The Only Way

Faith to me is a journey, it is not a destination; it is not “where I am going,” it is “how am I getting there.” To me, my walk in faith has been an interesting adventure, and is often filled with times of great stress, followed by times of rest and relaxation. It has been a journey that has brought me through some very hard times, and some very good times. In my faith journey I have met people I adore, people I can share my life with and who are honest enough to love and care for me. I am certain my faith journey will continue to be an exciting adventure because my faith is always in process. While some may find that hard to understand, you know the idea that faith should be “in process, I know the truth of a “faith in process” because I am living it every day. While I know my faith is a journey, and that my faith is always in process, I also know that there is one center of my faith that remains a constant core; that one center is that Jesus is the only way. You see, even on a journey one needs a guide, a map, a idea of how to get from point a to point b – and in my reality Jesus is that guide.

To some that sounds “harsh,” even closed minded, but it is not. Let me relate a recent happening from my faith journey. Not too long ago, I was in a gathering of people and the concept of “religion” hit the table. I am always amazed at how little people know of other world religions, and even the religion they claim as their own. One of the people mentioned that they could not understand how anyone could claim their faith as “the one true faith” and discount others. As I was listening to this person it dawned on me that they were doing exactly what they were standing against. You see, for them their “faith” was that everyone was right – and they wanted everyone to embrace their truth; they felt they were right and everyone else was wrong – they stood firm on the idea that we should see all faiths as being “right.” In fact, I believe they stood on it firm enough that they could be viewed as “radical” about their faith beliefs. This got me thinking about Jesus as “the only way” and I found peace in my thoughts.

You see, in my heart I know Jesus is the only way to the Father and I desire others to know that reality; I’m good with that. In fact, as a pastor that is one of the driving realities of my ministry – that people know, live and embrace Jesus as the only way to the Father. I am good with the idea that Jesus is the only way; I like it, I am comfortable in that reality. I have no problems with that core, but some do. For me, the journey is best traveled with Jesus at your side; people can fail you but Jesus never does. While I do not believe in “beating people into Jesus” I am comfortable with living my faith and speaking of it as a core of my journey – I truly am ok with the idea that Jesus is the only way.

Recently, on my journey, I have taken a path that was uncomfortable and hurtful, but I believe needed to center my core. This path was filled with doubts, questions, dark turns and even a few pitfalls. It was a path that stripped me of my core, caused me to doubt my call and allowed me to become less so others could become more. I believe I needed to be on that path so that I could reinforce the core reality of Jesus in my life – I needed to journey that path in darkness so when I saw the light, it was brighter and warmer then I had remembered.

I am certain Jesus is the only way, while everything else is in process – everything I process, processes around the core reality that Jesus is the only way.


living the church organic

[thoughts in process]

what does it mean to be "church organic?" what value does being a "church organic" have in relation to being "church inorganic?" the reality for me is that most churches have started with the desire to be "church organic" but have added so many artificial flavors and ingredients that they can claim, at best, being "church inorganic." is "church organic" healthier for you then "church inorganic?" Over my personal walk in faith i have found that when i needed the church the most, it walked away from me; it was the "church inorganic." is it possible to strip "church inorganic" of all it caries and bring about "church organic?" if not, do we simply need to "start fresh, in organic soil, with heirloom seeds" to truly keep it organic? can we see past the hype and the programs that create "church inorganic" and bring about a revolution in the church organic? keeping in mind, being "church organic" means we seek smaller growing fields, natural water supply, organic soil and organic fertilizers; we also need to remember that "church organic" requires a great deal of labor; growing things organically requires a great deal of labor, and a great many workers - is the "church inorganic" truly ready to become "the church organic?" to me, and others will disagree, but the key to "the church organic" is looking at the church in the first two centuries; a deeper look at the church in Acts.

it forms a "sense of place"
what does it mean to form a "sense of place?" i believe it means it flows from the people, and is not designed around programmatic needs, but the needs of the people at any point in time. everything it is, is because it is "local." it forms a place where the local flavor is nurtured and embraced. being organic means it demonstrates a reverence for the people in the community. it sees the value of the local connection and it benefits the local community. it connects people to people and allows for the needs to be found from the ground up; it is feed by local soil. by forming a "sense of place" it allows for generations to come together and experience life in new and different ways. the idea behind a "sense of place" means we see past ideas of "generation" and we find a way to truly work to develop a common ground and in my heart, that common ground is always Christ.

