Church Without Walls

Church without walls

On my most recent visit to Auburn, AL, home of my alma mater, Auburn University, I found myself here…

The place: Auburn University Student Activity Center
The day: Sunday morning
The time: 10:00 a.m.

And the place lived up to its name:

  • Auburn University? ✔︎ (War Eagle, y’all)
  • Student? ✔︎ (mostly, anyway)
  • Activity? ✔︎
  • Center? Mmm… (Actually, it’s kind of on the edge of campus, but let’s not get too bogged down.)

The “activity” that was happening that particular Sunday was probably not the reason the Student Act Center was built. While you would probably be more apt to take part in a pick-up basketball game there, the activity that morning was a church service.

Let that sink in: a CHURCH service held IN the Auburn University Student Activity Center ON the Auburn University campus. (Where else but sweet home Alabama could a church meet on a public university campus. God bless ‘Merica…) The Sunday before, the service was held in the Auburn Convention Center ballroom. The first service I attended several months earlier was held in the Auburn Livestock Arena. (No jokes—if you like burgers and ribs somebody’s got to teach animal husbandry.)

Regardless of the tabernacle du jour, the church meeting on and around Auburn University that I attended that morning is Auburn Community Church; ACC for short—a church without walls, as their tagline says. But let there be no doubt—it IS a church: a Spirit-led, God-honoring, Jesus-made-real, truth-preaching church.

And what a preacher—Miles Fidell, not yet 30, but with a depth of Biblical, theological, and practical wisdom shared freely and unapologetically; wisdom men of the cloth three times his age sometimes lack; wisdom appropriate for living la vida Jesus, whether you’re 21 or 81.

The first time a friend/church member sent me a link to one of Miles’ messages via the church’s podcast with a “you have GOT to listen to this” imperative, I admit it—I eye-rolled. Without even listening to a second of his message, I decided it was going to be some hip and trendy watered-down pablum he fed to the “kids” in his congregation—something all jargon-y and touchy-feely to placate them and make them feel good about their collective selves to keep them coming back. Knowing my friend would follow up to see what I thought, though, I figured I would just listen to a few minutes, make note of a couple points, and report back about how cool it was.

Not what happened.

I couldn’t stop listening. I kept tapping the repeat-the-last-15-seconds button on my podcast app so I could hear a particular point Miles made again. And again.

In the short term, that message wrecked me. In the long term, I haven’t missed a message since. (Quick note: I have an a-MAY-zing pastor at my home church who makes even the most unlearn-ed among us leave church every Sunday morning thinking we’re smart enough to actually understand those three alternate meanings of that Greek word John used. Plus, he also wrecks me. Then on Monday, I listen to Miles. It’s an embarrassment of preacherly riches. And wreckage.)

What’s amazing about ACC—actually, there’s a lot that’s amazing, but this particular thing could only happen in the 21st century in a college town—is if the service needs to change venue, it’s announced the Sunday before and on social media and texting ensues and everybody shows up the next week at the right place. (I can imagine my pastor telling our First Baptist congregation that we’re going to be meeting at a hotel ballroom next Sunday and in the gym the next Sunday and at the livestock arena the next Sunday. He might see exactly what that verse in Matthew 18 about “two or three” being gathered in Jesus’ name really means.)

Every Sunday the flock flocks: coeds, frat boys, pharmacy majors, engineers-to-be, singers, teachers, vet students, more than a few older folks (and growing)—all clutching a Bible, whether analog or digital, all tithing via Venmo, all singing with hands raised, all hungry to hear the Word presented with Miles’ unique delivery and incredibly clear presentation of the depth and goodness of a relationship with God.

And lest you get the wrong idea, this post isn’t about the “heresy” of a permanent church building. My home church grew so rapidly through the years that we finally bought an empty mall and turned it into a church complex that would amaze and astound you. So we definitely have a perma-building and God is definitely at work there. Nothing wrong with that.

