Thursday, November 24, 2016

What Is...

He has shown you, O man, what is good.  And what does YHWH require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means; `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Matt. 9:12 & 13

"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me."
Matt. 25:40

Ekklesia = "The Gathering"

What is the church?  Sometimes I really don't know.  It certainly isn't a building.

At it's root, the greek word "Ekklesia" does roughly translate as "The Gathering."  So ideally, the church is simply a bunch of people who follow Jesus.  After all, Jesus did say that where ever 2 or 3 are gathered in his name, he would be there.

Jesus also described the church as an offensive attack force.  Not in a violent way, of course.  But when he described the church prevailing over the gates of Hell, he meant that it/we were going to knock those walls down and take the city.

These days, the church in America feels a lot more like a castle with it's walls closed and it's drawbridge up, quaking in fear at the godless culture coming to take it's rights away.  Hopefully, if we dig that moat deeper, we'll be okay.

I haven't felt very connected to the church for at least a year now.  In particular, a willful misunderstanding on the part of someone who really doesn't know me at all at the body I normally attend, caused me to feel very disconnected to them...and it really hasn't gotten much better.

In fact, two Sundays ago, I showed up well before the service was about to begin.  For 10 to 15 minutes, no one even came over and talked to me.  Finally, an 11 year old from the youth group did, but that was it.  To be blunt, a friendly wave, nod of the head, or "Hi" as I walk in really doesn't count.  Not that I even got much of those.

I just left.

Last Sunday, I didn't even bother to show up.  My closest friend and his family weren't going to be there, so why bother?  I just wasn't feeling it.

So, is this just me throwing a pity party?  Maybe.  Probably.  Still, it's where I'm at currently.

Some back ground might be helpful: Back in the early to mid 90s, I was a youth director at a church in the Twin Cities metro area.  I lovingly refer to it as the "Church of Hell."  The pastor had been dismissed a few months before I got there for having a long term adulterous affair with a married woman in the church.  Apparently, he did everything in his power to tare the church down around him before he left.

They hired me to be a tap dancer in a mine field.

Myself and the the Junior High leader were the whipping boys for a congregation in pain.  I lasted about a year and a half.  I found out later that they had chewed up and spit out at least 6 pastors in 6 years after I left.

It was a painfully eye opening experience.  I thoroughly hated christianity and, in particular, Christians after that.  A rather understandable reaction, I feel.  To this day, I have a natural hesitation around people who call themselves christians.  So, what happened in the church body last winter, naturally caused me to fall back into massive amounts of self-doubt, wariness, skepticism, and so on as old wounds are reopened and scabs are torn off.

I earnestly long to trust my fellow believers.  I want to be open around them.  I make the mistake of doing just that...and then, once again, it's time for pain.  Rinse, wash, repeat...

The odd thing is that even when I hated christians, and ended up in a rebellious spiral, I couldn't escape Jesus.  Believe me, I wanted to.  I worked hard at it...really, REALLY hard.  I don't know what you want to call it.  Maybe I had too much "Head Knowledge" to escape the reality of Jesus being the God he claimed to be.  I simply couldn't deny it.  Maybe it was too much "Heart Knowledge."  I couldn't escape his pull on me. (Makes me wonder if Calvinists are on the something.) Like it or not, I couldn't escape him.

Eventually, I came back into the fold.  But the pain is still there.  I can assure you that I obviously have a very different outlook on life and the church than most do.  That's just the way it is.  It's who I am.  It's what it is...


God is weird.  I can't figure him out.  For the most part, I like it that he is this way.  I don't like a supreme being that can be reduced to a formula on a piece of paper.  Still, I don't "Get" him a majority of the time.

I've always been fairly contrarian.  I'm skeptical of any mass movement.  When it comes to the church in America, you can times that to the 25th power.  I see things differently.  I always have.  But as the result of something that happened to me about 6 years ago, it's much worse.

True story.  Read this at your own leisure and peril.

Yeah, that's right.  I actually heard God speak to me.  I'm not delusional, nor was I stoned.  I heard his voice.  And frankly, I don't care if you believe me or not.  I know what happened.  It was only one, single word, "See," and it changed my life in ways that I wish it hadn't a good deal of the time.

T.V. preachers claim to hear God's voice all the time.  Usually, God is telling them to get more money from their flocks, or that certain candidates are anointed, and so on.  To me, if you really hear God's voice, it will change your relationship with him and the way you view the world.  That's the difference.  That's what it does.  That's what it is.

Do I see the world the way God sees it now?  Unfortunately, a good deal of the time I do.  Not all the time.  It doesn't make me better than anyone, by any stretch.  In fact, a lot of the time I wish it had never happened.  Now I'm stuck getting a God's eye view of things I don't want to look at, including myself and my issues, much of the time.

On a side note; now I get why he doesn't do this very often.  God can communicate any way he desires.  I think he uses he voice minimally because it's just so bloody overwhelming.  It devastated me, that's for sure.  I can't imagine what it must have been like for guys like Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel back in the day.  They had to put up with hearing him all of the time.  No wonder they weren't very popular until after they were dead.

