The Great American Church Out

A couple of weeks ago on the Stupid Church People podcast I somewhat jokingly through out the idea that everyone should stop going to church. This concept hit me when preparing for the grace talk. After I read the passage in Matthew 25, it suddenly hit me…I need to live this way.

Give more and take less. In something of an epiphany, I said out loud “I need to stop going to church!” My thought process continued with the idea of actually living what I have been teaching and receiving all of these years. I have dabbled with this idea since leaving full-time church ministry six years ago, but never so clearly had this idea been formed in my mind.

The concept of “stop going to church” is almost offensive to many people. For some it is sacrilege and for others, rebellious. Yet I have begun to see that for a few people that “get it”, the idea is refreshing.

Think about it this way. If you are overweight (or fat, for us un-politically correct people) what is needed to lose weight? Is it just not eating or is it excercise? Is it eating the right things or just not eating those things that are fattening? Is it joining a program like Weight Watchers? Whatever it is that works most would say…and I agree.

But the common thread in all of the above listed fixes is “life change”. The fat person needs to change their life habits if they are going to see results. Stupid Church People need the same thing. We keep doing the same things over and over again and getting the same results. This is simply the definition of insanity.

I am a fat Christian. I have enough edification, education and spiritual formation to last a lifetime. My problem is that I do not actually live it. And in true co-dependent fashion I keep going back to church to eat more and more food that is gladly provided by the pastor/cook. He needs to cook each week (its his job) and he needs me to eat (because I feel the need to be fed, or close to God, or fellowship with other believers).

Of course I could serve in the ministries of my church, but most of them are programs designed to keep children, youth, women and men “well-fed” spiritually. Keep them fat, keep them happy, and keep them coming back!

It is so much like the movie “SuperSize Me”. The purpose of the fast food market is to indulge us and meet our needs. On many levels what happens is they addict our children with their marketing, providing them a fun, safe environment to not only eat, but also to play (and in addition receive free toys). This creates feelings of belonging in the child that make them want to come back again and again – even as adults. It is a carefully orchestrated plan for McDonalds to keep you coming back for life.

And what their food lacks in substance it makes up for it with addictive qualities: caffiene, sugar, preservatives all have addictive components. If you have nothing else to offer, addiction always works.

So while I may or may not stop going to church full-time, I am proposing to my wife a church diet for our family. We will spend our Sunday morning this week together, at a park or in our backyard. We will be playing some games or singing songs for our little one and showing him how much we love him. With our 4th grader we will look at a couple of Bible verses and discuss how we can serve others in our community.

(for those not aware of “podcast”, just go to our home page and follow the link – it’s like and online version of what you are reading here.

See and Smell Jesus

Well back to the funny stuff. We can never take ourselves too seriously….because as we know…Church People are reaaaaalllly stupid.

So ever wondered what Jesus looked like?? At the “Jesus of the Week” website you can thumb through hundreds of renditions of how Jesus may have appeared when he walked the earth. Also, Jesus is displayed in many numerous ways on products, t-shirts, bumper stickers, paintings – all in the good name of creating more wealth for those willing to sell him for a buck or two.

Also, if seeing Jesus wasn’t enough you can also smell like your Lord and Savior. The “His Essence” candle website states that, “The scent was inspired by Psalm 45:8 – “All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia…”. With all due respect to the Son of God, I am not sure that he (nor others around him) were smelling rosy during the 1st century. Probably pretty “stinky” if we are being honest.

Have a good laugh.

Grace Talk

So many of you have written to ask how Sunday’s talk went…and I am so thankful and grateful that you care. For those of you interested, you can hear the talk by clicking on the link in the right hand column. Otherwise, here’s a quick recap!

Sunday went well. Speaking publicly can be such an ego-driven thing and something I am so prone to getting sucked up into. I love to have my ego massaged. It’s fun when people tell me I “done good”, that I speak well, that I touched their lives or something to that effect. I certainly appreciate their sentiments – and all of the comments were positive this past weekend. But seriously, who is going to walk up to you if they didn’t like your talk and say, “Man, you really sucked!”