in creating this "sense of place" we need to remember that a 10,000 member church can not form a "sense of place." while they can think they can by creating "smaller churches" [cell groups] within the larger church, but it still becomes "program" and it is designed to keep the church big - it's "sense of place" starts with the needs of the institution and that can never be church organic. the process of growth in such a church falls into canned programs and prescribed process that moves a person along an assembly line of "faith development."

it reduces the "toxic load"
living in "the church organic" enforces and promotes a "less toxic" environment where living, breathing ideas grow and are nurtured; where people connect and share life together. we live at risk of exposure to noxious "artificial" programs and we run the reality that we are feeding poison to those into the community. think of it this way, the church organic lives in the environment so supporting organic reality doesn’t just benefit out community, it helps all families live a less toxic theology.

messy, you need to get dirty when playing in the dirt
it takes a great deal of hard work to develop organic soil. the idea of saving "the garbage" and letting it turn into nutrients seems so far away for most of us, we are use to the "instant growth" chemicals bring into our life. but when we start looking at the church organic we need to remember that the soil needs to be rich, natural and available to use. so, in that we need to get ready to get dirty.

slow growth - growth is on God's time, not on ours
developing the church organic takes time and commitment on the part of the servant called to serve the people. they need to be connected to the lives of the people, live among the people and share their lives and struggles with the people - the people they servant must know, love and trust that servant. we have to remember that just as organic food is better for us in our heath, the organic church is better for us in our spiritual walk

before i had mentioned that whenever i had hard times in my life, i felt the church pull away from me - they never seemed to open and express a love and care. i was left to "fixing the problems on my own." but in the church organic, and because of the realization that we are to be their for others, this can never happen - when we are growing as a community, in our spirit, in our relationship to Christ, we express a desire to help - to get dirty - to be a shoulder to cry on - because we know, when the time comes and we need the support of the community, the church organic will come and be there for us.

i want to be honest, and let you know that living the church organic is costly, timely, hard, dirty and tiring work. it will bring you to the point of screaming, and it will bring you to the point of great joy. you will cry in the good times and the bad - you will experience a community of faith like you have never experienced - an "acts community of faith" where people shared life. you will find yourself sharing things you would have never thought sharing and you will forgive those who have hurt you along the way. the church organic is a place of healing, connecting and expressing the love of Christ to the world around us. when we look at the hearts of those we see, we know that they need the church organic, they need to live in a community of faith that loves them, helps them and supports them through hard time - if a church is unwilling to be the church organic, i desire to have nothing to do with it - i am looking for a church to pastor in california, and i am looking for a church with the heart and desire to be "the church organic"


searching for grace

where do you find grace? where can we, as humans, find grace and unconditional love? where can we find a place that welcomes us for us? where can we be loved for who we are and not what others demand of us? where can we find a place where we are acknowledged as having value? where can we find a place that helps us over come the pains of life? where can we find a place that simply will help take the pressures off our shoulder? where are we welcomed when we are broken? when we are lost? when we are searching? when we are crying out in pain? where do we find grace?

to be honest, i am not sure. i am not sure where we could ever find this place - a place that just takes you as you - a place that allows you to be flawed, and loves you in spite of the flaws. while i expect the "let down" of people, i do not expect the "let down" of people who profess to be "followers" of "the way." you see, at some level i expect "people" to stab me in the back, but i do not expect to fall to "friendly fire." how do we get past that? how do we get to the point where we as followers truly live in grace?

i am flawed, big time flawed - and i have never said i was not - yet in the "flawed nature" i do not think i have ever walked away from a person in need [and if i did i am so very sorry] - i have tried to be a shoulder, a ear, a voice to help and support. i have tried to be a voice to those who profess to be "followers" and call them to a life that strives to make a difference - sometimes my words and advice are not the best - but i am ok with that - all i can say is i strive to care - i strive to show some level of grace - sometimes more and sometimes less. given that, i have to say that over the past few years i have been meeting people who just seem to ignore the love and grace of christ for others, and it causes my heart to hurt - i cry over the way others seem to treat those seeking grace, love and forgiveness - and they do it in the name of "jesus." it is as if a man is crying in the cold and all they will do is "pray for him" and give him a bar of soap; then say, "look, we helped him by doing the best we could." then, when someone says, "no, you should have given him a blanket" they reply with, "all we had was soap, so we did the best we could." but the question echos, is our "best" that we are called to give - or are we called to go beyond our best, and into the world of meeting the needs of others?

you see, in my flawed nature i understand that living in grace, and sharing love and forgiveness with others, pushes me beyond my best; it pushes me to give of myself to the point of giving away part of myself - it means, that if i truly desire to share with others i must give a piece of myself in the process - and never ask for it back. i must be willing to give of myself, to the end of my life, to help others. this is not the "prevailing wisdom" which teaches "we give of what we have left" - we would never think of giving of ourselves to the point of our lives.

