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Sunday, May 21, 2023

Dispelling the rumor of my abduction

Contrary to what you may have thought, I have not in fact been abducted by aliens. 

Life is really good here these days. If anything, it's a little too full for comfort. On the personal side, I got remarried in March. Lisa is amazing, and she has moved to the farm with me. She understands the adventure this place is, and the potential it has. We have spent a lot of energy and time in the last few months blending families, combining households, and enjoying being together. It's so good. So there are a bunch of kids and one grandkid (so far) that make us incredibly rich. 

On the professional side, we are both working at Lake Country Replicas these days, making fantastic fish replicas for the taxidermy industry. I've been there over two years now, and Lisa just started in March. We both continue to learn a lot, with all the joy and challenges that come with expanding our skills. 

I have a few writing projects in the works, though this is the worst time of year for me to write. Grass needs mowing, horses need riding, tractors need maintenance, and there is the ongoing battle against the forces of the wood-tick and cocklebur realms. But those writing projects are never far from my mind. 

Church-wise, we meet with a few different home groups. House churches, care groups, Life Groups, Bible studies, call them what you will. Each is a collection of people seeking Jesus and caring for each other. I do a little teaching here and there. We are blessed with rich relationships with many people who are trying to follow Jesus in their whole lives. 

And that leads to theological reflections. No surprise. For the last few years I've been asking, "Lord, what are you doing with your church?" I spent most of my professional career working for the good of the institutional church. I recognized all that time it was a flawed construction, but the best option we had for proclaiming Jesus Christ and working for the kingdom of God. The last two and a half years I've seriously questioned that assumption. I still think there's a place for "organized" churches. They may reach people who would otherwise not hear much about Jesus. But over the last thirty years, and intensely for the last three or four, I've seen God allow a massive dismantling of the institutions of western Christianity. 

Maybe that's because institutional churches, much though they wish this wasn't the case, tend to create dependence and complacency rather than making self-nurturing disciples. 

The pandemic simply speeded up a shift that had been happening all through my adult life. That shift included (as I've written about many times before) a movement away from church-going as a social expectation. We have moved away from politically empowered church organizations. What we've seen like crazy these last few years is disempowerment of churches and their socio-political influence. The good news of Jesus Christ is no less powerful or relevant. The Holy Spirit is no less potent. It is the institutional life of the church that has waned. 

That shift has certainly been allowed by God, and quite possibly caused by him. Whenever I attend a worship service in an institutional church (for simplicity, let's describe that as one that has paid staff and / or owns a building) I'm struck by how self-serving the institution has to be, just for the sake of its own survival. Some of them are doing an amazing job of serving their communities and lifting up Jesus. Others, not so much. 

So I ponder the fact that churches owning buildings and paying staff are not even on the radar of the New Testament. I can make the arguments for those things, and for a quarter century drew my salary from the institution. But I see God allowing it to self-destruct at this point in history. And I wonder, what are you up to, Lord??

When I sit in someone's living room and dig deep into the Bible and the lives of these friends, I catch a glimpse. We talk about the mission God is accomplishing in each other's lives, and we pray for each other's real-life ministries in our workplaces and extended families. I recall how Jesus said he would be present when two or three are gathered in his name. I think of all those last chapters of Paul's letters when he says, "Greet so-and-so and the church that meets in their home." It sounds and feels a lot more like New Testament Christianity. And we're not tying up 80-90% of our tithes paying for professional workers or maintenance and mortgage of a building. 

In the meantime, each of us is spurred on to serve God in our own lives, and recognize his presence and blessing in our homes and daily work. Speaking personally, life is full to overflowing and rich beyond measure. Though the wood-ticks may carry me off, thus far at least the aliens have not.