Whether they liked it or not, the focus of my message was two-fold. First, communicate to those who just can’t wrap their brains around the complete depth of God’s love for them. That portion of the talk is summed up in one sentence from the talk, “You cannot do anything to earn God’s love – you already have it!”

Second, I was hoping to communicate to those of us that have claimed to respond to God’s grace that we should actually live it out. I hope Church People will stop sucking life out of the local church and, as the old saying goes, “sitting and soaking” in Sunday services and small groups. At times our church programs can be so tired and lifeless. We need to create a personal “Grace Giving Manifesto” and love people to the measure that we are loved by God. (See “Senseless Grace” below).

The Manifesto looks like this and comes from Matthew 25:
Feed the hungry.
Welcome the stranger.
Clothe the naked.
Care for the sick.
Visit the disenfranchised.

What else (beside call out the Self-Righteous Stupid Church People) did Jesus do on this earth?!? Even most of the time when he was with his small group (disciples) he was doing one of the above listed things…discipling his followers in the midst of showing grace to others.

So for me now, the question remains – which of these will I begin to involve myself to give more of this “senseless grace”. I certainly think that learning to give grace will be the only thing that saves me from myself.

Communicating Grace

Well it is Friday evening and I am wrapping up the talk for this weekend. I had a couple of nice emails this week where people opened up and shared stories of their journey to discover grace in their own lives.

From what they wrote, I guess I am not the only one who doesn’t quite have a handle on this grace idea just yet! There seems to be a mystery as to how God can love us so completely and so freely. It is a very difficult idea to comprehend. In our everyday existence and dealing with others we are almost certain that there are no “free lunches”. Everything and everyone has a price tag, a catch or an angle to play.

I find myself asking this week, “So what is God’s angle here?” I keep reading, looking and expecting the other shoe to drop any moment.

But it hasn’t.

Grace is there for the receiving…all we have to do is take it!

Grace is there for the giving…all we have to do is share it!

Receive grace like your life depends on it (because it really does).

Give grace as if others lives depend on it (because it really does).

Senseless Grace

In Luke 15 we find the story of “The Prodigal Son”. This story has become the “grace story” of the Bible. Son asks Dad for inheritance, son leaves home, son spends all his money, son ends up homeless and hungry, son crawls back home, Dad welcomes him back with widely opened arms! Amazing Grace.

On one hand this story makes sense. Which one of us that has children wouldn’t throw open the doors to our children in some way if they lost their way yet wanted to come back home. Especially as humble as this boy was in returning.

There is another story in Luke 15 that illustrates grace much more clearly to me. It is the story of redemptive grace. However it doesn’t make much sense in our world.

Jesus tells the story of a shepherd that has 100 sheep. Yet in the night, one of the sheep slips away and cannot be found. Risking 99 obedient and safe sheep, the Shepherd leaves them in the open country where they could also be lost, or worse, injured and killed.

Why does he leave them? To search for the one sheep that he cannot find. The wayward sheep that didn’t have enough sense to stay within the safety of the group. The adventurous sheep that wanted to see what was on the other side of the hillside. The rebellious sheep that didn’t want to be a part of the herd.

The shepherd risks them all to save the one.

When he finds his little lost sheep he carries it gently home. Then he calls all his friends to tell them to come and celebrate. He throws a party.

What happened to the other 99? We are not told. I have always assumed they were OK. We are not told. It doesn’t matter. The story is in the value of the 1 and not the 99.

The shepherd is very irresponsible from my viewpoint. His decision to chase the one and put the ninety-nine at risk is, on its face, quite uninitelligent. What he does just doesn’t make sense. If the shepherd was my son, he would be scolded for his poor judgment.

Yet Jesus explains his story. He says, “In the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

The heavens are more excited about sinners then saints. Righteousness doesn’t lead the angels to sing.

Revolutionary grace doesn’t makes sense. It is irresponsible. It wreaks of poor judgment. It doesn’t add up!

What it does do is give everything it has to help the lost sheep find its way home.

