To the Ones Who Left [Dear Church]

The other day I read an article by John Pavlovitz over at  To Save a Life. It was another one of those “Dear Church,” letters about how the church is failing everyone, posed from the perspective of someone who has left the church #itsnotmeitsyou. And I know, I’ve read article after article from both perspectives and usually they are so utterly painful – the church is confused and angry, the people are hurt and vengeful, et cetera, it all turns into a blame-game somewhere in the middle no matter how well it turned out. And I mean, before I knock it too much I’ll tell you I found John’s article a fair bit more relatable than others. But it got me thinking, so here (and I never dreamed I would be writing my own but…) is my rebuttal:

Dear Church:

You’re Not Who You Think You Are

You see, Church, you think you’re the wounded martyrs on the outside dying for the revolution, damaged by the dis-compassionate machinery of the institution, the ‘ones who left,’ but you’re wrong – divorcing Jesus isn’t as easy as walking out of a building, and marrying Him wasn’t as complicated as walking into one. You see, you don’t think you belong to the Church any more because of a disconnect with your local body (or maybe a series of local bodies). For whatever reason, you left and now it’s easier to disassociate completely from everything you left behind and get caught up in an ‘us-vs-them’ mentality–I’ve been there.

But whatever the reason you left, regardless of where you place the blame or how you choose to express the emotions we’ve all felt coming away from a broken system that was supposed to work, the truth is you are still part of the Church, and Jesus is still preparing his bride–including you and the congregation(s) you’ve left–spotless and without blemish. So the question is, Church…

Who are you going to look like?

And I’m not trying to invalidate your experience because I know it’s real but Church… hurt, angry letters flying back and forth to at one another? This ought not to be! You won’t bring about transformation that way, only rally more damaged people to your misdirected causes. I feel division and disunity when I see these back and forth articles from one to the other, some new barbed arrow of truth each time, but the revolution isn’t about being right, it’s about experiencing love, grace and compassion for one another so strongly you would be willing to give up your life for those people you left–or the people who left you (because the truth is, you can’t say Church without talking to both sides).

The truth is if you really want to leave the Church then you’re going to have to leave Jesus, because He still connects us even when we’re too disgruntled to attend each others’ “Christianity shows” people like to think of as “church service”. The truth is it isn’t ‘your’ responsibility alone, it isn’t ‘our’ responsibility alone; there’s no ‘them or us’ going on here because Christ is still alive – the Kingdom still stands – and ‘you’ are still a part of it just as much as ‘we’ are.

So Church, you’ve outlined all the problems. You’ve passed the blame further than the offering plate will ever go. But are you prepared to dig deep, to hit the trenches and stand and fight for your brothers and sisters instead of with them? Are you prepared to rise where others have fallen, to bring unity back to the Bride and see the Church like Jesus sees her? Build bridges instead of theses on why ‘church’ isn’t working anymore (or why people leaving her is excusable). Because I’ll tell you one thing: as long as it’s ‘us-vs-them’ between the members of Christ’s very body, the Church at large is missing her mission.

After I left my church I was advised to completely cut off from the people I left behind, and at the time it sounded like good advice, and in most toxic situations it would be–but we’re talking about the Church here; if you can’t handle Christians, how can you seek and save lost people?

You Give Them Something to Eat

What if we’ve been asking God for something he already asked us to do?

I’ve been pondering over this statement from Leif Hetland along with an illustration he gave from the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 (well actually, his disciples feeding the 5000).

And it’s been floating around in my mind ever since I first heard it in part of his Baptism of Love teaching series – what if we’ve been asking God to do something he already asked us to do? As Leif put it, “We call it prayer–he calls it disobedience.”

But the other day particularly I was thinking about it again, and disconnectedly at another time I was thinking about revival and all the people I’ve been around for the last ten years and so much of the focus has been on asking God for revival.

But what if that’s not right?

Now don’t send out a witch-hunt for me – I’m not saying God hasn’t answered the cry of the church for revival in the past, and throughout history–and those stories are amazing, I would so love to be a part of one of those revival stories. But what if that’s not exactly the model for the emerging revolution?

You give them something to eat … “

And I’ll be the first to say, “Well, God does it all – we can’t do it by ourselves – we can’t make revival happen … ” et cetera.

But the thing is, revival already happened; it happened when you were baptized. You are revival. Or at least, you should be if Jesus is still Lord.

And don’t peel off into the other ditch and say “Well Carson are you telling me I’m not really saved or something because I don’t have miracles popping out my ears?”

No. I’m saying the mustard seed that could change the world is in you. God already brought revival – now what are you going to do with it? You’re called into a royal priesthood – where is the kingdom and who will you mediate for? How can you let the revival in you out to the dry bones around you?

Or are you dead yourself, dried up, run down, burned out on praying for God to do the thing he already did in you? Maybe the gifts are dormant and covered in a layer of dust a mile thick, maybe you didn’t know that church was a place for everyone–not just a few Spiritual superstars–to be the moving parts of the body; you have a role.

