The God of the Mundane, Part 8: The Room Must Grow

A Remembrance
There is a vague memory of a house my grandparents lived in. A huge A-frame home with a great big great-room complete with stairs that climbed and climbed and climbed. In my memory, I am wearing Winnie-the-Pooh “footie pajamas.” I am coming down the stairs and there is a Christmas tree reaching into the towering cathedral of a roof. The room is wide-eyed, mouth-opened massive.
Driving by that house a few dozen times as an adult has revealed the place is not as big as I remember. In fact, it seems small in comparison. I can only suppose my physical growth and a little bit of perspective have changed the way I view such spaces. It is a disappointing thing for this to happen. For I would prefer to have kept the memory intact along with the wonder.
A Realization
Almost every day my son will inevitably say, “This is the greatest house ever!” After a month of living in this house, it dawned on me this morning why he might be so adamant about this. It probably has a lot in common with my memory of my mom’s parent’s home. He is only four years old and the kitchen/living/dining area with the high arched ceiling with exposed wood beams must seem huge to his vertically challenged frame. It looks like a big, wide-open space to me. I can only imagine how enormous he must think it is.
But he will grow up and look at pictures of this room and wonder how he could think it was so magically big. He will be disappointed as we all are about these things. And this phenomenon is not relegated to only homes either. Parks, hills, automobiles, churches and people themselves shrink as we grow up and older. This is the way of things. But not everything.
A Reality
As I have grown, some things have grown larger and become far more significant than I could have ever believed possible as a young man. The exact opposite of what happened with my memory of my grandparent’s home is happening with my understanding of God and what it means to live by faith. The room is growing larger, not smaller. And with the growth of the room, the magic of it all extends out into places unseen before.
As a young man, I imagined the Christian life as one of 1) Accepting Jesus as my Savior, 2) Being good, 3) Telling others about Jesus. This was pretty much it. A small room indeed. But as I grew up, the room grew also. God started having to do with more parts of my life than just my morality and who I had witnessed to recently. I am just now realizing this after many years of this reality working on me. It shocks me a little. For I’m cynical enough to think the familiarity of the gospel would make it all the more constricting. When in fact everything is enlarging. God now has to do with everything. Everything. And not just my own little need to escape Hell.
The room has become a Universe of inexhaustible ideas and feelings and compulsions and passions and dreams and hopes. No longer is it the closet-like space of getting people to walk an aisle, fill out a card and suppose we have lived the Christian life. The claustrophobia of such a space would kill me now. I’ve sat in the room of hovering stars being called by name and an earth groaning under the weight of original sin. The room of the impoverished the world over and chefs who can work culinary miracles with the raw materials of creation. The room of disabilities and exceptional abilities. The room of weariness and wonder. The room of sexuality and suffering. The room of grace and mercy and failure and falling. And irony of ironies, a room so big, idealism will not fit.
The gospel does this. Or should. The room grew inexplicably large for the Jews who followed Jesus very soon after his death. It grew from a religion of Jews to now include the world. Huh. One sin we just might be in danger of committing but rarely if ever discuss is the transgression of limiting the Christian life to just a few things we can check off. All good things to be sure. Feed the poor. No adultery. Be nice. You know, the usual suspects. But this is all our imaginations can, well imagine. It’s all so small and easy to check off.
But what I cannot help but feel – no, hope for is for it to be oh so much bigger and grander than this. I want to believe my faith in the gospel of grace is not limited to the spiritual things but is exploding onto every single mundane moment in my life. I want the shrapnel of this explosion to imbed itself in every enjoyment and failure and celebration and tragedy coming my way.
We have fallen into thinking that simply because the Christian faith is not less than what it was when we first began, then it needs be no more. Certainly the Christian life is not less than believe, do good and tell. But just because it is not smaller than this room does not mean it should not be bigger. Experience and the Scriptures themselves vitiate against such an idea. The room must grow. Sometimes I look into the details of the gospel itself and a world opens up dwarfing the world I lived in moments earlier. And other times I look into the crevices of my own life and while clearing away the oil and dirt, the grime and contaminating contagions, the room expands.
This is why I like growing older. I’ve no desire to be young again. This would be like trading the great outdoors of a faith for the stuff of pantries. This growing faith that takes in the world bit by bit and takes on years and decades is a pushing back of the Fall itself. The Fall which requires our lives and demands we trade in beating hearts for silent ones takes a body blow when we prefer the aging body with the growing faith. For the room to grow we must also, exchanging bodies of nubility and virility for minds fit for a kingdom expanding.
A great reversal is taking place within us. We grow up and age and must deal with sagging buttocks and breasts. However, a larger reality is overtaking even this. Even though we must age for us to grow in our faith, the growth is taking us back to the wonder of small bodies in cavernous spaces. My hope is we can all sit one day with aching bones, skin no longer taut, and senses failing and say, “This is the greatest house ever.”

Why I No Longer Listen to Downloaded Sermons

(The following is not meant to be prescriptive for anyone’s behavior. It is merely descriptive of my own. I bind no one’s conscience.)

