Tag Archives: church

Do I want to be where I am

Alltop, all the top stories I was minding my own business yesterday.

Literally. I was looking at traffic to this blog, which is as close to a business as I have.

In the list of places that people were visiting from was church.alltop.com.So I followed the link back and discovered that The Levite Chronicles is among the blogs that are available through the modern church link at alltop.com

This is a collection of the latest posts from, until yesterday, top blogs in various subject areas. It’s a place to find out what is being written by thoughtful people without having to search the whole internet. Someone else is searching for you.

I like the concept though, true confession time, I haven’t been there much. I have my circle of reading and tend to not do a lot of general browsing. For people who are looking for blog insight, it’s a wonderful tool.

But, as flattered as I was to be listed, I was troubled. I haven’t tended to identify myself with church-related blogging networks. I have harbored the delusion that I wasn’t trying to do church here. All I was trying to do was find out if I could talk in real language about a real God. Knowing that lots of us have been confused by church, I’ve been trying to understand what faith and prayer and relationship with God might actually be. (And, of course, talking about technology and relationship and unproductivity and whatever else comes to mind on any given day).

I suppose, however, that what I’ve been doing actually does belong in a category called modern church (though some people would prefer “post-modern church”). I’m willing to acknowledge that I actually am a pastor, that I am part of a particular gathering of people popularly known as Christians who have been meeting for more than 100 years. I’m willing to be found through that category…as long as I can keep exploring what it means.

And as long as you keep asking for chocolate milk and letting me come to parties.


a split-second later

Because of the processing delay in digital cameras, the delay between pushing the button and the picture actually being taken, sometimes your pictures are worthless. People move, the camera moves, everything changes. Sometimes, however, the picture works.

This button-push caught the last possible moment before the puck left the hand of the referee. This is a split-second of complete focus, of everything stopping and then exploding. I love how the attention of everyone, how the sticks and faces and hands and eyes of everyone are on that small cylinder of space, the tube of air through which the puck will drop.

I was talking today with someone who described conversations about changing names of spaces, of considering how to differently describe rooms. I said that it is interesting to look at points of conversation/conflict like that and try to understand why they become flashpoints. Why is it that what a room is called matters so much? Why is it that dropping a different name can trigger as much battle in a church as the puck causes in a hockey game?

Ahh. Do you see the problem in the last sentence? The puck causes nothing. And, in fact, the ref doesn’t cause the explosion by dropping the puck. What causes the explosion is that a culture has said, this counts as a job for the players. A culture has said, this counts as fun for spectators. A culture has said, whatever happens out there, in the real world where cars catch fire and people die and babies are born and lives are changed, is suspended while we care deeply about what happens in the next split-second.

The same thing is true about the names of the rooms. Calling something a church or a church building or a worship center or a hospital or a cathedral or a chapel or a rest area or a sanctuary or a waste of time and money or a home reflects a set of rules and agreements and experiences. Whatever we call it, we have to consider the experiences of others.

And so, as attention is focused with great intensity, as words are dropped and as relational explosions happen, freeze time if you can. Look at the picture. And then, if it matters, if this really matters, play on. but remember, life can change…

…a split-second later.

I am (sometimes) glad.

Some days are pretty depressing. Most, however, are pretty good. Today, however, I had a moment of being…glad.

For the past six months, our congregation has been between senior pastors. During that time, I’ve borne some of that responsibility. This morning, I took an imaginary mantle from my shoulders and draped it over the shoulders of our new senior pastor.

It was an interesting feeling. What was more interesting was my reaction as I was walking down the hall 10 minutes later. I felt light, I laughed, I was … glad.

I no longer was responsible for ‘everything.’ Even though the past six months haven’t been difficult, my work load hasn’t increased, my schedule hasn’t been horrible–there still was something. There was some level of responsibility, an awareness that there might be a phone call or a crisis. For awhile, I, like Samwise, carried the Ring.

And so I felt glad. And then, my old habits of responsibility clicked in again. And I stopped feeling so glad.

But in that moment, as I think back, I had a glimpse of what my life could be like if I stopped believing that I had to carry the responsibility all the time. What if I took that mantle and put it on the shoulders of, not a person, but God?

Even if you aren’t sure that such a God exists, follow me for a moment.

If there were a God who called himself the shepherd. If that shepherd took care of sheep, calling them by name, leading them, sheltering them, looking for them when they wandered off.  If that God who called himself shepherd cared enough about the sheep to call others to be undershepherds, to take care of parts of the really large flock, to get to know them, call them by name.

If all that is true, it would be really silly for one of those undershepherds to begin thinking that he carried ultimate responsibility for those sheep. It would be at best draining, at worst deadly, to decide to not communicate with the shepherd, to not follow the direction of the larger flock, to try to determine the best for those sheep without the creativity and resources and comfort provided by the shepherd not just to the sheep, but also to the undershepherds.

For whatever reason…pride, forgetfulness,  busyness, distraction…I hang on to the mantle of my life. And I miss out on being … glad.

That moment this morning? It was really nice.


