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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Knowing God through Relevant Churches

I am waiting for the pastor who is compassionate enough to stand behind the pulpit, look lovingly at his congregation, and say, “Life is hard. It is a gift that we did not ask for and brings troubles that we would rather avoid.”

Let’s admit it; life is hard. Death and sickness are hard to talk about, think about, and observe. Mounting bills when there is no money and no additional income expected creates a fearful expectation of the future. It is tragic when innocent people suffer physically, emotionally, and socially, in the hands of evil people. It is hard to wake up some mornings and get out bed. It is hard when friends, who we thought we knew, talk bad about us when they thought we weren’t listening. Betrayal, death, fears, and so much more are difficult parts of this existence we call life.

I haven’t found that pastor or that church. My guess is that neither have the “69-94 percent of Christian youths [who] forsake their faith after leaving high school (cite)” So, we are all left wondering, when will the church authentically address issues that are common to every person?

I was reading blogs last night about the “emergent church”. I hate labeling spiritual movements and this is just about as bad as any of them. It’s a term that’s been used since the 1970’s (which speaks to the generation came out of, causing further skepticism). Frankly, after last night’s reading, I’m not any closer to understanding how to differentiate an ‘emergent church’ from Rusty Nail Baptist Church down the street; though I do know to look for white men with goatees. One word, however, keeps popping up: relevant.

When I was a getting ready to leave for college, I visited various churches all over my hometown. My ten-Sunday experience was enlightening as I learned the differences between denominations. In two and half months, only a few were what I considered to be relevant in addressing life issues. I know it’s hard to be a pastor because so many demands are placed upon these spiritual guides, counselors, and teachers. On top of the forty (plus) hours worked per week, they have to show up every Sunday, dressed nicely and wearing a smile. I don’t envy pastors. But, what’s the point of preaching and teaching if the congregation dismisses the church as irrelevant to their life? More significant than sermon delivery style (which is sometimes used as a crutch for absent substance), what’s the point if the message lacks substantive relevance?!?

Perhaps, I am coming across more strongly than I intend so let me make this clear: the power of God to pierce people’s hearts and change lives transcends the words and actions of any one person. Furthermore, the preaching of the Bible is never accompanied by God’s absence. When the Word is preached, God’s changes lives.

But, if the effectiveness of persuasion lies at the intersection of life and Scripture, might that be a good target? When someone can say, “Hey, that’s me,” followed by an exegetical exposition about what the Bible says or how God perceives it, wouldn’t the church’s effectiveness increase? The Bible was written by real people for real people and it has within it messages for life’s greatest struggles. Why be afraid admit that struggles exist and that we all deal with them? Strength can be garnered by authentic believers seeking relevant answers together.

The Bible gets a lot of flack these days from Christians and non-Christians for being confusing, irrelevant, and written by a bunch of dead guys who were probably liars. An Italian court is even deciding whether Jesus really existed. While I don’t suggest that a Sunday morning service is a place to talk about the historicity of the canon and textual criticism, I wonder if the church perpetuates this myth by presenting the Bible as moral stories that don’t answer the hard questions and daily struggles of life.

Karl Barth said he preached with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. In this simple statement, he speaks directly to the need for relevanct churchs. The other side of this, of course, is not to water down the message of Bible with the passing headlines that people won’t remember in a few days. But, death, betrayal, fear—those issues common to humanity—transcend the headlines and are opportunities for the church to speak with authenticity to our greatest need. As any pastor will tell you, at these moments, when these issues weigh heavily on a person's heart, people often take the next, or first, step in their relationship with God.

During my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to study the Bible continuously; I took it. I could offer a fine rebuttal to those with whom I disagreed on this or that theological issue. Later, the Holy Spirit showed me that it was at the time when I was the best theologian, that I was the furthest from the Lord; quite ironic if you ask me. It wasn’t until I realized that the messages in the Bible were not exclusively provided for me to win an intellectual argument, instead the messages were there to change me and they did. I know first-hand that the Bible is relevant and addresses daily struggles.

When life is hard, we need an authentic church that understand life’s struggles and can relate God’s relevant perspective through his Word to those ready to know God.

