Monday, July 21, 2014

Turkey People


Today we are going to talk turkey about turkey.

Ah, turkey. I love turkey. Or should I say, I love to eat turkey. If you have ever spent time around turkeys you know that they are not intelligent birds. That was an understatement. They are amazingly stupid. Ben Franklin lobbied to get the wild turkey made our national bird. I am happy the Bald Eagle won out. When I was growing up, to call someone a turkey is usually seen as an insult. But if anyone has ever shown up at my door with something turkey, I am not insulted. We will get back to the turkey in just a minute.

God’s mission of ministry for the church outside of the church’s walls is clear and strong. I a passage of scripture that is a description of the final judgment day, Jesus said some very interesting things. Take a look: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46 (NIV)

Many religious people of my day have believed and taught that salvation is all about what you believe and if you said the correct prayer. Jesus seems to be saying that what we do and how we treat others is very important. We are talking about eternity.

My observation is that the church and people in general have abdicated their responsibility to care for the poor to the government. I believe that to be a mistake. I will admit that I am not a big fan of big government. In my lifetime government has shown itself to be clunky, inefficient and not to be trusted. But instead of taking care of each other, we give the government the job of caring for the poor, the homeless and the sick and when they do a poor job of it we complain and criticize the government. So let me say it again and clearly – IT IS NOT THE GOVERNMENT’S JOB to take care of people in need. And since it is not its job, they don’t do it well.

The failure of the government’s War on Poverty makes my case. The War on Poverty is the unofficial name for legislation first introduced by President Lyndon B. Johnson during his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. I am old enough to remember this and how excited the country was that poverty was going to be eradicated. President Johnson proposed it in response to a national poverty rate of around nineteen percent. The speech led the United States Congress to pass the Economic Opportunity Act. The legacy of the War on Poverty policy initiative remains in the continued existence of such federal programs as Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America, TRIO, and Job Corps. The war on poverty officially ended with the Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which, as claimed President Bill Clinton, "ends welfare as we know it."

Even after declaring a WAR on Poverty, there has been almost no progress since the 1960s. The official poverty measure (OPM) was 14.2% in 1967; by 2012 it was 15.0%. I think that ranks as a failure. I am sure there are many reasons for this failure. Both political parties spend inordinate amounts of time and money blaming each other. Some of the reasons for the failure are: As is true with most government programs, money is eaten up in bureaucracy; help is not effectively delivered at arm’s length; the government, obviously, is ineffective in doing such work; money is helpful in the short term but fails to make lasting changes.

So let’s get off the governments back. The church of Jesus Christ was established and called to change the world: Help people understand and know God; Enable people to grow in their relationships with God and grow to spiritual maturity; Help meet the basic needs of those struggling; Feed the hungry, house the homeless, minister to the sick, strengthen the weak, protect those who are endangered. Giving money is a good thing. It helps and enables the church to meet immediate needs. But money alone rarely changes lives.

Lindenwood Church has a unique opportunity here in Memphis. We are located in a town that is known to have much need. That makes the job easier. We don’t have to go out in search of ministry. It is right here on our doorstep. But the task is difficult. Doing such ministry takes an investment of money – plus. Plus investment of our time, talents, energy, and in building relationships

As promised, back to turkeys. I few weeks ago I learned a new term from listening to Bill Courtney – Turkey People. Bill was the volunteer coach at Manassas High School here in Memphis. His program not only turned the team’s won/loss record around, his investment in those young men changed many lives. During his final season with the school a documentary was filmed, “Undefeated”, that won an Academy Award. He has since written a book, “Against the Grain.” In his talk he told about his first year with the team. Around mid-season he noticed that about half of the team was buying into what he was saying and doing. When he asked one of his players what the problem was, the kid said, “They think you’re a turkey person.” Cortney said that didn’t help since he didn’t know what a turkey person is. The player explained that “a turkey person is someone who comes down to the neighborhood around Thanksgiving or Christmas and brings us a turkey. We take the turkey because we are hungry. But they really haven’t helped us. The players are trying to figure out if you are a turkey person or if you are in it for the long run.” Turkey people could be called “One hit wonders”. When I worked with inner city kids in Louisville they called such people Limousine Liberals – people who showed up I big fine cars, passed food out the window and drove away.

