I completely forgot to post yesterday. Whoops!
I spent a portion of today preparing for what I’m going to talk about at church next week. And perfectionism is rearing it’s ugly head. I’ve been agonizing over this for weeks. I want to get it ‘just right’. But I’m getting the impression I need to trust God and be myself. The topic I’m speaking on is shame and grace so it’s not like I haven’t spent some time with the content. And when I get together with a group of people and start talking about this stuff, it flows out of me – unscripted – because I’m passionate about it and have thought about it a lot. That’s what happened this evening over supper with a group of friends and they seemed to be encouraged by it.
So…down with perfectionism! Onward to trust and surrender…
I’m going to be speaking at my church for the Sunday morning sermon two weeks from now. I’ve been working on what I’m going to talk about and it is taking a really long time. The problem (and I didn’t realize this until I was talking about it with my husband) is that I’m trying to write it like a blog post – carefully crafting my words, rewording things, going over it again and again until it is perfect…
This is my modus operandi. I learned this when I was a child – to carefully choose my words and work very hard to ensure I am clearly understood. This, however, is not helpful when composing something to say for half an hour.
There is so much I want to say and I don’t know how to “get it out” and my internal editor is having a field day. I’ve had a sudden revelation.
My internal editor must die!
(if only for a little while)
I must kill the editor and just write. Anne Lamott calls it the “sh*tty first draft”. She also mentions how perfectionism (which I suffer from) keeps you from getting to that first draft.
Okay…I’ve got to get this thing done. I’m going to blurt out my thoughts onto the page – I can clean it up later.
…I feel like I’m climbing Mount Everest…
…maybe a glass of wine will help…
As an evangelical Christian, I grew up hearing the Gospel and knowing about the Four Spiritual Laws. I knew about “asking Jesus into your heart” to be saved. My perspective and thinking has shifted and I now have some issues with the traditional evangelical approach to preaching the “Good News”.
If we go back to what I was writing about at the beginning of the month, the research on shame shows that everyone experiences shame and that shame drives us to hide. Yet when we tell people about becoming a Christian we focus on how they are sinful (as their identity) and how they’re not good enough.
This is completely counterproductive and here’s why: in telling people they’re not good enough we’re essentially heaping shame on them. And shame drives people to hide. At the same time, we tell people they need to come to God. Why would someone come to God when they’re hiding in shame and have been told that HE doesn’t think they’re good enough? This is certainly not the Good News from my perspective.
Here’s what I believe: people already know they “sin”. People outside the church don’t use the word “sin” but they can certainly attest to hurting each other and themselves, of messing up, of making mistakes. They experience shame and so they know all too well the feeling of “not good enough”. As Christians, we don’t need to remind them of that and reinforce the message of shame (and with that, fear).
Jesus did tell people to repent of their sins and turn to God. He saw how they were lost and broken but He focused on their actions (guilt) and not their identity (shame). He didn’t want them to be afraid and hide. And actually, he said that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).
Jesus talked about love and said that loving God and loving others were the most important things (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34). He talked about God’s extravagant love for us in parables such as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8). And He said people would know we are followers of God if we love one another (John 13:34-35). This isn’t typically what evangelical Christians focus on when sharing the Gospel.
While I believe that our “sin” (and shame) separates us from each other and God – shame drives disconnection – our sin does NOT diminish our worth in God’s eyes. We are of such value to God that He sent His Son to save us from our sin and shame (“God so loved the world…” John 3:16).
Which brings me back to the “Imago Dei” – the image of God. Why don’t we start here when telling people about God? That they bear the image of God, that they are beautiful and precious to Him. That He loves them so very, very much. He longs to have connection and relationship with them. It’s not about God controlling our lives – He gave us free will. It’s about relationship. He wants to remove the things in our lives that drive disconnection, that come between us and God and between us and each other. This is for our benefit. This is for healing and wholeness. His grace says that “we are enough”, we are accepted; we aren’t condemned. Through God, we have a way out from under our shame. Jesus made a way for us through His death and resurrection to come back to God in relationship. I don’t exactly understand how, but through this Jesus dealt with our separation from God (which included hiding in shame). Our part is simply to accept that this is true, to receive that love, and to be open to a relationship with the One whose image we bear.
This is a much more compelling message in my eyes. Instead of a message which has shame and fear as the foundation, we have a message of love, acceptance, and belonging – those things all people are wired for – those things which are ultimately fulfilled in our relationship with God. A relationship which brings freedom and healing and life. Good things! Good News! That’s what I want to focus on.