I recall going to an industrial rock show two Springs ago.  The grocery manager at our store is the lead guitar player for a band called Gabriel and the Apocalypse.  His wife is the singer and the drummer works in our produce department.

Even though the style of music is not really my cup of tea, I know talent when I see it.  Plus, it's funny to me to watch the reaction of a few hundred tattooed, leather clad, head banging, eye shadow wearing 20 somethings as I get to the front of the stage and gently nod my head.  "What's dad doing here?"

Anyhoooo, so I'm walking around the venue and I see this gal spinning her head around like a propellor to the music.  I thought that thing was going to come sailing off and bounce around the floor.  I had no idea you could spin that fast.

So I'm watching her, and here comes to vision.  The eyeballs start doing their thing, and I start crying.  I see her pain.  I see her emptiness.  I see her loneliness.  I see how lost she is.  I see her the way God sees her.  Thanks a lot!  Good thing the venue was dark.  Crying is probably inappropriate at such shows.

And that happens a lot.  It is what it is.


Euangelion = "Gospel"

What is the Gospel?  It means "Good News."  What is the good news?

Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  That passage is so easily misunderstood.  Most of the time, people think it's something you are supposed to work towards becoming.  That really isn't it at all.

Being poor in spirit is a condition that you find yourself in.  It it is NOT a good place.  The poor in spirit are losers.  They are failures.  They are everything our world tells us not to be.  If you are in that condition, you need to remedy and fix it.

But when Jesus uses the term "Blessed," he is saying that God is on the side of who ever is being blessed.  Basically, Jesus is congratulating people for being losers.  That doesn't make any sense at all.  But I can't deny that he said it.

Another true story...

My former student had a heroin problem.  He's been clean for a little over a year now.  The doctors told him that if he did it again he would die because he's damaged his heart.  I hadn't seen him since the day I wrote the post above.

Two Saturdays ago, I ran into his mother at our store.  I hadn't seen her since then, either.  I asked her how her son was doing.  She said that he was getting out of jail on Monday.  His been in, paying off his debts to society for almost a year.  I asked her to have him get in touch with me immediately.

This young man comes from a troubled family.  They were deeply involved in a local health & wealth prosperity cult in town.  It's a mega church.  They teach that every pimple is the result of sin.  If you have enough faith, God will shit his blessings on you in the form of money. (Must be working, cause the pastor is loaded.) If you don't get rich, or get sick, it's your own bloody fault.  God needs your money, because it's a sign of faith.  God won't like you if you don't have faith.

Cancer?  You dirty sinner!  
Epilepsy?  Stop shaking and write that check!  
Your mortgage is underwater?  Well, you just ain't livin' right!

I once knew a gal who was deep into this.  Once she prayed for a parking spot near the front of a Target store.  God answered her prayer and provided her with one.  Forsooth & anon!  Before she could get to it, someone else parked in it!  She was most vexed that this individual had thwarted the will of the Most High!!!

My former student attended this churches' private school for a time before ending up in my classroom.  Having observed this school and church for many years, I consider the school to be a stronghold of demonic power...and I'm not joking.  So, by the time he came to my class, he had more than a few bags to unpack.

A lot of people like to hand out tracts.  Some like to carry signs and shout on street corners.  Many people like to be busy for God.  Work, work, work.  "Look how religious I am!"  Gotta get out there and be a witness.  Busy, busy, busy.  "Honestly, God just can't seem to get it done.  We need to step up and do his job for him."

I suck at that.  I really do.  But I don't mind just being a wrench or a screw driver in God's hand.  I figure he knows what he's doing better than I do.  I'm fairly clueless most of the time anyway.

Be still, and know that I am YHWH; 
I will be exalted among the nations in the earth.
Psalm 46:10

Translation = "Hold still, would ya?  You make a lousy wrench jumping around in my hand!  I'll get the job done with or with out you.  Just hold still and be!"

I don't mind holding still and just being.  Sometimes, sometimes, I get to see the faintest glimpse of what the kingdom actually looks like when I do.

I don't know what is going to happen to my former student down the road.  He has choices that he has to make.  He's basically got to rebuild his life from scratch.  It's going to be an uphill battle for quite a while.  Ultimately, it's between him and Jesus.

But maybe I get to see something while it's happening.  Maybe.

After I spoke with his mother, I spoke with my boss.  The day after he got out of jail, we were in contact.  A day later I had him meet my boss.  The next day he was interviewed.  He told me, "Joe, they won't hire me with my past.  I'm an ex-con in recovery."  I told him, "No, that's exactly why they will hire you."

I got to work with him the past 2 days as we slogged out turkeys for he big Thanksgiving rush.

What is the Gospel?  
That is what it is...
and every once in a while, I get to see it.



P.S. If you're curious as to my friend, the grocery manager's band, here they are.  Jake, the manager, is the one holding the plate full of worms in the video.  It's particularly amusing to me, because he is one of the most gentle and soft spoken people you will ever meet.  😄


  1. Powerful, poignant and pointed. That was a long journey to take, going back and reading past posts, but you brought us all the way home at the end. Happy Thanksgiving, Joe. Thanks for sharing this one with me and us all.