People want to know if we are in it for the long haul. For too long the church has looked to the government to do our job. Instead of helping people we write checks, write indignant letters, participate in marches and hold candlelight vigils. Nice things to do but are they really effective? Not really. Doing these things just gives us the freedom to think we are doing something significant. Don’t get me wrong – giving money is great – it really is. But if we want to see lives changed we are going to have to invest our money and our time and our energy in relationships over the long haul.

When I stand before the great judgment seat, I don’t Jesus to call me a goat, or a Turkey Person. How about you?

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reviews


Reviews come in many shapes and sizes. Most of us in the workforce undergo an annual review to make sure we and the boss are on the same page as far as how we are doing in job performance. If you have ever had a book published, a song recorded, acted in a play, performed in a concert or had a major part in a movie, most likely you have been reviewed. Reviewing can be seen as a form of critiquing. Critiquing can easily degrade into nit picking and rampant negativity. Most of us are not fond of reviews.
There is a relatively new form of reviewing that came of age on the internet: people who have used a particular product or service writing reviews of their experiences and letting people know if they did or did not enjoy the product or experience. I love these things. If considering visiting a restaurant or a car dealer or a resort or before going to a movie or buying a product, I always check out the reviews. Something I have noticed about restaurant reviews is that the quality of a restaurant’s reviews can change rapidly. I suppose that is due to a turnover in wait staff or a new main cook/chef coming on board. So when it comes to restaurant reviews, check the dates of the reviews.
I will tell you that there are several things I purchase with confidence without the need of a recent review. Some of those things would be shirts of a brand I am familiar with, engine oil, cleaning products, much of my groceries, and office products. With that in mind you can understand why I was surprised and tickled when my wife caledl to report she had been purchasing office supplies on-line from Staples and ran across an interesting review. It was a review for paper clips. That’s right, paper clips. Here is what it said: “Heading: Like a good woman – strong and flexible. Content: I like my women like I like my paper clips, able to keep it together without strain or drama. These premium paper clips do just that.”
That is a review I don’t really need. Really.
Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Starbucks Church


It has been my experience that much very negative conversation rolls through the bowels of the church community. Or that we should be ashamed. Much of that negative talk is caused by failure to understand folks whose understanding of scripture and life principles differs from others. Sometimes that negative talk is caused by jealousy. We, of the church, are not immune to jealousy. But we are not likely to admit to it; in fact we keep it carefully veiled from you and from ourselves. Veiled, unadmitted, but there.

Often when we criticize Christian leaders, it is less about what they do and believe and more about their “success”. Truth be known, any Christian can pick apart another’s doctrine, values, lifestyle, mode of worship, biblical translation preferred, style of building (or lack of building), methods of mission work and the list continues. Some seem to consider such nitpicking and hostility to be a “gift”. On the rare occasions I listen to preachers on the radio, I am amazed how many claim to be “fundamentalists” and yet fail to mention Jesus in their messages. They are too caught up in attacking other believers who fail to walk lock step with them in theology and methodology and explaining why they are right and everyone else is wrong. I will admit that I don’t appreciate such an approach to preaching. There is just too much good news in the Gospel (the Good News) to be shared with people who do not yet know God. Why travel the road of negativity?

The church, while having an awesome “product”, does have an image and marketing problem. Perhaps we could learn something from the effective marketing campaigns of successful companies. One of those could be Starbucks Coffee. I am amazed by their success. There is a Starbuck in every city in America. It seems that where there is a cluster of buildings in America, a Starbucks suddenly apprears. I was reading that there is a place where Starbucks Coffee Shops are located on opposite corners of the same intersection. I am amazed at their growth because they, basically, just sell coffee. They sell it mixed with water, sugar, cream, extra caffeine, foam and various flavorings at outrageous prices. But it is still coffee. You can’t buy it in small, medium or large because they have pretentiously named their size choices; Demi, Short, Tall, Grande, Venti, and Trenta. Over the years they have added to their product line with sweets, chocolate and such. The latest product introduced is shaken iced tea. I can’t wait to try it because, no doubt, it is so much better than plain old poured iced tea.