Grace Revolution

My early reading in preparation for my talk this weekend is emphasizing the concept of a “Grace Revolution”. As a person that claims to follow Christ, I need to understand how he lived this concept. Not just understand it with my head, but understand it with my life.

One of the problems of us Stupid Church People is that we are kind of dull (hence the name) at times. We just don’t get it! Jesus actually coined the idea of Stupid Church People in Matthew 15:16-20 when he asks his disciples, “Are you still so dull?” I love this guy! How many times have you wanted to say that in a meeting at your work?

Read all of Matthew 15 if you want to catch an enlightening glimpse of Jesus. He was so radical, so captivating, so revolutionary – a true hero really! In this passage we see him taking on the Pastors (professional religious leaders) of his day and calling them on the carpet for their legalism and rules.

Then he takes some time to teach his followers that it doesn’t matter if we offend the Pastors by what we say, especially if what we are saying is the truth. He calls them “blind guides”. Ever heard of the blind leading the blind? Sounds like many churches on a Sunday morning to me.

Then Jesus takes time out to serve. He meets a woman who’s daughter was sick. The Stupid Disciples just don’t want to be bothered by her and want to send her away. Jesus sees her faith and meets her needs. Finally in this chapter, we see Jesus reaching out to feed the hungry and oppressed people.

Grace (in truth)…grace (in leadership)….grace (in serving the sick)…. and more grace (in serving the poor)!

My American-filtered Jesus just isn’t like the one I read in Matthew 15 (and that’s just one chapter in one book). The Jesus I have been exposed to (and I might add – have taught others about) is one that gives grace as long as his hands don’t get dirty. The one that makes nice so as not to offend the people I want to impress. My American-filtered Jesus thinks that getting more people into my church programs is more important than teaching them to be involved with people that would never darken the doors of a church.

OK – that’s enough for now. None of this will probably make it into my talk this weekend. This is such a long process and so much gets cut….but this is where I am starting. Let me know what you think!

Finding Grace

This next weekend (April 24) I have been invited to speak at my church. The topic that I have been asked to speak on is GRACE and/or getting second chances in life!

I get this opportunity from time to time. It is quite cathartic to be able to speak now as a non-paid staff person. I feel a little more free and less constrained by the responses of others. Getting the chance to speak again publicly in this way has been, in itself, a whole second-chance “grace” thing.

Stupid Church People are well aware of what it means to get second chances. More than once in this life, through my failures and the failures of others, I have found myself in “starting over” mode. Not a very fun place to be while I was there, but an almost necessary place if I truly want to move forward in my life.

When I found myself at the “starting over” place, I discovered more about the “real” me. Not the “I’ve got everything together me” or the “put on a happy face” me. It has been at those times that I have discovered more about myself and the way God sees me.

So this week, my posts will probably revolve around this idea of second chances and starting over. Hope you don’t mind me working out this weekends talk in public. Could be fun (or maybe not!).

Tickle Me Jesus!

Tickle Me Jesus!
Originally uploaded by steverino63.

NEW YORK – A talking Jesus doll is due to go on sale in May, along with versions of Moses, the Virgin Mary and David, as a teddy bear maker tries to find a market with churches and religious families.

The foot-tall Jesus doll will be able to recite five Biblical verses at the push of button on its back, while the Moses doll will recite the Ten Commandments. The Mary doll will recite a long Bible verse.

Joshua Livingston, one of the original founders of Valencia, Calif.-based Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co. has returned to the company to head its new Biblical doll unit, One2Believe.

The company expects to sell about 50,000 of the Biblical dolls by the end of the year, with the Jesus doll — not surprisingly — expected to be the top seller. It hopes to also bring out an Esther doll by the end of the year and hopes to have other Biblical character dolls introduced in future years.

The line of Biblical dolls is known as Messengers of Faith.

The dolls will cost $24.99, although Livingston said there will be discounts for churches as well as free shipping for those who buy three or more of the dolls.

TAKE THE STUPID CHURCH PEOPLE CHALLENGE – So here’s what everyone needs to do…Comment and let me know what Biblical Character doll (or other religious figures current or past) you would like to see them release and what that doll would say.

