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“You are not welcome here.”

I received a call recently from a man living several states away from me in the USA. As he spoke with me, I could discern that something was bothering him. I could hear it in his voice. Do you know what I mean? His initial discussion was just introductory; how are you? I am fine; the weather is changing, etc. But the speed and tone of his voice sounded like a backpacker hiking 50 miles uphill with 75 pounds of gear on his back. After several minutes of some good small talk, the weighted voice on the other end of the line said, “The reason I called was to ask you about something I experienced at my Church the other day, and I wanted to ask you about how you would handle something like this.”

My conversation soon turned to the subject of the burden I sensed he was carrying. He proceeded to tell me what happened at his Church and how he was directly involved with it all. I think I can sum up the experience without having to tell every detail of the situation.

He proceeded to tell me how he encountered a young lady wandering around the church lobby and communion prep room of the Church. She was clearly under the influence of some drug, underdressed for the winter conditions, dirty and messy, and helping herself to the communion elements, as she was hungry. She was not violent or causing any crucial circumstances to frighten or threaten anyone. My caller told me that he proceeded to address her with kindness carefully; he asked her if he could help her with anything. (This is a challenging situation to encounter during a church service, how would you respond to a scene/person like this?) As she began answering him, the police immediately arrived and arrested her and began escorting her out of the Church. It became clear that some people from the Church had called 911 earlier and asked the police to deal with this stranger. The man on the other end of my phone told me that this young woman told the police that she was cold, hungry, and wanted to go to the Church service, and she resisted a little bit from being taken back outside into the cold. She was placed under arrest and escorted out anyway. This young woman is known in the community by the police. It was not the first time someone called the cops on her. It seemed she would prefer to go to a warm jail and have food than wander the cold winter streets. What we do know is that this young, drugged-out woman has a background of being sex trafficked, abused, drug addictions, theft, and other troubles. Would you agree with me that something deep inside her soul told her that she should step inside a Church building as soon as she could?

The man on the phone then proceeded to tell me what the officer said, after being told by this young lady say she wanted to stay for the Church service…

The officer replied to her… “Mam, you are not welcome here.”

The man I was talking on the phone with said, “that phrase hit me like a ton of bricks.” At that moment, I now understood why the caller sounded like he was carrying such a heavy burden.
After hearing the officer make that pronouncement, my caller tried to tell the officer that her statement wasn’t technically true. The officer looked at him quickly, cuffed the young woman, and escorted her out of the Church. The words and quick look from the officer pierced him as he realized that this woman wasn’t welcome here, and her removal by the police proved it.

I now understood why the caller sounded like he was carrying such a heavy burden. I am grateful he called me, and I am thankful that I got the privilege to help this man carry his burden. Nobody should carry loads alone, not this caller, not the young woman arrested, not you. Jesus says it best.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

–Jesus of nazareth

After hearing the story, I told this man how he couldn’t do much of anything else once the police arrived. I encouraged him not to be so hard on himself, and we then strategized about his next steps. Clearly, the Holy Spirit prompted my caller to contemplate the culture and circumstances that caused the cops to be called at his Church and then instruct this woman that she was not welcome at this Church.

We talked about a what-if. What if this woman was Jesus in disguise? If not Jesus, then maybe an angel disguised? What if this whole scenario was God testing the Church regarding how they treat someone described as one of society’s, ‘least of these.’

“I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these, you were doing it to me.”

Jesus–Matthew 25:40

My caller was haunted for days regarding that officer’s statement.

I am confident you will agree that the very worst declaration the officer could have said to the woman at this church service was declared. My caller and I spent some time simply talking about the state of the Church in America today and its faithfulness to the teachings and commands of Jesus. Our tone was not judgmental; instead, it was a tone of burden. Our final discussion before we hung up was about his strategy regarding what to do about this whole disheartening scenario. We brainstormed what we wish would have happened with this young woman, a least of these, drunkenly wandering into the Church service.

I wish that Church would have had a deliberately strategized and practiced plan of what to do if this young lady walks through their doors, especially if it happens on a Sunday morning. We talked about who was responsible for setting the tone and culture that would immediately take notice of this young lady, in her terrible condition, as she limped into Church on Sunday morning. I wish the Church had a plan to respond to this woman immediately.