I have not listened to a recorded sermon in months. In fact I cannot remember the last time I did so. A lecture or “talk” maybe. But a sermon has not reached my ears which was not preached in my own church for a long while.
This is remarkable because I used to listen to sermons by pastors from across the country almost daily. But now, I not only don’t do this any longer but I have no desire to resume my former practice. If you had told me I would feel and think this way a year ago, I would have been incredulous. I would have thought you did not know me well. I would have assumed such a practice would make me guilty of something. I know not what. But something along the lines of veering from the shibboleth-like course of the “Young, Restless and Reformed” (meaning no disrespect to my friend Collin Hansen).
My reasons for not listening to podcasted, downloaded or any other type of recorded sermon differ along the time of the practice itself. In other words, when the flood of sermonic mp3s began to recede from my iTunes folder the reasoning was different than now when it is more decisive. I know myself better now. Faults. Dispositions. Trajectories. All are in play and thankfully are somewhat more understandable even if not yet defeated.
It all started – or stopped, if you will – because I was tiring of the celebrity pastor phenomenon sweeping the evangelical landscape. For good or ill, it was starting to sicken me. I seemed to hear more people talk about the sermon they downloaded than the one the pastor put over them had delivered for their good. In this I heard the dissatisfaction of past moments in the life of Matt Redmond in their elation. I had so often said and done and thought just as they, it took no degree of imagination to hear my voice say the exact same thing. I had been more than a little guilty of downgrading the importance of the sermon served up by the shepherd appointed to feed my soul and watch it. By God. And I had upgraded the importance of the pastor who would never know me or my family…that is, apart from my desire to follow said pastor around to conference after conference after conference. After conference.
All this naturally led to the sermon being a medium of entertainment. I suppose I could find ways to entertain myself which would be worse for me. But the sermon by the celebrity pastor was now becoming like a TV show. How did I know this was a bad thing for me? I started expecting from all pastors what I was hearing in podcast form. I probably justified it in the name of excellence or something asinine like that. Don’t get me wrong, we should expect our pastors to preach well just as we expect plumbers to plumb well. But not all will have the same abilities. And I must be honest, I was entertained the most by the sermons when the preacher was “bringing it” or “killing it.” Whew, good to get that off my chest.
My main reason for no longer listening to sermons by celebrity preachers is…well, I have a preacher. When I am not preaching, he is my preacher/pastor. God has given him to me and my family for my good and his glory. He is the principle human agent I should be looking to for making sure my soul is fed. Are there better preachers out there? Yes. Of course, for there always will be. But they are not my pastor/shepherd. I would prefer for nothing to get in the way of what God has put in front of me to keep me on the way.
Related is my own preaching. There are certainly better preachers than myself. But I actually would appreciate the same sentiment by the people I am feeding when I preach. Self-serving convictions? Well yeah. Aren’t they all?
I probably need to reiterate these convictions are my own. Feel free to appropriate them but do not feel constrained by them. My own heart is at stake here. Nothing else. I look back on the previous years with a guilt mixed with sanity, shaken and stirred. A strong drink at a high price but mixed well and worth whatever the payment required. My zeal after listening to a “killer sermon” by the celebrity pastor du jour quickly turned into zeal for other’s convictions. Inevitably, I would hear a sermon on some moving subject and then very quickly want others to hear what I heard so their thinking could be changed.
Certainly I might do the same when listening to my pastor. But for my own part there is a controlling mechanism inherent deep inside my personal desire to be fed by the man standing in front of me, preaching the word. When I want no one else, effortlessly the Word is easily seen as being for me first and foremost. For conviction, encouragement, sight, hope, fire and refreshment.
So when you ask me if I have heard a sermon by anyone other than my pastor, my answer will increasingly be “no.” For I do not listen to the recorded sermons of celebrity pastors anymore.