There’s a concept that I ran into a while ago. It’s called the “Imago Dei”. It’s Latin and translated means “image of God”. The idea is that all humanity is created in the image of God. This comes from Genesis 1:27 which says “God created man in his own image…male and female he created them.”
The thing is that when we start to view people, all people, as bearing the image of God, we start to see beauty in all people, whether they go to a church or not. At least this is what I have experienced. And when I stop to consider that all people experience shame AND all people are made in the image of God, I see more and more the things we have in common rather than the things that separate us.
It is no longer “us” vs. “them” or Christian vs. non-Christian. I can see beauty in everyone and I look for God’s likeness in everyone. This has reduced my fear – I used to be terrified to share my faith with those not going to church because they felt like “the other” and I feared that. But not anymore.
My love for all people has grown. It’s easy to love people when you realize we are all in this together and no one is better than anyone else. We are all on equal ground. We all walk through this life, broken and hurting and in need of love and empathy and connection. These are the things which unite us. This is our common humanity. There is amazing beauty in that.
Because I am better able to love people and not fear them, I am more compelled to share my experience of love and grace with them. I want them to know love and be free, too.
I think we would do better to start with how we are the same when relating to non-church people than how we are different. This makes sense to me when I understand that we are all longing for connection and belonging, to be accepted and loved. Why not begin from that place of our common humanity, of the Imago Dei?
I’ll talk about how this relates to the “Good News” (i.e., the Gospel) tomorrow.
I love the concepts of “light” and “darkness” and they are strewn all over the Bible. John in particular uses these metaphors. Here’s a few passages:
“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.” [emphasis mine] (John 3:19-20, NLT)
“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’” [emphasis mine] (John 8:12, NLT)
“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” [emphasis mine] (John 12:46, NLT)
“…God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other…” [emphasis mine] (1 John 1:5-7, NLT)
To me it seems that what John is talking about is linked with vulnerability and shame. The idea of light brings to mind thoughts of being seen, truly seen, without the masks and facades I may put up to protect myself. It has to do with vulnerability. Darkness brings to mind hiding and I’ve already talked about how shame drives us to hide. We don’t want to be seen so we withdraw, we put on masks, we do whatever we can to not be exposed.
In the first passage I quoted, the people who “do evil” hate the light precisely because they are afraid their sins (actions) will be exposed. I think these people are living in shame, and they hate vulnerability. They would rather live in darkness than be seen in the light.
I’ve mentioned this before: I think one of the reasons Jesus came to this Earth was so that we wouldn’t have to walk in shame. Look at the John 8:12 and 12:46 passages. Jesus is saying we won’t have to walk in the darkness (in our own shame).
And the 1 John 1:5-7 passage tells us one of the results of living in the light: we will have fellowship with each other. I haven’t talked a lot about vulnerability yet (I will later on this month) but vulnerability is a vital part of our sense of connection with each other. The strength and depth of our relationships is linked to our capacity to be vulnerable with each other. Walking in the light, which I believe vulnerability is a part, means we have fellowship and connection with each other. And the research confirms this.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about grace and my “aha” moment.
I was listening to a talk by Rachel Held Evans last week. Near the end of her talk she spoke about the difference between healing and a cure. It really struck me. Here’s a link to where she started speaking about this:
I agree with her. I think particularly in our Western society we are overly focused on “the cure”. Now, I’m not saying that the research and efforts put into finding cures for our ailments are bad. I’m talking more about the way we approach sickness in the evangelical church. We pray for healing…but sometimes for God that doesn’t mean a cure. I like how Rachel puts it: healing is “like a meandering river…it takes time”. And it’s relational. We would miss a whole lot of “relationships” if God always answered our prayers for healing with the cure. I don’t say this in any way to demean or belittle people’s suffering and their agonized pleas to be freed from their pain. I hate suffering. I hate watching people suffer.
