Religiously Spiritual Board Meetings

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I am very spiritual and not very religious.  This is really good for me because we live in a world where everybody is spiritual and nobody is religious.  In fact saying, “I am spiritual but not religious” has become the pass-code that lets that gatekeepers of spirituality know that I belong in their religious establishment.

Still, despite the fact that I am very spiritual and not at all religious, I have no idea what it means to be spiritual and not religious.  I think it might have something to do with not doing things you don’t want to do while doing only the things you want to do.

So I don’t want to pray ten times a week.  That would be very religious.  I do want to think about God while watching TV, which is a very spiritual thing to do if you ask me.  I don’t want to do the very religious thing of getting out of bed on Sunday morning and going to a building full of people.  I do want to do the very spiritual thing of sleeping in and watching NFL games in the comfort and safety of a warm pillow.  After all, I hear some of those quarterbacks are Christians and a few of them even pray when they score touchdowns, which is so spiritual and not very religious.

Or maybe I am wrong about that and you can be spiritual by going to church, so long as that is what you want to do.

Either way and no matter where you stand there is certainly nothing more religious than church board meetings.  You cannot get any less spiritual than the two hours it takes a group of people to discuss things like who is going to clean the church toilets and who might want to run the nursery next month and how much money it is going to cost to buy a new heater.

And those are the easy parts of most board meetings.  Once we get through the mundane list we have to tackle the brutal issues.  For example we have to figure out how we are going to open our beautiful building to 40 un-churched teenagers and still have a building left by the end of the night.  Then we have to argue about whether the latest criticism from the most critical member of the congregation is worthy of our attention this time around.  Then we have to hang our heads in despair because another family moved out of town and took a sizable chunk of tithes with them (which means we can forget that new heater).  And we have to do all this while planning the next potluck even though nobody wants to bring mashed potatoes.

I have a feeling that when we throw around the words “not religious,” board meetings are the kind of establishment religiosity we are talking about.

Yet there is a very deep spiritual connection that happens when a group of diverse but committed Christians who are chosen both by God and the congregation get together once a month to pray together, laugh together, cry together and dream together.

Under the right leadership, board meetings can be incredibly spiritual.  They can be times of prayer.  We pray about our shortcomings and we pray for that person who loves to point them out.  They can be times of grieving when we cry about the loss of a very committed family while hoping that they still have a a peaceful move.  They can be times of commitment where we remember that God is not glorified by an empty building and only by opening our doors to those out of control teenagers do we stay on mission.

And they can be times of worship where we bring to God our broken light bulbs, our empty nursery, our depleted checking account and our lack of a desire to mash potatoes for the potluck.  We bring all these with our sincere hearts and let God remind us that even the tiniest of chores are in fact large acts of spiritual devotion.

We open and close our meetings with prayer but we really don’t stop praying the entire time because we know that to do the business of the Kingdom with the King is a high and worthy calling.

I don’t know if that makes it religious or spiritual and I don’t really care.  All I know is that when our board meets, we all meet God.

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The Burden of Having Too Many Opinions

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I am opinionated.  I have way too many opinions about way too many things.  That is not a confession per say.  I kind of like my opinions and I worked really hard to get them.  I have read well over 1,000 books in my life and many more articles online and in print.  I spent many years and much money to get a bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree.  During these years my opinions were tested with the fires of academia.  So I don’t necessarily regret having opinions, though sometimes they cause more problems than they are worth.

Awhile back I did try to subject myself to a process called, “de-opinionating.”  I researched all my opinions by reading books, perusing news articles, watching TV shows and having conversations with people.  I did it all in the hopes of deleting some of my opinions.  It didn’t work.  All that reading and watching and conversing just got me more opinions.  Now I have so many that I don’t know what to do with them.

This week I read a few blogs and news commentators and even the dreaded comment sections.  I found that I am not alone in having no idea what to do with all my opinions.  Everybody has all these opinions about Palestine vs. Israel and ISIS Vs. Iraq and Russia vs. Ukraine and Mark Driscoll vs. pretty much everybody.  But not one person knows what do with these opinions except to write them in less than gracious but very colorful prose on the internet and then viciously attack those who disagree.

So if you clicked over here today looking for a new opinion, I apologize because I am choosing not to write down my opinions with the exception of the opinion that I have too many opinions.  Instead, I want to offer that if your opinion just makes you angry, bitter, hostile and frustrated, it might not be worth having, especially if you have no power over the details of the situation.  (Dang it, that is another opinion!)

I think maybe Mark Driscoll should do more than offer a shallow apology but I have no control over getting him to do more and I don’t know what else he should do.  I long for there to be peace in the middle east but it is way above my pay-grade to solve it and if I tried I would probably only make everything worse.  I think Putin is.  .  .well, the ex KGB communist he is, but I can’t even afford a plane ticket to Russia right now so what do I know?

Well, I know that today I had lunch with a new friend who makes much less money than I do but insisted on paying for my meal anyway.  After that I met with a retired high school chemistry teacher and showed him around our new town because he plans on moving here.  He was a wonderful guy who had a fair share of opinions himself.  Then I spoke to the mayor about local problems and frustrations and assured him I was there for him.  Tonight I will meet with our group of 20 or so teenagers.  That will be fun and I hope to get to know and like them a bit better.  They live such troubling lives.  Before youth group I am going to prepare dinner for them and read a little bit.

