Posts Tagged ‘church’

   Most people that know me, KNOW me. I’m not shy about sharing my past and who I’ve been. Although, it’s hard to squeeze 36 years into a few casual conversations. So, for the first time I’m going to attempt to come clean for any and all who may care. We all have stories… this one’s mine.

  My life began and there was confusion… immediately. To this very day I have no idea who my real father is/was or how many siblings I have/had. The story is ever-changing. But once upon a time, there was me…

   I was born in Mtn. View, Missouri to a mother who had intended to have a daughter. Strike one.Five months later my older brother died tragically in a house fire began by lightning. Immediately I became the second rate replacement child, Strike two. I spent most of my young life being raised my my grandparents and my aunt and uncle because my mom couldn’t cope. At age eight, the sister I was supposed to be was born. My services were no longer required. Strike three. I’m out!

   Though my childhood was far from ideal, the Lord graciously equipped me to be a loner… and I was. My dad (not birth father) was a truck driver and would be gone for a week or more at a time. During that time, I could walk to my friend’s house a mile and a half away and stay there for a  couple of days without ever really being noticed. Although from time to time I would be almost indifferently asked, “Where were you?”

   Somehow during this time, I managed to attend church almost every week. Sometimes it was the Assemblies of God church that my aunt and uncle attended (or that he preached at for a time), but most often it was the little white Southern Baptist church near the train tracks. In either case, I genuinely enjoyed it.

   By age thirteen I found myself convicted under the preaching of the first Reformed pastor I ever know, Brother Larry. In true Baptist fashion I walked the aisle after feeling my knees kicked-out from under me and knelt at the alter. Immediately I felt the loving arm of my grandma around my shoulder, holding me, praying, and crying. It was all very surreal.

   Not long afterward we made the convoy-like trip down to the stream for me to be baptized. The event began with a potluck and one of my clearest memories thereafter was sitting in the backseat of my friend’s parents’ car and reading wrestling magazines on the way to our destination. All said it was a pretty good day.

   Two years later my parents, or most likely, my mother had a falling-out with one of the families in the church and we moved to the Christian church down the road. While there I was an active member of the youth group, but like the rest of them I was a teenager attempting to find myself. I cannot even begin to guess how many teen conferences and such would end with members of the youth group confessing who they had sex with just before the event. On a really interesting day it was with someone else in the group! And thus were the ’90s…

   During this time, I attended church more as a social gathering than as a place for worship and spiritual growth. Though most of the blame fell firmly on me, I can’t help but think that church is due a bit. Our existence was consumed with teen conferences, lock-ins, concerts, canoeing, camping, and everything but the discipleship we all needed.

   Eventually I began doing the things I was best at. Beating people up. Petty crimes. Attempting to charm pretty girls to think I was way cooler than I was. This was my life six days a week and church happened on the the other one. Even when my name would show-up in the newspaper, no one ever said a word. Of course, nothing was ever said about the “hanky-panky” in the church van or on youth trips either… We were all relatively left to our own devices.

   At age 18 I was kicked-out of the youth group and essentially kicked-out of the house. The day after I graduated, I found a job at a local grocery store and an apartment complex with a manager that didn’t do background or credit checks… thankfully. I lived in an apartment with two other guys and a cousin that never went home. We survived on a strict diet of professional wrestling, late-night adventures, and primarily stolen groceries. Oh, the times…

   Amongst our favorite activities were polluting the Mormon (LDS) missionaries that lives adjacent to us. At final count we got six of them in enough trouble that they were sent home.

   It was also at this time that I began convincing myself that my destiny was to be a pro wrestler myself. I was 6’3″, 215lbs, and had a 335lbs bench press. By all accounts I was impressive as a grocery clerk… not so much as a wrestler.

   It was here also that I met my friend’s sister… and was annoyed to do so. Years later, we’re quite happily married. But when we met we were both seeing other people and were very, very messed-up. She was a very attractive drunk and I was a very unpleasant (and very violent) jerk. Almost twenty years later she’s very attractive and sober, and I’m still an unpleasant jerk, albeit less violent.

   We were married in and attended the same aforementioned Christian church until 2008. It was around this time that the Lord began to open our eyes to some things that we could no longer ignore. False teachings had began to creep-in and eventually it simply came time to leave.

   I had continued to do battle with myself for the first several years of our marriage in a losing cause. Every time I would think I had finally changed, I proved myself wrong. Fortunately, the Lord blessed me with a wife who didn’t give-up on me, although she had every reason to. She carried the burden of our marriage for both of us when the easy thing would have been to just give me the finger and send me packing. I’ve always been very, very good at hurting people, and sadly I know I hurt my wife far more than I’ll ever know during the early years of our marriage.

   Then came the night… In early 2011 while sitting at my drawing table late one night, the Lord drove me to my knees and quite literally crushed my spirit. Over the span of a few hours, what seemed to be every horrible, thoughtless, vile thing I had ever done came back to visit me. It was as though I could feel the pain of what I’d caused so many others, but most of all my wife and children. I stayed curled into a ball on that cold floor, sobbing uncontrollably until nearly 5am. I had believed all along that even though I did some bad things, I was still a good guy. That night I learned that I was the dregs of humanity!

