Monthly Archives: November 2013

Extreme Church Differences: Or Are They?

361px-Histogram_example_svgA family friend passed away a few weeks ago. We went to his funeral recently, which was held at a traditional Lutheran church. It was a formal, pleasant, and moving ceremony. The organ played, a choir sang, the congregation and pastor did responsive readings, and the pastor preached about the deceased man’s hope in Christ. That evening we went to a Winter Jam concert featuring several famous Christian bands and artists. The music was so loud I could feel the thump, thump, thump, of drums and bass in my chest. Thousands of people attended, though it was predominantly a young audience. Fans danced, sang, swayed, stomped their feet, lifted their hands, prayed, took pictures with their mobile phones, and lit up the arena with thousands of lights from smartphone aps.

I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between the funeral services that morning and the concert that night. And yet both events provided followers of Christ a means to worship God. This raises the question: are some church format’s overly dry while others are uncomfortably glitzy? Absolutely! But I must admit I felt God move my heart in both venues that day. Solemn AND lively expressions of faith have tremendous poignancy when you see that coffin in front of the church altar. Solemn churches show us how to have reverence for the God who defeated death (the most serious subject of all) on our behalf. Lively church venues show us how to celebrate the God who defeated death on our behalf.

If you only experience God’s presence through one style, I encourage you to try new styles now and then. It will enrich your faith and expand your encounters with God. It will empower you to move between diverse expressions of faith without feeling dry or out of place. It will broaden your community of fellow believers. Warning: You may find yourself occasionally visiting a church with an unhealthy style. (If they break out a box of poisonous snakes during worship, well, LEAVE!) I believe the Holy Spirit warns us when we are in an unhealthy style of worship. But we have to be listening to the Spirit’s promptings. On the other hand, it is too easy to let our preferences stifle the Spirit’s attempts at touching our hearts. When we set limits on how we allow God to communicate, well, that’s extreme . . . extremely limiting and unfulfilling.

Cottonwood Tree Fail

471px-Cottonwood_oneIn autumn, the cottonwood trees in my neck of the woods drop their leaves. They aren’t especially pretty leaves in the fall, but they do have a pleasant fragrance: it is a faint smell like blackberries. Cottonwood trees grow fast, especially when they have access to an abundant source of water, such as my lawn’s sprinkler system. In the wild, they usually flourish along creeks and rivers. A few years back, I noticed that a cottonwood sapling had spring up in the corner of our front yard. I knew I should cut it down, but I liked the appearance of cottonwood trees and so I let it grow. Each passing year I looked at the tree and said to myself, I should cut that tree down before it becomes a problem. But procrastination always reared its ugly head.

Years later, I would get annoyed at the cottonwood tree for dispensing leaves and twigs on my front lawn. I already had enough ornamental trees shedding leaves on my lawn (not to mention the mysterious dog that periodically deposited a mountain, transforming my yard into a compost pile). But then spring and summer would roll around and I would find myself allured by the bright greenery and shade of the cottonwood tree.

Eventually I noticed the roots of the cottonwood tree were pushing through the surface of my lawn and seemed to be working their way towards the front steps and foundation of our house. The cottonwood tree was now over twenty inches wide at the base and many feet higher than the crown of our roof. It was time for the tree to come down. I could no longer favor the beauty of the tree over the threat it imposed on our dwelling. I cut it down last Saturday. What a mess! It took Cindy and me all day to get it down and reduced to manageable pieces.

Is there a spiritual lesson here about allowing unhealthy relationships, sins, or addictions into our lives? Sure! But what jumped out at me about the cottonwood tree was the response of a neighbor. As Cindy and I finished cutting up the tree, one of our neighbors approached and said, “Thank you for cutting down that tree. Each summer that tree shed thousands of those cotton-like seed puffs. That stuff would get all over the interior of my convertible.”

Wow! I had suspected some of my neighbors might not be thrilled with the tree, but I didn’t realize it was causing real headaches and extra work for other people. In other words, the tree was more than an eyesore. I think this is the lesson of the cottonwood tree: We often let unhealthy things enter our lives without realizing how those things affect other people, or we know but ignore it. I knew when I first spotted that cottonwood sapling that it would likely become a problem. But I was willing to endure the problem because I thought it would mostly affect me. I’m glad the threat of the cottonwood tree has been eliminated, but it is probably more important to God that I endeavor to be on good terms with my neighbors.

Not Ready For Old Age

MH900448297Deer season ended a couple weeks ago in northern California. Early in the season, I shot at a buck and missed. My marksman fail educated that buck. He will now grow up to be an old buck and will help multiply his species. I like to think of it as my ministry to educate deer in the name of conservation. Sure, some hunters with quick reflexes and keen eyesight can bag bucks. But if it were not for dedicated hunters like me, those guys would have no bucks to bag.

I’ve hunted with the same guys for decades. They don’t always appreciate my efforts at deer population management, but I love those guys nonetheless. One of the men I hunt with, Don, is eighty-seven years old. Don told us that this would be his last year hunting. Time marches on, as they say. While sitting at his breakfast table in the pre-dawn hours before a hunt, Don told me about some of his ailments. He concluded by saying, “I’m an old man.” (Heck, Don has been an old man for some time now.) Don then said, “I’m not ready to be old.” Those words haunt me. They remind me of 1 Peter 1:24 where it says:

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

There is inevitability to our human life under the sun. We age. Youth, vigor, accomplishments, purpose . . . it all fades. Eventually it can feel as if there is not much to look forward to. We get to an age where we can no longer do the things we have always enjoyed. Many folks linger in that place of limbo for years before this life ends and the next begins. That place of limbo can be weary and discouraging.

Fortunately the last part of the verse above contains a beautiful, albeit mysterious, encouragement: “but the word of the Lord endures forever.” God’s word includes many truths about eternity and how He will take care of us. For instance, in John 14:1-4, Christ promises that he has gone to prepare a place for us. We really don’t know what God’s place for us in heaven will look like or what we will do there. But his eternal word strongly implies that we have something to look forward to, even if we are not ready for old age in this life. Whatever he is preparing for us, it will be good because He knows us better than anyone.