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!”

April Fools Day (Part Two)

It seems appropriate to begin “Stupid Church People” on April Fools Day.

This is the day that thousands and thousands of people will be tricked, teased, and manipulated into believing something that is not actually true or real. If you have ever been made a fool of on this day, join the club. It is the day that everyone gets to be their own Ashton Kutcher and PUNK someone. (Sorry friends – being Ashton for the day does not mean you get to hang with Demi – but we can dream now can’t we?)

Fooling someone can be quite easy. On the show PUNK’d it usually involves the following formula:

1. The prank is always orchestrated by someone the PUNKee trusts. Their best friend, their manager, or their spouse – someone close to them.
2. The prank usually consists of something the person values (I mean if they didn’t care, then they wouldn’t care right?). This can be their car, their house or even their time.
3. The prank always involves sucking the person in. At first they can’t believe it, but the person they trust keeps telling them over and over (Dude, your car has been totaled) and eventually they buy it.
4. The prank always has the big “reveal”. You don’t go on leading them on forever. That would be cruel. So there is always that revealing moment, “Hey man, just kidding, that isn’t your car – your car is safely back home in the garage.”

PUNK’d is a pretty funny show (although somewhat cruel) and April Fools Day is a somewhat harmless day of silly office pranks. But at the end of it all, no one likes to be “the Foolee”. It is much more fun to be the Fooler.

The goal of Stupid Church People is to be honest about how “foolish” church people can be. This is true for those of us that attend church (yours truly) and those that lead churches as paid staff (formerly yours truly).

I have been in the position of the “FOOLER”. I have designed programs and events that were done under the auspices of “bringing people to Christ” but were actually intended to increase the attendance numbers to make me look good to those around me. That is just one example. As the FOOLER my ego played a huge role in ministry.

I have been on the side of the “FOOLEE”. I have experienced that moment when the curtain is pulled back to reveal that the Wizard is nothing more than a sniveling, weak person who only has the power that I allow them to have. This can be very, very painful. When you see those that you trust lead you astray it is always painful.

The good news is that I am not alone. There are many, many people on both sides of the aisle in this discussion. Those that “FOOL” others and those that get “FOOLED”. The pain will be obvious for both groups as we share our stories together.

Do I hate the church? No. Do I still attend the church? Yes. Do I support the church? By all means. I just wanted to design a place where we can sometimes laugh at ourselves, where the truth is spoken, where light is shed on the darkness and where hurting people can share their pain.

Welcome to Stupid Church People.