but if we are unwilling to truly go beyond our best we never truly seek to give grace, forgiveness and love to others - oh, sure we will talk a good game, but we will never truly do anything to help.

so, where can one find grace? in you? in me? in the community of faith we gather in? where does one find grace?


welcoming and inviting?

some questions:
how do you define feeling welcomed into a "church?" what would make you never step foot in a "church" again? how would you define feeling "invited" to a "church?" what do you think are the core realities of feeling welcomed and invited? would you feel welcomed in a "church" if you could not find it? would you feel invited to a "church" if there was no one around who could tell you where the "church" was? if you called a "church" on sunday morning, looking to go, but could not speak to a person and only heard a tape [without directions, or even address] what would you do?

the story:
last sunday i had that exact experience - i tried hard to find a local christian church, disciples of christ congregation in sacramento [it is not my style to give the exact name of the local church - besides, what happened after was even more enlightening] only to get no where - the local church had the wrong link to a map on their site, so i googled the address and got directions. after driving in the area for a while i was not able to find the church - so i did the next best thing...

first i stopped into a local store and asked for directions - the store was filled with people getting their morning stuff and no one, no one [not one person there], had ever heard of the church. facing the reality that this church was not connected to the community, i did the next thing i could think of, i called the church. now, i was "in the area" and it was about a half hour before services so i figured i would catch someone in the office and get directions - but all i got was a voice message - so i drove around some more and called again - all i got was the same voice message - so i stopped by a local church in the area and just brushed off the experience as "well, so it goes."

the more i thought about the experience the more concerned i got about the reality of how i felt, so when i got home i decided to email the regional minister for the disciples and explain my frustration and let them know that the way the church "acted" [or did not act] allowed a lack of "welcoming and inviting" to the church - i did not think the email was that bad, it just explained my view and how i felt - the response i got spoke volumes to me - because it discounted my feelings and simply gave excuses as to why the church acted as it did - i replied back and simply expressed my concern about having my experience discounted and how i felt about being given a list of excused for why the church did what it did [or did not do]. but the next email was not a reply from the regional minister, but rather from someone he asked to email me and "explain deeper." the email was rather interesting, and very condescending. she tried to make me feel as if i was the problem for feeling unwelcomed and i did not understand. again, all i got from her was the same list of reasons why the church acted as it did - and my feelings were discounted and pushed to the side.

feeling welcomed and invited:
to invite someone to my home i need to give them the address and help them find the house. if i give the wrong address, or do not give the directions, i am telling them - in a round about way - that they are not welcomed at my house. the same is true for the church. if you tell people, "come" but they have no idea how to get there - you are not saying "come" - you are saying "stay away."

now, there can be a million reasons why a church would not be welcoming or inviting but to be honest none of them are valid. let's be honest, and say straight out, that there there are no reasons for a church to be closed. we all know it, we all say it but we still give excuses for those who do it. one of the first things we need to remember is that it is not "our home" - it is a gathering of community, open to all who are seeking to know christ - what if i was a person who was not a follower, and in a quick decision decided to "go to church" - and could not find the church - would i go again? would i look at it as say, "well, looks like God did not want me to go to church."

while i am not impressed with how the church closed its doors to the community, i am less impressed with how the "leadership" of the denomination simply making excuses for the church. we, as followers, need to be open, honest and stop allowing bad behavior of leaders and churches as they ignore the reality of being open and inviting.

it is not my desire to "pick on" the "christian church, disciples of christ; i am certain other church have the same problems. but keep this in mind, the "vision" of the disciples of christ is "to be a faithful, growing church, that demonstrates true community, deep christian spirituality and a passion for justice"

yet i wonder; for me, the interesting thing is that to "demonstrate true community" means people are welcomed and invited, to have a "deep spirituality" means we are willing to be more like christ and less like others and if we have a "passion for justice" we do not ignore the feelings of others, and their realities and make excuses for the actions of others.