I also recognize that God doesn’t always cure. And what does that mean? That’s where I get nervous. Because there have been times when it seemed implied that the reason the person was not cured was because they didn’t have enough faith or they had some hidden sin in their life. But what if it wasn’t that all? What if the sick person is not to blame? Maybe that’s it. We need someone to blame in order to explain the cure that didn’t come. These lines of reasoning can do serious damage to a sick person’s faith in God. He becomes a fickle slot machine that will only answer our prayers IF…
Where does that leave grace – if we have to be “good enough” to receive His cure? There is no room for grace here. And there is little room for hope. I find the perspective of healing presented in Rachel’s talk much more grace-filled. It resonates much more with my experience. My husband died suddenly at the age of 29. There were church leaders who prayed the night he died for his resurrection but I didn’t pray that prayer (as much as I wished he wasn’t dead). I had surrendered to God, to the One I had come to believe loved me no matter what, who was not punishing me by taking my husband away. I trusted Him to get me through this and believe me, it was terribly painful and lonely at times (and I wanted the pain to stop). I wanted to enter back into marriage months after my husband died – I wanted that horrible void to be filled. But I had also surrendered that to God saying I wanted a firm foundation entering into my next marriage and I was willing to wait until that foundation was set. It took a while, though not as long as for others I know (but it felt long enough for me). It took that time for God to work some healing in my heart. I can tell you my current marriage is in the beautiful place that it is because God had me wait. If He had provided the “cure” I would be in much worse shape.
So while I believe that God can and does cure people, I also believe He is just as interested in the slow, meandering process of healing, which often goes much deeper than our physical circumstances but in the long run produces much more in terms of our overall wholeness.
They did this experiment at the University of Guelph. What they found was that “These conversations weren’t just connecting people—they were changing people. What began as a pair of apprehensive strangers awkwardly lowering themselves into a ball pit in the middle of campus transformed into dozens of students forming conversation circles in and around the overflowing ball pit all afternoon, rich with fervent hand gestures, engaged body language, and vibrant facial expressions.” One of the conclusions they made was “It is only when we view our fellow students through a lens of understanding, regardless of our religious traditions, cultural heritage, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and beliefs, that we can truly see one another. When we can truly see one another, we seem to like what we see.”
I see the Ball Pit experiment as an intentional way of connecting people in meaningful ways. These people weren’t engaging in small talk, but rather in “smart talk” – speaking about things and in ways that foster connection.
It’s also about “being seen”. In her blog post this week, “Cool Ashes Can’t Burn Us”, Glennon Doyle Melton spoke to this very thing: “what strikes me is how desperately we all need to know that we are seen and heard. We don’t need our lives to be different, or easier, we just need someone to see the pain. To know what we’ve faced and overcome. To say: Yes. I see this. This is real. We don’t need a magician to take it all away – we just need a witness.” “We see ourselves in [each other]. And that means that we are not alone. We might hurt, but we are not alone.”
To me, this is one of the most awesome things about being a part of the body of Christ: we are not alone. Bearing witness is one of the most powerful things we can do for another person. Oh, that we would learn better how to “see” each other (and allow ourselves to be “seen”).
I’ve been thinking about how we are changed. I am a very different person from who I was in high school. But how did I become that different person?
I think there are a number of things and not just one thing. Life experience and choices I’ve made have certainly shaped me. The hand that’s been dealt to me. What others have said about me and the way they’ve treated me. What I’ve believed about those things. Love extended to me. My actions of love toward others. Relationships have played a huge part. No man is an island. We cannot help but be changed by and through our relationships with others.
And although I can look back and see God guiding me down a path that would lead me to this place, it’s still the choices I made along the way that got me here. If I think about life on a continuum, have I been making choices towards gratitude and contentment or choices towards bitterness and anxiety? There are many different ways you can put it: light vs. darkness, life vs. death… I think you see where I’m going.
Under-girding all of this “change” is our belief system. What we believe about the world and ourselves significantly determines our course in life. I don’t bring this up as a point of condemnation: believe the ‘right’ things or you’re doomed! (there was a time where that is exactly how I’d be feeling at this point). I’m thinking more of what Jesus said: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) and when He was asked what work God wanted people to do, He answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29).
I think there is a notion in the evangelical world that we need only pray ‘hard enough’ for God to change us and we’ll be changed. I certainly believe God wants us to be changed. But how much change can He effect if we continue to believe things that work against Him? Let me use an example:
As long as I believed God was more interested in punishing me for my sin than loving me unconditionally I wasn’t about to trust Him. I might try really hard to trust Him but subconsciously I believed He wasn’t ‘safe’ – I thought He was out to hurt me. My subconscious went the route of self-preservation and steered away from trust. When I came to accept (it’s an acceptance and a surrender) that God actually was more interested in loving me than punishing me, then I could begin learning to trust.