But that place (with enough parking to host Black Friday sales for the entire county, I might add) is just that—a place. A place that’s big enough to hold us all, with weekly messages presenting the majesty and glory of the great I AM along with the “oh, that has got to be wrong—it can’t be that easy” Gospel message of grace and mercy and eternality, but, again—just a place.

And while I don’t have an inside on ACC’s marketing plan, I suspect the phrase “church without walls” isn’t referring to physical walls as much as it is to more abstract ones:

  • The “not one of us” walls we tend to erect—not to shut people out so much as to shut ourselves in.
  • The imaginary walls we hide behind because we think we can’t go to church until we get our hearts right with God or stop sleeping around or buy some socks or a coat and tie.
  • The walls we erect between our carefully-honed-comfort-zone-addicted selves and the tail-spinning, Katie-bar-the-door, dizzying fullness of a relationship with God.

Those kinds of walls.

I love that ACC doesn’t have those kinds of walls; it’s not that kind of church. Every church should be that kind of church…

…one where no one is shut out and no one is shut in.

…one where EVERYONE needs to get right with God in some area… and needs to stop (or start) doing something… and is welcome to be a part, socks or not.

…one where members are encouraged to pull the lap bar down, keep their hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times, dive headlong and with abandon into God’s arms, and hold on for dear life.

“Church without walls”—that’s what church should be, a place where…

…in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:5 NIV

A place where…

…we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another… Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV

A place where we…

…teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16 NIV

And if we can tear down those walls, then maybe—just maybe—like the very first Church, it could be said of our churches…

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:47 NIV

For in the end, y’all, that’s what we’re all about…

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Acts 13:47

(and just to make sure we get it…)

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

That name? Jesus. And because we are His followers, we are His body, the Church—and to be the Church, we must be the Church without walls.

So whether your life as a Christian includes attending church in the gym, under a tree, or in a tricked out, comfortable, state-of-the-art worship center, the absence or presence of physical walls doesn’t matter. Those other walls, though?

Tear them down.

• • •

Click here to go to the Auburn Community Church website. While there, you can listen to Miles’ sermons online, or search for “Auburn Community Church” on your phone’s podcast app. But heed this warning: do so at your own risk… Once you’re done being wrecked, click here or on the logo below and follow me on Facebook.

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She had maroon hair

She Had Maroon Hair

She had maroon hair.

That’s not a judgment call or anything—just a fact. It fit her, actually. None of the other breakfast crowd in the restaurant seemed to notice or care. (Which, in a small town in Central Florida where the median age is about 137, heavily right-leaning, I found progressive.)

She was efficient and pleasant in a strictly-business kind of way. She had that carefully-rehearsed, sing-songy spiel with just the right inflection, kind of like one of those Disney World ride operators: “Please gather ALL your PERSONAL beLONGings and take small CHILDren by the HAND. And enjoy YOUR day at the MAGIC Kingdom!”

“What can I get you to DRI-nk?”

“Coffee.”

In her wake I heard, “I’ll be right BACK with THAT,” as she sped away to fetch me a cuppa. (Actually, my own private potta.)

I didn’t catch her name, although my credit card receipt says it was “April.” April took my order, delivered it, and deposited my check plate-side after confirming I didn’t want any pie. (Pie for breakfast? Apparently it’s a thing.)

She also checked on me mid-meal, mouth full of eggs, feta cheese, and cremini mushrooms. I just smiled, mouth closed, and nodded my approval.

She never really made eye contact. (I’m not dinging her for that, as she had a restaurant full of 137-year-olds wanting more decaf and syrup.) I always let the server set the tone for how involved or not our interaction will be, and April was working the crowd from an attentive—but a tad impersonal—position.

Basically, she wasn’t interested in chatting anybody up.

How do you break through that? As Christians—specifically, old, white, male Christians—how do we connect with the Aprils of the world? How do we share some semblance of the gospel in a situation that absolutely does NOT lend itself to doing so? How do we—between bites of omelet—do what Jesus would have done?