Okay, I have an attitude about Starbucks. And perhaps most of that attitude springs forth from jealousy. The success of their marketing has convinced many in our malleable and easily led culture that it is to only place one can get a really good cup of coffee. And it is the place to be. My poor attitude caused me to love it when Consumer’s Report did a survey and taste test and found that, when people were not aware of where the coffee came from, most people preferred McDonald’s coffee over Starbucks. Despite having a narrow range of product that, just possibly, is not the best available on the market, Starbucks is astonishingly successful. The achievements of Starbucks make the point that success has less to do with product and more to do with effective marketing. As much as I believe Starbucks to be, on a certain level, a sham, I give them high marks for attracting multitudes to their stores.

A question worth considering is what if Starbucks marketed like the average church? I believe it is a sure bet they would not have remained in business very long. Churches generally do very little marketing and many churches consider marketing to be either unholy or beneath them. On those rare occasion when marketing is attempted, it is often ineffective. Check out this video: Starbucks marketing like churches. In some cases it seems like the church is working hard to NOT attract new people. My experience is that, when it comes to marketing, when it comes to getting the news out about the Good News, we don’t even know where to start.

This is certainly a subject I know little about and have a history of little success. I do know the first steps involve understanding one’s product and understanding people you are targeting. After that, I am at a loss. Try as we may, the churches I have served have been relative ineffective in delivering the goods – getting the word out. I could use some help. Do you have any marketing successes you could share with me?

Perhaps someone from Starbucks marketing team would like to come help us out.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Say Anything You Like As Long As I Agree With You


I know I’m old. I know the times have changed. I know I live in a different world than I grew up in. Knowing all of that: I still think that, as a culture, we have absolutely lost our minds. We major on minor points and totally ignore some things of great importance.

The news outlets expend lots of energy and dedicate hours of air time on issues that, in the wider scheme of things, are not very important. One of those is the renaming of the Washington Redskins to make them less offensive. Surveys report that less than 10% of the Native American population is disturbed by the Washington professional football team going by the moniker “Redskins.” It certainly isn’t my first choice of team name. In high school we were the Eagles. That’s a good name. It sounds powerful and beautiful. And I am pretty sure no eagles are offended by our use of their name. But, because Redskins has been deemed politically incorrect and some people are offended, the U.S. Patent Office has rescinded Washington team’s patent on the name Redskins. That is just one of many things our federal government is doing that makes me very uncomfortable. Are the Washington Redskins being insensitive? Yes. Could they choose a better name? Sure. That is easy for me to say because I have no monetary investment in or emotional attachment to the name. I like the team colors. If they tried to change those I can see a huge fuss being made. Is the government over reacting and overstepping its bounds? Absolutely. Have we lost our minds? Yep.

Another case in point. The biggest news of the week was when a profession basketball team owner was the hottest topic of the news cycle because of some things he said. The owner of the LA Clippers professional basketball team is being forced to sell his team. (I care so little about the man I don’t even remember his name.) He was recorded by his girlfriend making some comments that are taken to be racist. It is interesting that the media types are much more concerned with what he said and less concerned that he is married and has a girlfriend. My, we have come a long way, haven’t we? Since the media has played the recording of his conversation (or at least the part that offends) over and over and over I can say it sounded racist to me. Does that make him a racist and deserving of losing his team? I don’t know. Haven’t all of us said something in the privacy of close relationships that we would not say in public? If your response is, “No” I will call you a liar.

I grew up in the 60’s where free speech was held in high esteem and we took advantage of it often. We were happy to tell “The Man” every single thing we believed he was doing wrong. It could only happen in America – the land of free speech. Now we have free speech only if no one is offended by what we say. I don’t know the owner of the Clippers but it is notable that many African-Americans work for him. His payroll is many millions of dollars. He doesn’t seem to have a problem hiring African-Americans and working with them. Perhaps the only thing his tirade to his girlfriend proves is that he is a classless, wrong thinking jackass. Hopefully there is no law against this since almost all of us qualify for this category at some time in our lives.

If I disagree with you please be careful how you label me. Reality is, no matter how you label me; it is convenient but always wrong. You are wrong because such a label is shallow and one dimensional. It may make you feel superior and safe to hang a label on someone who disagrees with you. But you are wrong. We seem to quickly label those we disagree with as: racist, redneck, homophobic, rightwing, leftwing, stupid, hateful, mean, immoral. When, in fact, they just disagree with us. They may be wrong. We may be wrong. But why does having a different set of value and disagreeing with me translate as being immoral and hate-filled? Some wonderful, well intentioned people hold thoughts and values that I strongly disagree with. But they are wonderful people. Misguided, perhaps, but good. J Where do we get off declaring that people who disagree with us are evil? This seems like simplistic thinking to me and, unfortunately, many of my minister friends seem to do just that. They have been to school and everything. Many of my minister friends claim to be open and progressive. But in the reality of life they are hostile, angry and close minded.

