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I am proud of the ideas we came up with for Easter holiday services back in the early nineties. As a “creative team” we truly owned our title. And, it was our sincere desire to come up with new – dare I say sensational – concepts for Easter Sunday worship.

For instance, one year we created a full-length dramatic presentation featuring Wayne and Garth (Party on!). Another year, we based the entire service on the Fox TV show called Herman’s Head. Full-length, original scripts. Theater lighting. Elaborate sets and staging. No matter what the theme, we always included six to eight “special musics” performed live by very gifted musicians.

My own unique contributions to our holiday worship brainstorming sessions include such brilliant program titles as: Get Off Your Keister, It’s Time for Easter and Stop Laughing… Easter’s Not Bunny.

(Right now seems like a good time to pause and watch one of my favorite YouTube holiday videos: Incidentally, this is a great example of how the right soundtrack – “Aviva Pastoral” by Nathan Larson – can make or break a video. Contrast to this version.)

In many ways, our creative brainstorming was driven by our goal to reach the “lost”. We knew that mid-Spring every year all the Chreasters* came out of hiding and decided they had better go to church. This reality always seemed one of those blessed examples of divine grace, that God would place in the hearts of so many heathen the notion to attend a local church instead of sleeping in.

It was a no-brainer that if we were going to put so much effort into our Easter programs, we ought to make sure people knew about them. I mean, a lot of local churches were starting to climb on the willow-creek-model-band-wagon and we were all trying our best to create an artistic and effective ‘show’ in order to see lots of true conversions on Resurrection Sunday.

In short, there was a lot of competition.

So, our church did what any other strip-mall chinese food restaurant or small claims insurance lawyer would do: we made flyers.

And, we put them everywhere. On car windshields in parking lots. On cork boards in the local coffee shops. We even did some door-hanging. Of course, occasionally people were home when we came to ‘hang’ in which case we would verbally make an invitation. But generally, the flyers did the job for us.

Now, fast-forward about 15 years. Last week, I came home to find several colorful little pamphlets hanging in plastic weather-proof baggies on the main door to our apartment complex. I assumed at first that it was the newest campaign from Dominoes. (You do know they just changed their recipe, right? Oh yes they did!). In fact, it was a flyer inviting me to a Good Friday worship service at some local church.

I sort of cringed. No wait, I DID cringe. It took some internal reflection to tease out what exactly spawned my visceral reaction. Here’s what I found deep down inside…

It’s simple: I just don’t like being invited to an event by a piece of paper. I REALLY don’t like to be invited to a church service by a piece of paper. Is there a more impersonal way to invite someone to a gathering that, in theory, is supposed to be of the utmost importance? Being invited to church by a flyer is like being invited to your own wedding by a magazine ad. (Actually, that might be kinda cool if you could pull it off).

Come to think of it, this invitation didn’t feel like an invitation because it actually wasn’t an invitation. Though it used words like, “We invite you…” on it, and it included similarly personal and friendly language inside, I am convinced that what was really going on is that I was a consumer being targeted by a seller. Instead of Chinese food or dirt-cheap lawyering, I was being sold religion.

When we call it what it is, we quickly see how wrong it is. Still, somehow we have learned to justify our religious marketing by naming it part of our ‘strategic evangelization plan’. What has caused us to resort to such tactics?

We need to stop and remember that we are the Church. We are the People of God, his manifest presence in the world. We are empowered by the Spirit to be witnesses of the good news through both word and deed. The Trinity has entrusted us as ambassadors of God’s reconciliation mission (2 Cor. 5:17-20). Jesus is making all things new – women, men, children, and all of Creation. The old has gone. The new has come!

Does all this sound like an appropriate topic for a door-hanger flyer?

Undoubtedly, some may think I’m making too big a deal out of this. “So what?” you may say. “It’s just another culturally relevant way to let people know that the Church is there for them.” Some may even reason that a flyer is better than a relationship since it gives people space and an opportunity to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation and conversation. After all, human contact is often messy.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that the Gospel is not a product for sale. Nor is church simply a building in the neighborhood to which someone can be invited. The Church is people. It’s living, laughing, loving, people. It is humans serving one another in the manner and example of Jesus. Once this reality is fully grasped, the absurdity of mixing worship with marketing flyers becomes painfully obvious.