The God of the Mundane: Part 7, It’s A Mundane Life

There is a scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life” in which George Bailey is wanting to buy a suitcase. Excited, he tells the salesman, “I don’t want something for one night, I want something for a thousand and one nights!” (Or something along those lines…I’m working from memory here.) The salesman shows him a second-hand piece of luggage and George remarks about how there is plenty of space for stickers from all the places he will go and see. He asks how much it is and he is told, “No charge.” “What’s that? That’s my trick ear…” He is then told his old employer, “Old man Gower” bought it for him. I can see and hear George say, “He did?!” And then he heads over to the drugstore Old man Gower owns and where George used to work.
This is a powerful scene. I have watched this movie more than any other movie and in my opinion this is the most meaningful scene in the whole film. Here we have George bursting with excitement and on the edge of adventure. We are thrilled with him. But only the first time we watch the film.
For now we know.
We know the torment that is coming. We know he must shelve his trip because of his father’s death. And then he will once again be disappointed, watching his dreams shatter on the craggy rocks of reality. His brother Harry will not be coming home to take the reins of the family business, the Bailey Building and Loan.
Another scene. He is standing outside of his home. Inside is a celebration of his brother’s marriage. He has had to feign joy while harboring defeat. Before his mother comes out to push him in the direction of Mary Hatch’s home, we watch him look with distress at the brochure’s representing his dreams of leaving behind the mundane life he leads in Bedford Falls. And Jimmy Stewart, in a beautiful piece of acting, tosses those dreams of escape and adventure away and the brochures are thrown on the ground to be trod by those who could never know his disappointment.
And it’s not over. He is now married to Mary Hatch. They have a triumphant handful of cash and are on their way out of town in Bert’s Taxi. They are on the edge of a dream Honeymoon. Not only is George Bailey about to escape the mundanity of his hometown, the only environs he has known, but he is about to leave with his new wife. But again the dream is squelched and he, in a gorgeous moment, uses his own money meant for his honeymoon to save the business he runs and cares for. The life he pictured has once again been thrown to the threshing floor of things beyond his control.
Everyone focuses on the end of this movie. In the end the viewer sees his life was used to help people and change the lives of not only the people of his town but the effects of his everyday decisions starting in childhood reverberate with significance throughout the world. He realizes this because Heaven has entered into his life in the form of an angel named Clarence. Once he sees what he has accomplished in the midst of such a mundane existence, there is joy and a new lust for life that had left him – and left him to the point of contemplating suicide. Everyone loves this part of the movie, as do I.
The end of the picture is when we get God’s perspective, of course. Heaven has burst in and George is now able to see clearly. We see clearly. Previously we all saw in a glass darkly. But now, clear. We like this. We want to be the George Bailey whose significance has been revealed. However, we do not want to be the George Bailey who leads a mundane life void of the excitement of the wider world which he longed for. We identify with his frustrations. We run away from the mundane. Or we tolerate it in expectation of something…other. No one really wants to be George Bailey. Wanting to have the same kind of impact on people’s lives is not the same as wanting to be George Bailey.
The movie is profound on a level we rarely ever operate on. Let’s look at another scene. George and Clarence (the angel) are sitting in a little building by the bridge George was about to jump off of. Of course, Clarence jumps in first because he knows the character and history of George and jumps in knowing he would be saved by him. George’s clothes are now drying out. Our suicidal subject is lamenting his life and Clarence utters the very statement that sums up the message of the movie. He says, “you just don’t know all that you’ve done.”
All his dreams are crashing around him and George is staring in the face the horrific idea he has done nothing in his life. We get this, don’t we? No one wants to grow up and be a nobody who lived a mundane life. We want to be rock stars. We want to be the kind of people books get written about. We want to leave our mark on the world. Obscurity is rarely the stuff of daydreams. Since the only people we celebrate are celebrities (singers, actors, writers, and in the church – celebrity pastors and biography-worthy missionaries) we of course want to be worthy of such talk ourselves. And this is what we want for our kids. No one wants to be George Bailey, really.
We don’t want to be clerks toiling away in obscurity without notice of the wider world. And those who are fine with that, let’s be honest, something is wrong with them. A quiet and peaceful life where nothing of significance can be seen with the naked eye stands in disdain inside and outside the church.
Christians could learn a lot here. We are guilty of not knowing what all we have done. Actually, that is not where the real guilt lies. It is where we feel it. But the actual guilt lies in our thinking because we do not know all that we have done, therefore we must have done nothing. We assume some kind of godlike posture as if we know the ends and implications of all our actions and then we make judgments based thereupon. Foolish, isn’t it – this idea we have no significance because we have not seen it? We wallow in some kind of faux humility never realizing it is really ego which thinks, “If I cannot see it, it must not be there.”
If there’s no place in the halls of heroic Christian faith for unknown housewives and clerks, then we have not believed the gospel nor read the Word aright. Most people live mundane lives that will never be remembered beyond a couple generations and only then by their family members. This can be painful. Again, every Christian wants to do something wonderful in the name of Jesus. And to come to the end of your rope or life and not see you did anything at all worthy enough to be called significant can be devastating.
Of course, it’s a lie. And it’s a lie if only because the two greatest commands Jesus gave are more often than not going to look very mundane. Often our loving God will not be very noticeable and our loving our neighbor will not be memorable. Sometimes they may be, but more often than not, forgettable and forgotten. But it is also a lie simply because we do not know. Who could know the effects of daily living out of the depths of belief in the killed and risen God for those who rebelled against him?
Since we cannot see that in our day-in and day-out faithfulness to God, we are accomplishing something, we then begin to reevaluate our lives. “I cannot see that I have done anything at all with my life. Therefore I must do something significant.” So we then go into the ministry or do something giving you the immediate satisfaction of seeing significance done. Finished. And done by us. This is not to say we should never take stock of what our lives are made up of. But we must face the fact there is a latent arrogance in this line of thinking. The arrogance of presumed omniscience. The arrogance of needing immediacy for validation. The problem and the difficulty is this just does not look anything like the conceit we are used to. This looks like ambition and single-mindedness. This is a cataclysmic forgetting of where our real significance is: Another, who rescued us from sin and death.
However, this is not all. There is a third stage. And it is the worst of all. The first is painful. The second is dangerous. But the last is repugnant. Stage one: I feel guilty about doing nothing. Stage 2: Therefore I must get on with something obviously significant. What comes next is absolutely natural but utterly reprehensible. Now we judge others by this standard. If they are not doing something obviously significant then we automatically say to ourself…or to them…and certainly to others, “They are not serious about their faith! If they were, they would do…” We can just finish the rest of the sentence with at the very least what we have done in the quest for making our mark on the world. And now as if there is not enough in the Scriptures given to us by God, we churn out new laws – in this case, the law of “do something big” – to prop up our own righteousness and judge another’s by. And it gets worse, it now becomes the gospel. No longer are joy, assurance and hope lodged in the work of Christ on our behalf. All hope is now located in what we are doing that is so awesome for God.
And it all started with the very first lie, “You will be like God, knowing…”
A huge part of all this is the belief that nothing so mundane as “a peaceful and quiet life” can be significant. The idea that God can take the seemingly small, mundane tasks and responsibilities and turn them into something significant, while a strange way of thinking for us, is a common thread divinely woven throughout the gospel story. This is crucial. So not only have we forgotten the hope and assurance of the gospel of grace by trading it in for “significant” works but we have forgotten the very content of the story. The irony is how when Paul is counseling the churches he started in pagan lands he counsels them to lead quiet lives (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:12; 1 Tim. 2:2) and never does he say “do something big!”
We should be the people most willing to buy into the view of life that sees work and making babies and caring for them as significant. These after all are what we were originally called to be doing. When we watch the lives of George Baileys lived out in front us, frustrated and tempted to think they have done little, we ought to be the representatives of the Kingdom most anxious to comfort them with, “You just don’t know all that you’ve done!”
Of course, we must be doing something. And as believers we do something because of the gospel of grace in Jesus. We must be loving others: spouses, children, friends, family, neighbors. We must be holy – set apart – living lives that communicate to the watching world we live in allegiance to a King who has rescued us from something greater than the terrors of this world and its systems has to offer. Everyone has lives of fairly mundane parts and most everyone lives a fairly mundane life. And here is the irony. Christians often, and sometimes with pure hearts, are moved to acts of world-staggering significance because of the significance of their salvation. But even here, the heart only remains pure if their significance is in what Christ has done for them. On the cross.
This is not a call to insignificance. Actually it is the opposite. This is a call to the belief the Sovereign God of the Universe makes every moment significant and this is more true for those who have placed all the hope of significance in the work of Someone Else.