So how did my belief system change? I think it started with nigglings. A foreign idea would form in my mind, something different and counter to what I believed before. Perhaps someone would present a different point of view, perhaps it was something I read or heard. I would chew on that idea for awhile (I recognize this process is probably very specific to my personality type). And I would either come to the conclusion of rejecting the idea or (with trepidation) decide to ‘risk’ believing this new truth. What if I believed ‘wrong’? What would happen to me? Would I still be safe? The new truths that were the scariest for me to accept were the ones that disrupted my sense of safety. I understood the world to operate a specific way and I felt ‘safe’ in that worldview. Accepting an alteration to my worldview meant insecurity and unknown territory. Things weren’t as certain as before (although I recognize this is really an illusion). Eventually I became comfortable with the new belief and felt secure once again.
I realize this post is becoming lengthy so I’ll leave with one other comment and continue on in a day or two.
The thing I find most encouraging in this process is that I believe it is God who helps me to change my beliefs. He is gracious and compassionate and I don’t have to stress about not believing the ‘right’ things. My role is to believe that He is faithful and that He will help continue the process of believing the things that are true about Him and discarding the things which are not true. It requires my openness to new things and trusting God in the process.
I love what she says at the end: “Grace is the only buzz I have left… and they will take if from my cold, dead hands.” I agree. I wouldn’t give up GRACE for anything!
A copy of “Living Light News” showed up in my mailbox last week. It’s a Christian publication that comes around a couple of times a year. When I got to the last page and read the headline, I groaned inwardly: “No Cheque is Big Enough to Pay This Off!”. The picture under the headline is a zoom-in of a cheque with “NOT ENOUGH” written in as the ‘amount’. The article goes on to say that “we have all incurred a huge debt that no amount of money” (or good works or donations to charity) can pay off. The article ends with a prayer to God that starts off with, “Dear God, I am truly sorry for sinning against You. Please forgive me for the wrong things I have done…”
This is pretty typical in my experience of the “sinner’s prayer”. It always starts off with a focus on our sin and need for forgiveness. The focus is on how we are “bad” and because of that, God is going to punish us. This looks a lot like shaming a person into praying the sinner’s prayer to me. And in light of Brene Brown’s research on shame I would argue that this is a counterproductive approach to encouraging people towards a relationship with God. Here’s what Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012):
“…there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior. In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution. Again, it is human nature to want to feel worthy of love and belonging. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.” (p.73)
We all want to experience connection with others, to feel that we belong and that we are ‘enough’. ‘Enough’ to be accepted and loved apart from our actions. So why does evangelical Christianity think emphasizing that we are “not enough” for God is a good way to encourage people to follow Him? The motivating factor here is fear. Fear and shame lead to disconnection, not connection. And I don’t think that is God’s desire for us at all. Love is the essence of who God is (1 John 4:8) and it is His perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God loves us and wants connection with us. He doesn’t want us to hide from Him.
I believe it is our feelings of shame that keep us disconnected from God and others. Look at the story of Adam and Eve. Once they had tasted the forbidden fruit they hid because they were naked. I think it’s safe to say they were experiencing shame. I believe most, if not all, behaviors that are defined as ‘sin’ have their roots in shame.
So with that in mind, I propose there is a better, more positive way of introducing people to a relationship with God. And the foundation is love:
You are made in the image of God and He loves you. And because He loves you, He wants to experience this life with you. He longs for connection with YOU. His son, Jesus, came to earth to show us what God’s love is like. He came to break the power of shame in our lives that keeps us disconnected from God and from others. Jesus introduced us to grace. It means God already accepts you and that you are ‘enough’…right now. All He asks is that you believe it and accept it. If you’re feeling crappy about yourself, believe that you are forgiven. If you don’t think you’re ‘worthy’ of this kind of love, it’s simply not true. Your ‘worth’ is not based on your actions but on the fact that God says you are precious and beautiful to Him. He doesn’t want you to hide in shame any longer. He wants you to be free. Will you take Him up on His invitation?
Disclaimer: please understand that what I’ve written above does not mean I don’t believe what the Bible says about sin – I do believe that we are all broken (we have all sinned) and that we need to accept God’s forgiveness; I believe the consequences of sin is death…’death’ being the damage to our souls from years of living in shame and disconnection from God
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 1 Corinthians 4:7 (emphasis mine)
For the month of December I decided to follow a Bible Plan. From the 1st of December to Christmas day I am reading someone else’s thoughts on the Christmas story. I never use these plans as I find I get more out of just reading the Bible by itself and talking about it with other people than following a prescribed plan but I thought I’d do something different this year.
