Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rules for the Christian Game of Life

For the Beginner:

If offended, do not react.

Player may craft a brilliantly sarcastic email, but may not click "send."

Player may not use masterful verbiage to put the offender in his place. To do so will immediately disqualify the player.

Player must be genuinely kind to the offender, behaving as though the offense never occured.

Intermediate Level:

Player may not casually mention the offense to team members.

Player must be willing to take the initiative in seeking restoration. 

Player may not require confession or owning of the mistake before forgiveness occurs.

Player must be willing to appear foolish enough to believe excuses and accept denials, and dumb enough to remain mute.

Player must pray fervently and sincerely for a blessing on the head of the offender.

Advanced Play:

Player must esteem the offender as better than herself.

Player must actively seek out opportunities to bless the offender.

Player must love and cherish the offender as one of her own team members.

Player must let the offender win.

(I wished I'd read the rules before I bought the game.)

If anyone competes,...he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. II Tim. 2:5

My Final Word on the House Church

I have several friends who house church and I know would love to see me leave the man-made, "non-New Testament" institution called the local church. They figure, as I do, that my personality would better fit into the more intimate, freestyle setting of a house church. They're right--it would. I love authenticity, tend to rebel against tradition, and am a sucker for letting down one's hair and getting real.

But I'm still stuck behind the four walls, putting up with nonsense like membership, offering plates, annual business meetings, heirarchy, nylon stockings, the telling clock on the back wall, dirty politics, endless pleas for giving more of my time, the programs and agendas...on and on it goes. And let's not forget those dear individuals Christ has placed in the Body to constantly test and try our character. Honestly sometimes House Church looks real good. But there's just one problem. I'm in love.

No, not with one of the elders--I'm in love with the Body of Christ. I can't get enough of it. For some reason, every single time I come away from a church meeting I feel pumped, charged, and ready to go face my world again. Just from being with them. Granted, it's not the ideal setting condusive to the "koinonia" house churchers celebrate. There's a lot I'd like to change. But somehow just being present and looking out of the corner of my eye at people so different from me sincerely worshipping the same God is enough to keep me coming back. It energizes me. I'm just not ready to trade that in for the luxury of sitting in a cozy living room surrounded by like-minded people, feeling smug because we do church right. I left a "group think" long ago. I'll never go back.

I guess I see my relationship with the local church as being kind of like a healthy marriage. There will always be the little things (and big things) that drive me crazy. But the fact of the matter is, I'm in it for love. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. The organized church of today is sick in a lot of ways. I happen to believe that I have something to offer. If Jesus could go to the synagogue (talk about man-made tradition!) day after day because He knew He had something to offer, I figure I should follow His example. Funny--He never house churched. He must have decided, as I have, "if you can't fight 'em, join 'em."
Don't badger me with quibbles about the greek meaning of "ekklesia." I'm too busy getting myself ready for Sunday morning. There are lots of needy people there, and someone just may need a word of encouragement.

Inside the Mind of a Controlling Woman

So I'm at this wedding reception and I go to get a drink, only to realize they've run out of beverages. "Why do I always find myself in these situations?" I mutter. "Am I the only organized person on the face of the earth?" I look around and see that no one is rushing to remedy the problem at hand and decide it's once again time to get involved.

I hate this! Part of me chides, "Let it go, Mary. The world won't end and you won't die if this party goes on without anything to drink." Then I notice the bride sipping from the bottom of her wine glass. I look at my watch. Three hours left--to dance, socialize, and get thirsty. I can't let this happen. I suck it up and casually stride over to her mother, the hostess. I kindly offer to "help" replenish the beverage station. She gives me the you're-only-a-guest-here stare and I flit away red-faced. For a moment I'm tempted to become part of the fresh floral arrangments and keep my mouth shut. But then, I wouldn't get watered.

My reputation is again superceded by the needs of others and I march with determination toward my son. Not only is he well respected (unlike us "controllers") but he's got connections. I explain the problem only to hear him say he'd rather not be bothered with it at the moment. This time I perservere; he knows what I'm all about. And I know he's my son and I'm his mother. In a few moments I'm giving orders to the attendants. They scurry about without question as guests look on, including the hostess, wondering who I think I am. I don't care. We need drinks.

Long story short, the bridegroom was quoted in the Cana Times for serving the best wine in Galilee at his wedding. My name was never mentioned, nor did anyone ever thank me for saving the day and the wedding. Do I care? Never! It was my Son's doings, anyway. He did tell me later that they needed me. That was enough. But I do hate to control. Really.

(This story adapted from the Gospel of John, chapter two.)

Hello, Halloween!

I love living in the country most of the time. There's one day of the year, however, that I always regret the rural seclusion. It's Halloween. If ever I want to be in a residential neighborhood full of traffic and people, it's on October 31.

Yet year after year I observe the same strange phenomenon among evangelicals: The people who travel across oceans to reach the lost are the same ones who shut themselves behind closed curtains on the one night of the year that scores of unsaved walk by their darkened doorway. The people who preach on city corners and pass out tracts are the same ones who lock their doors to a spiritually hungry multitude that knocks, literally holding their hands open for whatever we might give them--if only we were available.

Would somebody please tell me why Christians would rather turn off their lights and hole up in the basement during the greatest ministry opportunity to ever come to their neighborhood? While you're coming up with the answer, I'm getting ready to go trick-or-treating. Yep. Taking my kids and going to collect gobs of sugary junk. If they won't come to me, I'm going to them. For me, it's good-bye country, hello city. Good-bye selfishness and legalism, hello love and liberty. I've got my costume on, including feet that are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. One never knows what conversations might ensue; if I can touch one life with a word in season to the weary, it's worth every cavity and potential pass of judgment from my non-celebrating friends.

