Sunday, September 2, 2007

My people. My family.

This is long, but once I started I couldn't stop. And it's probably the kind of thing that belongs on the writings page of my website. I might put it there as well. For now, forgive me for getting about as serious and long-winded as I've ever been here.

Last night at Community Church, things were a little different (that's maybe the most common phrase ever spoken about my church).

It was sort of a “commissioning service,” but it was more than that. I did a short concert, talked about my vision for the House Concerts and the tour, and then people stood up and blessed me, my family, and Michael Steele, who will be traveling with me -- and playing percussion -- for a good chunk of the concerts. It was really great. The songs on this record, maybe more than any I've ever written/recorded, have the potential for a lot of controversy and provocation, and I was excited to run a few of these songs by the people that unintentionally shaped and inspired them. But I was still a little nervous.

In addition to some trepidation about the songs and the record, I've also had some nervousness about being gone so much. I’m 35, and I’ve got a wife and two kids. This tour isn’t exactly timely to my life path. All those things have come together to make me feel a little down this week as I prepare to leave. I went into the night hoping to be reminded of why I'm doing this. I went looking to be energized and inspired.

Was I looking in the wrong place, or at the wrong time? I mean, I knew there would be no sermon at our gathering. Is that weird to anybody? Is anybody thinking, "well, Ross, how do you hope to get inspired and energized and reminded of the Truth unless somebody is going to 'preach the Word' to you?"

See at my church, we don't always just count on a guy with a doctorate in theology to tell us the Truth (though we’d welcome some of that if God provided it). We don't always just sit and listen while somebody talks to us (though we do that when it seems right). We don't assume that the exegesis only starts when the singing is over and a lapel mic gets turned on.

Sometimes we have all the things that people would associate with a traditional service (singing, preaching, etc), but sometimes we don't. Sometimes we just speak to each other in blessing and authority and humility and love. You know, like people did in the Bible:

1 Peter 4:11
"If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen."

1 Thessalonians 2:10-13“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.”

Like that.

Maybe examples would help.

After I did the short concert, Thad “opened up the floor” and basically said (to 200 people) does anybody have anything to say? A blessing? A scripture? A prayer? An encouragement?

Then people just started talking. In accordance with scripture, they spoke to me as those speaking the words of God. In accordance with scripture, I accepted their words (words said in Jesus name, words laden with and inspired by scripture, words spoken in the Spirit), not simply as the words of men, but as the words that the Lord would have for me. I mean, the Church is the Body of Christ, right? So when the Church speaks, it’s speaking for Him, at some level. We are ambassadors. What do ambassadors do? They speak – with authority and blessing – for the entity that they serve. When the Church speaks, it speaks “as though God Himself were making His appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5)

Don’t read this and say that I’m saying something that I’m not saying. Know what I’m saying?

Anyway, here’s some of what went on, and how it got me thinking:

Drew Cavin, a good pal and brother, said that he thought that if anyone ever wanted a doctrinal statement from Community Church, we could use my music (it was very honoring to me, but it also made me nervous, like I needed to look back over my lyrics and make sure I hadn’t said anything nutty). That kind of “artsy” talk probably drives some people crazy, but I thought it was inspiring and vibrant and God-pleasing. And I thought it was consistent with scripture. It reminded me of what Paul told the Corinthian church in the 3rd chapter of his second letter to them:

"Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (emphasis mine)

Last night, the people of Community Church were my letter of recommendation — a letter from Christ – and they let me know that I am theirs. It was really cool.

I've heard about churches and pastors that say that the most important thing a church can do is to have a preacher/teacher formally and academically exegete the Bible, verse by verse, every time the church body gets together.

Simply put, I think they're wrong.

I absolutely believe that it's very, very important to study the scriptures, and to do so humbly, diligently, thoroughly, and tirelessly.

Did you hear me say that? Here, I'll say it again.

I absolutely believe that it's very, very important to study the scriptures, and to do so humbly, diligently, thoroughly, and tirelessly.

After all, Acts 2-4, which I'm way into, pretty much starts with "and they devoted themselvs to the apostles' teaching." So of course the teaching/preaching of the scriptures is important and necessary, even in a kooky community like ours (maybe especially in a kooky community like ours).

But I think it's at least equally important and necessary for the church to speak to one another in the name of Jesus, with words of confession and blessing and comfort, and to live in the Spirit with one another, always ministering the new covenant to one another; always loving each other and sharing as there is need. Those aren't just the things that the Church does when the “big gathering” is over and everyone returns to their normal lives. Those are the things that the Church should be doing as a part of the big gathering, in addition to in their "normal lives."

When did we get the idea that “Sunday meeting” is theoretical and the rest of the week is practical? That Sunday is the pre-game speech and the rest of the week is the game? I don't see that in the Bible.

This isn’t an either/or deal. I’m not saying churches should either preach the Bible or share in active, Spirit-led community. Don’t hear that.

I mean, I think we can do both, and we should. We must. But I don't think any kind of academic studying or pulpiteering is ever, or has ever been, the most important function of the gathering, believing church. 1 Corinthians, basically the first 3-4 chapters or so, would speak rather harshly to that kind of scholarly, academic view of Kingdom life.