Mount Satan

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. – A deeply religious Oakley, Calif., man has petitioned the federal government to rename Mount Diablo, calling the current name a profane salute to Satan.

In Art Mijares’ application to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the first for this peak, he suggests naming it “Mount Kawukum,” a word he believes has American Indian roots.

“Words have power and when you start mentioning words that come from the dark side, evil thrives,” said Mijares.

“When I take boys camping on the mountain – I don’t even like to say its name – I have to explain what the name means. Why should we have a main feature of our community that celebrates the devil?”

Mijares won’t have to face down Lucifer to prevail: He just has to persuade the federal government, the state of California and the Bay Area.

It might be easier to order a glass of ice water in hell.

Spiritual Giant Award

Our Hero – Brent Cooper
Originally uploaded by steverino63.

Occasionally, Stupid Church People will recognize individuals or groups who outshine all others with the knowledge they have for spiritual things and/or their abilities to communicate to others their faith in a way that is both inspirational and attractive.

Our first winner is Brent Cooper, a professional fighter from Tennessee, who has been seen recently on “The Contender”, a reality TV show pitting 16 top middle-weight fighters against each other with a chance to win one million dollars in a winner take all final match. Each week two fighters square off for five rounds. The winner stays and the loser goes home.

This past week was particularly interesting as Anthony, a scrappy guy who wants to win this for his kids, took on our hero Brent, a Christian cowboy (complete with hat) with a thick southern accent who wants to win this for the Looord!

Now the wonderful thing about Brent is his amazing ability to weave his Christian faith into his life in such an unassuming, quiet and humble way.

In his show biography Brent declares that “boxing is an opportunity for people to see Christ in me”. He adds that, “when I am in the ring, I am there for a reason, to glorify his name and I rely on him and the Holy Spirit inside of me to come through and do it.”

Brent states he believes he will win because God has put him on “The Contender” for a reason. It is his destiny to win, he believes, as long as he stays faithful to God.

Just prior to entering the ring for his bout our Spiritual Giant declares that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And then in a moment of brilliance he adds, “if Samson can beat 10,000 men with the jawbone of a monkey I can sure beat one man in the ring.”

Hold on there pardner! Jawbone of a MONKEY?? Well, this is certainly just an oversight for one so steeped in spiritual wisdom. Monkey or donkey – what’s the difference, right?

Anyway, back to the action in the ring, where Brent is ready to open a serious can of Christian whoop-ass on his opponent. “Praise you Jesus” you can hear him mutter as he is about to step into the ring. His glorious biceps are bulgings, his righteous rock hard six-pack is glistening and his mind is clearly focused on things above. Wearing deep blue boxing trunks emblazoned with “DISCIPLE” across the front, our giant goes to battle.

Then things go terribly wrong. He must have shook that can of whoop-ass cause it explodes in his face. Brent proceeds to get beaten down. Every minute of the fight we see the Christian Cowboy get pummeled. Busted up and bleeding the fight is stopped early in the third round. Just in time or our dear brother may have gone to be with the Lord sooner then he planned.

Back in the dressing room, Brent is crying like a little baby. His wife is there to console him and to tell him everything’s gonna be all-right. Brent quickly and conveniently concludes that winning must have not been a part of God’s plan. It just wasn’t in God’s will for him to win or he would have.

So those of us who rely on these Spiritual Giants to lead us are left with only questions at this point. Was Brent unfaithful to God? Is this why he lost? If he was certain it was God’s destiny for him to win before the fight, how could it also be God’s will for him to lose after the fight? Which is it dear Brent, were you destined to be a winner or loser?

Brent, since you rely on God to fight for you in the ring through the power of the Holy Spirit, what happened? And if you can truly do all things through Christ who strengthens you, why couldn’t you beat your opponent? Worse, why is it that your opponent beat you so senseless? Too bad there wasn’t a monkey jawbone laying around. Maybe that would have helped.

So here’s to you Brent Cooper. We are certain it was God’s destiny that we present you with the first ever Stupid Church People Spiritual Giant Award. It ain’t a million dollars but just remember what the Good Book says, “Gods helps those that help themselves!”