From our birth, we resist change! I’m not sure what it is about humanity but we don’t like change. We like to feel comfortable, affirmed in who we are. Funny thing is our bookstores are lined with self-help books in an effort to help us become better people. These two things seem to be in great conflict with one another and in fact I think they are. While we on one hand hate change we desperately know that we are not done growing. Growing is a painful process but is absolutely necessary. I believe our churches have lost vision for this and go one of two ways. One, we try to make people change and grow when they aren’t ready. We demand that people follow a certain moral, social or some other type of code to validate who you are. This is usually expresses explicitly in written by-laws or moral codes or unwritten codes practiced by those within the group. Second, we try to communicate that people are just fine the way they are. We try to extend grace but we end up never growing in any way shape or form but just trying to validate who we are and the struggle we endure.
I would like to suggest the the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, inspires us to want to change. That in order to become a new creation we need to change! Change is not only inevitable in our world but it is necessary and it is good. I would also like to suggest that while we resist change on many levels there are a multitude of avenues we should participate in the help us in our change. One we should work on becoming more self aware. Look deeply at our lives to determine who we are, what motivates us, how do we react, recharge and engage our world. This also happens best in the context of community. Others can help us grow and see ourselves in a new way and in a new light. I would suggest finding a coach or a mentor that will be honest and frank with us and willing to call us out when we are off track or doing stupid things! If you don’t have friends like that, it’s time to start cultivating good friendships.
I pray we can be a people who know that while God loves us now, he loves us enough to help us change and grow. Be willing to change, be proactive in your change and get after it.
I was a youth ministry intern finishing up Seminary in 1999 when in April of that year we’ve all heard of the atrocities that took place at Columbine High School. I remember as we gathered as youth ministers a prominentperson prayed that day that our kids would once again feel safe. I remember this particular prayer because I couldn’t help but feel myself as the question, “Does God really want us to feel safe?” It’s been a question I’ve had for many years. As a father one of my charges is to keep my kids safe but I’ve often wondered if my kids are supposed to feel safe.
In the name of safety we do a lot of things in fact much of our public policy is about keeping people safe. Why is safetly so important? Safety is even being used as a political ploy to help us feel good about having all our information being used by the government. They can listen in on your conversations, access you accounts, social media, cell phone accounts and most people are good with it because for some reason this makes people feel safe.
Anyone with any sense of history should know that a government is the last institution that should make you feel safe. That is however not the point of this post but it does illustrate how far we will go to feel safe.
Where does this desire to be safe come from? Are we a society that values safety above all? What are the consequences of pursuing safety above almost everything? Would value your perspective on this topic. I have my opinions that I might share but before I do please share. Share what ways you see safety being used as a tool to manipulate you. Also share ways in which it is important for you to feel safe and what sacrifices your willing tomake to accomplish this.
“An atheist believes that a hospital
should be built instead of a church.
An atheist believes that deed must
be done instead of prayer said.
An atheist strives for involvement in life
and not escape into death.
He wants disease conquered,
poverty vanished, war eliminated.”
― Madalyn Murray O’Hair
(April 13, 1919 – September 29, 1995)
Founder of American Atheists
This quote is written on a new monument at a courthouse in FL which is in response to a monument of the ten commandments that currently exists there. There is plenty of information on the web about this monument and the controversy that surrounds it. I would actually like to posit a response to Madalyn Murry O’Hair’s quote.
A Christian also believes hospitals should be built and that the building in which we gather is not the church.
A Christian believes that God placed him/her on this earth to do the deeds that need to be done along with prayer and acknowledgement of God.
A Christian believes that involvement in life is essential because that is why God put them here..
A Christian wants disease conquered, poverty to vanish and war eliminated.
We may have more in common than you think, our view of how those things are accomplished may vary and while an atheist believes that mankind and science will bring us to this utopia, a Christian believes that God will ultimately bring us to this utopia and that mankind will be used as tools towards this goal. Those are big differences to be sure.
Both atheists and Christians are intelligent, both have fanatics that say stupid things and some that make great arguments to think and ponder on, but I grow weary of the rhetoric at times. I can honestly say I value my atheist friends, their talent, their values and sometimes their challenges. As a Christian that doesn’t mean I won’t pray for their souls, hearts and minds to be convinced of God but ultimately I know that my friendship doesn’t hinge on what path they choose. If you are a Christian, hug an atheist (if they’ll let you) and listen to their disbelief for it may challenge what you think and it may force you to think more deeply about what you believe. This will either strengthen what you know or cause you to be honest with where you are at, both of which would be better for you and a church that often deserves the ridicule it receives.