I gave her a big tip—I like to do that and can afford to do so, but that’s not enough. My natural inclination is typically to throw money at the situation—send Bibles, send people on mission trips, send somebody else’s kids to church camp. All good things to do, but what about April, she of the maroon hair? Unless she’s an undercover cop pretending to be a server to try and bust a pancake smuggling ring, I’m sure she appreciated a few extra dollars, but what good will that do when she passes from this life to the next? You can’t tip the guy to get in. It’s all about who you know.

I know delightful, Godly, caring brethren and sisteren who have been witnessing to people all their lives—successfully—always armed with little cards to give out and million dollar bills with Bible verses on the back and red dots to put on their watch or glasses…gimmicky things. And I know the Holy Spirit is the one who rises above our tawdry gimmicks and softens hearts and opens people to the gospel message.

And, no doubt, I’m cynical, but it just reminds me of the people who stand out on the street corners with their portable microphone and speaker and yell until they’re hoarse or wave signs getting people to honk for Jesus. I don’t for one minute doubt their hearts and their passion for the Lord, but does anyone listen? Are hearts truly transformed?

Or is there a better way?

Jesus was deliberate in everything He did, but he didn’t stand on the corner and yell at people, hoping some of it would stick. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t a spectacle. In fact, if the crowds got too big he would say weird things that would scare a bunch of them off, things like the fact that they would have to eat His flesh and drink his blood. (“That’s it—I’m outta here.”) Only those who truly wanted what He had to offer would stay.

Jesus would have connected with April; He would have figured it out.

He would have made eye contact and offered her living water. (Or maybe living coffee…) He would have invited himself to her salon to watch her get her hair colored. He would have timed it just right to NOT have a mouth full of food when she stopped by, whereupon He would have told her how much he enjoyed the omelet and let her know without any doubt that He loved her, all in one fell swoop.

But that’s Jesus. His life wasn’t, like, you know…an example…or, you know, anything like that…

Ummm…actually, it was.

And He didn’t leave us any outs. To paraphrase Acts 1:8 He said: “You will be my witnesses… EVERYWHERE!” not “…everywhere EXCEPT at restaurants when your waitress has maroon hair and looks busy.” So that’s where I’m stumped. WWJD? How do you NOT scare a millennial off with your tracts and your “Jesus Loves You” and still make a connection between them and the risen Savior?

Jesus met people where they were. He sat down by a well and asked for a drink and an entire village was transformed.

I can’t give April living water—only one person can do that. But I have to find a way to point her to the SOURCE of living water…

• • •

Since it’s been a while, maybe you’ve lost contact with me. Click here or on the Facebook logo below and visit my page. Would Jesus do Facebook…? (I have no idea.)

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I am not ashamed

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on I Am the Clay

clothesline [klohz-lahyn] noun 1. a strong, narrow rope, cord, wire, etc., usually
stretched between two poles on which clean laundry is hung to dry. 2. A way to cut
your power bill AND your waistline in half. (“in half” may be exaggerating a bit…)

IMG_0967

Other than hitting a lick or two at writing a book, it was quiet here at the “Lizard Lounge” this past summer. (If you’re new to “I Am the Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, as it quite possibly means I haven’t done diddly squat around here—except for the laundry. (Those are my clothes in the picture above.) All is not lost, though—the most mundane activities can often inspire a blog post.

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

I have a clothesline—and use it regularly instead of the clothes dryer. (I also wash dishes by hand and don’t use a dishwasher—on purpose.) So there.

Oh, I hear you thinking, What are you, some kind of hippy, tree-hugging, off-the-grid, antiestablishment, pinko commie liberal prepper? If God had intended us to NOT use the clothes dryer He wouldn’t have created Bounce fabric softener sheets. And don’t get me started on the dishwasher thing…

(Hey, now—that’s uncalled for.) Hear me out. Consider this:

  • Clothes dryers use a la-hot of electricity.
  • Hanging out the laundry burns calories. (not pointing fingers or anything, but…)
  • You can’t beat that fresh (and free) great-outdoors smell.