How amazing would it have been if those present were trained and prepared to approach this young woman with a blanket? Add to that a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate, a small room to sit and feel safe. Add to those a strategized team of ministry volunteers equipped with resources, security training, medical personnel, phone numbers, plans, and follow-through to help this young woman recover if she is willing to receive the help. Is this too much to ask for from the Church? Is it fair for me to ask the following questions? Isn’t the Church supposed to be a Hospital for the sick? A Coastguard for the drowning? A Refuge for the threatened and fleeing? A Clothing shop for the naked? A Water Well for the thirsty? A Friend for the lonely? A Family for the orphan? It is also a gathering for the body of Christ. It is also a school for the disciple. We are the Church. The previous descriptors are not just something your Church facility on the corner of Main street USA and your Church staff are responsible for. YOU are the Church. Some say, “It starts with you!” But I’m afraid I have to disagree, in this situation, with that statement. The Bible tells us that preachers and teachers will be held to a higher standard and judgment than non-preachers and teachers.

So, I strategized with the guy on the other end of the phone. We talked about what to do to get the ball rolling regarding making the change in his Church. Next time, the goal would be to be fully ready for a ‘least of these’ wandering into a Church service. The plan will be for all to be strategically prepared. Not only prepared but praying for the least of these to walk through their doors!

I recommended that he request a meeting early in the week and especially suggested that he not approach the Pastor before the worship service starts next Sunday. (Remember the focus required before giving a speech, so protect this time for your Pastor by having difficult conversations after the message.

As he arrives for the appointment, I recommend that he discuss this whole scenario with the Lead Pastor by remembering one thing. Less is more. I challenged my caller to do very little talking. I recommended that he walk into the office, have a seat, tell the Pastor how much you appreciate him and your attending Church each weekend, is proof of such. Proceed to say to the Pastor what happened and say to the Pastor what the officer told the young woman…”The officer told her, ‘you are not welcome here.” Then ask the Pastor this…”What do you think about the officer telling that woman that she is not welcome here?”

Then just Listen.

Don’t say a word, even if it means total silence for minutes. Just sit there and be still. I told the caller the only thing I could recommend to him was what I would do at that moment if I were him. I told him that I would listen to the Pastor carefully. The Pastor’s response would become the epicenter of my next decision. His response would help me determine whether to call that Church my home from there out. If so, then I would fully assist in developing our entire Church body, starting from the pulpit, to the parking lot, to the perimeters of the planet, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in any situation. Or, if the Pastor just shrugged this whole situation off, it would begin, for me, searching for a Church that takes the Teachings and Commands of Jesus severe enough to demonstrate that Heaven and Hell are in the balance and eternity is at stake, and how we respond to the least of these is critical.

Oh, I pray that the pastor senses the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and I pray what the officer told the young lady haunts that pastor to his very soul’s core. I pray that Church has a trajectory change in focus, purpose, and passion. I pray that their new Church mantra will become something like this…

“We love people so much, we will serve anyone in our line of site who is hungry, thirsty, lonely, or has a shattered life, in the name of Jesus.”

Oh what a Church that will be!


Is it okay to be passionate about politics?

As a pastor, I’ve noticed a lot of the following discussion…

Christian Trent says to Christian Ben–

“You sure talk and post alot about this election stuff, Ben. You clearly are idolizing politics above the Lord. You are more focused on a wordly empire than the Kindom of Heaven. You should repent.”

Then Christian Trent turns to Christian John and says–

“Hey John, did you see that Kyler Murray has thrown for 5000+ yards with 30+ TDs while rushing for 1000+ yards with 10+ TDs…all in his first 24 career starts? Man, I cant wait for Church to end, Im ready for football all afternoon!”

Whats my point?

Kingdom prioritizing should not be understood as a priority list from 1 – 10 with Jesus at the top. i.e. (In a linear priority of Jesus #1, your spouse #2, and your daughter #3…what happens to your priorities when, while reading your Bible and praying to Jesus, your daughter is injured and you must leave your Bible time with #1 Jesus to take your daighter #3 to the ER? In a linear priority list…You made priority #3 more important than #1…and if your spouse #2 stayed home, your #3 took priority of #2 as well.

