expect from the modern church? I wonder if it’s because we’ve turned the church into our hired hands for evangelism and without a seeker event we feel we have no other means of exposing the lost to Jesus.

As you can tell, I’m doing a lot of wondering these days. I’m not suggesting we abandon music or the Bible but I am wondering what it would look like to be more like the early Christians in Acts. Not really sure where this is taking me, and not sure what this even has to do with my current role in life but the journey continues. 

Last night it finally happened. I walked around to the west side of my back yard, through the garden gate and there hanging from one of the vines was a beautiful site to behold: a small, red, grape tomato. The first one of the season. Up until this point I’ve mostly just had a vision for what could be, but last night the vision turned ripe with reality. I love having a garden!

Last night after I picked that tomato, I pulled a few onions from the ground, looked at the beans that will be ready for a first harvest this weekend, and noticed I have several cucumbers that have begun to grow and a few squash that are forming on the ends of their vine. Sure, there are still some weeds that pop through the soil that need pulling, and I still have to inspect plants for harmful little pests, but that’s ok because I’ve begun to see the fruits of my labor. The small reward of “fruit” is a unique inspiration.

I know it’s been a while – ok, a really long time since I’ve posted. You ever just not feel like writing? It’s not that there’s been nothing to write about; I just haven’t felt like writing. I’ve been doing more reading and thinking than writing. When I went to bed last night I reflected on the development of my back-yard garden and I realized I’ve been doing some internal gardening.

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about grace. For most of my life I’ve had a real passive understanding of grace. By passive I mean that I felt like grace was something I received from God and not something I actively dispensed to others. God’s been gently showing me otherwise. Grace is far from passive. I’m not sure what this grace garden will look like, and I’m not sure when it will blossom. At this point there’s still a lot of weeding and cultivating to do. So I’ll have to keep you posted. In the meantime, I’m going to be eating a lot of tomatoes.

Yesterday at church the guest speaker made a statement that made me go, “HUH?” During his sermon he listed several iconic brainiac types and then made an observation that Jesus was not on this list of intelligent people. He went on to say that he’d never seen a list of the world’s most intelligent people that DID include Jesus and He couldn’t figure that out, because he believes Jesus is the most intelligent man that ever lived. I mean no disrespect (to either this speaker or Jesus) but I’d have to disagree.

It’s not that I think Jesus lacks intelligence, but more that Jesus is divine and not limited by any human measurement of brain power. Intelligence is far too finite to impose on the Son of God. I’m all for seeing Jesus as approachable and real, but intelligent? That’s not even a word on my radar when it comes to describing Jesus.

Most loving? Yes! Most gracious? Without a doubt! Most forgiving? Absolutely! Most caring? Definitely! I could go on but you get what I’m saying. The IQ of Jesus is of no concern to me. I wonder if this same speaker has another sermon that reveals Jesus’ Myers-Briggs profile? OK, I crossed the line there.

Here’s my point: When we talk about Jesus let’s talk about Him in terms that matter. 

I guess there are people who think Jesus is really like this:

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about God’s love and grace which has stirred a lot of thought. In fact, some of the beliefs I’ve held throughout most of my life have changed rather dramatically. I’ve written in the past about our tendency to define God by our own personality or understanding of certain things. Similarly, we tend to impose our own sense of justice onto God and then expect God to dispense the same type of justice to people as we do. When someone wrongs us our first response is usually to get even, or to somehow make them pay for their wrong. Try suggesting otherwise and you’ll be called weak or cowardly. Try turning the other cheek and you’ll likely be accused of being non-confrontational, which for some reason has become an undesirable characteristic.

Why are so many of us more comfortable with a God who is quick to judge than with a God who is long-suffering? Why are we more comfortable with a God who uses a measuring stick, expecting our actions to fit a strict code of conduct, than with a God who loves us and gently leads us in spite of our actions? Why do so many Christians prefer a harsh God than a God of grace and mercy?

At the same time I would ask why so many Christians are in favor of the death penalty, or afraid of people whose views are different from theirs or perhaps are gay or lesbian? Why do we seem to be more comfortable with a harsh response than with one that is loving?

I can accept people who find it hard to extend their love and grace beyond the bounds of a small box, because we’re all just human and have our limitations. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to accept them putting God in a box that is defined by their own human limitations. The somehow expect God to act as if He were human. He is God, and God is love! 

As I’ve shared my thinking with people they frequently comment about how weak that makes God look (again, putting God into a human context) and how they believe God is a God of wrath and justice, and they keep going from there. So, here’s my question: Which is the more powerful God, the one who conforms to human standards, lashing out at His creation whenever they screw up? Or is the more powerful God the one who allows love to surface above all, even when He’s angry and disappointed in His creation?

Finally they came to Kansas City and I got to experience what I thought might never happen. When The Police first announced their tour more than a year ago Kansas City wasn’t on the list. We explored the idea of going to another city to hear them but it was going to be cost prohibitive. When they extended their tour Kansas City was on the list and the date went on the calendar.

The concert was really amazing. How three guys can make so much music is pretty unbelievable. During their final song (pre-encore) I was caught off guard, not with anything they did but by my own reaction. Recently I’ve been reading a lot about God’s love and grace and have sort of been living in a continual state of awe. Although I still don’t fully understand the richness and depth of God’s love for me, I have a much stronger grasp of it now than I did when I was younger. There really are some things good about getting older.

For some this may sound odd and for others it might border on sacrilegious, but as I stood in that arena with around 12,000 other people I quit hearing the voice of Sting and began hearing select lyrics as if they were coming from God. It was a unique worship experience.

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
Ill be watching you

To hear those words coming from God’s heart to my ears was powerful and humbling. There would have been a time in my life that putting those words in a God context would have meant He was maybe watching me to catch me doing something wrong. However, I’ve come to realize that’s not God and doesn’t accurately represent His character. He’s watching me through eyes of love. When I DO stumble along the way He changes His tune, but only slightly.

Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me
How my poor heart aches
With every breath you take

For me, life doesn’t get better than knowing I belong to Him and He loves me unconditionally. My devotion and love for God has moved beyond obligation and has become a response to His devotion and love for me. I wonder if anyone else in that arena had a similar experience?

This morning I was reading N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian and came across a great quote. I was actually sitting in the warm Arizona sunshine enjoying a few days of relaxation while I’m sure many folks were in church. I was, in essence having a time of communion with God as I read and enjoyed the sounds of nature that were so alive on this mild, desert morning. The words that especially caught my eye, and were so refreshing to me were describing the church,

It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptation, finding new purpose, and getting in touch with a new power to carry that purpose out. It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover, in getting together with others to worship the one true God, that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

I find this so refreshing because it has nothing to do with the externals we tend to associate with “worship” today. Those externals of music, sound, style, programs, design and many other so called features churches talk about to market themselves to an uninterested, disengaged public. I find myself longing for authenticity, relationship, transparency, shared struggles, and in general being loved and accepted rather than judged. Why, in so many instances has church become a place for performance rather than community? 

I love getting together with a group of people and just being me; being accepted like I am and being appreciated in spite of how different I may or may not be from the others in the group. That seems to happen more outside the church than within. More with the so-called non-Christians than with those who call themselves believers. I wonder what that means!