Christian Ross

An Open Letter to a Closed (minded) Church

This is an open letter — a response in one of the few ways I know how. It’s mostly just going to be a stream of consciousness that could ultimately turn into a longer conversation.

— —

Dear 1950’s style church member, thank you.

I used to be you. My “theology” matched your theology. Our “doctrines” aligned. The “church,” as I believed it, was the most important thing. When the doors were open, we knew we were supposed to be in the “church.”

I wasn’t there this week but the funny thing is, as much as ever, I believe we’re supposed to be in the church. I want to teach my boys this. I want to set this example for others. I want the world to know the Jesus that I know.

I think (mostly because I don’t know your internal motives), in that regard, we’re one and the same.

Except for the fact that we’re miles apart. In sports terms, we’re so far apart, we’re not even playing the same game.

What’s changed? The church? Nope.

What has changed for me is the simple fact that I missed the boat for so long. For entirely too long, I viewed those four walls, those padded pews, those hard-bound song books, that air conditioning, those vaulted ceilings, and the 9:00am once-per-week 45-minute dive into scripture as the Church. Here’s some examples of my previous ways of thinking:

  • “Hurry and finish your breakfast, we’ve got to get to church.”
  • “Nah, sorry, we can’t do that on Wednesday night; we’ve got church.”
  • “What time does church start?”
  • “Can you run up to the church and grab X?”
  • “Hey friend, (I know it’s a little awkward but) are you interested in going to church with me?”

Sound familiar? I promise I can go on.

You know what changed? Me. When I realized a little while back that our “theology” — as you might be inclined to passively throw in my face on Facebook — doesn’t line up nearly as much as it used to.

What amazes me is that you truly think that your take on doctrine is the only Truth there is. The simple fact you emphasize your one building; in your one-horse town; of your one denomination (even when you say you’re not a denomination) as the “Church” is completely opposite of what the Bible you stand on teaches.

— —

My seat was empty on Sunday

My kids play sports and I get that back in your day things looked a little different. You had Blue Laws, I’ve heard all about them. And you just knew that if Christ returned on a Sunday or Wednesday night and you weren’t in your assigned seat at church, you lost your place in line. I totally understand your thinking, that crap is hard to shake.

And look, I’m probably the last guy you want offering up Jesus returns prophesies to you but I’m fairly certain you can count on a couple of things:

1. Jesus doesn’t care about what your building looks like.

and

2. If he showed up on a Sunday and upon his return He just luckily sauntered into your place of worship, He’d be disheartened at what He saw. I don’t think He’d be turning-tables mad but I do think He’d be sad that you shot-your-shot at creating His perfect church and you missed so badly.

You wanna know why I know this?

Cause Jesus didn’t ever once call a building the “Church.” And in his years of ministry, never once did He set aside two days a week to go to “church.” And never did He say, ‘those who enter this building with the wood-paneling and temperature-controlled baptistry will be called my Church.’

Nope. He pretty much said the opposite. For his entire ministry. Until the day he died and he called out in agonizing pain: “Father, forgive them, because they still have no idea what they’re doing.” (paraphrasing, mine)

— —

You’re probably gonna read this and think, “we don’t read the same book.” You’re wrong.

I think if you’ll take a look back through that Book you read with honest and fresh eyes, you might see something a little different. I did.

What you probably won’t see is that point where Jesus laid out the scriptural times of worship of 10:00am, 6:00pm, and Wednesday night at 7:00pm. Adjusted accordingly for time change, of course.

As I point out above, He never actually calls a building the church. Nor does He call it, “going to church”; “going to the church”; “worshiping at the church”; “running by the church”; or any other mis-verbification you can come up with.

What does He say then? Well, He does tell Peter (in Matthew’s account) that on him, He will build His church. So we’ve got that. But I’m fairly certain that statement alone doesn’t mean Jesus hired Peter as a general contractor to go out and get a bunch of sub-contractors and an architect to build a physical building with a steeple and a pulpit. (But again, I don’t have a Masters in Theology.)