If someone did give me authority over peace in the middle east and violence in Iraq and who gets to be President in Russia I would probably make all the wrong decisions.  But luckily God didn’t call me to be opinionated.  God just called me to seek peace in the city where I find myself.  That might be a great deal harder than forming opinions about global events but it also might have a bigger impact on the world in the end.

Or maybe I just have too many opinions.

How the Internet Taught Me to Like Teenagers

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Internet lists ruin my life.  For example I was recently looking at a list of the best video games of all time and Final Fantasy 6 wasn’t even in the top ten.  That annoyed me.  Another list said “Inception” wasn’t even in the top 50 movies of all time and that angered me.  Still another list said that the worst Star Trek movie was “Star Trek 5” and.  .  .I actually agree with that.

Still my lovely wife recently showed me another list of church sayings that supposedly get us young types (millenials they call us) all bent out of shape.  Being a Millenial pastor, I eagerly clicked on the link and revved up my righteous indignation drive, sure I was going to agree with the author on all accounts.  I quickly perused the article getting ready to yell a hearty amen and pump my fist in the air as the author called us out on all 5 dumb churchy sayings.

Holding my fist poised by the side of my head, I read the first paragraph which told me I should hate the words, “The Bible clearly says.  .  .” and, to my delight, I do hate that phrase, despite the fact that I use it quite often to prove my point about what the Bible clearly teaches.  Still, people who disagree with me about the Bible’s clear teaching shouldn’t say that, especially if they aren’t a Millenial.  So I belted out, “Aaaaaa-mmmeeeennn!” while pumping my fist multiple times.

With my fist hanging victoriously over my head, I read the second phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  Here my fist dropped a little because while I seldom use this phrase, I do hear it a lot and it has never annoyed me.  But I got to thinking that maybe that phrase isn’t nearly as true as people claim and that maybe not everything in life does come from God, like cancer or tornadoes or dumb internet lists that don’t recognize Final Fantasy 6 for the greatness it is.  I was starting to feel reflective instead of indignant.

With my fist un-clenching, I read paragraph 3 where the internet told me I couldn’t “love on” anybody, especially youth groups and young adults (of which I am one).  This was perplexing because over the last two years I have been trying to start ministries for both teenagers and young adults at my church.  In exasperation I would call my former youth pastors, describe to them the teens and adults in my community, and ask the age old question, “What do I do?!?!”

And they would reply with one phrase, “love on ’em.”  At the time I knew exactly what they meant and so went about the business of loving on ’em, which in practice took the form of saying “hi” to them at the park and in the grocery store and asking them, “how are you?” and pretending to care when they answered.  Then I would go home and check off another “loved on person” in my notebook.

In fact I got so good at “loving on ’em” that they sometimes felt loved enough to ask me questions about God and the Bible.  Occasionally they felt so loved upon that they would ask me to fill out reference forms for college scholarships and summer jobs.  I was that good.  It was like I had a Masters in Loving On ‘Em instead of a Masters in Divinity.  In fact, I was so confident in my loving skills that when the lousy internet told me as a Millenial I should be offended by that phrase, I nearly broke down crying.

Because, here is the thing, the internet is right.  “Loving on” is degrading and insulting and a bit creepy.  It is a cheesy and ridiculous sentiment and people my age and younger can see right through fake sentiments to the arrogance which feeds them.  They want nothing to do with those types of adults.  And the reason “love on ’em” took off as a church phrase is that us evangelical Christians have a fair share of pride hiding behind our sentimentalism.  Those who grew up in the church really believe today’s youth (churched and unchurched) are worthless and the only way to make them worthwhile is to “love on ’em” which really means, “throw love down to them from our position of superiority.”

But the youth I work with aren’t worthless.  Surely, they have their unique set of difficulties like abusive homes and the drug scene.  I also wish most of them were not as sexually active as they are and they also struggle to connect with each other.  But behind their brave facades and smart phones, they are quite likable.  They have interesting hobbies, kind personalities, wonderful humor, and a hearty work ethic.  They care about their families and friends, even if they don’t always know how to show it.  They want to succeed and do well in a world where arrogant adults are stacking the chips against them.  In fact, the more I get to know the young adults and youth in our community, the more I find that God has been at work in their lives long before I met them.  In fact, that echoes the title of this website, “Go-Before Grace” which eludes to “Prevenient Grace” which goes before us.

It isn’t enough to love on them, as if they needed our proud pity.  Instead we should be kind and compassionate and bear with them in love (in fact, the Bible clearly says that.)  To me, this means coming alongside them, enjoying their presence, listening to their joys, cares and concern and choosing to walk through life with them no matter what.

I think this is relevant because the churches I have been a part of are saturated with the types that want to “save the youth” and not always in the theological sense.  These are the people who volunteer for youth group so that they can throw down the love that will “teach them respect” and show them how to “work hard” and convince them to “stop taking drugs.”  But the youth I work with are plenty respectful, work harder than most adults I know and not all of them do drugs.

I hurt for the churches who let those adults near their teenagers.  These proud teen sponsors are doing way more harm by “loving on ’em” than the world has all ready done.  And I would venture a guess that the particularly troubled youth and young adults among us never had anybody in their life who liked them for who they were.

So instead of “loving on ’em” I want to just like them.  This might look like laughing at their jokes and listening to their songs and hearing their opinions and sharing their pain.  All of that might be a good deal harder than just saying “hi, how ya doing?” at the park.  It might take a whole lot of time and effort and resources and I definitely will feel a fair amount of pain myself, but it just might pay off in the end.

So thank you internet lists for ruining my life again.  The world really is better for it.