Monday, February 23, 2009

The Price of Fellowship

There is a big difference between patronage and fellowship. Patrons are customers; they wield power in their freedom to choose another business. Sure, there can be a relationship that develops between patron and business, sometimes even friendship. But the relationship and even the friendships are dependent on the patron’s transaction by transaction decision to remain a patron. Patronage is a relational one way street with the power to keep or terminate the relationship firmly in the grasp of the patron.

Unfortunately, our culture taints us all with toxin of consumerism, so there are a lot of people who view themselves as patrons at church. They think of their presence on Sunday the same way they view buying a latte from Starbucks. Patrons don’t think of investing in the local church any more than you think you should go behind the counter and wash the mugs and clean the sink after you finish your latte at Starbucks. They withhold their everyday lives, their time, their gifts, and their experiences because in the eyes of a patron their presence is the price of admission. Patrons insist the power to maintain the relationship stay firmly in their grasp. They resist or refuse fellowship, because to enter into fellowship is to relinquish their power to control the terms of the relationship.

Then it happens. The phone call comes and an anguished voice asks for the church, and often demands from the church the very things they have withheld from the church - time, support, resources, and service. They want the one way street of patronage to instantly morph into a freeway of fellowship. If you are a patron it is inevitable that the time will come when you will misunderstand and mischaracterize the church as uncaring or unresponsive, because the church cannot respond effectively to patrons. It isn’t that the church doesn’t want to respond, but how well can we respond to someone we don’t know. Fellowship can’t both sprout and blossom in the awkward chaos of a funeral plan or in grief and anxiety of a waiting room.

Don’t think I resent patrons, I don’t. I agonize over them. I am glad they come to church because I hope that some Sunday they will really hear the good news of Jesus in a life changing, mind renewing way and start coming to church just because they want to enjoy and worship God. I believe that when they are truly attracted to God they will be attracted to his people and it will become inconceivable to come and go without seeking to know and be known.

I know the price is unreasonably high, the power of the patron for the seat of the servant. It is the price of fellowship.

Luke 14:7-11
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Parasite

Luke 15

She is one of those people I am always glad to see. She loves God and her faith is simple and pure. She is pleasant and generous and she means it when she gives you a hug. I appreciate her even more because I know her life isn’t easy. She has some physical struggles, she’s is elderly but still working, I know she quietly endures weeks when she lives on beans and tortillas. Still, she cares for relatives and mothers other people’s children.
Her husband is a derelict, and addict, a bum, a parasite. He refuses to work and when he’s awake he drinks up the little “extra” money she can stash. There just aren’t enough good places to hide it. He doesn’t care how she is doing but when he can’t find enough to drink he rebukes her for not providing.
She is very easy to love. He is very easy to hate.

It’s revolting to me that to help her is to help him. He is going to find a way to siphon off some of any kindness shown to her, sleep on a warm couch and eat a hot meal because someone is trying to help her make ends meet. I have justified hating him because it makes me feel like I’m standing up for her.

I thought about the parasite a lot as I read Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” (If you haven’t read it you need to.)
In “The Prodigal God” Tim Keller did what good teachers do; he stood me in the crowd who heard the parable from the lips of Jesus. Jesus said I can really only resent the parasite the way I do because of my own self righteousness, because I want my religiousness to merit something from God I don’t think the parasite deserves. He said I don’t want to love the parasite because I believe I’m more deserving of grace than he is. Then, he just left the story without an ending. I’m still standing here arguing with the Father about how much more I deserve his recklessly extravagant, wasteful love than the parasite does.

So now I have a choice to make. I’m either going to stick my nose in the air and stand my self righteous ground, or, I’m going to make it my commission to engage the parasite and show him the real gospel and invite him to share in the Father’s recklessly extravagant, wasteful love with me.
I’ll let you know what I do.