The God of the Mundane: Part 6, The Mundane Church

There was not a lot of work involved in my initial thinking about the idea of a Mundane Church. The idea was already working on me. While not entirely sure where it came from, I am certain part of it had to do with my leaving a very traditional PCA church and then being part of a suburban baptist church in the midwest. The change was jolting. But it took awhile for me to see the effect it was having on me. The change from experiencing virtually the same thing week in and week out to having something new and different every week was difficult in ways I could never have imagined. It would be nice if I could tell you a better reason for thinking about these things, you know like…I have studied trends and history and this is what I came up with. But that is not the case. While the reality may be that I have formed the ideas of the Mundane Church around my own history, it does not feel that way. It feels as if I was being formed by the idea of the Mundane Church.
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Last week I told a friend of mine I was working on this post but I needed to put more work into it because it sounded combative. Let me be the first to admit how I have failed at this miserably. Regardless of how much I edit, this post has a combative edge. But I also must admit a great deal of the battle is with myself. My own desire for a “worship experience” and to create one as a pastor for others to be wowed by is not foreign to me. There is a daily combat I am engaged in when I think about what believers need and what I want them to see me do.
I cannot be alone. Surely there are others feeling the pull of a culture that wants everything to be big and full of awesomeness. And yet at the same time wants a church that is not trying to be awesome, just faithful. Similarly, is there anyone else who wants to watch a movie full of explosions and mad-wicked effects and then half-way through the flick, you long for a film of substance – of the BBC Masterpiece Theater type, full of great dialogue and a script thick with reality? Maybe it’s the tug of the world that was and the pull of the world that is. Have you ever looked forward to a worship experience only to find yourself in the midst of it yearning for something which in comparison could only be called “mundane?”
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Who wants to go to a Mundane Church? The Mundane Church is not ever original. And never could be called cutting edge. You won’t see it running after fads. Caring nothing for the entertainment zeitgeist, it is tragically low-key. It will not borrow from the business world. It places its hope in the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures, the administration of the sacraments and the relationships of those who are a part. It is not a slave to the calendar. The Mundane Church yawns in the face of programs and special events (which have ceased to be special because they are ever-present). It believes every gathering for the worship of God and his Son in the power of the Spirit is of immense importance. And yet the Mundane Church is not merely a gathering but a scattering of those who work and play and eat and drink and have sex and watch TV and give and buy and laugh and cry and serve and fail and triumph with the Spirit’s help. The Mundane Church is anonymous and therefore thought of as failing. Week-in and week-out it does the same old thing it did last week. The Mundane Church will not attract the press or those who are looking for the next big thing. At the Mundane Church, there is God and Jesus and those who need them – empowered by the Holy Spirit.

