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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Space Invaders

Space Invaders

Down here betwixt the Golfo de México and the Atlantic Ocean we’re smack dab in the throes of C.F.M.S. (Central Florida Monsoon Season)—and have been for a couple weeks or so (probably more like “or so”). Plus, with Tio Alberto doing a drive-by and adding his own brand of joie de vivre in the mix, the rain has refused to let up for any extended period of time and everything is starting to mildew. The mouseke-tourists have even been trying to use their Fastpasses to go to the head of the line to buy ponchos. (On the upside, a few pasty Yankees will probably be spared the threat of skin cancer.)

Don’t get me wrong—we need the rain. A few weeks ago, everything in my yard was brown. And not a pretty brown, like a Hershey Bar or a roast beef sandwich, but a given-up-the-ghost brown, kind of like old guacamole. The only greenness to be had in my yard was due to a big, lush patch of invasive flora—a/k/a weeds. From a distance, though, it still looked green, thanks to the weeds. I’m sure passersby were thinking, “That man has a nice green yard. I wonder what his secret is?”

Laziness. Laziness is my secret. Makes me think of a verse from Proverbs…

I went past the field of a sluggard…the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. Proverbs 24:31-32 NIV

(I don’t have a stone wall, but my driveway has a few cracks…

And now for the rest of the story…

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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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…

Bold

An “I Am the Clay” Vignette*

Bold 1

…the righteous are as bold as a lion. Proverbs 28:1 NIV

“Can I try this one in a size 10?”

“Yes, sir—let me get that for you.”

The Thom McAnn Shoes clerk disappeared through the curtain to the stock room to retrieve a pair of black wingtips for my daddy, while we—my daddy, my mother, and I—sat at the back of the store and waited.

It was 1972, the heyday of the Gateway Shopping Center in Decatur, Alabama, just before the shopping mall explosion. Besides the shoe store, there was a Woolworths, complete with a snack counter that served huge banana splits; a Quick Chek grocery store where they let my granny buy cigarettes with food stamps; a Sears and Roebuck, also in its heyday; and a movie theater with two screens. (A few years later, I saw the original Star Wars there 11 times.)

Decatur was a small town back then and people were, for the most part, respectful.

For the most part…

And now for the rest of the story…

Turn, turn, turn

turn turn turn
Being born and raised in Alabama and a long-time resident of Florida, I’ve heard all the redneck and hurricane jokes. Some of the rest of y’all got some good some good local jokes, too, though. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You know you’re a Californian if the fastest part of your commute is down your driveway.
  • Top sign you’re a New Yorker #4: You believe that being able to swear at people in their own language makes you multi-lingual.
  • Q: What do a divorce in Arkansas, a tornado in Kansas, and a hurricane in Texas have in common? A: Somebody’s fixin’ to lose them a trailer.

In the years I’ve lived in Florida, I’ve come to appreciate all of ours, especially the ones that have to do with the climate. Por ejemplo:

You’re a true Floridian if…

…you judge a good parking place, not based on distance from the store, but on its proximity to shade.
…you consider anything under 70 as “chilly” and anything under 95 as “just a little warm.”
…you’re on a first name basis with the Hurricane list. They aren’t Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances, etc., but Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.
…you’ve worn shorts and used the A/C on Christmas.

I can especially attest to the last two. I actually washed my car wearing my swimsuit one New Year’s Day. (I was wearing the swimsuit, not the car…)

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…

Oh, How I Lub Jesus, Because He First Lubbed Me

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, lately, about bugs. 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…?

• • •

Philodendron bipinnatifidum. I can’t pronounce it either, but I have a host of them throughout my yard. They’re dark green, shrub-like plants with huge leaves that can grow more than 36” long and almost that wide. They’re perfect for my Plant Hardiness Zone (9B) and give a quasi-tropical feel to the grounds of the Lizard Lounge.

I planted all of them myself. At the time they were small enough to fit in the trunk of my car—now, though, they’re as big as my car. It’s fun to plant something like these philodendron and watch them grow to maturity—kind of like raising children, except philodendrons are a lot quieter and smell better.

One day, in a fit of whimsy (or insanity) I gave them all names—Phil (of course), Phillip, Philemon, Philicia, Phillo (he was Greek), Philm (he was into the arts), Phillerup (a blue collar type), Philbert (he was nuts), and Philanderer. (I had to replant him because he couldn’t keep his leaves off Philicia.)

I love my big ol’ philodendron plants. Turns out, though, I’m not the only one.

And now for the rest of the story…

It just keeps going and going and going…

I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. Psalm 52:8

Devotees of Apple products are a smug lot. (Apple devotees reading this just said, smugly, “Yea we are!”) However, some of my best friends are Apple users, so what’s a guy to do? (Other than a lot of eye-rolling.)

I’ve never owned an iPod or an iPhone or used an Apple computer with any success. I tried to use my friend George’s Mac a couple of times but all the buttons I needed to click were in the wrong place and I spent half the time yelling to him in the next room, “What happens if I click this little red thingy?” It was a lovely machine with the processor and hard drive all built into the monitor (which was as big as a truck windshield) but the learning curve was just too steep for a long-time and impatient PC guy.

In the spirit of full disclosure, however, I must confess – I do have an iPad, my only Apple product.

