I’m Working on Figuring Out Which Church This Is

Every once in a while, I stumble across LarkNews.com. I really need to bookmark them and read them a bit more frequently. One caution I was given about reading satire “continuously” – don’t. It’ll rot your brain. No, that’s not right. Oh yeah, don’t. It’ll harden your heart and make you cynical. And goodness knows, I don’t need to be more cynical than I already am! Anyway, check out this article.

ROCHESTER, Minn. — At The Circle, a young, innovative church which meets in a renovated bus depot, there is no pulpit, platform or pastor, as such. The congregation rejects the labels “Christian” and “congregation,” preferring “followers of Jesus” and “friendship community.”

There are no ushers, but rather “helpers.”

There is no worship team, but rather “God artists.”

And woe to anyone who affixes traditional church labels to any of it.

“God’s doing a new thing here,” says Mitch Townsend, the leader of the church. He shuns the “pastor” label and insists people call him, “Hey, man,” or simply “Dude.” If someone slips and calls him “pastor,” he bristles and gently rebukes them.

“We got rid of all those old labels,” he says. “There’s no going back.”

At the church office, which they never call a church office but rather “the Hub,” secretaries, or “community action facilitators” as they are called here, tap-tap on computers (which they still call computers) and take calls.

When a visitor slips up and refers to The Circle’s “sanctuary,” Dude Townsend cuts him short.

“Listen, it’s not a sanctuary, it’s a meeting place, a gathering place,” he says, flushing red.

“Sorry, pastor,” the visitor says.

“Not pastor,” says Townsend. “Dude, or friend. Or just hey, Mitch.”

“Sorry, Dude Mitch,” the visitor says uncomfortably, and slinks away. Mitch quickly goes to him and hugs him.

“We’re all about love and freedom here,” he says. “I know it’s hard to get used to.”

At a Sunday morning “gathering,” as services must be called, people sit in chairs arranged in circle around a “focal point” (not a platform) and listen to the team of God-artists play instruments and sing “songs of adoration and devotion to the Creator,” as opposed to praise and worship music. The gathered “posse of Jesus followers” is free to sing along and to express themselves in any way that seems “real and authentic.”

“We strive to be genuine here,” says non-pastor “Hey, Jim” Richards, who in another setting might be called an associate pastor. “It’s about being who you are, not fitting into a pre-determined box.”

Before Dude Mitch’s personal sharing time (which markedly resembles a sermon), one visitor raises her hand and says, “Is there going to be an altar call? Because I really want to give my life to Jesus today.”

Dude Mitch answers quickly, “We don’t have altar calls here; we have ‘God moments’ or ‘Creator re-connects.’ And we don’t say ‘give your life to Jesus,’ but you may begin a lifelong love relationship with the Creator-Friend, if you like. But please wait until we are done with sharing time.”

After the service, “new friends” join in the “kick-back hall” for refreshments and conversation with the Dudes and other Hub personnel. They may also join a mid-week “hang-out crew” of 10-12 people which meets in a home, and which is steadfastly not referred to as a “small group.”

“Anyone who wants a break from normal, rigid church life is welcome at The Circle,” says Townsend. •

All content © 2003 LarkNews.com. All rights reserved.

I think I know which church in Rochester they’re talking about, but I’m still doing a bit more investigating before I reveal any names.

On the serious side, can this be said to be a “true church” if it abandons even Scriptural terms/names because they don’t want to offend and they want to appear “cool” to the world?

What do you think?


The Easter Curmudgeon

Yes, the curmudgeon in me is back again. And this time, it’s Easter.

I’m really wondering what this: easter-bunny01.jpg

and this:easter-egg-hunt03.jpg

have to do with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday?