There may be nothing more extreme than a mundane church. Radical because it stands athwart the tide of the day where celebrity is needed, encouraged and invested in. Crazy because it has said ‘no’ to the prevailing wisdom of the day which looks sideways upon those who are not ‘with it.’ Progressive because it serves in quiet confidence knowing there is no need to blow the social media shofar for every single. thing. it. does. Where does the quiet confidence come from? It comes from knowing it is doing what it has been called to do…testify to the glory of the gospel of King Jesus and his gracious reign.
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I have a theory. What if our lack of desire for a Mundane Church is in proportion to our lack of desire to think about the mundane parts of our lives in light of the gospel. In other words, against the backdrop of concert-like worship experiences it is hard to see the spiritual significance of sweeping up the dried mac-cheese your 4 year old cast aside the night before and counting your drawer when the bank closes. Instead, the rock-hard mac and cheese gets in the way of doing really spiritual things like reading books by the latest and greatest…or even a blog post by a fairly obscure pastor in Alabama. And now that the bank drawer counting is out of the way the Christian life can be got on with. It is easy to think about Jesus and his grace and his love and care and our need for him when you are singing the newest and greatest worship song. But perhaps if our services were a little more mundane, the digging of the months-old french fries out of the seats of your mini van could stand tall in the pantheon of spiritual exercises. I wonder if our worship services have primed our spiritual pumps and we can now no longer look into the daily details of our lives and find anything but boredom.
We have it backwards. We think the concert-like worship services fit in well with our lives because we are used to that kind of music…the cds are sitting in our car right now. But the fact is our lives are so full of mundane moments, hours and days that are nothing like the euphoric time on Sunday morning, we cannot even imagine those mundane moments as significant. And I know, we cannot ever imagine those mundane churches as significant.
Even more, what if we stopped living as if worship was significant because of what we felt but instead because of Whom we worship. You see, we place the energy in the extremity of our emotions and call it “awesome.” When all along there is God, awesome and holy and sovereign over every single thing. Which makes not only our worship services significant but everything else also. And the everything else is the reason for worship.
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The argument for “relevance” makes sense to me. Mainly because I have wielded it like a weapon of violence on the innocent. But also because I think it is mostly right. I mean, we all want our worship services to be understandable to some degree. But see, again here is the thing, what if we have the relevance argument backwards? What if relevance was not under the tyranny of the moment? What if we took a long view of relevance assuming that some things (most things?) of significance have their significance hidden from us for a season. Or a generation.
We live in a world rife with the immediate. And the church has co-opted liberally. We cannot even imagine a philosophy of ministry where the preached word does not have to excite anyone as it is being preached. We should be glad if it does! But sometimes we are not moved for days, weeks, months and years. And usually this is the case when tragedy strikes or failure breaks in on us without warning. Then what we once heard or heard every week finally dawns on us breaking into the dark night of the soul.
But this kind of thinking is foreign to the church that is running from anything that reeks of the mundane at break-neck speed. Thus the blazing guitars, the lights, the branding, and the inevitable provocative sermon series on sex.
This is not to say you must expect music ripped out of the 17th century and a sermon full of the King’s English. But you can expect those who are looking for a tremendous worship experience to possibly be bored to tears. The Mundane Church looks for the power to reside in the ordinary means of grace and not in explosive events, life-changing 6 week series and once in a lifetime experiences.
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Eugene Peterson says, “The enemy of the church we want is the enemy of the church we have.” I agree, though my agreement is like a freshly opened bottle of wine. Fragrant. pleasing to the eye. Eager. But not yet ready to pour.
Perhaps what would be helpful as we think about the Mundane Church is for us to see all the elements and thoughts above as possibly occurring anywhere. Some here and some there. Never all in one place. The challenge then is to look for them where you are and be comfortable with them. Be comfortable with the mundane in the midst of an ecclesiastical world yearning for another big bang. Be very comfortable with pastors who think locally and act locally and minister locally. And never speak at conferences. Look for the mundane and be thankful that right there, there are bits of your church which have not yet succumbed to what might be ridiculously called “exciting.”

A Mother’s Day Sermon…If I Had to Preach One

The Mother’s Day Sermon. Oh how I have hated thee!

Usually one of three types of sermons are preached on Mother’s Day. The first is one in celebration of Mother’s. You know, “Mothers are awesome! God loves Mothers! Look at Mary!” The second is one telling Mother’s how to be better Mothers. “Be like Mary or Hannah or…” “Happy Mother’s Day…now here is how to be awesome as a mother.” The third sermon we sometimes hear on Mother’s Day is one that has nothing to do with Mothers. To be honest this is the one I usually prefer. Honor the Mothers…wait…all the women in the congregation and then preach on whatever you would have preached on if it were not Mother’s Day.

I have not had to preach on Mother’s Day yet. But I thought I would be preaching on Mother’s Day this year but turns out it is not on the Sunday I am preaching next. So I was worried. What would I preach? I did not want to preach either of the first two kinds of Mother’s Day sermons above but I would want to try and preach one of encouragement to Mothers. And I love the challenge of preaching a sermon that would be relevant for all who are in the pews…errr chairs.
OK, so here is where I would go with the sermon if I had to preach one…
Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Thesis: Mother’s, if you are in Christ Jesus, you ought to have no fear of condemnation because of your standing of righteousness because of Christ’s work on your behalf on the cross.
Mothers, even though you may feel you are…

You are not condemned by messy homes.

You are not condemned by your lack of desire to homeschool.

You are not condemned by your personal sins.

You are not condemned by the knowledge of how easy it is for you to love one child more than another.

You are not condemned by your miscarriages.

You are not condemned by your lack of desire to have more kids.

You are not condemned by your inability to cook.

You are not condemned by being divorced.

You are not condemned by your desire to be alone, away from the kids for a time every. single. day.

You are not condemned by your body, which may not be what it once was.