During my early years in the ministry just about the worst thing you could say about someone was to call them a “Fundamentalist.” I think what we really meant was that they were legalists who believe faith in God was all about keeping a certain set of rules they made up. The fundamentalist thing came from the idea that they believed some fundamentals of the faith. If one’s thinking wandered off from their narrow set of values they were doomed and not to be acknowledged. Unfortunately, those of us on the other end of the theological spectrum have become fundamentalist liberals. Disagree with us and we want nothing to do with you. We, too, have our litmus tests of acceptability.

Being wrong, as is the owner of the Clippers, does not give one the right to be close minded and hateful. And being right (or thinking you are right) does not give one the right to be close minded and hateful. Until we take down the barriers, withdraw the labels, lower the volume and begin really listening to each other, nothing good is going to happen. We would do well to listen to those with whom we disagree. Even if they are wrong, we could still learn something from them.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I'll Wait Until You Fix It

I spend much of my time and energy on church transformation. I have been called to the church I presently serve as a Transformational Senior Minister. Transformation is about taking a church that is plateaued or declining and transforming it into a church that is vibrant and growing, both spiritually and numerically. My take on the whole deal is that the church, as described in the Bible, is an organism – The Body of Christ. And healthy living organisms grow. It is a natural thing.
 
For something to be healthy and grow, its systems must be healthy. For humans it means that our respiratory system must be healthy; our vascular system must be healthy; our nervous system must be healthy, etc. For a church to grow, its systems must be healthy. Systems in ministry: in giving, in communicating, in expectations of ministers and church members, in systems of leadership, (and on and on) must be put on a healthy plane before the church will change in any appreciable way and become healthy and growing. Most people believe the church is changed by bringing in new pastoral leadership and/or developing new ministries. Both of these things certainly impact the health and direction of the church. But neither of these things “fixes” a church. No matter what pastoral leadership in brought in and no matter what ministries are attempted, a broken church will remain broken until the church’s systems are repaired and made healthy. This makes more sense when one realizes that the church is the people who make up the church. We, and the systems we use, must be changed.
With this in mind, I sent a letter to my congregation outlining some of the challenges we have to deal with. I have found it to be the best policy to just tell people the truth – even if it is not good news. I do that realizing that there are members in every church who believe it is the pastor’s job to only say positive things. Every sermon, every newsletter article, every letter must come with balloons attached, a happy face drawn on it and it should always make them feel good. Gee, I do wish life was like that, but it isn’t. And I wish church was like that, but it isn’t. Life is challenging and being a Christian makes life even more challenging, not less.
 
So I wrote this “unhappy” letter to the congregation. I must tell you that the overwhelming response was positive. Dozens of people e-mailed me or stopped me to say something like, “Thanks for finally telling us the truth. It wasn’t pleasant but at least now we know. With that information we can now move forward.”
 
There were, of course, some who wanted to be angry in reaction to the information. They wanted someone to blame. Unfortunately, for them, most of the people to blame had left the church long ago. Most did want some assurance that such things could never happen again and we want to let them know that SYSTEMS have been put in place to negate the possibility of such mistakes ever being made again.

But I did exchange e-mails with one church member that so clearly exposes why churches of today struggle. It is such a good example I just must share it with you. The e-mails I share with you have been edited to protect the identity of the person who sent them to me.
The writer said: “It saddens me that our church doesn't seem to have any real direction and at this point my question is who is in charge and why do things seem to just get worse? I pray daily for a healthier and happier church. I pray that I will enjoy coming back when things seem to be more sound.”

