Saturday, November 28, 2015

Enough Talk…

“Shut up when I'm talking to you...”
-Linkin Park

Matthew 5:37a, “But let your 'yes' mean 'yes' and 'no' mean 'no'...”

There's an awful lot of interpretation in everyday life for seemingly straightforward instructions. Apparently there's a lot of ambiguity left to chance with ordinary phrases used in daily conversations. I've seen this a lot otherwise I wouldn't believe it myself. Let me give several clarifying (hopefully) examples of what I mean.

You have a job and you start to work at your job on Monday morning at 8am. This is a new job let's say, for the sake of discussion, and you have someone meeting you at the front of the office building to guide your through the introductions and show you around. They start the same time as you.

One person shows up in the parking lot at 7:45am and another shows up in the parking lot at 8:00 on the dot. What's the problem? The problem for the person showing up at 8:00 is that unless you work in the parking lot you're late.

Another person makes an appointment, with the doctor, with the car mechanic or with the sweedish meatball expert, take your pick. They cancel at the last minute. Some will call with a verifiably decent excuse. Others will simply call and cancel, no excuse. Some will fail to call at all. So the appointment where that person was going to offer you a service, charge for it, and make money, is now gone. Maybe the cancellation is no big deal but maybe it is, maybe they need that money.

Last example, you catch a ride with someone and they agree to a meet up at a specific spot at a certain time. You are running late and you call and tell them. Now, whatever the reason for your lateness you have inconvenienced your ride in multiple ways. They have wasted time, in waiting for you, they have spent gas in driving to where you are meeting and now, if they wait for you, they have to spend more time and gas waiting for you and risk being late to where you are both going.

All these are minor examples, they happen every day. But I see some people treat them as if it's no big deal that they have inconvenienced other people and make lame excuses for it. I see the opposite as well, some people are terribly sorry and genuinely embarrassed by making others wait for them.

How much different would life be if we kept all our obligations, no matter what? Granted that's not possible but what if we really worked to make it so. Sacrificing getting ready and looking our best, to taking time off in order to keep our appointment we forgot about. Would that make an impact on how we set about scheduling our time and keeping our commitments?

It would be interesting to see what the results would be, they might just be great...

Thursday, November 26, 2015

And then the Sunrise...

Revelation 21:5b, “...Behold, I am making all things new...”

I get up fairly early in the morning. I watch the sunrise most mornings from the comfort of my chair. I sit in the corner of the living room with the middle blinds drawn, drinking my coffee and reading the news. I peek out the window and get to see the morning begin. It's a beautiful way to start the morning.

The sunrise reminds me of a few things.

One lady has a nice house, nice car, nice husband and family but struggles with self esteem, she hates herself and daily tries to balance her blessed life with her own disparaging view of herself that invades her every thought.

Another man has a good family, good friends, no financial worries. But he hates his job and going to work every day burdens him with despair and he wants to quit but he can't as he is the sole breadwinner. Other job prospects have not worked out and he is not able to quit and do anything else.

Yet another woman has a great job, new car, great house and lots of friends. But her family is falling apart due to her sham of a marriage that few know about. She is unsure what to do about it so she does nothing and stays miserable.

When the sun rises a new day unfolds and with it, new problems, or, perhaps, old problems in a new skin. The new day reminds me that life continues with all it's difficulties and stresses. And that leads me to a greater truth…

One day, one day...all these problems, all these lies, all these piles of sorrow and rivers of tears, all these songs of loss and books of our searching for meaning and significance. All of these will be made new...not destroyed but refined. Purged. Dipped in the scalding judgment of truth.

God will, one day, paint the final sunrise and creation will sigh with contentment...and so will we.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

How to Define Church

“I'm not even supposed to be here today!”
-Dante Hicks

Some concepts are hard to define. Take the word church. When we say, “I'm going to church Sunday”, we understand that to mean we are going to a building where other people are going. We show up at this building and depending on our tradition we will sing, talk, listen, take communion, or even genuflect. Some may open a Bible when they show up, others may take notes while other people open their Bibles, some may open a lectionary. Some may read passages in their native language and others may read in Latin.

But church is not merely a building. We call various buildings “church”. And we define various gatherings as the members or “bodies” of First Baptist Church, or First Christian Church or the Methodist Church. But the building is only where the people show up, they could really designate anyplace and show up. Some traditions, after a particularly fiery service, will say, “we had church today”. Meaning that something dramatic or emotional happened during the service.

We also call the people who are of the Christian faith “the church”. In other words, the people themselves who have committed their lives to the belief and practice of the Christian faith are the church. We see this illustrated by the bulk of the New Testament. The believers in Rome, Paul says, “To all who are in Rome...called to be saints.”-1:7. In his letter to the Corinthians, 1:2, “To the church of God which is at Corinth...” and He introduces his letters to Galatians in the same way, “to the churches of Galatia...” and in Ephesians he says, “to the saints at Ephesus”.