You are not condemned by your failures as a mother.

You are not condemned by your rebellious children.

You are not condemned by the frustration of having to scrape mac & cheese off the kitchen floor. Again.

You are not condemned by all the fears and tears which flirt with insanity and take you to the precipice of despair.

You are not condemned by not being able to throw the party of the century for your kids.

You are not condemned for not feeding your kids meals that could only be made after a trip to Whole Foods.

You are not condemned by your need for a vacation.

You are not condemned for not living up to the standards of your Mother or Mother-in-law.

You are not condemned by the stares of those who have no kids when your kids erupt into volcanic screams in public places.

Mother’s, though you may feel condemned, if you are in Christ, you are not condemned. Fight with this knowledge of what is real reality.

You are not condemned, because if you are in Christ, your identity…your righteousness is Christ alone. Therefore, enjoy the love and affection and acceptance of being a daughter perfectly loved with an unwavering love that flows from your Father in Heaven.
All those who are without mothers…
Do nothing as Husbands, Sons, Daughters, Mothers, Fathers, Mother-in-Laws, Father-in-Laws, friends, acquaintances and advice givers to diminish this reality. Nothing.

The God of the Mundane: Part 5, Big Ideas and Perpetual Adolescence

Speaking of the mundane…
“We often let the big ideas, the majestic vistas of salvation, the grand visions of God’s work in the world, and the great opportunities for making an impact in the name of Jesus distract us from taking with gospel seriousness the unglamorous ordinary. A person who is endowed with charisma, extraordinary motivational gifts. and organizational energy may tend to pull away from the tedium of the dailiness to the large, the visionary, the influential – the eternal verities – in a way that is magnetic and virtually irresistible.

But when the pull is indulged, the consequences are disastrous and virtually guarantee perpetual adolescence. And the people we spend most of our time with, our family members and fellow workers, bear the brunt of suffering our immaturity. Men and women who achieve public acclaim are especially vulnerable. Too many prominent leaders in church and government, in business and university, writers and entertainers, in infamously infantile and disappointing in intimate relationships.” – Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection

The Silence of Paul On Evangelism

(Update on 4/8/11: This was actually written on another blog before this one was even a glimmer in my eye. The original post caused a good bit of hubbub. But it is also was helpful for a lot of people. So, 2 things before you read this post:

First, I thought about this for a long time before I wrote about it. And even now I still do not have a whole lot of answers on this. So I ask you to stop and think.

Second, If you do comment please make sure your comment reflects you have read what I have written.)

(Update on 08/29/2011. Follow-up post here.)

I’ve been mulling over this post for awhile. The consternation, confusion and conflagration of angry comments which might result have made me wonder at the wisdom of it. I decided to go ahead. The subject is too important. And I can only imagine that while it may anger some, there are plenty of people like myself who will find some freedom here.

Ok. Here it goes.

A few weeks ago I heard someone say something to the effect of, “You cannot/shouldn’t consider yourself a Christian if you are not sharing your faith/practicing evangelism.” And it really got me to thinking. Something felt wrong about it. But I couldn’t put my finger on it.
On one level this sounded right. It accorded with almost all I had ever heard growing up in the midst of evangelicalism. So it sounded right. Or at least familiar. But something about the statement just ‘felt’ really wrong. It felt wrong as a fact. (Like saying the capital of Alabama is Birmingham.) And it felt wrong morally. (You should look down on everyone who does not live in Birmingham.)
So I quickly went through Paul’s letters to the churches in my mind as much as I could. Could I think of a place where he commands the members of these churches to share the gospel – to tell unbelievers about the gospel? I was pretty shocked to not be able to think of any place where he does anything like this.
Nothing was said, of course. But I filed it away in the front of my mental filing cabinet. My mental filing cabinet is grey, if you must know. Nixon administration grey.
Over the next few days I looked into the Epistles. Really, I thought I would find something. I mean, all the importance we place on evangelism and the urgency we show in preaching and teaching and writing on it, should show up in Paul, right? RIGHT?
I found nothing. Zilch. Nada. Zip.
Paul never commands the ordinary believers who belong to the churches to evangelize. There is no call for sharing your faith. There is no call for witnessing. He never even encourages it. And he never rebukes them for not doing it. He tells them to stay away from orgies and to practice kindness and to live quiet lives but there are no commands to evangelize. Implications? Maybe. But never outright commands.
Paul describes his own desire to do so and he defends his apostolic ministry of doing so and he commands Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. He also tells us there are such things as “evangelists” in Ephesians 4. But he never talks as if the carpenter, the shepherd, the soldier, the fisherman or the wife of any of these is called to evangelize.