So is there a better way to live? This all might be better understood and lived as what I call Circular Prioritizing…like a wheel of priorities with Jesus as the hub. (In this instance, its honoring to Jesus to stop your Bible Time to run your daughter to the ER as it is an act of worship to steward the things Jesus has given you.) And your act is honoring to your spouse too.

The goal is for Jesus to remain as your center AND live life stewarding and enjoying all good things around Him that He has blessed you with.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.” Praying and never stopping is impossible to do in a linear priority scale, but it is easy to pray continually in a circular priority scale.

Jesus talked about Pharisees all the time, but that doesnt mean He idolized them or that He had his Kingdom priorities out of order. Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 Jesus teaching on this would be best understood and lived when it is not taught from a linear perspective…and is best understood and lived circularly with Jesus as THE center.


Cut it out!

Have you ever been to someone’s yard and right there in the middle is a sickly tree?  Or been in a beautiful town and discover business’s dying?  Or in a beautiful town full of Churches that are on death’s edge because they are not seeking and saving the lost? Something needs cut, pruned, compeltely worked over! 

My experience is in Church-world. Pruning during stagnation is the most needed Christ-like practice for a church that is stuck in a rut.  (A rut and a grave are the same thing…just 6 feet apart.)

Think about it…when is the last time you saw a Church going through 40 days of pruning?  We have 40 days of prayer, fasting, evangelism, worship, Bible reading…but I’m not sure I’ve seen a Church have 40 days of pruning, when needed.  Jesus is a pruner!

All through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…(the 4 most critical chapters of the bible)…when Jesus saw the crowd, around Him, begin to lose His focus…He pruned the crowd.  He went so far, one time, to say to the huge crowd that had misunderstood His Mission,…“If you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, you can’t be my disciple.” (John 6:53) The whole crowd, of what had to be more than a thousand people, left Him.  There were only the 12 disciples left.  That’s pruning!

Jesus pruned the pharisees and religious leaders that only wanted to control the people and keep things the way they had always done it…Jesus called them, “White-Washed Tombs (Matthew 23:17), Blind Guides (Matthew 23:16) Hypocrites (Matthew 23:15), Children of Hell (Matthew 23:15), fools (Matthew 23:17), generation of serpents (Matthew 23:34), and murderers (Matthew 23:34).

So Jesus pruned regularly.  To be clear…when pruning, we can never react in anger out of control, or be evil in anyway. We cannot ever justify unholy behavior by saying Jesus did it.  He was perfect in His pruning.  However we can prune with holiness just like Jesus did.  It won’t make you popular, but it will make you like Jesus.

Why don’t more leaders prune when it is desperately obvious it is needed? I can only resort to a Bible verse to explain…

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

Pruning results in a vigorous burst of new growth in the future, and pruning is to be used to achieve the full growth that is necessary…especially in the Church.   More money thrown at the problem, or stored in the savings account won’t cause the Church to be healthy again. Just letting it continue as is, will not cause the Church to be fruitful again.  I can’t think of anything more tragic than a Church that is stuck and dying.  Pruning is what is needed.  Its not fun.  Its not easy, but it’s essential.  Pruning, in Church world, will remove the unfruitful and the spiritually dead.  The death that is about to overtake the whole “tree,” could be something as simple as the comfortable…but it’s especially the fakers, the slackers, hypocrites, the control mongers, or the powers that exist that actually have been lulled into the sleepy deception of thinking their tree is beautiful.  They are the blockers and death dealers.

The “tree” may “bleed” when the removal begins. It may look like…after the pruning…that the tree won’t survive…that is has been ruined.  But it’s exactly what it needed…it’ll survive because Jesus will know the motives of the pruning and bless it.  It only seems harmful at the cutting, and until it grows again..it’ll be a bit scary.  Those being pruned will not be cut quietly. They will gossip and spread false rumors and only verify the reality of the necessity of the pruning in the first place.  Prune anyway! And it will leaf out when its God’s time! It will grow into a full grown, strong, thriving life once again. Beautiful!  Jesus and any leadership that has the guts and perseverance to do the pruning will reap the rewards and once again see the Church be healthy and productive in the most important fruit production area…seeking and saving the lost.