And Jesus Himself is the one that said that He wanted us to be “one” the way that He and the Father were One (John 17). And his buddy John was the one who said that people would know we were Christ-followers by the way that we loved each other (1 John 3).

Okay, more Sunday night examples.

Another pal of mine, David Park, stood and said that we (Staci, me, and the boys) didn't need to worry about money while I'm doing this thing (I'm doing most of the shows for free, and probably giving away a good chunk of CD's). He said if we had money problems while we were trying to follow Jesus in this way, that he, his family, and the church at large, would take care of us. "We've got your back" was, I believe, his exact phrasing. I know that he, and his wife Shelley, were absolutely serious about it (she was nodding the whole time). David’s not an elder or a pastor or anything. He’s just a really godly husband and father who is serious about living like Jesus says we ought to. But he felt okay speaking for the church with regard to taking care of my finances if need be. Do people in your church talk to you like that? Man, I hope so.

But see, this is what I’m talking about. That is exegesis of the scriptures. It's living exegesis.

Acts 2: 44-45 "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."

1 John 3:17 "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"

John says that action -- of the money-where-your-mouth-is variety -- is the proving ground. After all, we know that our hearts and our treasures usually (if not always) go to the same places (Matthew 6).

What I’m trying to say is this. You can academically pore over the Bible all you want, but if it doesn't result in stuff like that, what have you got? Empty religion, that's what; cups that are clean on the outside and dirty within. You’ve got wise and persuasive words that don’t result in the power of the cross (1 Corinthians 2); people who are puffed up but not built up. (1 Corinthians 8)

Few more and I'm almost done, promise.

Another couple, Joe and Kathryn Peebles, came up to my wife after the whole deal, and told her that, if she got lonely or scared while I was gone, they would come sleep on an air mattress on our floor to keep her company until I got back. This looks a lot like what Paul did for the Thessalonians. (1 Thessalonians 2:6-10 or so)

Mark and Bethany Douglass, parents of Sam’s good pals Liam and Burke, must've been drinking the same crazy Kool-aid. They told me that Staci and the boys could live with them any time I’m gone. And they don’t live in a mansion. It would be crowded if we took them up on it.

Abby Richardson, a college girl I barely know, stood up and praised my wife (and rightly so!) for blessing her wanna-be-rock-star husband (me) when he had the loony idea to travel the country for free for a couple of months and leave her and their two boys behind. She went on and on about how my wife’s model of support, faith, and submission was inspiring to the other women of the church. At one point, she looked at my wife and said, "I mean, wow, what a woman!" Amen. I almost got up and did a spontaneous soft-shoe on that one.

Jenny Cavin (Drew's wife) cried as she spoke a blessing over my wife and my little boys. She declared with authority and humility and tenderness that God will fill their time – while I’m gone – with joy and peace and abundant life.

Andrew Kilzer – a really cool college kid who confessed to our whole church several months ago that he needed help losing weight and defeating a lifestyle that contributed to that problem – stood up and said that one of the things the Lord has been doing in him is causing him to rejoice and feel victorious when other people succeed. He said he thought Michael and I were already successful in the Kingdom, and that he longed for more power and life and success for us as we traveled and performed and ministered. (By the way, since his confession, by the grace of God and thru the support of the community, Andrew’s lost about 90 pounds, and he’s happier and more alive than I’ve ever seen him.) Andrew must've taken that "one part honored, all parts rejoice" stuff seriously.

Thad (you probably know who he is) stood up and said that I was going out to free people from the bondage of false, empty religion; to speak the language of the fragile Jesus-following failures; to reveal to people -- religious and non-religious alike -- that Real Life was attainable and free to all. (It was a good reminder to me. I thought I was just going out to sing some songs and generate some buzz, to hype my record, etc.)

More people said great stuff, but you get the idea.

This all happened in a room full of about 200 people. We read exactly one Bible verse (it was the Psalm from this week's lectionary). We sang exactly one song corporately (“Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”). When it was over, I was overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness and peace about things that, only a couple of hours before, had caused me anxiety and stress.

It was a great night. Weird and, in some ways, uncomfortable, but great. To some people who prefer things predictable and tidy and scholarly, it probably didn't look like much.

But to me, it looked a lot like we had church.


King Family said...

Amen. I love our church. I love and bless my husband as he follows Jesus and blesses others.


Sherry said...

Hi Ross and Staci
I'm not really good at making comments on blogs, because so many thoughts pour through my mind at once and I can never articulate them all at once. So let me just say that as someone who experienced the love of Community Church your blog post really touched me and I will be praying for you all as you begin this journey. In Christ's Love, Sherry Christensen (Brendan, Kjesten, Zachry & Athena)

RR said...

Your probably on your way to my house right now...I'm so stoked about tonight.
Long before I even read this post, I was disappointed with the church God has me serving at. Now, I am even more are blessed to be a part of CommChurch and I pray that we have that kind of community here soon.

Wes said...

WOW. I miss ComChurch! I'm constantly and consistently touched and overwhelmed by the way God is working there. Blessings, brother, may your music show Jesus to all who hear it!

Wes Wakefield