   Then, at once it all stopped… A calm fell over me and I felt peace for the first time in my life. All I wanted to do was to wake-up my family and hug them, but I didn’t. I vividly remember just saying “Thank you.” and passing-out from exhaustion.

   After years of living a lie, I awoke feeling like I’d been given a second chance. Shortly afterward the Lord made clear that even though it was impossible, He wanted me to go to seminary. My wife and I sat in amazement of the reality of the acceptance letter that should have never came…

   In January of 2012, with no place to live, no money, and no sensible plans to speak of, our family set-out on faith and made the move to Kansas City and to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Shortly before we arrived I received a call saying that our apartment was ready and just that quick we went from being homeless to… home.

   God has clearly had his hand in this entire adventure as time and time again we have been taken care of when situations appeared bleak. Above all else, the Lord has shown Himself through taking a marriage that should rightly have been long-over to creating a marriage that that is rock solid!

   Today I have a wonderful home, with amazing kids, and a wife who means more to me than I can even begin to articulate, great friends, a terrific church, and a bright future in the ministry. All that I lack is the guilt and self-loathing that was taken from me that night on the floor in my drawing room. God is so good… and so very patient.

   As the Doctor says, “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?” This is my story and it’s only begun. What’s yours?

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It seems to be commonplace these days for my ideals, standards, and preferences concerning church and Christianity to be knocked on its ear. If you met me today you’d probably never know that two years ago I was a stiff-necked Fundy who believed that anything other than a traditional, (at least somewhat) liturgical church service with hymns, neckties, and thundering doctrine could not possibly honor God. Essentially what I was saying was this; “Hey, ya know all those church services that put me to sleep and cause me to drool all over my Authorized KJV? Yeah, that’s the only right way to do church. True story, bro.”

Bean

Then, last year I found myself in a unique situation wherein I was able to experience church and worship in a variety of unfamiliar ways. This Southern Baptist found himself worshiping amongst Lutherans, Presbyterians, non-denominationals, multi-denominationals, Charismatics, and Catholics. Almost immediately I discovered that I was far more excited and worshipful than I’d been in a long, long time. My Fundy-head was confused… Is it possible that church can actually be fun and entertaining without being irreverent? Really?

About a year after visiting with these other churches, the Lord graciously decided to place us in a new church for the purpose of training for a future ministry in church planting (as well as building new relationships and again, worshiping Him in a different way). Gone was the organ and faux potted plants. Gone was the large wooden pulpit and (leaky) baptistry. Gone were the neckties, the always difficult hymns (this of course, does not include the Blue Grass style hymns I grew-up with), and the rigid KJV-ism. Instead God placed us in a dance studio which is converted into a church each week, by way of a handful of pews and several rows of folding chairs. With it comes a praise band with contemporary music, coffee during the service, and an unapologetic, casual style of dress. But do you know what else comes with it? Real, sincere worship and something sorely lacking from before, genuine relationships.

Fast-forward to today and the guest speaker in my Sermon Delivery class. This guy epitomized everything I believe[d] to be wrong with preaching! Videos and props, engaging real-life illustrations (see: stories), adapting to fit the audience, telling jokes, and a slight, subtle hipness. I was locked, loaded, and prepared to hate this guy! But then he started speaking… He started speaking and I was completely drawn-in. Worst of all, the things he said made an unbelievable amount of sense!

He spoke of engaging the audiences with multi-sensory experiences so as to hook them and keep them interested, rather than losing them after the first 5-10 minutes, as is typically the case. He spoke of specific body movements and the utilizing of props. He even spoke of not hiding behind the pulpit (gasp!). He spoke of methods and principles to do things that not that long ago I would have considered irreverent. However, maybe they weren’t…

Perhaps there’s a fine line between interesting and gimmicky. But as the pastor speaking to the class stated, “Even Jesus used props (primarily within nature) to drive home a point and keep people engaged.”

However, it must also be stated that anything that draws AWAY from the Word of God instead of pointing TO the Word of God must be avoided as Scripture must always take center stage.

So, I have some things to think about and some judgements to reconcile. What do you prefer; traditional preaching or something with a bit more pizazz? Let me know in the comments.

Live long and prosper.

   I grew-up in church. A good church even. A little white Southern Baptist Church in a town of 600 people, located right next to the train tracks. I learned so much in that church. It essentially set the framework for my theology from a young age.

   Through various circumstances, the details of which I’m not entirely clear on, my family and I left that church and joined a church just up the road. It was billed simply as a Christian church, presumably of the independent variety; which as a rule, are loosely associated with either the Church of Christ or the Disciples of Christ. Either way, they maintain a more liberal theology than the SBC.

   Near the end of my almost sixteen year run with the aforementioned church, the theology of my wife and I began to charge (or perhaps evolve) and so did that of the church. As they began adopting some of the teachings of the Emergent movement of that time (specifically from Rob Bell and his Nooma video series), we began to take hold of a very Calvinistic view of Scripture. The two views clashed quite violently and we ended-up back at the SBC church I’d left years before (which coincidentally, was non-Calvinistic).