 My response: “Thanks for your response to my letter. It is my belief that the work and business of the church needs to be put on the table where we can see it, own it and fix it. Your name doesn’t bring a face to mind so, coupled with your response, I am guessing you are not around much. If you were and paying attention you would know that the church has a very clear direction and is moving forward. Our direction, as a church, is to grow disciples (mature followers of Jesus) and engage in ministry that impacts our community and helps those who don’t know God come to know and love God. Like a vast majority of North American churches, our church has slowly become inwardly focused. This is “normal” for any group, is difficult to see from within and almost impossible to break out of. The leadership of the church is working hard at getting this done. I would encourage you to, instead of waiting until things get better, invest your resources (time, talents, energy and money) in helping your church move forward. I pray God’s blessings for you and yours.”

 I wrote my response with the full understanding that the person who had written expected some sort of apology from me and the church for having failed to meet his expectations. So, the response was not surprising.

 The writer’s response to me: “No, I haven't been around much. I was there several times when you took over and with much respect you did not bother shaking my hand or speaking as I left the early service. I have family members who have continued going but I felt too much negativity in the church.  I am a huge advocate for the church and I love what it has stood for in the past. I have faith that it will be strong again.”

 I commend the writer for his faith that the church will be strong again. My question is, will his lack of support at this critical juncture help the church become strong and healthy? Of course not. The writer is a “consumer Christian.” I person who affiliates with a church for what the church does for him; how the church makes him feel; what he gets instead of what he can give.

 In staff meeting this morning someone mentioned that a friend of his was moving to Memphis who had a skill that would be very helpful in the life and ministry of the church. Wouldn’t it be interesting if, when people are looking for a church to be a part of, instead of asking, “What does this church offer me?” they might ask, “What do I bring to this church that will help it fulfill its mission and ministry?” My guess is that church would be much stronger, more on target with its mission and having a huge, positive impact on the community.

 Just thinking Transformation.

 Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It's Dangerous Out There


We all realize that there are many dangers in our everyday world. Some are obvious dangers that we go out of our way to avoid. We lock out doors at night, try to drive carefully, (I loved it when my mother would tell to drive carefully. I usually replied something like, “No mom, I’m going to drive blindfolded from the back seat.” She thought I was hilarious – NOT.) if we handle weapons we do so gingerly, make sure the ladder is stable before climbing it, look both ways before crossing a street, we go indoors if there is lightening, tornado warnings drive us to the basement and the list goes on.

We all have had friends who were risk takers and would try almost anything. Most of them didn’t live past their twenties and we miss them. But they had, what they would call, a good time. These were the friends who jumped off of cliffs into shallow water, raced cars down country roads, rode motorcycles without helmets, drank way too much beer and insisted on driving home, went rappelling without first learning how, riding the wake of towboats on the Ohio River in canoes without life vests or knowing how to swim or got into fights with much larger opponents. It is a wonder some of us lived through it. I was shocked when I turned 30.

Even with all the precautions we put in place: accidents happen; unforeseen things happen; people make mistakes; storms blow up. And some people text while driving. I went to lunch with a couple of friends last Friday. We were tooling along Getwell Street in Memphis. Did you know it used to be called Shotwell? That was before a veteran’s hospital was built there and they changed the name to Getwell. Both of the guys I was riding with are longtime residents of Memphis so I was getting the tour. The car may have been on Getwell but they were traveling down memory lane. They were telling me what used to be located where a newer store now stood. A really great restaurant used to be there and “Joe Doaks” used to live in that house and there was a drug store on that corner that had great sundaes. None of what they were saying made any sense to me but they were having a great time. I was just useful as a “tourist” to point out their memories to. We were just riding along, having a good time and minding our own business. When – BLAM!!

The driver of the car I was in had slowed for the traffic in front of us. The woman behind us did not. My guess is she hit us doing around 45 MPH. She never took her foot off of the accelerator and put on the brake. She had no clue that the cars in front of her were almost stopped. She couldn’t have. She was much too busy texting to be bothered with driving. She was another of those sadly delusional people who think they can “multitask.” “No problem, I can drive and text at the same time.” No you can’t. You can drive and then you can text and then you can drive and then you can text. But you CANNOT drive and text at the same time. One at a time. Perhaps you can switch back and forth between the two tasks rather rapidly but you can’t do both at the same time. And every time you text, you take your eyes off of the road. This is fine, if nothing on the road changes while you are reading or writing a text. Unfortunately things on the road change all the time. Fortunately no one was killed or severely injured. Her car was totaled. I do hope that text was important enough to be worth the pain and problems it caused.