People genuinely want authentic community. The church has long since been a place that is supposed to reflect genuine community. We read in the pages of Acts and from our early church and see how Christians loved, supported, and spurred one another on towards Christ and the gospel. We see an incredible growth in Christianity largely in part due to the way in which Christians took care of each other and the communities around them. Now you may know that I’m not a huge fan of a small group programs offered by most churches largely because I think the contribute not to community but to a false sense of community in which they don’t have friends outside the church and simply gather together to talk about how broken the world is and how much better they fell when they do that. Now this isn’t all small groups and we could certainly read a lot about small groups but here is where I’ve been really trying to understand how can the church redeem and recover community?
So how can a church redeem community? I believe we first have to ask the question, is the church directly responsible for community? I believe most people will answer that question with a resounding yes. I believe that is why we see small groups and bible studies and all sorts of programs designed to help people get to know one another and disciple one another. The church as an organization is one of the fewer places where they go out of their way to facilitate people creating relationships with one another. By in large most people have to take ownership of the particular aspect of their lives on their own. If you want to connect to people you have to put yourself out there to get to know them. If you like to run you find running groups and people that run to get ideas from and know what kind of gear to buy and what works best so that you can become a proficient runner. I’m wondering why we don’t put the same onus on our church members to search out people in our congregations. In some ways it should be easier because we all have Christ in common but dare I say it’s not easier.
Here are some ways I think a corporate church could make community more accessible to people.
- Educate – you have to teach about why community is really the responsibility of each member and not a corporate responsibility. How many times have we heard the saying, stop going to church, be the church? We should take that to heart when we talk about community.
- Don’t force a model of community on the congregation but rather facilitate multiple points of connection if possible and allow the creativity of the people facilitate community.
- Help to coach, mentor, and disciple leaders who are capable of leading communities. Allow their passions and creativity to flourish in your congregations.
- Offer some kind of short term classes or opportunities for people to meet and know one another so relationships can be built on their own.
I would enjoy hearing your comments and ideas for how community can take shape in your church or perhaps some positive experiences you’ve had with community.
I recently read an article by Brian Jones titled “Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups” which confirms for me some things that I’ve been feeling for many years. Church initiated small groups don’t work. They don’t accomplish what we think they’ll accomplish and that doesn’t even really depend on the goal of the particular groups. Read the article to learn more about why Brian Jones says they don’t work. In addition to this article I’ve also been thinking about the idea of the missional church and how antithetical small groups are to the missional movement in the church. Regardless of what you think about the missional movement it should be clear that a church who is trying to reach into culture and be on mission is going against the grain of mission when they are also trying to encourage people in the church to gather together more often away from the very culture they are supposed to be on mission with.
For the church to really become missional, the people within the church need to be on the mission God has put before them. To be salt and light to the people around them. This is no easy task. It means really believing what it is you say you believe. It means getting out of your comfort zone and it means you have to stop protecting your life from other people. Many missional churches are on mission corporately but from and individual standpoint few have really bought into this philosophy so we are left with a weak and dying church full of people who don’t really believe scripture and aren’t willing to do what scripture demands of us and the best people can put forth is attending a weekly small group of people who accomplish nothing and do nothing but dream about what life could look like if everything was done the “right” way. It’s time to euthanize that group!
Recently I re-read a book by Sam Harris titled “Letter to a Christian Nation”. I am going to try and respond to aspects of this letter. There are many overviews of the book already published both by secularists and Christians alike. You can simply find those wherever you like. My own bias is that I am a Christan, the presumed audience of the book written by Sam and although I disagree with much of the premise and presuppositions in the book, I find myself in agreement with aspects of what has become of christian culture (a term that makes me cringe) and the cultural trajectory that Christianity has taken in the western world specifically. I do not know Sam Harris and while many in christian circles don’t like him I have no feelings about him one way or another. Many have taken his book and his other books and lectures as an offense to Christianity and while I can understand that, to me it signifies a lack of confidence and knowledge in what you claim to believe when you feel so challenged by others in what you believe. We should be able to intellectually talk about the issues Sam raises and quite frankly respond with reason, logic, and sense while acknowledging that there are some aspects to the christian faith that just seem completely outlandish, but when put into context make a little more sense although not everyone will agree.
I think the first idea that I would like to address that has often been presented not only by Sam but by many atheists throughout history is the idea that religion is the root cause of evil in our world. From Sam’s book “One of he greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty-first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns – about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering – in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. We desperately need a public discourse that encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith. I would be the first to admit that the prospects for eradicating religion in our time do not seem good”. Let’s be clear, religion and religious wars have been and continue to be the reason people are at war and much wrong has been done in the name of religion throughout history. However, not all wrong and not all war has been done in the name of religion. Simply eradicating religion does not solve the problem of the human condition. Perhaps Sam Harris would agree with that statement. I would assume that Sam knows that not all evil and suffering in the world are the result of religion and faith and he is asserting simply that religion and faith get in the way of progress towards a more perfected or enlightened human condition. Most Christians I know would go directly to pointing out Christians in history that have benefited the world. Perhaps a valid argument, however my goal isn’t to get into argument about who does good and who does right. Many good moral atheists have existed as have many good moral Christians. I believe it might be more beneficial to acknowledge there is a difference in what we believe about the nature of human beings. Are they naturally inclined towards good or evil. This is more of the core issue here.