   So, what am I apologizing for, as per this post’s title? During the early days of our foray into Reformed theology, we (specifically me) fell headlong into the ditch of Calvinistic elitism. We believed that  because we had what we felt was a deeper understanding of the person of God that we were in some way superior to our Arminian brethren. I picked many, many fights and honestly, was a real jerk. Unfortunately, being a jerk seems to be the rule more than the exception amongst Reformed believers.

   So, for all the people I was a complete schmuck to, I’m sorry. To anyone I was a theological bully to, I’m sorry. To anyone who’s spiritual walk I questioned or assaulted, I’m sorry. I’ve done a lot of growing since that time. Please forgive me.

   So, where does that leave my theology?

   Oh, make no mistake, I’m still very much Reformed. Although maybe not enough to really consider myself a Calvinist anymore, at least not in the 5-point sense. I’ve just chosen to no longer make that fact the hill I die on or the standard by which I gauge someone else’s salvation. I am completely over viewing Christianity as a divided camp. We’re either in it or we’re out. Division amongst Christians does nothing but cause a weakened defense against the enemy, and we need all the fortification we can get!

   If we can agree on the essentials of the faith (which we’ll address another time), the rest will work itself out and you are my brother or sister in Christ.

   Say goodnight, Gracie.

 

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   It’s funny how you can be so sure that you’re right about something and then God decides to bonk you on the head and show you that you’re not nearly as smart as you think you are.

   Two years ago this month we moved to Kansas City with very little certainty. The only thing I knew for sure was where we would attend church. This came following a number of phone calls with the pastor of said church who was the exact type of pastor, in the exact type of church, with the exact type of doctrinal stance I was looking for. Rigid, traditional, and Calvinistic to the core. If I was certain of one thing, it was that this church was exactly what we, as a family, and me, as a seminary student needed. No nonsense. No frills. No topical sermons. No contemporary music. No programs. Yes… this was it.

   Perhaps for a while I was right. They embraced us and the pastor took an interest in me and my studies. All was well. That is, until I announced that the Lord had called us into a ministry of church planting.

   Things soured quickly.

   Church planting, in the mind of that pastor was not a valid ministry. It was a gimmick intended to harm established churches. I was told that I needed to forget this calling and take over the pulpit from him once he retired. Thanks, but no thanks.

   Not only did things sour between him and myself, but things began to sour within me. I found myself loathing even walking in the door. I was disinterested in the sermons and had a heart unable and unwilling to worship during the hymns. I also had a problem. My family loved the church and did not want to leave.

   In retrospect I’m glad at the time they didn’t, because things needed dealt with.

   In the meantime, my buddy Tim and I embarked on what would become known as Ben & Tim’s Not My Church Tour. It was these adventures that helped initiate a change in me. For the first time I was able to see and experience worship in ways that I had always bemoaned as trite and insincere. Moreover, I was able to see how wrong I had been! From churches in parking garages to ornate Cathedrals, I saw people who’s hearts were truly full of the love of Christ and who worshiped Him not out of obligation, but out of gratefulness and joy. We witnessed everything from Catholic Mass to upbeat Pentecostalism to hipsters trying to live out their rock n’ roll dreams by way of songs by Matt Maher, David Crowder, and Matt Redman. But each had one thing in common (doctrinal differences aside)… they were all sincere in their worship of God.

   Knowing that I was lacking this worshipful heart made me sad. Sincerely sad. I knew a change had to come.

   Finally I did what I should have done much earlier. I made amends with my pastor. I explained that his statements were hurtful and that I disagreed with him, but I was no longer angry and I still loved him and was grateful to him for all he had done for my family and I. For the first time in months we had a good, heartfelt talk that day.

   Almost immediately, the Lord seemed to show me that He was finally happy that I’d stopped being an arrogant, jaded, knot-head and did the right thing by opening the door to transition into a new church. A church so far removed from what I wanted when we moved to Kansas City that they almost seemed to be different entities altogether.

   In January of 2012 I was happy with nothing less than a traditional church in a traditional church building with classically reverent hymns (on your choice of piano or organ), a pastor who held tight to the Doctrines of Grace (five points of Calvinism) and was rarely seen without a pressed suit and tie, and sermons preached from Ye Olde Authorized King James Bible (which I still like, mind you). Now however, in January of 2014 I find myself in a very non-traditional church which meets in a dance studio (although there are stained glass windows, so that’s cool), dies neither on the hill of Calvinism nor Arminianism, has a worship band with both contemporary music and electric instruments, a dress code that essentially asks that you please wear clothes of some sort, and that doesn’t believe that all non-KJV Bible translations are penned by the hand of the devil. And you know what..? I noted this past Sunday that I was finally truly, sincerely, humbly, and exuberantly worshipful!

   God is so much smarter than me.

   In closing, if you would like to read more about Ben & Tim’s Not My Church Tour, go here: http://benjaminsdennis.tumblr.com/

   Also, if you would like to visit my new church, go here for info: http://www.legacychurchkc.org/

   Farewell humanity and Godspeed.