Maybe it’s too late for you to ‘take back’ all those Easter flyers you put out this year. That’s okay. God is widely known for repeatedly redeeming our poorly chosen actions and methods. So, take heart.

Meanwhile, remember that every day is a “holy-day”. Will you choose each moment to become a real live ambassador of reconciliation and good news (a.k.a. a vital part of the Church in the world)?

Or, will you remain an evangelical marketing executive with a flare for graphic design?

*Chreasters = people who only attend church on Christmas and Easter.


Just finished writing my devotional entry for the 2010 CRM Lenten Devotional. It is due on Monday. I know we are currently upon Pentecost, but perhaps you never really reflected properly during the 2009 Lenten season. Here’s your chance, slacker!

Lamentations 3:22-24

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

In 1998, I was exiled. I was violently expelled from my home against my will. All my applications for re-entry were denied. I was stiff-armed at every border.

Exile for me equaled pain. It was as if the wind had been knocked out of me and I was stuck in that moment between the impact on my chest and the refilling of my lungs. Here, my spirit was nearly consumed.

In 586 BC, the people of Jerusalem were exiled. Babylonian forces starved, ravaged, and brutally murdered many of the city’s inhabitants. The walls were burned. The survivors, led away.

Lamentations is a collage of sketches from the incident that initiated the scattering of the Jews and came to define Israel as a people exiled from their own land –

Giotto's Angel of Lament

Giotto's Angel of Lament

a home given to them by their God. This brooding book projects images of starving children who upon their death are eaten by their own starving mothers. Women are brutally raped. Once called royal ‘queen,’ Jerusalem is transmogrified into a filthy whore. The LORD, himself, is so angry he is portrayed as a pitiless “enemy” ravaging those with whom he is supposed to have an everlasting covenant.

The onslaught of degrading snapshots and wretched descriptions rarely stalls as it plows from one chapter to the next. Even the final verse of the book leaves open the terrifying possibility that God has ‘utterly rejected’ his people who are now beyond restoration.

But there is hope for all exiles.

Almost exactly in the middle of this desert of lament we locate an oasis. While the other four chapters each stop at verse twenty-two, the middle chapter launches a meditation on hope in its twenty-second verse that continues on for several stanzas. It begins: Because of the Yahweh’s great love we are not consumed…

The word consume means to ‘take in’ or to ‘use up.’ As purchasers we consume cars, toys, clothes. As living organisms we consume food and drink. As human minds we consume books, ideas, philosophies. Consequently we, ourselves, are altogether taken in and vacuumed up, indiscreetly swirled together with all we insatiably invite into our lives. At this point, the consumer becomes the consumed. The purchaser is bought and owned. The eater becomes the eaten. Our own consumption leads to our own consumption.

What is our salvation from the consumption of us and by us?

We are finally saved by divine compassion. The word compassion comes from the Latin compati, literally meaning “suffering with.” When the LORD chooses to enter our suffering (of which Jesus’ incarnation is the prime example) there is absolutely no possibility we can be overwhelmed either by what we take in or what takes us in. For, it is in God’s taking in of us – the orphan, widow, exile, misfit, sinner – that the circle of consumption is finally broken. We are consumed with him alone.

My divorce nearly ruined me. It was only God’s limitless compassion, renewed daily that kept me from being sucked up with my pain into oblivion.

Israel was nearly ruined, too. It is only the LORD’s unfailing love that has sustained them through exile, pogroms, and holocausts and prevented their disappearance as the people of God.

We need not over consume nor be consumed over our circumstances. God has set aside the perfect portion for those He loves. He is our portion. He is also our consumer. And so, we wait patiently to be taken up and in to his peace.

What is it that threatens to consume you?

In the past, when you have been surrounded by potentially consuming circumstances, how have you responded?

How might you begin to put unhealthy consumption to bed and awaken yourself  to God’s compassion?



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