Second Fiddle

Sometimes you hear a song, a poem, or a story and you just can’t shake it. It sticks with you. It creeps into your mind at the oddest of times. There are times when this is awesome because the song, poem, or story is incredible. There are other times when this is a horrible occurence because the song, poem, or story is awful (kind of like that Kris Allen song, “Live Like We’re Dying”…of course, that’s up for debate because some of you might like that song…it just annoys me).

Yesterday, I heard a passage of Scripture and it rocked me. The first reading just floored me…it encouraged me…it challenged me…it renewed my spirit. And, ever since the first reading, I just can’t shake it.

Here it is: 

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. (Romans 12:9-21, The Message)

There’s a lot of good stuff in that passage. Read it several times…slowly. What is it saying to you?

Where is the Love?

While driving to Greenville, OH on Friday, I noticed a church sign.

The sign served its given purpose as it did get my attention.

The sign also troubled me.

The message of the sign: “Floods? Earthquakes? I told you so! Signed, God.”

Wow! What a loving message!

This message certainly did not make me want to learn more about that particular church. The sign left me with a bad feeling.

Then I began to wonder…was the intent of the sign to attract people to Christ or to offend people?

There’s a big difference between the two.

If the intent was to attract people to Christ, they may want to go back to the drawing board. If the intent was to offend people… job well done!

There are folks out there who desire to offend people because…”after all, the Gospel of Christ is offensive.” These are the same folks who like to “scare the hell out of people”. A sign like this basically makes me think that these are folks who believe the “world is going to hell in a hand-basket”. And, rather than interacting with that world…rather than trying to help change that world…they simply desire to point and laugh at that world. And so, you find churches that try to offend and scare people straight…”You are a horrible sinner…you will burn in hell…unless you change and come to Jesus…and our church.”

I believe the desire to offend and scare people into a relationship with Christ totally misses the point of the Gospel.

The message of Christ is all about love, grace, mercy. As Christians, we’re called to somehow embody these things…love, grace, mercy, patience, etc.

So, when we find ourselves known for church signs that give God credit for tragic events that claim thousands and thousands of lives around the world, I think we’ve missed the point.

On our way home from Ohio, I saw another church sign. It didn’t make me made. In fact, I found myself somewhat relieved.

The sign simply said, “God is not mad at you.”

I like that message!

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)

And, so I find myself needing to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience for the folks at that church. Sometimes, it’s easier to be loving, peaceful, patient, kind, and gentle with folks outside than church than inside it.

So, as I’ve said before, if you feel led to have a church sign with a message on it…try to focus on love!

Culture…Create or Imitate

This morning, I watched some video of an Easter service from a rather progressive church. The service started with a presentational cover song. It was rather theatrical…with the presentation almost matching the actual video for the song.

As I watched, I found myself thinking, “Wow! This is kind of cool.”

Then, as I continued to watch and think about it, I found myself thinking, “Hmm. Can’t the Church do better than imitating popular culture?” And, then I thought, “Is the point of the Church to get someone to think a performance was cool?”

I don’t know…there’s a lot to be said about entertaining people…if they think “wow, that was cool” they may be more inclined to return and continue to encounter the message of the Church. But, is the message getting through? Is the attempt to be culturally relevant adding to the message or is it distracting? (That question being posed, I will say that the pastors message was on-point…and powerful).

You see, the message of the song wasn’t that strong. It felt more like an attempt to do something in order to be culturally relevant for the sake of relevance, rather than an attempt to do something in order to creatively communicate a powerful message in a relevant manner. There’s a huge difference in that.

And, the performance of the song, while interesting, was simply mediocre. I found myself cringing at moments. In the end, I thought to myself, “Well, nice try.”

While watching, I was reminded of attending a conference at a mega-church about 8 years ago. The band performed a Dave Matthews Band song in order to demonstrate how to be culturally relevant. The senior pastor of the church stood up after the song, praised the band, talked about how they performed the song better than DMB. The problem was, it simply wasn’t that good. It was a bunch of 55 year old people doing 3 & 4 part harmonies to a DMB song (nothing against 55 year old people). I thought it would have been more powerful to simply use the DMB recording.

Then, I was reminded of the Apologetix. This is a band that has made a career in the Christian niche market of parody songs. They take Top 40 songs, and Christianize them. And, the result is corny lyrics and poorly performed instrumental parts. Seriously, I remember listening to a recording chalked full of wrong notes. And, the lyrics…cheese-a-riffic! It might be a bit different if they intended to be funny…but that’s not the intent. I end up wondering, “why?” Is listening to a lame attempt to Christianize a popular song somehow better than listening to the actual song? I find the lame attempt more offensive than the songs they are attempting to somehow “redeem”.  

And, this is where the problems arise for me. As Christians, are we simply called to imitate culture? Are we called to Christianize pop culture?

Or are we called to create culture? Are we called to create art (music, literature, film, visual arts, etc) that can stand on its own…that doesn’t have to be labeled “Christian”…that doesn’t have to copy non-Christian art???

Don’t get me wrong…I do see the value in using pieces of our modern culture to communicate powerful truths. But, what’s so wrong with simply using the piece of art? I believe that simply using culture to use culture is borderline inappropriate. And, if you are going to imitate the culture…make sure you do it well…and make sure the message is clear.

So, my hope and prayer is that the Church will rise up and create culture, rather than imitate culture.