The Kingdom of Jesus cannot and will not stop at anything that tries to prevent it’s growth. It cannot and should not ever be stunted.  Jesus did say about the Church…“I will build my Church and the gates of hades will not prevail!” (MT16:18) So…if the Church is dying…something is seriously wrong. Right!?  So, Jesus said it best…with crystal clarity…

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.”
John‬ ‭15:1-8‬ ‭

So, courageous people of God…prune away.  In Church world, the only thing that is preventing the pruning from happening is leadership.  Courageous leadership.  I love the local Church so much that I will prune anytime, anywhere, any way.  It is what Jesus demands of holy leadership.  If I don’t prune…I will stand in front of Jesus someday and be pruned for eternity.  I don’t want to go to hell. You don’t either.  Prune or Be Pruned!

We are mandated to produce fruit. It is a salvation issue and eternity is in the balance.

Don’t screw with Jesus’s mission.  There is no mercy in pruning…Just judgement.  The only way to avoid eternal judgement and pruning is to make sure you are producing fruit.  The most important fruit in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is seeking and saving the lost.  Every single member in the Church must be producing fruit.  It is Jesus’s mandate.

When is the last time you personally led somebody into Jesus’s forgiveness?

It is why you were born, and it is your life’s purpose… to be productive in the Kingdom of Jesus.

Last thing…what is the best strategy to begin pruning in a Church that has been in status quo mode…aka…death mode?  Cast a vision that leads the Church to get back into the mandates of Jesus.  Cast a vision to risk for Jesus in evangelism.  The pruning will happen naturally.

Strong Spiritual Leadership rarely has to strategically prune, because a fruitful-risk-taking-vision, cast with holy leadership strength, will naturally and steadily get rid of the wrong people.  Yes…I said it…get rid of the wrong people.  Hold on…You didn’t think pruning in the Church was about gardening did you?  Its about people.


Church and the learning Tower of Pisa

SethGodin.com just wrote a blog asking…”What’s inside the Leaning Tower of Pisa?”

The answer is Nothing. It’s a hollow tube.

One of the most photographed buildings in the world is empty.  But people do not care. It is an iconic building and wows people from all over the world.

I love that this is opposite of the reality of the Church.  The Church’s building sits empty most of the week…but it’s old news that the Church is not a building.

You are the Church. The bride of Jesus. The body of Christ.  Get a couple of people like you together, and God is there with you!  Grasp that!

The big question is, why aren’t people wowed by the Church all over the world?

There are negative and positive answers.

We know the negative reasons.  Do you know the positive ones?  Here’s one to remember…

“Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?” 2 Corinthians 2:15-26

That Scripture asks a very pertinent question in its last verse.  Who is adequate for such a task?

The answer: YOU!  You are adequate just as you are.  Oh, you might have to pick up your cross of sacrifice and live differently than you currently are…but that doesn’t make you inadequate.  It just makes you leaning…limping…wounded.  But that is what makes you remarkable.

I’m not sure I can trust anyone who doesn’t walk with some sort of limp…or lean. The Bible is loaded with  historical records of people that limp and lean.  I’m grateful for my wounds that cause me to now limp.  Your limp tells a story of victory and conquering.  Or it should.  If you’ll allow it, that thing, that wound, which caused the scarring that makes you limp, will make you even more remarkable…yes, your leaning can make you incredible.  There are millions of beautiful buildings around the world…but the ones that lean…they have looooong lines of curious gazers and photographers.

You are adequate.  You are never empty, if you are the Church.  You are worthy.  You can live your life in such a way that some people will go crazy wanting what you have.

Its not easy.  You’ll have to lean into Jesus more than you think is even possible.

 

 

 


What religious symbol is your favorite?

While religious symbols can be important, the church has focused perhaps too much on them instead of the underlying reality they reflect.
 

The manger is feeding animals again. The cross is vacant. The tomb is empty.

 
May we befriend and honor the One who is still alive and visited each of those symbols for a very specific purpose…to provide us the opportunity to claim full forgiveness.
 
Focus on the living Jesus…not the symbols He used.  Jesus is alive and He desires to meet with you daily. Jesus desires you to finish the work He started. He is with us always, to the end of the ages.  If I can personally help you in growing closer to your Creator, Jesus, please let me know…I will walk with you. 

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