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Thoughtful Readers Speak:
I think you've just provided a brilliant argument against the creeping fundamentalism that lies at the heart of modern "conservatisim." Put your beliefs into actual practice and you'll make a great liberal.
 
Isn't a "great liberal" an oxymoron? Actually, when people observed self-restraint, to be "liberal" was something of which to be proud, i.e. freedom with responsibility. Today's "liberals" are actually "libertines," imposing no boundaries on their own behavior nor expectations (standards) on the actions of others. That's why they readily accept promiscuity (homosexuality)and murder (abortion) as part and parcel of their persona.
 
Tell me, which beliefs am I not putting into "actual practice"?

The answer is that I am putting my beliefs into actual practice. Aligning beliefs with actions is called integrity. No one questions mine--at least that I know of.

I'm not perfect; don't get me wrong. But when I become aware of my imperfections, I change to align myself with God's intent for my life.
 
Here are some things liberal doesn't mean:

anarchist
nihilist
atheist
evil
murderer
promiscuous

From Mirriam-Webster:
liberalism: a: a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity b : a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard c : a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties
 
Here's how you spell "Mirriam": Merriam.
 
How about addressing my point instead of my typo?
 
Tell me, which beliefs am I not putting into "actual practice"?

Let me quote you:

"I could offer a fine rebuttal to those with whom I disagreed on this or that theological issue. Later, the Holy Spirit showed me that it was at the time when I was the best theologian, that I was the furthest from the Lord; quite ironic if you ask me. It wasn’t until I realized that the messages in the Bible were not exclusively provided for me to win an intellectual argument, instead the messages were there to change me and they did."

And yet, when we read your blog, what do we find? Beating people over the head with your own out-of-the-mainstream interpretation of the Bible, condeming people who read a different Bible than you, using the Bible to seperate people instead of bringing them together.

Offering a vision of Christianity that prizes slavery to and fear of God, instead of the liberation and hope of redeeming love.

In other words, what you espoused above is a perfectly liberal philosophy; it's almost humanist. But what you do here every day is just a laundry list of who your kind are supposed to hate. I mean, look at the kind of readers you attract, people like Randy, who can't even put forth an argument and has to resort to name-calling.

If you were really doing the above - using the Bible to change lives - you'd be a liberal. Instead you've used the Bible as a guide to tell you who to hate, which is what makes you a "conservative."
 
chet, my gosh you're an idiot.

of course he's out of the mainstream (jr, you're probably proud of it too). somewhere it says that the road to heaven is narrow, and wide (mainstream) is the road leading to death or hell or something.

i have four or five different versions of the bible at home, i don't feel condemed, jr, are you condeming people again?

jesus christ said he came not to bring people together but as a sword to drive them apart. you're using a bad version of the bible if you think that he came to bring unity--ooo wait, chet is sensitive about which version of the bible he uses--better not touch that one!

chet, maybe you should learn about jr liberation before you make fun of it

i also read his blog, and frankly you read it more that i do--so what that make us, like randy? and i've never met the guy, but maybe he's a nice guy--why are you so quick to condemn people--probably your immaturity and insecurity.

yeah, chet, i read your post about the bible and abortion. i can definitely see how you can be a liberal and justify it to be a liberal; probably because your an idiot.
 
chet, my gosh you're an idiot.

No, actually, I'm not.

i also read his blog, and frankly you read it more that i do--so what that make us, like randy?

Didn't you just call me an "idiot", in two posts I've read so far? Yeah, you're exactly like him. Neither one of you is equipped to address my arguments on their merits, so you call me names. It's infantile. You're acting like a child.

probably because your an idiot.

Ah. Third time. Boy, you're really a great example of Christian behavior, aren't you?
 
i've never claimed to be a great example of a christian. you're right; i shouldn't have called you an idiot. i'm sorry; i'm not perfect; i'm still growing. you would do well not to judge jesus based upon me.

I do notice however, that you didn't really respond to anything i said. probably because you were distraught with my namecalling. I understand, you're sensitive.
 
bravo franklin. see, no christians are perfect. the remarkably high standard that non-christians place onto christians is often baffling. don't you think?
 
I do notice however, that you didn't really respond to anything i said.