Paul is talking to individual people when he addresses them as the church in this city or that city. The people did not meet in buildings at that time, they met in homes. So Paul is writing to people's home addresses letters to be read to all the people who come together in homes to read the Word, pray, and go out and share the news of Jesus Christ as Messiah.

For some reason, in modern times, we have made a big fuss about coming to church activities, coming to a building and meeting there and we call that church. We don't call Bible study church, even though it is, we don't call believers meeting together for lunch church. Many tend to emphasize coming to the church building for certain services as the only definition of church that is applicable.

And if you don't come? Well then we'll throw Hebrews 10:25 in your face and quote it as if it confirms the idea that we should go to church services at such and such time in such and such a building and be connected there. I'm not trying to say don't go to a church, getting involved with a group of people where you can be challenged and grow is great. But to say that this verse speaks specifically about going to 9:45 services every Sunday and nothing else is ridiculous.

So how do we define church? The church is the group of believers gathering together, it is not individualistic, you cannot say that you personally are the church and never interact with other people of the faith. Church is gathering in homes, church is chatting over the gas pumps early Saturday morning, church is the lunch break conversation, church is the group of people holding the same faith doing life together. The building has nothing to do with it. You can't contain God in a building anyway.
  Acts 17:24"The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Should we Raise Kids in Church?

That's a fine-looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We've a lot of starving faithful”

I grew up in church. I grew up in the South, and while I didn't grow up in the Deep South, most of my mom and dad's family are from that region, so I have roots that reach there. I grew up in the Bible Belt. I grew up going to a private, fundamentalist Baptist School for the entirety of my education. I grew up with a dress code and a code of manners and an air of expectation that included male patriarchy and female subservience.

I grew up riding my bike or walking everywhere in town. I grew up eating dinner at other people's houses because if you stayed long enough another place was set. There are lots of traditions I grew up with that still stick with me after many years. Playing outside for hours, drinking from a hose. Not asking too many questions.

I also grew up confused….

I went to church at a small southern baptist church, it's still there if you want to visit. I'm sure the people are still just as friendly and the atmosphere still welcoming. If it's anything like I remember it will be quiet, reverent and laid back but a touch of class here and there. Like a party where everyone dresses up in nice shirts but wears jeans too, comfort with a touch of respectability.

I also went to a small, Pentecostal church, and specifically one which emphasized a doctrine which is not recognized by Orthodox, mainstream Christianity as within the bounds of accepted doctrine. They embrace Modalism, or more properly called Sabellianism. It was developed by a third century theologian named Sabellius. The idea, in miniature, is that God is not a trinity but one and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different “modes” of expression.

These 2 churches could not have been more different (for all the heresy of the Pentecostal church I might add that they were mostly extremely nice people).  As I grew up with all the things previously mentioned I also grew up confused and terrified by these two radically different and in many ways, oppositional, views on God and salvation and in how we should live our lives.

This has, to say the absolute least, left me with a healthy skepticism of churches that emphasize or prey on people's emotions. It has left me somewhat stone-hearted against too much emotionalism in church services and suspicious of those who revel in such a thing.

So how are we to conduct ourselves as parents, grandparents, caregivers, when it comes to children and the church? During my childrens lives they have experienced churches of a similar theology, all of the same denomination with minor differences. We have visited various churches but mostly only attended 4 churches that I can think of, on a consistent basis in the last 11 years. Some have been good experiences that we still cherish and some have been a dark place where we would never go back even if we were paid.

This makes me this good for our children? Is it good to go from church to church? Granted I went to two very different churches but there was consistency you can say that for sure. With the rare exception I attended those churches until I was 18 years old and even on rare occasion when I came back to town for the next year or two. So for almost 2 decades I had some sense of familiarity, some sense of belonging because I grew up there, those churches were as much a part of my hometown and childhood as the local people, the local restaurants, the streets and the familiar hangouts we all flocked to on the weekends.

My children have had very little of that. Is that ok? Is this a good way to grow up in church? Will this leave them more confounded than comforted? And what do you do if you can't find a church at all? I mean there's plenty of churches but there's not many GOOD churches. Many churches are social clubs, others are simply landmarks and staples of the community that people attend to worship their hometown memories and complain about the state of affairs of it all. Other churches were once great but due to corruption, sin or other issues are simply a shell where the Holy Spirit no longer lives. He's already written that the property is condemned but nobody pays it any attention.

No church is perfect because the moment you step in the door you guarantee that it won't be but where do we draw the line between consistency and contentment? And what do we draw that line with?