So there are more reasons TO use a clothesline than to NOT use one. Especially for me.

And now for the rest of the story…

Indelible

An “I Am the Clay” Vignette*

Indelible

“Ink”—slang for tattoos. Ink is actually an appropriate moniker for tattoos, as ink, in most cases, is indelible…permanent…un-erasable—like tattoos.

The most inked human I know is one I affectionately call “my boy.” He’s tattooed from the neck down—or so he says, as there are a couple of private spots I haven’t seen (and ain’t asking about and don’t wanna). Tattoos are kind of like indelible reminders of wear and tear from the past.

And he’s definitely got a past—drug use and abuse, civil disobedience, jail time. But that past also includes marrying a beautiful wife who kept his family—their family—together while his drug use ran its course.

And then one day there was an encounter with Almighty God, delivery from his demons, a sure and certain moment of salvation.

And now for the rest of the story…

Seedy

From the I Am the Clay “Story” Series

coffee10

A farmer went out to sow his seed… Matthew 13:3-8 NIV

“Ally?”

“Oh my goodness—Jess? Hey!” Ally stood up from her small table and gave her high-school friend a hug. “What are you doing back in town?”

“I’m here for the women’s conference this weekend at the New Life Center at Calvary Memorial.”

“It’s so good to see you!” Ally motioned to an extra chair. “Please—join me.”

Jess sat down. “I thought I might run into you at the conference, but this will give us a chance to catch up.”

“What are you having? Cappuccino? Latte?”

“A cup of tea would be great.”

Ally flagged down the server. “Evie? Can I get a tea for my friend, hon?” She turned to Jess. “How about the mango/peach tea? It’s amazing.”

“Sure.” Jess turned to the server. “Mango/peach it is. Thanks.” She looked around the small restaurant. “This is really cute. I don’t think it was here the last time I was in town. Didn’t it used to be a gas station?”

And now for the rest of the story…

Jazz Hands for Jesus

Singers 2 edited

“Now, guys… You’re going to go down on your right knee on the word ‘me.’ Ladies, you’ll spin in on two-three-four, sit on your guy’s left knee on five, and both of you will pop your outside hand up on seven. Got it? Let’s take it from ‘tell you what you mean.’ Ready? Five, six, seven, eight…”

Show choir choreography rehearsals used to be my favorite thing in all the world (‘cause you can sing anywhere, anytime—if you don’t mind weird looks—but you can’t pop your outside hand up just anywhere without risking bodily harm or, perhaps, incarceration).

But that was (quite) a few years ago when I was singing and dancing with the Auburn University Singers, by far one of the finest show choirs in existence. (That’s not a biased opinion—I must say that to avoid bearing false witness.) Now, however, the only time I pop my outside hand up is if I’m in the contemporary worship service at church, swatting a mosquito or, as I occasioned to be recently, at the weekend-long 45th reunion of those same Auburn University Singers, where I spent a couple hours on Saturday rehearsing the above choreography to “The Alphabet Song” along with all the reunion attendees who had been in the group during my era.

And now for the rest of the story…

Messy

messy-w_text

“…And this bedroom belongs to—” My friend stopped dead in her tracks. “Seriously?”

She quickly closed the door, but not before I got a shot of pretty-in-pink, teenage-girl chaos. Clothes festooned every surface; shoes were strewn about, with not a single one in near proximity to its mate; “delicates” littered the floor…indelicately…

“I’m so sorry you had to see that. I told them I’m not cleaning up after them.”

I just laughed. “If you think THAT’S bad, then you can NEVER come to my house!”