I know, I know…there is the ‘great commission’ given by Jesus. In only 2 of the 4 Gospels. Never repeated again. By Paul. Or anyone else ever in the Scriptures. Why is it called ‘great’ again? I mean everything Jesus has said and commanded is technically speaking ‘great.’ But I mean, if it is so absolutely ‘great’, why is it never repeated by Paul or John or Peter or James or Jude. Before you get upset with me, the designation ‘great commission’ did not come from on high. Jesus did not call it ‘great’, someone else did.
Stop. Right now there are 2 kinds of people reading this? The freaked out and the ticked off.
Let me address the freaked out first…You doing OK? Stop. Take a breath. What? Of course you can quit EE. Hm? Yes, I was a little freaked out also. No, you do not have to tweet about this, you will lose a lot of followers.
OK, all who are angry…What have I said to make you angry? I have not said, “You should not tell other people about what Jesus has done for us.” Have I? At least not yet…just kidding. You really need to calm down. All I have done is point out an indisputable fact.
Let me say it again. It is an indisputable fact that there is no command by any of the Apostles in their letters to the churches to evangelize. You may not like this fact. You might assume nefarious reasons behind my pointing this fact out. But you cannot deny the fact while there are many varied commands in the NT for the ordinary believer, there is no command to evangelize outside of “the great commission.”
“So what?” you might ask? Here are my initial thoughts:
1) The way we talk about evangelism is certainly out of proportion to the way Paul or anyone else in the NT talked about it. We act as if it is the litmus test of being a Christian. If it was – if personal evangelism as we know it – was a litmus test for being a believer in the gospel, ummm, wouldn’t Paul have admonished his people to do it? We talk about it as if it is the THE THING for Christians to do while on earth. “Sure, we are to glorify God and all that but the best way to do it is to tell every living breathing soul who just wants a quiet flight to the ATL.” Maybe it is not.
2) We have got to quit guilting and bullying people into doing cold evangelism. It feels weird and wrong and inconsiderate to almost everyone. There are a few who feel comfortable walking up to strangers and talking to them about Jesus but they are the exception. They are not more spiritual, they are just the exception. Maybe the reason why they are the exception and the reason why so many do not like walking up to strangers simply to talk to them about their sinfulness and need for salvation is because – wait for it – we have not been asked to do such a thing. Perhaps it is not part of the Spirit-led DNA. Regardless, beating up on people for their not evangelizing enough is totally out of sync with the NT.
3) It may be that our present philosophy of evangelism stands in direct opposition to the explicit, repeated and unwavering command to love people. In other words we are terrible at loving one another, our enemies and even our own family members. I know it. You know it. And God knows it. If we actually loved people -wives, husbands, children, minorities, democrats, republicans, lefties, ugly people, the obese and the socially awkward – perhaps, just perhaps you would never have to walk up to someone and tell them about Jesus. They would walk up to you. And then you could simply explain why you want to be a loving person. “Hey man, you asked!”
4) We tend to think the greatest thing we can do with the gospel of grace we have in Jesus is tell people about it. Why is that? Paul seems to think the greatest thing we can do with the gospel is believe it. Believe it in the midst of tragedy. Believe in the midst of beautiful Spring days when all is right with the world. Believe it on your death bed. Believe it when your sin is huge. Believe it when your heart is hurting. Believe it. Hang onto it. Never let go of it. Believe no matter what, if you are in Christ, you are loved beyond all comprehension. You cannot sin yourself out of his love and grace and mercy. You are loved, you who believe the gospel. Persevere in your belief. You are saved unto life everlasting because of what Christ has done. This cannot be undone. Believe the gospel. Believe.
5) There is no folly in assuming the NT writers and those whose records are recorded there really wanted people to hear the gospel and believe it. This is a safe assumption. However, we need to think deeply on why they do not talk about evangelism the way we typically do in Western Christianity. Do we assume we care more than Paul about evangelism? Peter? John? We should probably think long and hard about all of this. I know I need to. Our being so out of step with the tone and content of the Scriptures might actually be to the detriment of others believing the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.
All of these are thoughts which have been around for some time in at least seed form. The study I have been doing over the past few weeks however has emboldened me to at least talk about my doubts. To say I am sure of myself here would be untrue. I am not thinking and writing entirely in confidence. The one thing I am sure of is the need to think deep and hard about all that is in and not in the Scriptures. And I am pretty sure there is the need for freedom to ask hard questions and be taken seriously in asking them.
One last thing. I was not enjoying thinking about this by myself. So I sent a note to some pastor friends and asked what they thought. One friend (who will remain nameless) told me about an article called Wretched Urgency by Michael Spencer. It was the first thing I had ever read of the sort. And it was the first thing confirming I was decidedly not crazy…or if I was, I was crazy along with Spencer. And I’m fine with that.

The God of the Mundane: Part 4, Is Any Christian Life Easy?

In October of ’96 I had a fairly serious car-wreck. The difference of a few inches not only kept me alive but if my face had hit the windshield only slightly to one side or the other, I might not have the ability to see. If I close my eyes I can remember getting out of the car I had just paid off and looking down to see the warm blood streaming off my face onto my brown hiking boots. I remember sitting down quickly.
It would take months…years really to know the varied ways this event affected me. There were the obvious results of zeal to wear a seatbelt, the buying of a new car and the fact that when I looked in the mirror, I had a face that was only vaguely familiar to me. To this day, if I am blinded by the sun while driving, I panic.
But it took much longer to deal with the emotional trauma of being close to death and wearing bandages and knowing people are looking at the scars scattered over my face. Just a few years ago, I reached up to scratch my forehead and the eyes of the person I was talking with widened. The cause revealed itself; I could feel the blood trickle down my forehead caused by glass making an untimely exit. Glass from the windshield of an ’87 Honda Civic is still residing just below the surface as I type.
Sometimes I wonder if we really understand how sinful our sin is. Sure, we get the fact our sin is all out rebellion against the Sovereign God of the Universe. We know we have virtually stuck a fist in the face of the Father, called him an SOB and then asked for the keys so we can leave home. We are even well aware of what it cost to deal with our sin problem…the killing of the Son. But I am sure we are for the most part practically ignorant of the extent of our sin and its moment by moment effects.