Wanna know what Jesus talked about more than a church? Like 100 times more? A Kingdom. And not one far away. Not one down the road in the future. And definitely not one that was made for the humans of this world to rule over each other with.

The kingdom of God is near” is kind of a weird thing to hear, right? I’m like, “hey Jesus, what’chu mean by that?”

Since you asked, here’s my measly, human interpretation…

“I’m Jesus. I’m here. I’m building something far better than you can ever imagine. It ain’t a building. It doesn’t need a time slot. It doesn’t leave people out. It doesn’t require a great (or terrible) speaker each week. All I ask is that you love me and take care of my people. I’m the kingdom and I’m right here. Near you. Bueno?”

also (and equally as important)…

“Don’t forget something… the people. The ones who are lost. The ones who have walked away. The ones who have never heard. The ones who are broken. The ones who are misguided. The ones who want nothing to do with me or with you. The ones who say the most filthy, vile, and vulgar things about me (and you). They’re really freaking important to me.

And you know what? Now maybe you should write this one down… I’m kind of partial to this one… love them. Go after them. Please go after them. With all of your heart, soul, mind, and might. They’re not always going to be in the places you are. In fact, they’re rarely going to be in the place you feel the safest. Please, please, please, go after them and love them. Just as they are. You do that and I’ll work my magic as well, together we can bring them home. To the church. Not the building. To my church; my kingdom; my place of rest.

— —

I was at a baseball game on Sunday (six, actually)

Look, my kids play sports. On Sunday. And I know that annoys the hell out of you. And we post pictures about it. And we celebrate it.

You know what else we celebrate? The fact that we are with the church. My boys know it. They know they’re called to such a higher standard than the world sets. They know Christ comes first. They know the Love of the Lord. They know the songs. They know we long for times to sit in and worship with like-minded believers to be refreshed and encourage each other.

They also know they’re called to so much more.

Those 10 other kids on the team? The 10-15 families associated with those kids? Holy moly, who better to teach them about Jesus, His love for them, and their place in the Kingdom than us? Than my wife? Than my boys? That’s a church. That’s a mission.

You know what we have no ambitions of? That .0296% chance of becoming a professional athlete that you post about on social media. We don’t talk about it. We don’t encourage it. We also don’t shoot it down when our kids say, “dad, I wanna be a baseball player when I grow up!” You want to know why? Cause I wanted to play baseball when I grew up too and you know who didn’t shoot that down? Every adult ever. Let the kids dream and play. (It’s scientifically-proven good for their brains.)

— —

I get that you don’t get it. I get that this will stir so many of the wrong and unintended emotions in you but you’ve gotta understand that the “Church” as you know it is on the decline and part of that — from my simple estimation — is simply due to the fact that you’ve thumbed your nose at both believers and non-believers alike who do not exactly align with your doctrine. Different doesn’t equal wrong.

Love God and love your neighbor. I can’t do the second without the first and if I don’t do the second, I’ve failed this test miserably.

On any given Sunday I might be at a baseball field, but hopefully someday you’ll come to the realization that my family and I are as much or more a part of His church than you’ve ever taken the leap of faith to be.

So, Thank you. Thank you for outing yourself once again. Thank you for setting the stage for me to finally put something down on paper (this has been a few years coming). Thank you for giving me material to once again reinforce the teachings of Jesus with my kids. Thank you for reminding me that Jesus is really important. His teachings should be heard, especially by the lost — those who need it most.

What I hope my boys never inherit is a short-sided view of what Christians — followers of Christ — are supposed to be. Your “church” will likely continue down a slow path of attrition and death but Christ’s Church will endure forever. I hope they choose the latter.

c

Parenting is hard.

And I don’t always get it right. Even when I’m attempting to do the right thing, I’m prone to fail. To err is human and I’m thankful for grace and forgiveness.

It wasn’t with kids that Paul struggled but I think he had a similar mindset:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Romans 7:15-20

An open letter to my son

Dear Cohen,

I yelled at you today and of course, I shouldn’t have. You didn’t deserve it. 6-year-olds surely don’t. I’ll admit, I was frustrated with you but you were only the straw; I’m not exactly sure where the build up began but sadly the pressure released on you.

