A Beautiful Bouquet

I don’t know any kid who doesn’t love dandelions.

As a kid, I remember rubbing the pollen on my forehead. It would leave yellow oily smudges like it were cheap face paint. I remember having a contest with my friends to see who could blow the seeds off of the dead dandelions the fastest. It was a contest I would have with myself to see if I could blow all of the seeds off with one fatal gust of breath. I also remember getting off the bus after school and picking the biggest dandelions I could find to give to my mother. I would find a cheap cup, fill it with water, and place them on a windowsill as though they were flowers.

I think now as an adult, if I would pick dandelions for my girlfriend, I would soon be without one.

There is a popular story in the gospels where Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. It is coupled together with a couple other stories in Mark explaining the expansion of the message of the gospel. At the root of his parable, Jesus was saying that though his message has started out small, it would soon grow a large following. It isn’t necessarily a parable of growth, but it is more of a parable of contrast – explaining how great things always start from things that are small.

A Tree and a Weed:

As far as dandelions are concerned, I think you understand. You can have one dandelion in your yard, and in a day there could be dozens. This is the focus of the parable, but like with the dandelions, there is one crucial aspect people are missing when they read this passage. And though this might not be the main idea of the text, it was still an intended illustration made by Jesus describing the Kingdom of God. Mustard plants, much like dandelions, were a nuisance to those whose gardens they overtook.

I don’t think any Jew at the time would describe the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed. Many Jews would describe the Kingdom of God or Israel like a mighty Cedar – a strong lavish tree with many uses. Cedar would be a sign of strength and a sign of stability. Jesus instead likens the Kingdom of God to a bush that overtook one’s garden. Once mustard was in one’s garden, it was most likely there to stay. To take out the plant would be troublesome, because the seeds alone germinate as soon as they hit the ground. Jesus knew the Old Testament. He could’ve equally used a parable describing the Kingdom as a Cedar, but his use of the mustard plant is important.

The Kingdom of God isn’t going to look like what the Jews were expecting.

Where many Jews thought they were God’s only people, Jesus made a way for ALL people of every tribe and every tongue to be part of the People of God. The mustard plant will grow so large that birds will perch in its branches. No one wants birds in their garden much like how many farmers put scarecrows in the cornfields. Yet Jesus makes this sound like a good thing.

Where many Jews and others thought they should revolt over Rome and rule the world, Jesus instead taught to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemy, and to put other’s in front of oneself. When many Jews and even the disciples thought the Messiah would come and deliver the people from their physical bondage, Jesus instead died at the hands of the very government they were trying to overthrow. Jesus came to deliver them from their spiritual bondage.

The Kingdom of God might not look like what we are expecting either.

While many churches spend their time looking to bring in young suburban families, I can’t help but think that the Kingdom of God is longing to see people in the slums and ghettos and cities. While American churches long that our government be right-wing conservative Capitalists, I can’t help but think that the Kingdom of God will welcome the Socialists who follow Christ as well. While many in church praise their pastors, I can’t help but think the people in the Kingdom will praise janitors and ushers, teachers and social workers, and the developmentally disabled as well.

Have we been looking at the Kingdom of God all wrong? What are our priorities as the body of Christ? How are we bringing heaven to earth? What are we doing to point those who are lost to Christ? How are we making the physical world a better place?

We need to learn how to stop saying we love people, and we actually need to start going out and loving people. We need to not get bitter at those who we don’t agree with. We need to love our enemies, and we need to encourage those who are going through difficult times instead of continually kicking them to the ground. We need to stop quoting the Ten Commandments, and we need to start following the One who perfected the Law. We are not only representatives of the Kingdom. We are representatives of Christ.

Embrace God like you’re holding a bouquet of beautiful dandelions.

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Preference in Performance

One could imagine the shock of terror on the rigid man’s face as the music began to play. Were people actually taking a part in this? Were people singing psalms over the popular bar melodies that had become so popular within the culture? This wasn’t the convoluted orchestral music that the man in the congregation was used to. This was blasphemous! Bar music and church music should not mix, and it was equally nonsensical for the people of the audience to join along. What has the world come to?