There are a few things that have quickly become apparent to me. I’ve been out of the evangelical Christian mainstream for a while. Until very recently I have not attended an institutional church that meets on Sunday mornings nor have I really hung around the people who attend those churches. There’s a lot of evangelical Christian jargon that I haven’t heard for a while.
So when I started reading this Bible plan all this Christian jargon started popping up again. It’s not that I haven’t heard these things before, albeit many years ago. But some of the lingo sounds very ‘odd’ to me now even though I had just accepted it in the past. Some of the lingo downright bothers me, in fact.
Take, for example, this quote (in speaking of God’s favor to Mary): “…favor means, simply, that God is willing to use you.” (emphasis mine) What?! ‘Use you’? Why would the author employ this language? Where, in the realm of our human relationships, would we ever speak of ‘using’ people? Not in any healthy relationships, that’s for sure! When we hear the language of ‘using’ people, it is largely in a negative context, such as cases of abuse and exploitation. Is this the picture we would want to paint of God? The concept of ‘using’ people implies a devaluing, that people are ‘property’ to be ‘used’ rather than holding any intrinsic worth. This is certainly not how I believe God views people or how He views humanity.
However, to be fair, there are Bible references that have been used to reinforce this concept of God using people. Very often it is the references of God being the potter and man being the clay (Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 18:6, Romans 9:21). When I looked closer at these passages, from my perspective, their main point is to emphasize that God is greater than we are, so who are we to question His actions or think we can hide our actions from Him. These passages don’t explicitly speak of God ‘using’ people. When I looked for specific references that would say “God uses…” or “God used <so and so>…” I couldn’t find any…in the whole Bible. There is one passage I found that speaks of us being ‘useful’ to God (2 Timothy 2:21) but that doesn’t communicate the same thing as God ‘using’ us. You can still have intrinsic value and be useful to a task or project. Rather, I’ve found references of God appointing people or choosing them for a purpose. Again, this doesn’t communicate the same devaluing message as the idea of ‘using’ people.
My point in all of this is we should be careful the language we employ when describing God and His relationship to us. All throughout the Bible, the stronger message is that God loves the human race, that He put Himself in harms way for humanity, that He goes to whatever lengths necessary to communicate to mankind that we are dearly loved by Him. But when we say things like “God uses us”, it undercuts that whole message of love. If a person hears such things long enough, they will subconsciously start to believe that they do not have worth in God’s sight or that He actually loves them, rather that their only worth is in what they can ‘do’ for God. This message marginalizes grace. The Gospel is no longer the ‘Good News’. It puts heavy chains on people who are broken and just trying to scrape by. If they do not know they are loved, if they do not believe they are precious and beautiful…in the midst of their brokenness…, what hope will they have?
We all need to know we are loved and valued. We need to know we are so much more than jars of clay.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how people define the word ‘church’. Rachel Held Evans wrote a guest blog post on CNN’s belief blog a couple of weeks ago about millennials leaving the church. It produced a veritable firestorm of feedback, with comments and responding blog posts on both sides of the issue. While I’m not here to debate that particular issue, the article and responses got me thinking about the assumptions people make when talking about ‘the church’.
The traditional view would say ‘church’ is the meeting of a group of people, with a common belief, in a church building, most often on Sunday mornings. There will probably be singing and a sermon or homily; liturgy may or may not be involved. There are different styles and flavours of this thing called ‘church’ yet I think most people boil it down to the above definition. Unfortunately I believe this is but a small part of the true meaning of church. And in reality I believe church can exist even without most of the above elements.
From my reading of the New Testament, the life of the church seemed driven so much more by relationships one with another than by attending a service. And just to clarify, yes, I’m saying that I believe the life of the church can happen without attending a ‘service’. At this point in time someone will probably pull out the verse in Hebrews as an admonishment to not skip the Sunday service: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do…” (Hebrews 10:25). And I would counter that this verse is not referring to the ‘meeting together’ as we define it today (i.e., church services).
I must confess (for those who don’t know already) that I do not currently attend a church ‘service’ on Sunday mornings. I am part of a network of ‘house’ churches. What is a ‘house’ church? I would say it is a group of people with a common belief that meet in homes. They may or may not eat a meal together; they may or may not sing on a regular basis; sermons generally aren’t involved. There are different styles and flavours of this thing called ‘house church’ but I think it is just as legitimate a form of ‘church’ than any Sunday morning service.