I love you. I have high expectations of you. And to be honest, they’re unrealistically high expectations. You’re advanced in so many areas that I often fail to remember that you only have six years or so under your belt. Wisdom doesn’t come overnight yet I often lay that burden on you like it should.

One of the most important things to me is that you turn out to be a better man than I am. That you make better decisions, that you relate better to people, that you set better examples. When I watch you stumble, I see patterns of my life which could potentially be where some of the unleashing stems from. I potentially get upset because I see you only mimicking my bad behavior.

Without turning this on you, here’s a few of areas that I’d love to get better about teaching you but for you to learn them, I know I have to model them.

I realize it takes a lot of nerve to ask for your patience with me as I get better with these things on a day where I potentially made you feel lower than low. I’m a work in progress.

 

Be others-centered.
I’m sure by now, you’ve seen me in action – I’m a classic one-upper. Many of my interactions with people in life go on while a good majority of my brain is working through what to say next. I’m a weak listener and I dish advice like a street-prophet. Even if I haven’t been there or seen that, I’ve got a story to match it. I’m prideful, vengeful, inwardly focused, and outwardly cynical. I’m like a mixed cocktail of the characteristics that most people avoid all stirred up into one.

Help me and join me in working each day to become less self-centered. Winning is fun but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. You know what matters? Building your brother up instead of tearing him down or repeatedly putting him in second place. Likewise, your mother has constantly traversed the waters of a husband that has all too often put his own interests first for almost 15 years. They both deserve better of us.

When I – and hopefully you by watching my modeled behavior – quit worrying about how we’re perceived, most of the following areas we need to work on should automatically resolve themselves…
(more…)

How’s your lawn doing?

I’ve made it no secret that I’m allergic to yard work. I enjoy having a decently manicured lawn and I’m most definitely quick to judge when my neighbors get a little lax with theirs, but when it comes time for me to gas up my Troy-Built, I’m apt to find any excuse to avoid my fate. It’s not that mowing is all that hard, but my lawn has a number of strikes against it before I ever pull a cord:

First, it’s St. Augustine, which by look and feel, is awesome. It’s thick, it grows fast, it heals itself, and it’s hearty. On the contrary, all of those great positives quickly become negatives when you have to cut it.

Second, I live in the southern US. My mowing season typically runs from March until late October and I can recall a few times where a February and/or November cut was necessary as well. The only ‘season’ I can safely assume longer than my lawn maintenance routine is the never-ending one known as NASCAR.

Finally, from late May until late September, it’s just plain hot where I live. Last year we set a record for most days over 100F in the history of our area – a record worth bragging very little about to say the least. This year has been slightly better but walking behind a gas propelled engine in anything over 90F is uncalled for.

First world problems, I realize. (more…)

Quality vs Quantity

I had the pleasure of once again publishing a piece for the Read & Trust Newsletter this morning – of which you might be interested in signing up for – which triggered my thinking that it’s probably OK if I actually share some of my previous work I’ve submitted for it. Maybe the statute of limitations has run out on one or two of them and you can get a taste of what you just might be missing out on. Hope it doesn’t get me a seat on the bench.

Here is a piece I did late last Spring on the topic Quality vs Quantity. Instead of doing a straight written piece on the subject, I chose to go a different route and describe my thoughts on quality vs quantity in sketch form. As you can tell, I work with a mouse and a keyboard for a living, not a pencil and paper. I also followed Shawn Blanc by a week on the same subject and by my rough calculations, he was most definitely the winner.

If you’re on the fence about subscribing, I’d encourage you to give it a go. I’m definitely the weakest link in the chain.

Excerpt from Quality vs Quantity

The Movie Test

Nothing says, “I’m ready to settle in for a viewing of The Devil Wears Prada or 29 Dresses,” like a bag of popcorn. My arteries know that quality should win out here but if you think I’m settling for some weak, butter-free, half-bag of kernals, you are sorely mistaken. I’ll take the jumbo-mega-super-large bag with extra butter. It’s the only one that comes with free refills.

Winner: Quantity

Care to read the rest? Quality vs Quantity