So are we asking God to do things he’s already asked us to do? Just some things I want to think about for myself.

Baptism: The Unfulfilled Mission

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.  – Matthew 28:18-20

There’s something I’ve had on my mind for quite some time, and that is the subject of baptism.

To get right to the heart of things first I guess I’ll share my own baptism “experience”, which happened when I was around the age of ten or eleven; it was June 21, 2004–if I’m remembering the date right (I lost my cute little baptism card that they gave me afterward–gasp! I know)

Now here’s a little background on that period of my life: I was so unbelievably full of myself. I don’t mean I was conceited or stuck-up (well, I might have been) but I mean I thought that as far as my life was concerned, I was it; it was all up to me and God was the bar (to borrow a term from my good friend Caralyn 😉 ) I never would’ve thought it then in so many words, but I was raised in church for performance and hard work and I thought that having read through the New Testament twice by the age of eleven was a pretty good one-up on my peers–okay yeah you’re right, I was just a little conceited. I’ve said this before but one day I read Galatians for the first time and I honestly thought Paul had a screw loose because he said being a Christian wasn’t about performance; I just couldn’t compute the idea that it didn’t really have anything to do with whether I did “good” things or “bad”.

I can’t pin-point exactly when it started, but it was around this same time that I started to develop an addiction first to masturbation and later on to pornography. What I can pin-point is the memory of the night that started it all after I saw some soft-core pornographic content in a movie that was probably only rated PG–wow; from PG to R’s and XXX’s. But that’s another story. What I do know is that I was deep enough into some pretty self-satisfying behaviors by the time baptism was brought up to me as a possibility.

So I said yes.

Of course I did; after all, I’m just a kid trying to get to heaven and I have this habit going on that I don’t even know if it’s right or wrong or just okay but I’m so scared that it’s going to keep me on the ground when that day comes. So of course I’ll safe-guard myself. Funny how my logic went from performance to just get baptized and you’ll be safe.

And you know, I’m not here to judge, not even my past self. He did a lot of things that I would rather he hadn’t, but he still got me here. That’s actually something that has taken me a long time to be able to say.

So on to my baptism.

I was baptized in a lake on (I believe) a Sunday afternoon. Dunk, surrounded by a bunch of women praying over me, done. It rained and thundered after. I was purposely baptized by a pastor not belonging to my family’s denomination so that church politics didn’t get involved.

So? What’s the big deal?

Because of my motives, I didn’t feel at peace about my baptism; I never did, first because no matter how much I reminded myself that I was “definitely saved” now, I had absolutely no assurance of that, and secondly because getting baptized didn’t magically give me power and control over the hormones that were ruling me. God was still the bar (and by that I mean I made being exactly like Jesus and doing exactly what he would do into my personal occupation) and I went deeper into the depths of loneliness and depression as the claws of my own sexuality held me tighter and tighter. But this isn’t just another history lesson.

But as you might imagine, I’ve had a lot to think about. For a long time I wanted to be re-baptized because I didn’t feel like that first one was enough. I’ve since (but only recently) come to terms–I think–with my own baptism, and I don’t feel any more desire to be dunked under again.

But with that out of the way my thought began shifting from, ‘should I be re-baptized?’ to ‘what qualification do I need to baptize people?’ I mean, isn’t that ultimately what we’re supposed to be doing as Christians? So why is it that so few Christians are actually preaching the gospel and baptizing people into the death and resurrection life of Jesus? I suppose it all started with my wife’s desire to be re-baptized and the suggestion that I could do it. Well my instant response of course was, ‘Oh but I can’t’… well, why not? I help lead and mentor a group of teens–if one of them wants to get baptized then shouldn’t I be the first to take them down into the waters? Just where did this idea come from that Christians have to have some kind of credential to baptize?

So I started digging around a while back and honestly it was a little inconclusive. I wanted to find something to say just when the disciples started baptizing people, but the gospels only mention Jesus (or his disciples) baptizing briefly. John notes that Jesus wasn’t baptizing but that his disciples were doing it all.

And then of course we have Jesus’ commission to the twelve disciples–the first place I ever read it was in Matthew 10; Jesus gives them power to heal and cast out demons and he says to them, “Freely you have received; freely give.” [Matthew 10:8] Heal the sick, cleanse the leper, raise the dead, cast out devils, and tell everyone the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Does that make you feel totally useless too or is that just me? Honestly I read that and I think, “Well who cares if anyone thinks you should be some spiritual superstar to baptize people–the Kingdom is at hand, this job is urgent!” And the disciples weren’t even superstars yet, but they went out and miracles became their norm.

I know it doesn’t have anything specific to say about it there but that just kind of blows the whole baptism question right out of the water for me.