predictions for 2008

let me pretend i talk with dead people and see if i can predict the future. well not really "dead" people, like in the whole "oh no, my heart stopped and i'm dead and either going to heaven or hell" thing going, that would be too freaky. i am talking about "dead people," you see i do speak with a great many people in a great many churches and most of them seem dead, and that counts. in my conversations with these "dead people" i have developed a "insight" into what i believe will be the problems facing the church in 2008 [besides the whole dead thing] - now, i could be wrong, but i don't think i am - you see, of the people i speak with and the things shared with me i believe i have a pretty good handle on what will be happening over the next year in the church - so, here is what i think will be the three greatest issues facing the church in 2008:

gay clergy [or just gay people in general]
for many in the church the idea of "gay" tosses them for a loop - they can not process that reality, and they are not sure how to handle what that brings to the table. you have to remember that most people in the church were "born" into the church [their parents were believers] and raised in the church [attended church their whole life] so many have a collective of some 50 years hearing about how all gays are "going to hell in a heap of fire, wrapped in the chains of twisted sin and covered in the grease of indecency." in that, there has been a great tension building in and around the church concerning "gay people" that i believe will come to a head in 2008, or come close to a head [maybe a neck].

i believe churches will split over this issue more in 2008 then in 2007. in 2007 whole sections of the episcopal church left the american church over this issue, and i believe it will cause others to do the same - in all denominations. while this will not "kill" the church, it will lead to a bigger problem for many of the "old line" and "main line" churches - some will be seen as "closed" and others will be seen as "liberal" - and the pew picking begins. but the issue goes deeper then just gay clergy, it speaks to how will the church open its doors to gay people, in general - this i believe will be a big wall the church will need to knock down in 2008.

what is a possible solution? i think what needs to happen is we as a church need to walk away from looking at everything in terms of "sex." sure, "sex sells" but it also destroys. i often wonder about the idea of sex in the church. too many people are too driven with the idea of "weeding out" people with sexual issues yet, the idea that they are so driven by the sexual issues of others means they in themselves have a sexual issue. the idea here, for me, is to trust in God and know that God is the head of the church and in that God will deal with the issues God desires to deal with. we are not the "moral police" - we are followers of a loving, gracefilled, giving master called Jesus Christ; and Jesus asked us not to judge other. we need to open our hearts and find ways of allowing God to change the people we come across in our walk.

decreasing membership
i am always amazed at churches that look over their own stats and just do not see it - they refuse to name the elephant in the room and they ignore that the elephant is even in the room taking a dump all over the place [which only attracts "dug beetles']. many churches look over the "member stats" and see that there is a very large gaping hole of people between the ages of 18-40. many simply say "we want to attract those people" and yet they are willing to do noting to bring those people into the church - they continue in their non-relevant reality. but even more, many of those churches have no idea how to change and become relevant to the community they are called to serve.

i believe in 2008 the church is heading deeper into a "non-relevant" phase in the minds of many people outside the church [you know, the ones we are trying to attract] - 2008 can be a "make or break" year for many churches seeking to be relevant to the communities they serve. unfortunately, many of the churches in this position will simply place their collective heads into separate hole [theological differences preclude the sharing of the same hole] and ignore the issues facing them. many will see this time as a "time of persecution" and stand firm on the legal aspects of what they believe. they will refuse to look at themselves and see that they are the problem, and that the message of Christ is still pure and sweet, but the words they are using are anything but.

what is a possible solution? at some level that is simple, get relevant, change, redirect, look to the community you are called to serve and see what needs to change to serve that community. if you look around and the community is filled with young people, and none of them are in the church, you might not be reaching them with the style of music and "sermon" you are use to - be the "bigger christian" and be willing to change. in my time consulting with churches i have found that the ones with immature christians are the ones unwilling to take a deep and honest look into who they are and change. for some reason, the church is tied to this idea that we must hold to the traditions of past generations, when the reality is we should be looking to do what it takes to bring the next generation into the church. it has never been about yesterday, it has always been about tomorrow.

church planting
with more and more churches hemorrhaging members due to the train wreck they call "church" many churches will see planting new churches as taking away from "their" resources and members. this will cause a "circle the wagons" mind set even deeper then the current one. this will bring about churches disconnecting from there associations, denominations and communities while going deeper into themselves. these churches will see church plants as a threat to their survival and even gather to "pray against" the plants. these church will become bitter and simply add to the close minded nature of their reality.

what is a possible solution? bite the bullet. realize that it is not about how your church it's about the kingdom being served. if your church is unable to reach out to others, other gatherings of the faithful maybe able to do it better. support them, help them, work with them - regardless of their denomination. if you own a restaurant, offer free meals to the planter and their family; if you run a theater, offer a free evens out to the planter and their family; if you are a doctor, offer free medical care to the planter and their family; if you are a lawyer, offer free legal assistance to the planter and their family; if you own a business that employees different people, offer the planter and their spouse a job - don't complain about what they are doing to your church, glorify what they are striving to do for the Kingdom of God.

based on the conversations i have with dead people, i believe this is where the church is heading. those are mine three - i am sure others see other issues - so, let's share; what do you believe are the three big issues facing the church in 2008?