I know, all kinds of people will tell me about the symbolism of the egg for Easter. I still don’t get it. If an egg represents new life, then use baby pictures for new life and new birth. But candy eggs and colored eggs and hunts for them by little children who are about to get on one of the highest sugar-highs of their lives (with, of course, the exception of that other “religious” holiday, Halloween) has nothing to do with Easter. I know, I know, many churches will host Easter egg hunts and call them outreaches. Two local church-goers in Rochester wrote an editorial to our local newspaper trying to argue for the value of these kinds of things because “history is filled with the use of these symbols for Christ’s resurrection.” Really? History is filled with them? That must have been the day I fell asleep during Dr. Woodbridge’s Church History lecture.

And, as far as the bunny goes, this is where I really get lost. There is absolutely no connection between this creature (unless it might be this one big-bunny.jpg)

and the resurrected Christ.

So, I’m doing away with it! That’s it. Let the foolish stop all this foolishness! easter-cancelled.jpg

What Easter BunnyNope! No more; I’ve taken care of it.

Let’s celebrate Maundy Thursday in a better manner: a somber service that ends in near darkness and silence.

Let’s remember Good Friday with either a similar time of quietude or with some humble rejoicing in the truth that Christ has died and achieved the victory over sin and death.

And then, forget all about the church egg hunt with an over-sized rabbit with a moth-balled costume. Gather together and rejoice for our Lord is risen. He is risen! Hallelujah! He is risen indeed!

Valentine’s Day & Loving Christ

Not Necessarily (and even most highly unlikely) the Same Kind of Love

I detect a theme!

I’ve already gone on record that I’m a curmudgeon; at least when it comes to just about any holiday that not simply supported by, but clearly driven by Hallmark and the nations jewelry industry. An example: Kay Jewelers’ latest TV commercial has a young couple sitting in a restaurant, being observed by an older (middle-aged) couple. The older of the two men comments on the younger’s rookie attempts to impress his date on Valentine’s Day, but quickly withdraws his critique when he sees the young man hand his girl a box from Kay’s with diamonds in it (earrings, I think). To which, the elder wife says, “We were like that once..” and her husband says, “We still are” and he’s getting ready to pull a Kay’s jewelry box out from under the table. Thank you, Kay’s! I don’t stand a chance now.

Another example: The girls over at girltalk are heaping the burning coals of guilt and inadequacy and they’ve been doing it for several days (let me quickly say, I subscribe to their news feed and appreciate much of what they have to say, especially when it’s coming form one of their husbands). There have been a few suggestions for us Valentinian-challenged males to try to emulate and romance our wives, sweeping them off their feet and truly putting “love” back into our relationships because it was clearly missing/lacking/absent,decaying/dead&buried prior to this special holiday. My grief over many of the suggestions comes because of the outrageous cost (I’m a small church pastor with a working wife and also do part-time work as well) involved, all for the simple sake of letting your wife know you love her. Well, ladies, I can’t brag. I can’t boast. I will not call myself a romantic. I did get my wife exactly what she wanted (she asked for it) and she’s very content about it (either that, or she’s got me buffaloed like crazy): I got her a dozen hot-pink roses for under $25. There in a vase on the table and she loves them. I’m letting her fix a marvelous dinner tonight (I wanted to take the family out, but she loves to cook these special kind of meals). The menu includes a new recipe for shrimp scampi and a mocha almond cheesecake, specialty coffee (I’m buying that today, and no, Ann won’t find out because she barely knows how to turn the computer on let alone get to this blog!) and our children! So there. (And just so everyone doesn’t think I’m hopeless: last year I hid about 100 heart-shaped post-it notes with I Love You written on them in all the most remote spots in our house. Some where in boxes that she would only open 1-2x a year; some were in the coffee jar; others were in cracker boxes. You name it, they were there and she was finding them throughout the year. So there, once again).

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let me get to the rest of what I wanted to post today:

There’s a theme running around out there in the blogosphere. I don’t think it’s intentional, but it is wonderful.