Besides all that (for those that would label me an opportunist), I just want to be where the people are. I once read of a young carpenter who felt the same way. This is the main reason I take my family trick-or-treating.

If you want to join me, I'll be walking around Elmira's West side with Cleopatra, Pocahontas, a ladybug and Snow White.

(It is with fear and trembling that I have written this post. One of my pet peeves is when Christian's offend others with their so-called "freedom in Christ." Jesus said that it would be better for me if a millstone were tied around my neck than to make a little one stumble. So listen up, you young'uns still living under your parents' roof: Don't even think about using this post to con Mom and Dad into letting you do the Halloween thing. In a few years, you'll have your own family and will be able to make that decision yourself. For now, if you go against your parents' authority, you go against God. Be afraid. Be very afraaaaaaaaaid!) ;)

The Visitor

Church goers at Southside Alliance were not expecting to see a homeless woman in the parking lot that Sunday in September. Charlotte Frazier herself wondered how she ended up in such dire straits. She hadn't eaten for a whole day. She stunk. Her feet were wet and cold from wandering through rain puddles. But this was a church. Surely she and charity would meet here....

The first vehicle arrived for Sunday school. It was Jack in his slick SUV. Charlotte responded to his hearty, "Good Mornin!" with, "You got a dollah? I wanna get me a Egg McMuffin. I ain't eat since yesterdee." Jack instantly produced a five dollar bill and slapped it into Charlotte's hand.

"Thank you very much," the astonished beggar whispered.

More church members arrived. Charlotte casually made her way over to anyone who she suspected might show some compassion. Peter, a teenager, invited her in and gave her a dollar. Sue, a classy, professional looking woman took the time to welcome her. Bill asked her so many questions she began to feel nervous. She wondered if there was a catch. No one had ever showed that much interest in her pitiful existence. Then there was Mike. He had a preschooler in tow. Charlotte let him off the hook and walked the other way. But to her amazement there he was, offering her a hand to cross the street. What was with this place?

Eventually she heard the sound of music--the worship service had begun. Dared she accept the invitations to go in? Knowing she had nothing to lose and the hope that the unconditional love she met in the parking lot would be found inside, Charlotte stepped into the foyer of the church. She made a bold stride down the center aisle and sat on the front row. A woman behind her leaned forward and squeezed her arm reassuringly.

The worship progressed and the congregation sang these words:

King of all days you stepped down into darkness, 
Opened my eyes, let me see 
Beauty that made this heart adore you
Hope of a life spent with you 

Charlotte inched her way to the altar and knelt with her face in her hands. "Here I am to worship," she sang softly. Immediately she felt an arm around her. "Did you know you're beautiful?" the kind woman asked.

When Bette and Charlotte were seated the pastor choked out a sermon on loving the unlovely. Then he closed with an announcement. "I'd like to introduce a regular member of our congregation to you. Her name is Faith Bogdan. Faith, will you come to the front please?"

And I, Faith--Charlotte Frazier--walked sheepishly to the microphone as an astonished and befuddled congregation looked on.

I tearfully thanked them for reaching out. They had not played church; they had been the church. The New Testament writer warns us to entertain strangers, because they could be angels in disguise. I'll be the first to admit I'm no angel. But if you see Charlotte Frazier in your church parking lot next Sunday, be the church. I assure you that Charlotte--real or disguised--will be comforted and encouraged.

Lessons from Narnia

Today the main floor of my log cabin is suffering from housekeeper's neglect. The carpet is coated with Polly Pockets and cracker crumbs. Dirty sheets make the air stale. A mother's work never ends....

The messy rooms beckon, but I choose to stick to the afternoon reading routine. Anna, Sarah and I sink into the couch along with last night's popcorn kernels. I thumb through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to find the chapter in which Aslan is killed.
I like this classic because it takes all the work out of teaching the gospel to my kids. The parallels are obvious . We are falling in love with Jesus all over again through Lewis' portrayal of the lion that's "not safe--but good."

Understanding dawns in my girls' eyes as I read about Aslan and the White Witch striking up a bargain to let punishment-deserving Edmund go free. I sense their sorrow as Susan and Lucy follow their beloved lion friend through the midnight forest to the Stone Table. There his devilish enemies bind and shear him, mocking and jeering at how lamb-like the once fierce King of Beasts has become. I hold back tears and read that Aslan could have easily bitten off a wolves's head while they muzzled with one great roar he could have sent his torturers running...And about the damage that might have been done with one blow from his giant paw.
But he didn't rescue Himself.

I ask the girls why Aslan would allow such a thing. They understand he is giving himself over to the death that Edmund was due, according to the Law of the Deep Magic. Blood must be shed for the traitor to go free.

I close the book momentarily and look into the faces of my young daughters. "Girls, we are Edmund."

Little Anna gasps and proclaims with sudden revelation, "How Jesus must love me!"

She rests her head on my shoulder, reflecting. I notice the sunbeams streaming through the window and think about gardening chores lost to yet another afternoon indoors. My mind drifts back to the dirty bedrooms I could be transforming. The achievements I won't soon realize, the careers I may never enjoy.
I turn again to watch my girls' watery, sober eyes as they consider Aslan...Jesus. How He loves them.

Quiet, you dusty shelves. Hush, you lofty ambitions. I am content in this moment. And most fulfilled.