I am currently enrolled in a church history class at Central Bible College. This past section we went over the life of Martin Luther. It was both informational and inspirational. One thing that I never considered before was the way in which Luther changed congregational worship. The professor, Dr. Crabtree, vividly illustrated the emotion behind this idea. Before, the congregation merely listened, not participating in congregational worship (i.e. singing along with the music), but the service was directed towards the Lord’s Supper. When the Reformation happened, Luther took many of the popular secular bar songs of his time and put Christian words to them. Singing and participating in worship has since been an integral part in many evangelical church services.

But has the “American Church” gone off the deep end lately? Many have thought so and have dubbed a new genre of worship in the American Church that has been whispered across the pews… no, not pews… this church is too relevant for pews! This genre is unofficially known as, “Performance-driven Worship.”

But isn’t every “worship service” a performance? Once music is added into the mix, the shindig is on! I find it appealing that some people pick and choose what they consider a performance. I find it even MORE appealing when churches mask their approach to their performance, wanting it to seem as though they aren’t performing at all! Let me be frank: a lonely woman tickling the ivories and wailing “Days of Elijah” can have just as much of a performance factor as an immaculate, well-practiced worship team with strobe lights and fog machines.

The big question here really is: “Who are we performing for?”

I think one of the problems here coattails along with my previous blog – that people are trying to integrate personal and corporate worship. If worship is to be a performance towards God, then it is in the hands of the worship leader to make sure that God receives the most glorious and richest performance ever! This means that the music genre will have to be culturally specific – meaning that there will be churches with an organ, and there will be churches with a fog machine. This also means that the person leading worship picks songs that glorify God and are conducive to a corporate worship setting. But this problem isn’t the only one.

I think another problem is that people are confusing “performance-driven” with “self-gratifying.” The point of a “worship performance” is to point the people to God not point people to oneself. I’m sure that people can stand in awe of both God and in awe of the guitarist’s mad, face-melting solo, but just make sure the point is not lost. Remember that this is a weighty balance. Some ego’s can handle it and some can’t (from an on-stage perspective). If leaders don’t have patience and understanding about these issues, I don’t know if this balance can ever be resolved.

Maybe you need to reflect on a time when you weren’t gracious with the worship at a church you attended. Give the key-tickling, 90’s-song-wailing, sister in Christ a chance! And don’t assume that the fog machine is there to replace the “Holy Ghost.” Learn to live with one another. And remember that EVERYONE HAS AN OPINION ABOUT WORSHIP MUSIC!

This is just my opinion.

Dungeons and Dragons and Devotions.

This week’s blog post is inspired by a few things. The first would be my hall – Horton Ground East – with which I am the RA. The second would be Focus Prayer Night – A prayer night inspired by some friends of mine with a purpose of uniting the colleges of Springfield.

Segue.

As the mixed aromas of mozzarella and male saturated my dorm room, I was reminded why Thursday night was one of my favorite nights of the week. While most people don’t look forward to taking time out of their busy schedules to have a late night devotional, it was something that I ended up growing very fond of. With eager expectation I began my devotion.

This devotion was the first one of the semester so I wanted to make it count (I also made it mandatory and didn’t want to waste my hall’s time… though they did get pizza out of it). So I took time to just let them know how thankful I was for having them as a hall. I would say that my hall is a rarity. I’m not saying that other halls aren’t as awesome as mine, but… I just love the dynamic of my hall.

What is so unique about my hall is just how diverse it is. I have people from all walks of life, with different interests and hobbies, all coming together every Thursday to talk about one unifying theme – Christ. Though every day of the week they may have different friend groups, Thursday is that night all of their differences fade away as they talk about God. I have students who write music, play Dungeons and Dragons, enjoy sports, watch situational comedy, and yet despite all of that Christ brings them together.

For the devotion I read from 1Corinthians 12, the passage about the body of Christ. In the passage Paul talks about how all these different parts come together to form one body. It reminded me of my hall – that though they are all so different, they are all (as we are all) united under Christ. I think that is what heaven is going to be like. The Baptists will praise God in the midst of the Pentecostals, and the Methodists, and the Presbyterians. There will be people of every tribe and every tongue.

Despite all our differences, Christ unifies us all.

Take time this week to talk to someone you wouldn’t normally associate with. It might be tough finding a common ground at first, but just remember… you might be spending eternity next to this person worshipping God in heaven. You might as well get acquainted now.