Betsy Childs, at Slice of Infinity, posted something delightful today: “To Be Where He Is” Here’s a snippet:

But when the Scriptures speak of the desirability of eternity, they do not emphasize the fact that we will be able to eat whatever we want or that we will be able to buy whatever we want. They tell us that eternity will be good because we will be in the presence of God.

Take the promise from the book of Revelation that one day a voice from the throne will announce, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). When Jesus talked about heaven, he said, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am”(John 14:2-3). You see, the “prize” is not a heavenly mansion or a crown, but getting to be with the one who loves us.

Yes, and Amen to that!

Then, Jim at OldTruth, posted a message from Thomas Vincent, a Puritan (had to be a Puritan; you’d never hear this from Saddleback or Willowcreek or from Hallmark or …, well, you get my point). Title? How Much Do You Love Christ? Oh, how my heart was stung by my lack of love for my Savior. How my heart did burn, though at His love for me and the glory that radiates from Him as the Son of God, the Savior & Deliverer of sinners. You simply must read the whole thing, then break forth in prayers of praise and confession. The words from Jerome ring clear:

“If my father were weeping on his knees before me, my mother hanging on my neck behind me, my brethren, sisters, and kinsfolk – howling on every side to retain me in a sinful course, I would fling my mother to the ground, run over my father, despise all of my kindred and tread them under my feet, that I might run unto Christ”

I’ve also been reading from Piper’s “God is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself” He wastes no time getting right to the point in the Introduction (page 15 to be exact):

The critical question for our generation – and for every generation – is this: if you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the good you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?

Do I believe this? Do I teach this way? Do I preach this way? I trust that it is so and that I be found faithful of preaching the Gospel which is Christ and God Himself. I’m currently going through a 12-part series based on John Owen’s “The Glory of Christ.” Owen contends that beholding the glory of Christ is one of the greatest privileges that believers are capable of in this world, or even in that which is to come. He then lays this out with such clarity and such conviction that I’ve take as my guiding proposition for this entire series: Only those who gaze on Christ by faith while in this world will ever see His glory by sight in the world to come.

My prayer is that I see the glory of Christ and love it as much as I am possibly able to do in this life. And that I am granted by God to proclaim this Christ and His glory with every ounce of my being, at all times, but especially when in the pulpit before the largest crowd I get the privilege of addressing each week: the flock at Cornerstone EFC in Rochester. And (my grade school grammar teacher would have fits with all the “ands” but she’s not here to critique this is she!)… and, my hope-filled prayer is that each one of them falls so passionately in love with the glory of God in the face of Christ that our little world right here is changed. Make it so, Lord Jesus, make it so.

Calvinist Curmudgeon

Am I a Calvinist Curmudgeon?

I know that Alan is the proclaimed “Calvinist Gadfly” (now multi-authored by other gadflies). I personally don’t find him/them irritating at all; I rather enjoy their pieces.

But I’ve been wondering lately, if I’m not becoming a Calvinistic Curmudgeon (maybe I’ll need to change the name of my blog). Here’s what a curmudgeon is:

1 An ill-tempered (and frequently old) person full of stubborn ideas or opinions.
There’s an old curmudgeon living next door who knocks every time he hears any noise

Here’s an example: Saturday evening Ann & I were invited to a dinner at a downtown hotel, featuring a “clean” comedian (they’re afraid to use the moniker “Christian” because that doesn’t get them gigs… there, see what I mean?). This event was sponsored by a local church and that’s all I knew with the invitation.

Now first, let me say, as a pastor, I’m not wild about Saturday evening events. I need a good night’s sleep in order to be ready for the Lord’s Day. And I want my congregation to not have to come dragging themselves in on Sunday mornings because some church-related event kept them out late the night before. So, strike one.