There are people who would disagree. There have been times when I have told people I am part of a house church and I got the distinct impression they were thinking, “So you’re not part of a ‘real’ church.” This frustrates me and makes me sad. As I have not attended a Sunday morning service in a number of years, my definition of ‘church’ has broadened. For me, ‘church’ doesn’t just happen as a ‘service’. It is so much more than that. ‘Church’ is when I have breakfast with a friend whose life circumstance is difficult at this time. There’s no preaching although I may offer an encouraging word or two, but most often I listen…and she knows she is not alone in her struggle. ‘Church’ is when I have lunch with my son and I tell him (once again) that he is loved and accepted (and hope that one day this truth can really sink in and he can begin accepting himself). We don’t even talk about anything ‘spiritual’. ‘Church’ is hanging out with my husband, sharing what God has been revealing to each of us.
Emmanuel (God with us) lived out God’s grace and love in the day-to-day life of the people he dwelt with. We do a disservice to the Gospel, the “Good News”, when we water ‘church’ down to Sunday morning. It’s about relationships not programs. But too often our experience of ‘church’ is just that: the Sunday service, Wednesday night Bible Study, Friday night Youth Group, worship team practice, women’s group, etc. I’m not saying there aren’t relationships in these things but I wonder if the emphasis is too much on the ‘program’ instead of the relationships fostered within them. Are we limited to thinking about ‘body of Christ’ relationships in terms of the programs we attend and don’t look beyond that to the rich web of relationships we inhabit outside of those programs? And what if we don’t attend any of those ‘programs’? Does that make us less ‘spiritual’? Although people might answer ‘no’ to that question, I know from my own experience that’s not the truth we live. We assume people who don’t attend our programs, who don’t go to church on Sunday morning, must be back-sliding Christians. They must be struggling in their walk with God. This may be true for some people, but there are a lot of people who are doing just fine, thank you very much!
I would say that for those of us who have grown up in ‘Christian culture’ our perspective is very limited when it comes to what we believe are ‘legitimate’ expressions of church. When I stopped attending a Sunday morning service, my perspective expanded significantly. I’m not here to advocate one expression of church over another. The Church is diverse and varied in its expression (that’s the beauty of it), and different forms will minister to different people. I’m just saying, “Don’t look down on those people who experience church in a vastly different way than you and assume they’re not part of the ‘real’ church.” I challenge us all to rethink our assumptions about ‘church’ and be open for God to expand our horizons on what living this ‘life in Christ’ can be.
Today is Good Friday. This season of Lent is almost over and I realize my ‘project’ didn’t get very far. But that’s ok, I’ll give myself some grace. I’ve been doing lots of thinking over this season but not a lot of writing. Here are some of my random thoughts:
I’ve been thinking about the life Jesus lived through the lens of compassion. He reached out to the marginalized, those rejected by society. In turn, they felt ‘safe’ to come to Him. Just look at all the beggars and lepers and cripples who called out to Him…and He heard their cries. I really like that about Jesus. It gives me hope. There is no one whose life is so broken that Jesus will not enter in and bring love and grace. I want to be like that. I want to love and accept people as they are, no matter how broken. I admit there’s still a lot of work to be done in this area – I still feel uncomfortable passing the panhandlers whenever I walk downtown. Sometimes I can look them in the eye but other times I pretend I don’t see them. They must feel like they aren’t even people sometimes and I feel sad about that. They need love and compassion, too. And I wonder, “What am I afraid of, that I cannot even look them in the eye and acknowledge their presence, their humanity?”
I’ve been thinking about the Truth. Jesus said, “I am the Truth…” I’m realizing there are times when doing the right thing is the hard thing. It’s not easy, handling the truth. Sometimes it would be much easier to ignore the issue, pretend it isn’t there, continue on with the status quo. But that would be denying the Truth. I think of a particular situation in the past year where I chose to speak the truth knowing that I would be rejected and considered the “bad guy” but knowing it was the right thing to do nonetheless. This didn’t make the situation any easier but I have a peace and resolve knowing I walked in Truth.
A couple of people have asked me over the last week what our family’s traditions are for Easter. I sheepishly admit that we don’t have any traditions. In the past I’ve hardly recognized Good Friday and Easter at all. When I was working at the hotel Good Friday meant a three day relief from the stresses of my job. I mostly wanted to rest and do as little as possible. Another house church group in our network had a tradition of celebrating Easter morning at a big rock overlooking the South Saskatchewan River and we would join them for that. But that’s really the extent of it. As I’ve been comparing myself to others I’ve wondered if I’m “less of a Christian” because I don’t practice any traditions. Why do we have traditions anyways?