So is mankind good or evil by nature? Judging by the words of Sam Harris I would conclude that he believes that man is generally good. I think he would acknowledge outliers and exceptions but that there is good in all of us. We see this belief in our culture at large. Most like Oprah and many others put forth this idea that the purpose of much of our existence is to find the good that is within all of us. It sounds great and I would never say that people are not capable of doing good things for good things are done all the time. However, I would postulate that this isn’t our natural state. In fact I would say that our natural state is to be selfish. Perhaps some would argue that to be selfish is not the same as being evil. Certainly an argument we could have at some point. For those of us with children we all understand that children don’t think outside of themselves unless they are taught. Some of the first words of a child are “mine”. Left untamed and without any teaching this is the very thing that keeps us from doing good. When I operate completely out of self I am more likely to do evil. I know many people who would disagree with this statement and claim that operating out of selfishness is actually a good thing if that operation is used intelligently. There could be and should be a long conversation about this particular aspect of the argument but it won’t be in this blog.
I hope this stirs some thought, I will continue to post some reactions and hopefully some more specific ones but this I hope gets it started.
You’ve probably seen the facebook posts or seen it written on something at an arts and crafts store. The sentiment that a good friend loves you just the way you are. You may have even heard that God loves you just the way you are. I get the sentiment. Friendship shouldn’t come with pre-conditions, you are either in or out of a friendship. People come with baggage and within friendships you will be forced to deal with baggage. Despite what you may think your friends have to deal with your baggage as well.
I think the problem I have with this sentiment is, we’ve taken this sentiment to mean that I am fine the way I am and I don’t need you to help me grow or change. In essence, we think we are perfectly fine the way we are, warts and all. Is this really the kind of friend we want?
Here is what I look for in my friendships. First, I do want people to love me for who I am but who aren’t content letting me remain that same person. I want to be better, I strive to do more, be more, accomplish more and if I don’t have friends who tell me when I’m off course then I don’t have friends I have leeches who are only in the relationship to satisfy their own needs. I need my friends to challenge me, let me know if I’ve gone off the rails. This is what I look for in a friendship.
It is interesting for me to see how different my children are from one another. They all possess similar DNA from my wife and I and all have bits and pieces of each of us in them but they react and feel so uniquely. It’s an aspect of parenting I wasn’t quite ready for. Each of my children needs me to parent them in a different way. What works for one child doesn’t work for the others. There is no one way to parent my children and I am guessing this is true for you as well.
I realized along the path of parenting that I had to stop my lazy thinking and really learn about my children. Sure, in many ways I’m shaping them, challenging them to grow, helping them through the tough things in their life and disciplining them when the need arises. What I really needed to do what figure out how each of my children will hear what I have to say which means I have to listen to them. Really work hard to listen to their struggles, their desires and watch how they react to what life puts in front of them. It’s really easy not to listen and simply parent in one way that is most comfortable to me. I can easily assume that because I was once a child that their experiences will all be the same as mine and while many will be similar the impact of events will be perceived differently by each of them.
I encourage you as a parent to lead strongly and listen intently to your children. Only then will you understand how best to communicate with your children in ways that will make sense to them. Of course, if you do it right, your kids will still tell you they hate you. Good for you!
As a christian I could very easily be branded as a fundamentalist because of the view many people hold of religion and christianity. I try hard to break those barriers down but in once sense this year I did become a fundamentalist. See I signed up to become a basketball official this year and a basketball official is the ultimate fundamentalist.
For years I have played basketball, I’ve coached basketball at the high school level and I’ve always had a vested interest in who wins the games and what I can do to be sure I, or we, came out with more points at the end of the game. However, as an official that perspective has completely changed. My goal now is to be sure that the rules are followed regardless of time on the clock or possesion of the basketball. An official spend the game looking for infractions to the rules so that the game is played most fairly and when the rules are broken there are penalties to be assessed. The belief is that the game is at its best when the rules are followed.
As a Christain I believe that the greatest joy is found when I’m following the rules of the designer of life. I think one of the greatest issues our culture faces today is that the church believes they are supposed to fill the role of official in our culture, calling out fouls on others and distrubuting penalties while not seeing their own infractions. The church, when it’s at its best, is supposed to represent life at the fullest and greatest joy but often joy is not found in the church, just condemnation. When this is the picture we paint of what it means to be a christian then why would we want to follow? One thing I’ve learned officiating basketball is that the only people that like the officials are other officials.