Our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, came down with a severe case of strep throat early Saturday morning; cancel Ann’s plans for the day and evening. She told me to just go on my own, I’d be with friends, I could have a good dinner and a laugh or two. So, off I trek, all alone, a single guy… who shows up at this other church’s sponsored “Sweetheart’s Banquet”! A guy, all alone, at a Sweetheart’s Banquet! Talk about your sore thumbs, ingrown toenails, festering boil on the bottom… well, you get the picture. I can’t tell you how awkward I felt, but if it hadn’t have been these friends waiting for my arrival, I would have immediately turned around and walked out. I really dislike these kinds of things when sponsored by Christians/churches. I have yet to attend one where they don’t mock the marital relationship as it should be in Scripture by some silly little skit (they did this Saturday night). They promote their separate men’s and women’s ministry functions (about 12 of them for the men in this church and at least that many for the women, none of them ever together). And they’ll have a speaker who does one of two things:

1) give a stirring, motivating message that has barely any connection to anything in Scripture (well, okay, they’ll read Ephesians 5 just to get things started), with glowing illustrations of how wonderful their marriage has become by following the 12 step program they just come through, or disastrous examples of couples who failed to follow their 23 steps to a successful marriage, and generally make you feel like you and your wife are schleps because you’re not in their program;

2) or have very little to say about marriage and real, biblical love, but they’re well-known throughout the broader Christian community and they’d sure be a good drawing card, so let’s invite him/her and let them talk about anything they’d like to discuss.

Strike two.

The featured guest for the evening was a “clean” comedian (see above comments for the curmudgeon report). He did have some funny bits. There were several times I laughed out loud. There were also some very uncomfortable moments (Jesus is only going to meet His people in the air when He returns because we treated Him so badly the last time He actually came all the way down to earth; this got many laughs from the audience, but a pastoral friend sitting next to me looked mighty uncomfortable and I know I wasn’t laughing). This put my mind into “curmudgeon” mode even more. I wondered, “Why am I here on a Saturday evening when I could be reviewing my teaching note, my sermon notes, getting myself better prepared for the Lord’s Day to come? And why are all these people here doing the same thing, when they too could have been better prepared for better relationships/marriages by better preparing for the Lord’s Day?” Harumph. Harumph. Hey, I didn’t get a “harumph” outta you!

Strike three.

I’d like to say that this was an isolated incident that sparked the curmudgeon in me, but it wasn’t. But since my return from the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors last week, it seems this curmudgeon wants to operate more and more in me: at least the part of me that says, “Why are you all laughing and taking Christ so lightly, when He’s just asked you to be like a kernel of wheat, falling & dying in the ground in order for a harvest to be produced?” Am I becoming a curmudgeon? Am I a person with stubborn opinions? If a “stubborn opinion” is that Christ has called me to take up my cross and follow Him, even laying down my life for His sake, then yeah, I guess that might be considered a “stubborn opinion” and therefore, a curmudgeon.

For now, this will be my prayer (taken from “The Pastor in Prayer: A collection of the Sunday Morning Prayers of C.H. Spurgeon, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 1893/2004, pg. 118-119):

Our Father, blessed be Thy name for ever and ever. Oh, that we praised Thee more! We must confess we never bless Thee as we ought, and our life is far too full of murmuring, or at the best too full of self-seeking, for even in prayer we may do this; and there is too little of lauding, and adoring, and praising, and magnifying, and singing the high praises of Jehovah.

O God, wilt Thou teach us to begin the music of heaven! Grant us grace to have many rehearsals of the eternal Hallelujah. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.” Grant us grace that we may not bring Thee blessings merely because Thou dost feed us, and clothe us, and because we receive so many mercies at Thy hand; but may we learn to praise Thee even when Thou dost put us under the rod, and when the heart is heavy, and when mercies seem but scant. Oh, that when the flocks are cut off from the stall, and there is no harvest, we may nevertheless rejoice in God.

O Lord, teach us this very morning the art of praise. Let our soul take fire, and like a censer full of frankincense, may our whole nature send forth a delicious perfume of praiseful gratitude unto the ever blessed One, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.