That's because you didn't actually say anything. If you believe you made some kind of substantive point, perhaps you'd like to rephrase it into a new post, this time sans the personal remarks?

the remarkably high standard that non-christians place onto christians is often baffling. don't you think?

There's nothing baffling about it. We're simply holding you to the very standard you make claims of upholding in order to condescend to the rest of us from a position of moral superiority.
 
our motto is more like "do as the bible says, not as we do." that's a morally superior position because it makes no personal claim to superiority while acknowledging an authority higher than self. It's also the primary misunderstanding of nonchristians. No christian makes a claim to perfection. In fact, they make the claim of imperfection. Recognizing this deficiency, we strive to improve ourselves. When we fall short and ask forgiveness, God is faithful and just to forgive sin.
 
You've read the Bible, right? How is it not obvious that the deity described therein is a jerk?
 
No christian makes a claim to perfection. In fact, they make the claim of imperfection.

No, in fact, Christians and other theists regularly make the claim that you can't be a good person without believing in a higher power. That atheists are generally bad people.

To turn around and act worse than an atheist rather puts your position to the lie. I mean, to me, people are people. There's no real basis to assert that one is better than anybody else.

But Christians regularly make the claim that they're better people for being Christian; you yourself have made the very same claim repeatedly. To see your side act altogether human brings the ineffectiveness of your beliefs into stark relief. The only standard you're failing is the high one you claim your religion lets you meet.

But, hey, ratchet down the arrogance, and I won't point out when you fail your own high standards.
 
In response to several notions that have been tossed around by my fellow human-beings: Could I offer to you all one very simple observation? Motive, Motive, Motive! I try to begin my day with prayer for God to reveal to me His will and to reveal throughout the day my Motives in all of my dealings. I have spent the majority of my 50 years (that God has graced me with)living in the struggle and tension of having both good and evil fighting for my attention and so many times (regretably) evil manifested itself in my behavior. Selfishness and self-centeredness have hounded me to such a degree that I could hit others over the head with what is meant to be experienced only with a steadfast awareness of His mercy and His love-for us all-Christian by name, or otherwise, and the follower of whatever religion or no religion. God does not love me more than you, or any other. Ironically, I have found aetheists more compassionate than some of my fellow Christians and I know many folks that go to church (religiously) whom are uneducated, or ignorant of many things that they speak out against. Some are rascist, or proud or argumentative and so utterly moralistic and simplistic that it causes me sorrow-to be truthfull I would rather know how a person is feeling, what their other interest's in this short life are. Theology and scripture knowledge are good and such, yet the truth is that if we really dig deeper into church history, personal struggles of great people of faith and the diversity of doctrinal dogma we can come away knowing 2 simple observances: We all have a myriad of opinions about God's word and We all fall short of His glory-way short. When we offend eachother (Christian or otherwise) we should apologize (not making an excuse-like "we're not perfect" Labeling and name-calling is frankly, mean-spirited and less than mature-we indeed aren't perfect-yet, should be willing to grow-spiritually. I must point out that thanks to God's infinite grace and awesome mercy I was able to find the fellowship of AA and be delivered from alcoholism and drug addiction-also I now know that I am given such a new outlook on life and His strength for a purpose and that is to help show others how He can change us. I often find folks so utterly bewildered and confused about their prospects should they continue with their addiction that they are agnostic at the very least, or, downright angry at God and church that when they hear anything about God-cringe and wince at any mention. If it wasn't for the patience and love of folks that have more experience, honesty and humility than I came into recovery with (these being volunteers at treatment centers, prisons, and people that will go out of their way to help someone who is seeking to find sobriety. Many of us talk the talk, but so few really spent much time honestly assessing our own motivation for even talking about God in the first place. Today, when I show a sincere interest in the lives of others I get out of me-thus my theological understanding is brought into sharp view-I don't understand God so much as I know it's a darn-sure thing that I am not God. My mother, who had overcome so many things in her life used to say "I would rather see a sermon, than hear a sermon anyday" I hope that God will bless you all and that you have someone in your life that can listen without judgement and share their own struggles with you with love and compassion! It is my sincere wish that we all realize that God works through us.
 
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