Although I vowed not to succumb to the siren song of Apple Inc. with their be-all, end-all technology and bank-account-draining tech trinkets, a co-worker, who was dashed against the Apple rocks long ago, bought the latest generation iPad and sold me his first generation one for a mere pittance. (The first app I downloaded was a Bible app; I feel that justified the purchase…)

It’s a handy little machine and makes me feel all Star Trek-y. (It’s just like the ubiquitous Star Trek PADD – Personal Access Display Device – that no self-respecting 24th century starship captain would be caught dead without.) In addition to about 50 Bible translations, I have apps for reading eBooks, playing games, checking my credit card and bank accounts, posting information here on “clay” – pretty much everything I can do with a computer, except I can do it while getting my oil changed or shopping for groceries.

Each newer version of the iPad that’s been introduced has upped the ante with more power, less weight, a higher resolution screen, a camera, more bling, and a higher price tag, but I’m happy with my basic model; it does everything I want it to do.

Well, sort of.

Apple Inc. has just released the newest version of its operating system for all of its various hand-held iDevices – except ones as old as mine. Sadly, my trusty iPad is no longer compatible with the latest and greatest Apple has to offer. Of course, I can still use all the apps I currently have (New York Times Crossword Puzzles – woo-hoo!), but many of the cool new apps being introduced will only work with the new operating system.

Bummer.

I absolutely get the financial aspects of a company upgrading and creating new technology – at some point, you have to quit manufacturing parts for the Model T and move on. I just trusted that I would be able to use my comparatively heavy, first-generation iPad for, you know, ever and ever.

The Random House dictionary defines the word “ever” as “continuously” or “at all times.” Based on either of those definitions, there was no way my iPad was going to keep going and going and going for ever and ever. It was bound to become obsolete before my first starship flight.

Actually, there’s not much we can trust for ever and ever without fail:

  • The sturdiest, most well-built things wear out.
  • People let us down or – worse – die.
  • VHS tapes become obsolete.
  • Even the polar icecaps melt.

However, there is one thing we can trust in “continuously” and “at all times;” David wrote about it in Psalm 52:8:

I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.

Or, to use our Random House definition:

I trust in God’s unfailing love “continuously” and “at all times”.

God’s love for us will never:

  • Wear out
  • Let us down
  • Become obsolete
  • Change
  • Waver
  • Break
  • Crumble
  • Need repair
  • Melt
  • Die

God’s love is a constant, consistent, dependable, unchangeable, unwaverable, unbreakable, unmeltable, everlasting reality.

I love to sing songs about God’s love and proclaim that God is love; however, let a few monkey wrenches get thrown into my normally well-oiled, smooth-operating daily life – like lately, for example – and it’s like all memory of His love for me gets tossed in the garbage disposal. With work stuff and car repair stuff and just stuff in general taking center stage the past few weeks, I’ve stressed and whined and been absolutely self-possessed with anxiety and worry.

Egoism at its worst. Not pretty.

But here’s the thing – I think that maybe those wrenches were allowed by God. While He might not have been the one doing the tossing, He certainly didn’t stop the tossee. (Ooh – spellcheck does not like the word “tossee”) And, while God is quick to tell me that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8) and that I can’t always know what He’s thinking (Romans 11:34), I can certainly take a stab at guessing why He allowed these things to happen: He knew I needed a lesson – another one – in trust.

Recently, I found myself falling back into old, pre-salvation patterns of behavior – letting my pride and self-sufficiency take over, trying to manage everything under my own power. And when I got too focused on trying to handle my stuff all by myself, God let a little rain fall so I would be reminded who my umbrella is.

I got kind of soaked there for a while. My Prayer Time (capital “P,” capital “T”) was one long to-do list for God: “Please help my car stop dying on me so I can get to work and finish this hard project on time that I’m struggling with and let this weird looking spot on my back be nothing but a weird looking spot and…” on and on.

When He finally broke through my little self-centered, quivering, stressed-out voice with His own comforting, still, small voice, I heard Him say (in that way that I know He’s speaking to me), “I can do that. And while we’re at it, how about you also learn to trust that I love you no matter what?”

Ouch. But He didn’t stop there. (He almost never does.)

“Do you think this is really about your stuff? Hardly; it’s more about your reaction to your stuff – more precisely, about trusting that I love you no matter what and that, even when stuff comes your way, I’m in the stuff, too. It’s about – and here’s a novel concept – you trusting that even if things are happening that are out of your control, they’re not out of mine; that I’m in control of everything – even your stuff.”

I was kind of surprised He used the word “stuff” so much…

And through all this, He also kept sending me back to the verse from Isaiah 41:10 that I had used several times recently to encourage friends who were going through their own challenges:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

(No fair using my own encouragement verse against me…)

Of course, it’s not like He promised there would never be a time when I would struggle to keep all the plates spinning. In John 16:33 Jesus said, plainly:

“In this world you will have trouble.”

Just so you know, I’m aware that those things I was dealing with were minor in the grand scheme of things. A little car trouble is nothing compared to Christians throughout the world fearing for their lives because of their faith. And dealing with work challenges is trivial compared to worrying where one’s next meal is coming from. And that weird looking spot on my back? It was just a weird looking spot – it could have been cancer.

If the car and work and dermatological stuff had been a pop quiz, God would have written on my test paper in red before handing it back: “If you can’t trust me to be your umbrella in a little rain shower, how are you going to trust me when the real storm comes?”

In looking around at the world we live in, I’m afraid that storm is coming – and I want to get an “A” on that test (or at least a B+). Which shouldn’t be hard, since God has already given me the answers:

Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

That’s all I need to know.

So even though things and people – even my own best efforts – will eventually fail me, there is one thing I know from experience I can trust in continuously and at all times: God’s unfailing love.

Now – New York Times crossword puzzle, anyone…?