My focus has been on living out God’s love and grace. As much as I can, I try to communicate to everyone (my children in particular) that they are loved and accepted, that there is grace for mistakes, that they don’t have to live in shame, that they can learn to accept themselves. I know for my own life that coming to understand these things unleashes freedom from shame and fear. I have much more peace and I feel more fulfilled and satisfied. And I know I couldn’t come to understand these things without experiencing them. So I aim to live these out so others can experience them and come to greater freedom and healing in their own lives. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Which leads me to something that’s been bothering me and I’m not exactly sure why. I hesitate to write about it because I know people who are following this – I don’t want to come across as judging them and if I do, I apologize. Over at holleygerth.com they’re talking a lot about “God-sized dreams”. She even wrote a book about it: “You’re Made for a God-sized Dream – Opening the Door to all God has for You“. Why does this idea of a “God-sized dream” rub me the wrong way? I don’t have anything against people dreaming and living out their dreams. I’ve done that. I acted in a Gateway play a couple of years back, I went up in a hot air balloon last Fall, I started my own event planning business and have more flexibility in my life. I think it’s great.
Perhaps I get the impression that people are declaring what they want God to do for them and demanding in faith that He does it. Why are they so determined to have their dreams fulfilled? And maybe that’s where I trip up. Because dreams aren’t always fulfilled. Sometimes life doesn’t happen how you want it to. Maybe I’m jaded and cynical when I hear talk of “naming and claiming”. Because my husband died when I was 29 and my oldest son has a mixed bag of mental health diagnoses. I’m not a stay-at-home mom and life has not happened how I had “dreamed” it would. And yet God is no less loving and full of grace.
Maybe that’s it. There was a time when I had dreams and my perception of God was based on those dreams being fulfilled. And when they weren’t it messed up my faith. I didn’t know who God was because I thought my dreams were His dreams so why would He take those away? There’s a line from a song, “There is freedom in surrender…” (Singing Over Me, by Kari Jobe). I know this to be true. When my husband died, I surrendered my life to God. I said, “You are God and I place everything in Your hands.” I let go of all my dreams and trusted God to get me through the shattering of them. And I believe God has done (and is doing) wonderful, amazing things in response.
The life I now have is much more awesome than I could have ever dreamed up on my own. Being married the second time around has been better than I imagined marriage could be. My children are healthy and happy for the most part. We live in a great old house that’s walking distance to downtown. Now that I have my own business I am able to spend more time investing in other people, encouraging them, sharing life with them (one of the main reasons I quit my job). My perspectives have changed on many things and I have a greater understanding of God’s love and grace and the Good News. I have more peace and less fear and shame. I couldn’t have dreamed this stuff up!
And maybe that’s my point. I don’t know all the awesome and wonderful things God desires for me. And who am I to tell God what they are? And as if He doesn’t know what they are!? So I don’t need to strive for and “claim” my God-sized dream. God is already taking care of that. I just need to be faithful with what He’s placed in front of me at this time. The more I grow the more simple it seems to me. Jesus really was right when He said that loving God and loving your neighbor summed up everything you need to know to live this life.
“But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
“Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
1 Peter 4:9
“Show hospitality to one another without complaining.” (NET)
“Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.” (NLT)
I’ve been thinking about hospitality lately. According to Dictionary.com, the word “hospitality” means “1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers; 2. the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.”
I used to think there were certain people who had the “gift of hospitality”, which meant their home was always clean and tidy and they always had fresh baking at the ready. Which meant that I did NOT have this particular gift. However my perspective has shifted in recent years. For the past 5 years we have been opening up our home on a weekly basis for our house church group (my husband and I have housecleaning down to a science). I used to get stressed if everything wasn’t practically “perfect” and would feel self-conscious when there were dirty pots still sitting on the counter. But I don’t really worry about those things anymore. For me, opening up our home has become much more about sharing in the lives of others than about how everything “looks”. My desire is for people to feel comfortable and welcome in our ‘space’. That they would experience grace and love.