And it’s not like I don’t know what it’s all about either. I’ll save the theological lesson for another time but baptism is just a symbol that a person publicly accepts 1) Jesus’ death and resurrection for them and join with him in them as symbolized by the baptism itself and 2) that they are a sinner and don’t want to be and accept Jesus as Lord. And then it’s open-season on their lives for the Holy Spirit’s baptism in fire. I didn’t really understand any of that when I was baptized but now all I want to do is show people what it all really is about and give anyone who might want it the opportunity to be baptized. I mean, Phillip just met some Ethiopian guy along the road and ended up baptizing the guy right there on the way for crying out loud, so why don’t we have more stories like that to share? Could it be because we’re too concerned about credentials and denominational memberships and making sure people follow our lead on their new Christian lives rather than Christ’s lead for them? “No, Joe, that wheat goes in our barn … ” Something to think about. The workers are few; I don’t think Jesus sent his disciples to seminary before he let them start dunking people.

And just another thing: when did baptism become such a ceremonious thing? I mean, look at the early church. Three thousand were added to the church in a day–somehow I don’t think there was time for one-hundred twenty believers to make a big show out of baptizing three thousand people. Philip just did it right along the roadside. I mean, sure, say the right things (and who’s to say you have to say anything?), make sure you do it for the right reasons, you’re helping an orphan make good on a royal family adoption here–but you’re helping an orphan for crying out loud – let their “yes” to God be “yes” and dunk that poor soul.

So how can I conclude? I’m going to tell people about the Kingdom of Heaven, I’m going to heal the sick, cast out demons. I might need some discipleship from Jesus, and I definitely need some help from Holy Spirit now that he is growing these Kingdom desires in me, but by golly I’m going to announce that Kingdom. And maybe, I’ll baptize, too.

Jesus… the harvest is great and the workers truly are few. I can hardly believe the intensity of this desire you’ve put in me to baptize and lead people into your life and it excites me so much. Continue to teach me more so that you in me will be an effective witness. 

I know, I haven’t posted anything in a while and it’s a little rough getting back into it 😉 bear with me. In the meantime, why don’t you share your thoughts or tell me about your baptism ‘experience’ in the comments section below!

Angels Unaware

“Maybe we are entertaining angels unaware” – Angels Unaware [Michael W. Smith]

A couple weeks back I had the invigorating experience of falling flat on my face on pavement. I was playing a game with my teen group and I was “it”. It was getting dark–the “perfect time to play,” apparently (no arguments here)–and as I came around a corner to see someone making a run for ‘home base’ I started into a full-on run.

The problem is, I forgot about the chain.

The school yard we were playing on is closed in by a chain running between posts at intervals; it hangs a couple feet off the ground. Before I knew what was happening I was flat-out wondering what the heck happened–I’d broke clean through the chain.

I didn’t think much of it–well yes, it hurt pretty good–but I got up and kept running, warding off the hoard of teens running toward me to make sure I wasn’t dead. Upon cleaning the blood off my hands I found a pretty deep gouge in my finger and a few scrapes on one hand and two of the biggest bruises I’ve ever had on my shins and knees from going over the chain. Luckily, I didn’t hit my head–I somehow managed to catch myself well enough–but a few days later I was feeling the whiplash. I kept thinking “Man, the angel that kept me from hitting my head just had to give me whiplash.” (That’s a joke Gabriel, settle down)

But the other night I was thinking about it again (because my neck is still a little sore) and I had to realize that hey, I could’ve split my head open, but I didn’t, and there’s no way I’d have the luck to catch myself like that–I just don’t have the reflexes; I should’ve hit my head.

And it kind of just hit me like a brick wall: there are really angels all around here.

I mean sure, I knew that. I know that there are angels, I believe that they are real. But the realization that there are people all around me every day I can’t even necessarily see, and they all have names and probably even personalities. Reality check. So I said, “God, I want to meet angels.”

I started wondering what the name of the angel was that stopped my head from hitting that concrete. And the name Harold came into my mind and I was like “Oh, you must’ve been there when the angels sang to the shepherds cause you know… Harold? Like hark the Harold angel…?” Okay never mind, I know it’s really only funny to me right now, but it made me smile when it came to mind.

I don’t just mean like I want to see angels or be aware of angels (which I do want) but I mean I want to know them–I want to know their names (*gasp* you mean angels have names!) and their stories and hear their worship (“I bet you have a nice singing voice,” to which the reply, “Every voice is a nice singing voice when it praises God,”) I want to get to know their personalities; there’s a whole other realm of untainted personality all around me and all I want right now is to be immersed in it.

“I saw angels fall down at the glory of the Lord … ” – Angels Fall Down [Skillet]

And I mean, what do we know about angels? They’re created beings, they have names, they have choice–God let a third of them walk off with Lucifer and I’ll bet it killed him (don’t mind the word-play) to watch them go. When Gabriel visited Daniel he appeared as a man. So the thought pervading my mind is, why is Christian Culture so disinterested in angels? I mean I look around, and around here it’s almost unspokenly silly to even believe in angels, but our God was the Lord of Hosts long before you were even a twinkle in father Abraham’s eye.

Don’t get me wrong, because I’m not idolizing here or putting angels up on some pedestal, but if someone kept guard over your home day and night, or saved your life, or even just helped you out of a tough spot…

Wouldn’t you want to thank them? Wouldn’t you want to know their name?

I don’t want to entertain angels unaware.