(I write this while sitting in my office that includes an elliptical machine, weights and a weight bench, a pair of crocs and socks to wear while ellipting, an unassembled bed leaning up against the wall, three dining room chairs, an unused scanner, a storage box full of shoes, various lengths of 4×4 pressure-treated lumber providing a make-shift corral for an exercise ball on top of the storage box full of shoes, and a zippered vinyl portfolio with Liberace’s logo on it holding a collection of Liberace piano books for the beginning pianist. She can NEVER come to my house.)

And now for the rest of the story…

New Year, New You

my-hope

Christmas seemed especially joyful this year, at least to me. I think after the past year or so of nasty politics—and I’m going to blame both sides for that… and no fair saying “they” started it (if you think that, you weren’t on the same Facebook I was on)—all the joy was kind of sucked out of our country.

All the biased news stories, both sides waiting and wishing for the other candidate to implode—and that looked like a distinct possibility for either one of them—hateful responses on social media from supporters of both parties…

…I don’t know about you, but I really needed a little Christmas, as the song goes—and I got it:

  • The Christmas music seemed a little more joyful (I’m digging on the new Pentatonix Christmas album)
  • The glitter seemed a little more sparkly (and if past experience holds true, that same glitter will still be making an appearance in and around the house next July)
  • The lights seemed a little brighter this year, even in Florida where they DO NOT know how to tastefully put up Christmas lights outside (sorry Florida peeps—all those blinking, chasing, half-colored, half-white Christmas light displays with a bunch of inflatable “Despicable Me” minions in Santa hats in the front yard… To quote Nancy Reagan, “Just say ‘no’”…)
  • Even the Hallmark Channel movies seemed a little more fun. (Although I still don’t know what happened to the princess who ran away from her hotel room in New York City and took up with the contractor guy whose girlfriend dumped him. If you saw that one, leave a comment—I need to know how it ended.)

And now for the rest of the story…

Fuego

fuego

The flames leapt hundreds of feet in the air, an enormous fiery tongue licking the sky as it darted from the peak of the volcano Fuego—“fire” in English; a tongue dead set on devouring and dispelling the darkness of the Guatemalan night. Beauty and destruction shared the stage as great, glowing jewels of lava streamed down the slopes of the cone-shaped behemoth, molten necklaces forged in the heart of the earth, destroying any- and everything in their path.

Barely a day earlier, our team of tourist missionaries had put the finishing touches on 14 homes built for the same number of families in the small village of Trinidad, a village lying squarely in the shadow of that fire-spewing giant. But not to worry—no villagers or their new homes were harmed in the making of that dazzling display of geological pyrotechnics. In fact, the Guatemalan locals no doubt had a “What—that again?” attitude about the whole event. Our vans and trucks filled with mission-trippers, though? Just the opposite. Any sense of personal space was all but abandoned as everyone piled to one side of the vehicle, noses vying for a spot to press against the windows, transfixed by the nighttime spectacular we were allowed to witness as we made our way back to the mission house after distributing food, clothing, and the love of Jesus to 300 families.

It was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And now for the rest of the story…

Fire on my feet

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Below is the next installment in “The Lizard Lounge Series on Clay,” articles about house painting and gardening and things like that. Here is a link to the whole series, if you’re just tuning in. (And here’s a link that explains the whole “Lizard Lounge” bit.)

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

I’m digging a ditch in my backyard. Thought that was blog-worthy…

Actually, it will eventually be a dry creek bed, a landscape feature that uses various shapes and sizes of rocks (which I’ve started amassing) to look like, well, a dry creek bed; one that, while currently dry, gives the appearance that, at the first drop of rain, could become a rushing torrent.

For now, though, it’s pretty much just a ditch.

If you saw my backyard you would probably think, “Didn’t you think adding some grass or a patio would provide a much better return on your investment than a ditch full of rocks?”

Yes – yes, I did. But I’m in ditch mode, so judge not.

And now for the rest of the story…