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discontiguous continuity

Nancy and I spent three hours today at a funeral.  I had only seen Mrs. Smith (her real name) once, and we hadn’t talked at all. If you are a regular reader here, however, you know that I did pray for her and put a spot of oil on her forehead.

She died a couple days after that, which really was no surprise. After 92 years and 9 children and innumerable grands and great-grands and great-great-grands (one of whom sat on my lap for part of the service), she had built a great cathedral of praise and it was time for her to stop all the working and just get to the praising part.

I cried during the service, which really was no surprise. What was a nice surprise was the realization that I was having almost exactly the same feeling of wonder, of awe, of being in the presence of something more than me as I had almost exactly a week before.

You may remember that last Saturday at about 1:00 pm, I was at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick in NYC.  At that time, I walked in and was in awe. And in tears.

So think for a bit with me. It is 660 miles between True Love Baptist Church and Saint Patrick’s. It is much further in worship styles, in apparent theology, in average amount of melanin, in square footage, in almost every dimension you can identify. Stained glass to no windows, low ceiling to high church… forget it. I could keep making these cutsy verbal twists for hours. And get no where.

What is so compelling is that I, having little in common with either place, was overwhelmingly aware of being in the presence of holiness, of being in the presence of lives poured into God.

Mrs. Smith built a family. She was the kind of grandmother who you loved and feared and loved again. Family members told stories of her discipline (when they decided to get mouthy or stay in bed) and her prayer (when there was no food on the table) and her persistence belief that God was working. Three grandsons and a great gave us marvelous offering of gospel-tinged jazz, playing a couple of her favorite hymns. And then, in true jazz style, they embraced after they played, knowing that it had never been like that before, was only that way because it was for her.

And the preaching. Powerful, clear, confrontive. “You say she taught you to pray. But do you pray?” “You say she showed you Jesus. But do you know Him?”

Nancy and I sat near the back, just absorbing. It was, for us, completely outside our usual spiritual family, but we were completely at home.

Saint Patrick’s. True Love. Mrs. Smith.

Three different ways of saying the same thing: God grabs hearts and does amazing work.

i can’t fix me.

Friday night I was sitting at a dinner. The speaker was talking about revival. More specifically, Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan was talking about the Fulton Street Revival, a(n) (…um…event? movement? process?) thing that started with a guy deciding that he needed to spend lunchtime once a week praying and invited other people to come and pray, too.

As he was talking, Keller said, “The default mode of the human heart is to revert to self-salvation.”

I would love to argue with this. Except I can’t.

This morning I was looking for my shoes. Nancy innocently asked what I was looking for. I was polite, but inside I thought “don’t ask me. I don’t need help. I’ll look myself.”

A month ago, a four-year-old was in my office. There were balloons on the walls because a friend had decided (correctly) that I needed encouragement.  The little one’s dad wanted her to ask me for a balloon. She resisted, was told “no” to taking one without asking, went through a period of tears, calmed down, got down from her dad’s lap, and was told again to ask me for a balloon.

“I don’t need to. I can reach myself.”

We looked at each other, the dad and I, and laughed the kind of laugh that doesn’t show up on the face. We laughed because we recognized the independence of spirit which characterizes humans, showing up clearly in this four-year-old.

Every face I look at, every mirror I see, shows this same fierce commitment to fixing things myself, to fixing myself. Even as I put myself into this picture with my close friend Manhattan, there is a strong sense of me.


Practically, such independence is silly. I cannot save myself, not even from myself. Now, I do have to take care of myself. I am responsible for my actions, for my reactions, for my attitudes, for my attempts to live life in a meaningful way. But I cannot function apart from other people. If I tried, I would die. I can’t grow enough, work enough, whatever enough, to sustain myself.

And if I try, I prove that I’m an ornery cuss. To function as a person, as a social being, I need other people.

Now Keller’s comment wasn’t talking merely about the practical level. His point was that unless we stop trying to save ourselves and acknowledge that God has to do that, we will fail at revival and we will ultimately, eternally, fail.

What is important to understand is that he is talking first to that collective entity of people who call themselves The Church. Keller was saying that The Church, or the little clusters of people who call themselves churches are stuck in this self-salvation too.

We end up saying that if we believe exactly right or if we care for the poor exactly right or if we have the precise kind of worship service services that make me God happy or if we go to church the requisite number of times a day/week/month/year or if we consume the right kinds of music/movies/books or if we do ______ exactly right, then God will be happy with us and love us.

And that is exactly wrong because it puts all the burden for our salvation on us. It makes us responsible for fixing ourselves.

It’s no wonder that people get annoyed with “church”. It’s because we often are helping people get LIKE US rather than helping people get TO God.

I was reading about Jesus a bit ago. He was talking to and healing and touching people who never would have made it into a church. In fact, he was even doing all those things with people who didn’t even, well, didn’t even know whether they believed in him or not. I mean, they saw him, and knew that he was cool, and knew that he healed them, but they didn’t understand any of the theological stuff about him.

All they knew was that what they were doing wasn’t working. So when Jesus talked about good news, they were all (deaf) ears and (blind) eyes and (broken) hearts.

What if the church stopped being so churchy? Maybe there might be evidence that God actually is necessary rather than just our rules.

Or at least that’s what I think.