Yes, I know you are Superman or Wonder Woman and YOU can text and drive. You, of course, are the exception. Even though you are such an exceptional person, do me a favor and please, while you are in the car, PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY. It would really bother me if you were texting and were killed in a traffic accident. It would bother me even more if you killed me in a traffic accident.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Theology 101


Many times it has been said that Theology 101 teaches the most important fact about God that one can possibly comprehend. There is a God and you are not him.

I am reading a wonderful book that looks at what is going on with the church in the early 21st Century. The author relies on volumes of research and puts all that she says in clear historical context. Her take is that what many of us see as the church in a mess is really just America redefining what it means to be spiritual. Newer generations find the church and organized religious structures to be unnecessary to having a belief system and seeking to know and be guided by God.

I must admit that much of what she says resonates with me. I am a part of the generation that ramped up this idea that one can be spiritual without being Christian. (Or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or most anything else one might be.) We made fun of the evangelicals for talking about having a personal relationship with God and then went on to design our own personal religions. According to the most recent surveys, when questioned about religious beliefs, the fastest growing section of the population is people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

I can identify with this crowd. I am not a big fan of religion when religion is defined by much of the church that I have known since my childhood. The religions and churches I grew up around seemed to be all about rules and obligations and doing things that were NOT FUN and excluding people who didn’t believe just as you did and to worship, one had to get dressed up in the most uncomfortable outfit available and spend an hour or so being bored out of one’s mind. I remember being in worship in my three piece suit and laying down on the pew with my head in my mother’s lap and sleeping. Church was not a terribly negative experience for me. It was just a bother to go. Other than meeting with other kids my age in the little room behind the pipe organ to smoke, church was not something I cared to carry into my adult life. Church no – smoking yes.

But then my older brother introduced me to Christianity: the antithesis of religion. Religion is man’s attempts to reach God through a complicated series of beliefs and actions in order to get God to like us enough to invite us into heaven. (Or whatever you are taught to call it.) On the other hand, Christianity is God’s attempt to reach man through sending his son to live among us as one of us, teach us, experience what we experience, die for us on the cross and show us the way to eternal life through the resurrection. Christianity is less about rules and more about grace. The centerpiece of Christianity is not obligation, it is love. Religion and Christianity are two very different things.

As I have conversations with my spiritual, but not religious brethren, I have discovered that we part company at one strategic point. I believe in the God who revealed himself in the Bible and the plan God has for us to get to know him and develop a relationship with him. I see God as one who both loves us and calls us to a moral standard that may challenge us and cause some discomfort and life change. A God who teaches that being nice is great but being holy is even better. (The two are not mutually exclusive.) The God I serve doesn’t serve me. God both soothes me and afflicts me. Being a God follower is challenging more than it is comforting.

It seems, if the surveys are correct, my irreligious/spiritual friends believe in a god that is, unfortunately I believe, of their own making. Doing this strikes me as both extremely convenient and egocentric. The convenient part has to do with getting to develop a god who is much like me. My made-up god is a god that is: white; has the same moral standards as I; is especially forgiving of whatever it is that I am doing that even I feel is wrong; supports my political party; totally supports me in whatever social issues I believe to be important – they become moral issues; supports my belief that if you love me you must approve of everything I do. It is egocentric because if my god must meet my criteria to be acceptable, when you come right down to it, that approach makes me the ultimate authority. The reality is, ultimately I am my own god. And I don’t care how smart you may be or how “spiritual” you may be or how well intended you might be, you are an extremely shaky ground. It is ground that I am unwilling to occupy.

My younger sister shared a quote with me the other day that I believe goes to the heart of our struggle to understand God. It speaks to the reality that God is very different than we are. It is back to Theology 101. “God’s timing is not always our timing. We see the immediate, He sees the long term. We feel pain and desire relief; He sees our pain and offers comfort. We pray for God to do something; He wants us to do something. We want conflict resolved; He wants our resolve to be trust in Him. We want to be an overnight success; He wants our character to grow with our success. We want financial security; He wants us to be generous with what we have. We want meaningful relationships; He wants us to initiate friendships. We want health; He wants us to be complete. We are seeking glory: He wants to glorify Himself.  Fearful impatience can push us to settle for less than the Lord’s very best.”

Ultimately I guess I am greedy. Instead of settling for what I think is right and best, I want to experience the life God has in mind for me.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved