Religion and Religious People I Like and Want to be Like

It’s got to have good humor, readily able to laugh at itself and its own goofs and quirks and gaffes and screw ups and oddities. And it must not take itself too seriously—that’s far too wearying of an existence for someone who has come to Jesus and discovered the easiness of yoke and lightness of burden and wonderful rest freely given to those with weary souls because of religion-gone-bad.

It must be quick to admit it does not have all the answers—never did and probably never will—on this side of eternity. It believes saying “I don’t know” is always better than pretending and preaching something not even fully believed by the pretender, the preacher. It knows there’s humility and strength in being honest about what it cannot be sure of. It has realized trust is given to someone who does not lie when they don’t have a full answer.

It keeps a balance of prophetic fire and gentleness. All fire all the time will burn everything down and leave nothing behind. The fire comes in letting that which is real and alive and resident in one’s own life and experience flow freely. This is not bluster or salesmanship. It’s like the forager talking about mushrooms, the woodworker talking about his favorite type of wood, the chef talking about his best knife. This passion is obvious and yet it is never aggressive or belittling or damaging.

It is playful and creative in its approach to Scripture, its storytelling, its messaging, its music, its teaching, its programming, and its way of interacting with the community outside its doors. It has good art and believes aesthetics matter. It is not pretentious or stuffy, it is a greenhouse for good ideas and songs and artistic expression to flourish.

It is not concerned with creating a whole separate Christian ecosystem to live safe and apart from the rest of the world, but rather, it plants itself within the community as a valuable resource to serve anyone who comes. In this way, it’s like a library… changing and evolving as culture and technology and demographics do, in order to best meet the needs of the community. The never-ending love of the God who created us is what it shares in many different ways and creative expressions.

As it is planted in the community, it is unique and local rather than being a franchise or a knock-off of some other “successful” church.

It views success, not in terms of numbers of attenders or dollars coming in or buildings being built, but in light of loving and serving people to the best of its ability.

It values real life connection over hits or views or likes or follows. It never aspires to famous or mega or televised or viral.

It goes with grace every time. In every situation. Mercy triumphs over judgement. Always. Its role in people’s lives is to bless and not curse. It remembers that it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. It chooses to not coerce, manipulate, police, or guilt its people into conformity. And it knows that all the law and prophets are summed up in these two great commands: love the Lord your God… and love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s the big deal and everything else is just human meddling, morality policing, and varying attempts to control people (which is bad religion).

It looks like its community in demographics and diversity… it is rich and poor, black and white and latinx and pacific islander and east Asian and south Asian. It’s never a social club for one type of person at the exclusion of others. It celebrates culture.

It sees the gifts of women and empowers them to lead, teach, preach, have authority and agency. It is egalitarian and believes in equality and works for justice. It rejects power trips and authoritarianism and patriarchy and violence.

It is careful and diligent in untangling itself from bad religion – religion used as a cloak for a political party, religious nationalism, religion entrenched in -isms (liberalism, conservativism, Calvinism, fundamentalism, racism, legalism, etc.).

It has only one hero, Jesus Christ. It has clergy, but they are not celebrities or heroes. The clergy preach Good News: all is forgiven, Jesus said “It is finished” and it really is… no more shame, no more condemnation, no more sacrifices, no more separation from God, it’s done, it has been done for you, this is God’s gift to you, so please take it! Receive it. Believe it. Walk in it. It’s yours.

 

 

church fantasies I have

note: picture above is from our last community outreach event just before the pandemic hit—our annual Toy Give

the other day in a staff meeting, a question came up about whether or not we should do more explaining to the church about why we are currently not having normal worship (congregational singing) in our services.

I think we probably could do a better job of communicating what we are doing and why

I also feel torn over raising the subject.

there are people who would be happy to gather for church and break all the COVID guidelines with maskless singing and the return of kids classes and big hugs with germs all around

and there are people who are still not comfortable coming to church until COVID is under control and 80% of the population has been vaccinated

so, reminding everyone why we are doing what we are doing probably won’t make anyone happier or change their view on things

the ones who want to break free from all the regulations will be unsatisfied with our explanation

and the ones who aren’t comfortable coming to church will still be watching from home, if and when they think of it

I wish…

I mean…

I have this church fantasy

that everyone would applaud our careful following of the rules

that everyone would see that our caution is out of concern for the vulnerable

that everyone would be proud of our church for doing the right thing

that everyone would thank the pastors for leading well

but I know it’s a fantasy

I wish it would happen

but I know it won’t likely

and that got me on a wave of thinking about my fantasies (I have more)…

I fantasize that our church would be:

wildly diverse yet unified in purpose

completely over and done with judgment

quick to embrace the arts and celebrate beauty

resolute with Jesus at the center of our identity and practice

worshiping like the black church – all-in body, soul, spirit engagement

moving with ease between charismatic expression and quiet contemplation

deeply committed to caring for our local community through service and generosity

in our feels – quick to laughter and easily moved to tears

informed by the Sermon on the Mount in our politics

a storehouse of good food to share

really gifted at throwing parties

safe, humble, and gentle

working for justice

*   *   *

I know fantasy isn’t a Bible word. Maybe I’m talking about dreaming of the impossible. That might sound a bit more biblical…

There’s a verse in the Bible (Romans 4.18) about Abraham—and it says he, “against all hope, believed.” This has become an expression in the English language, to “hope against all hope.” It means to continue to hope for something even though it seems unlikely to happen.

Exactly. That’s what I’m talking about.

This is my fantasy and you can’t talk me out of it.

 

Joyful In Hope

NOTE: I was really excited to preach this sermon today… but when I arrived early this morning at the church to begin prepping for our Drive-Thru Food Bank, I heard a distinct dripping sound and noticed significant water damage in our auditorium. We’re assessing it now, but it’s obviously not safe to hold a service indoors today so we had to cancel. Anyway, here’s my sermon:

Romans 12.12

Be joyful in hope, patient in trouble, and faithful in prayer.

Romans 15.13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.

Author Karl Ove Knausgård said,

“There is only one thing children find harder to hold back than tears, and that is joy.”

Last week I talked about the faithfulness of God.

God is faithful. Always and forever.

After the service, a confident little girl (around 9 years old) holding a german shepherd stuffed animal under her arm came up to me and said, “I’d like to talk to you.”

It’s funny how my first reaction was to be kinda scared because, well… church PTSD (I’ve had some bad experiences that started out with those words, “I’d like to talk to you.”

Anyway, this girl was wonderful—she wanted me to know that they’d just moved into their new neighborhood and when they left for church this morning, their car didn’t work.

Their old neighborhood had a neighbor who helped them with their car before.

But today in their new neighborhood, a very kind new neighbor came to their rescue… and they made it to church, just a few minutes late.

She concluded her story by saying, “So, I think we agree. God is faithful.”

There was a pause, and then she asked, “Um, what is faithful?”

I love it. I think she knew in her heart that God can always be trusted because God is always good.

But big words can be tricky.

I stumbled around for a few seconds offering other big and tricky words:

“Reliable. Trustworthy. Constant. Dependable.”

I could see that no light bulb was going off.

So then I said, “God always keeps his promises. He’s always good and we can trust him.

That’s what faithful means.”

She nodded and agreed with me. “Yeah, God always keeps his promises. That’s right.”

“And the devil tried to keep us from getting to church this morning, but God is faithful.”

I laughed and said,… Read More

My Favorite Imperfect Cookies

Each week, I write two little family devotions that are printed as mini-booklets and added to the Kid’s Activity Pack that we hand out at our Drive-Thru Food Bank and our Sunday service. We’ve given out over 5,000 of these Kid’s Activity Packs now. Last week, I wrote about a happy family memory… my favorite imperfect cookies:

There is a fortune cookie factory here in Seattle’s Chinatown that sells bags of “un-fortunate” cookies. They’re the cookies that were somehow damaged, flattened, or just didn’t turn out perfect in the fortune cookie folding process. They are sold in a large plastic bag about the size of a beach ball (and they are much cheaper than the perfect ones).

bags of unfortune cookies for post

My parents loved going to dinner in Chinatown and they would always stop at the fortune cookie factory so they could buy a big bag of “un-fortunate” cookies. Sometimes, they would even buy an extra bag and give it to me.

I didn’t mind that these cookies weren’t perfect. Actually, the flat ones are easier to eat than the perfectly folded ones. Sometimes the folded ones hurt the roof of your mouth.

fortune cookies for post

The “un-fortunate” cookies tasted the same as the perfect ones. They came from the same factory. They had the same recipe. They just looked different.

I’m glad the fortune cookie factory doesn’t throw away these flat “un-fortunate” cookies.

Sometimes, when things don’t go the way we planned, or when everything isn’t as perfect as we’d like, we might not want to accept it.

But, have you ever had a warm chocolate cookie fresh out of the oven that broke when it was taken off the cookie sheet? Those broken cookies are delicious!

Maybe we should accept things, or situations, or people… that aren’t perfect.

After all, neither are we!

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” —Romans 15.7

 

 

Our Ninth And Final Campfire Service

Here’s the video of our ninth and final Sunday Campfire Service from last Sunday. It is hosted by Pastor Andy; it includes Scripture readings, prayer, and worship led by Pastor Kyle.

I wrap up our mini-series about making deals with the devil in the desert (or what Jesus teaches us about making deals with the devil).

If you missed this service or are unable to attend these outdoor services because of COVID-19 or for any other reason, we’d love to have you join us online!

PS—tonight’s service is cancelled due to inclement weather. We will be returning indoors next week, on Sunday, October 18 at 11:30am. Online registration will go live tomorrow. 

Go Seahawks!

Click here for a PDF of the Worship Guide: worship guide sunday campfire service October 4

Our Eighth Campfire Service

Here’s the video of our eighth Sunday Campfire Service from last Sunday. It is hosted by Pastor Andy; it includes Scripture readings, prayer, and worship led by Pastor Kyle.

Pastor Angela continues our new mini-series about making deals with the devil in the desert (or what Jesus teaches us about making deals with the devil).

Her message is to the kids… but really, it’s for all of us.

If you missed this service or are unable to attend these outdoor services because of COVID-19 or for any other reason, we’d love to have you join us online!

PS—tonight’s service is at 6:00pm on the east lawn and there is room for you. BYOC (bring your own chair) and be sure to wear a face mask. Please RSVP at: nwlife.church/attend


Click here for a PDF of the Worship Guide: worship guide sunday campfire service October 4

 

 

Our Seventh Campfire Service

Here’s the video of our seventh Sunday Campfire Service from last Sunday. It is hosted by Pastor Angela; it includes Scripture readings, prayer, and worship led by Pastor Kyle.

I begin a new mini-series about making deals with the devil in the desert (or what Jesus teaches us about making deals with the devil).

The message zeros in on the theme of identity—and building a life on what is true.

If you missed this service or are unable to attend these outdoor services because of COVID-19 or for any other reason, we’d love to have you join us online!

PS—tonight’s service is at 6:00pm **NEW TIME** on the east lawn and there is room for you. BYOC (bring your own chair) and be sure to wear a face mask. Please RSVP at: nwlife.church/attend

Click here for a PDF of the Worship Guide: worship guide sunday campfire service September 20

How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you!

I’ve been posting our Sunday Campfire Service videos here each week, but last Sunday we had to cancel because of the unhealthy air quality due to wildfires throughout the northwest region. So, it’s kinda like when we have a snowstorm and have to cancel church… no video to share. But, since I’m in the habit of posting each week, I thought I’d share something else—something I read this week by Italian writer and mystic Carlo Carretto:

How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you!

How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I would like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you, because I… Read More

Our Sixth Campfire Service

Here’s the video of our sixth Sunday Campfire Service from last Sunday. It is hosted by Pastor Andy; it includes Scripture readings, prayer, and worship led by Pastor Kyle and Janelle Mike.

I conclude our mini-series… a pandemic remix of the story of Jonah: “Things to do in the Belly of a Whale,” with a message entitled, “We Can Write Better Endings.”

The message is reminder of God’s vision for the beloved community—a reminder that we are being called closer to God and to one another.

If you missed this service or are unable to attend these outdoor services because of COVID-19 or for any other reason, we’d love to have you join us online!

PS—tonight’s service is at 6:00pm **NEW TIME** on the east lawn and there is room for you. BYOC (bring your own chair) and be sure to wear a face mask. Please RSVP at: nwlife.church/attend

 

Click here for a PDF of the Worship Guide: worship guide sunday campfire service September 6

 

Our Fifth Campfire Service

Here’s the video of our fifth Sunday Campfire Service from last Sunday. It is hosted by Pastor Angela; it includes Scripture readings, prayer, and worship led by Shaun Jones.

I continue teaching in our mini-series… a pandemic remix of the story of Jonah: Things to do in the Belly of a Whale.

The message is one of hope—a call to dream again.

If you missed this service or are unable to attend these outdoor services because of COVID-19 or for any other reason, we’d love to have you join us online!

PS—tonight’s service is at 6:30pm on the east lawn and there is room for you. BYOC (bring your own chair) and be sure to wear a face mask. Please RSVP at: nwlife.church/attend

Click here for a PDF of the Worship Guide: worship guide sunday campfire service Aug 30