To some degree, this is part of the grace we enjoy. We are apt to acknowledge how good it is when others cannot see those dark and dusty corners of our heart. But it is also a gracious thing to be shielded from the unfathomable depth of deadly treachery residing right inside of us. I, for one, am glad of this. The truth would overwhelm us, perhaps no less than the purity of the Father’s glory revealed in all its splendor. We can’t handle it.
However, we should still try to know ourselves enough to recognize that even on our best days, we are shot through with this thing called ‘sin.’ Shot. Through. Total depravity? Sure, whatever you want to call it. We are dealing with something that is not flat. Our sin problem has contours we will never even know. We will for the rest of our earthly lives be thoroughly ignorant of our sinfulness. There are probably outworkings of our sinfulness, particular to our culture, we have not even been able to recognize yet. And there are some sins we will never even get a handle on. We may make progress but even that will be tough; definitely a lifelong project. But it is of the utmost importance to simply know that every facet of our lives has been compromised by rebellion.
I’m of the opinion our ignorance of this and the particular way this truth manifests itself in our own life is why we cannot see the “God of the mundane.” Beholding the God of martyred missionaries is easy. Discerning the God of the ascetic who has refused all temporal comforts is a piece of cake. But perceiving the God of those whose days are marked by scraping up mac & cheese off the kitchen floor is remarkably hard. The prevailing view of spirituality leaves us with ten-thousand moments void of the glorious God. He is present when we do something like pray, read our Bible, sing worship songs, give away our stuff and go overseas. But he is strikingly absent when we are doing mundane paperwork in God-forsaken cubicles of lifeless grey.
We have forgotten if we ever knew Philo’s words, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Maybe we have not forgotten to be kind, but do we forget everyone is fighting a hard battle.
If we did but know that even when we are doing paperwork and cleaning up the mac & cheese off the linoleum the reality of our own sin vying for control, we would not be so apt to think these mundane exercises are small in the spiritual stratosphere. All those mundane moments – the seconds turning into minutes, snowballing into hours between all the so-called spiritual exercises are really infinite moments occupied by not only our blackened hearts but the Spirit of God working out what is pleasing to the Father. And some want to call the Christian life easy.
At the moment, my family and I live just outside of a town called Mountain Brook. The place is idyllic. Full of natural beauty and that of the constructed sort, there are not many who do not dream of living off Euclid so you can walk to La Paz or the local Thai restaurant in Crestline Village. It is truly a beautiful place full of beautiful people. But we forget our theology if we think living as a Christian is easy in such a place. The very sin which courses through my soul-veins is present there. For me to think it is more potent there betrays jealousy. For me to think life is just easy there betrays cosmic foolishness. Every house sees disease and the pain of disfigurement even though maybe only a degree removed. Every house has a marriage that must be maintained. Or had one. Every street knows failure and tragedy and no one is exempt from the demands of death. Money may stay the inevitable for a time but no keep can hold against the onslaught of that destiny which we all must reckon with.
I write none of this to excuse the wealth of others. I’e so little wealth to excuse, that charge would fall flat if leveled. My point is if we knew how difficult the Christian life was…is, we would certainly not suppose that another life, with more spiritual parts to it, would be well…more spiritual. We would see the gravity of living out our belief on our street, in our stores, among our friends, before our servers at restaurants and wherever we play. We think there are places where faith and spirituality and Christianity is easy. Some places may be harder…maybe. But easy? I just don’t think we know ourselves or the world around us very well if we think so.

The God of the Mundane: Part 3, Just When You Thought You Were Spiritual

16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions,d puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”22(referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. – Colossians 2:16 – 23

We just might have it all backwards. We are trained to declare as spiritual those who stay away from temporal enjoyments or at least don’t enjoy them too much, for these enjoyments are worldly and therefore unspiritual. They are mundane. And those who enjoy them are worldly and practicing worldliness. We have a sneaky suspicion they are most likely repeatedly dreaming of food (Acts 10:9-16) and supplying the best vino ever made for parties that go on for days (John 2:1-11).

That is weird.

According to Paul, it seems the very opposite of what we deem as spiritual is often the case. In fact spirituality has the distinct aroma of fermented grapes and pork ribs being cooked over an open flame while crustaceans are sauteed in a fiery pan. And this spirituality is done on a lovely Sunday afternoon filled with laughter. All ordered up by our gracious Father who loves us as if we were his his only Son.

Paul makes it clear we have died to the elemental principles of this world. What do those worldly elemental principles look like? “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Yep, there is more than one kind of worldliness. You can actually be worldly by denying the very world God created and treating it as if it and it’s fruits are evil. These kinds of teachings have all the “appearance of wisdom… but they are of no value in stopping indulgence of the flesh.”

You just thought you were worldly/spiritual when actually you might be spiritual/worldly.