I don’t get nearly as stressed out as I used to. I think part of that has to do with the fact that I am much more comfortable with myself than I used to be. For the most part, I’m no longer worrying about what people might think and if they will accept me. I know I am accepted and loved and I am learning to accept myself. With that new understanding comes a more relaxed approach. It is much easier to be gracious and warm to others when I’m not busy berating myself for not having my house in perfect shape. I can focus on the other person and value them rather than focusing on myself and my faults.
This past weekend we hosted friends from B.C. Even though I had met them only once at a swim meet last November, our family opened up our home to them. They had a need (hotel rooms in Saskatoon are very expensive) and we had a room and a bed so they stayed at our place. It was such a wonderful weekend. I am so glad we could share our lives and get to know each other better. Each of our families face similar challenges and it was such an encouragement to know we are not alone in our ups and downs. I felt ‘knowing’ empathy for my friends and gained a fresh perspective of my own situation. They are wonderful people and I hope to be able to visit them in B.C. (whenever we get out there next). And to think that if I had been too self-conscious to invite them or if I had spent the time together worrying about the state of my house, I would have missed out on something wonderful and awesome.
Those are my thoughts for now, but I’ve got more thoughts brewing about this idea of hospitality. I hope to share them later.
Today is Ash Wednesday which marks the first day of the season on Lent. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seriously practiced Lent (I might have given up something 10 or 15 years ago but I don’t remember what it was).
My understanding of Lent is a time of preparation leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. While I could ‘give up’ something for Lent, that ‘giving up’ wouldn’t necessarily strengthen the bond I have with God or prepare me for Easter.
I’ve been thinking about Lent the last couple of days and I desire to practice it in some way this year. I want to focus on a particular theme which I believe relates very well to Jesus’ life here on earth: Our Common Humanity.
So for the next 40 days I am going to look for things which speak to that theme. It might be a photo, a phrase, a conversation. I’m not sure where this ‘project’ will take me. But my “40 days of fun” was very good for me and I have the feeling this 40 days might prove equally enlightening.
For those of you who follow the traditional practice of Lent, I apologize. I don’t really know much about Lent and I’m going to be muddling my way through this.
Thanks for joining me on another adventure.
As I’ve been reading various blog posts over the past few months, I’ve been running into something that makes me feel sad. It’s hard to pinpoint or nail down. I recognize that a few years ago I wouldn’t have been bothered by what I read at all. I would relate, I would empathize, I would say “I know how you feel.”
What am I reading? Agony over decisions made, fear of falling short as a parent, guilt over not being a good enough parent/spouse/friend/(dare I say – Christian?), struggles with insecurity, fear, worry, stress.
It’s not that I don’t empathize, that I don’t relate, that I don’t know how they feel. I do. I guess the biggest difference is that my perspective has changed. How I view the world, how I view people, myself, and God has fundamentally changed over the last few years.
How has it changed? Through experience, through revelation, through relationships with others, through the wonderful transforming work of my loving God.
So what has changed? Here are some of the areas where my perspective has shifted:
- My view of ‘the Judgement’ has changed. I no longer believe that the final Judgement of God is to throw everyone who didn’t ‘say the prayer’ into a lake of fire to suffer agonizing torment for all of eternity – this does not align with my belief in an overwhelmingly loving God. There are few references to hell and a lake of fire in the Bible and I’d say the references are a bit ambiguous, certainly not enough to base an entire theology upon. I’ve come to rely more upon this passage as a reference for ‘the judgement’: “This is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). If you take this perspective, it is a person’s choice to hide from the Light (ie: God) that is the judgement – because a person is used to living in darkness, the glorious Light of God will be torment in and of itself. It is not God’s choice to inflict torment on His child, it is just the natural result of rejecting the Light (ie: the very nature of God).
- With this change in perspective, my view of God has completely changed. There is a subconscious disconnect with the traditional belief that God is Love AND would willingly condemn the majority of mankind to eternal torment. How can God love unconditionally and still have that ‘limit’ on His love? It must mean that God is not unconditionally loving. Because actions speak louder than words (I know for myself) there were certain things I couldn’t ‘believe’ as long as I subconsciously believed that God would actively create torment for His children (I don’t care how much you tell me ‘God loves me’ He can’t love enough not to condemn my friends to excruciating pain). With that belief gone, I am free to view God as truly unconditionally loving – there are no limits to His love. “The Lord is… not wishing any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) He never desires torment for His children, nor does He have to punish His children.
- I think the traditional belief in ‘the judgement’ fosters striving, guilt, and fear as opposed to a reliance upon God’s grace. We see God punishing those who don’t measure up and we must strive (consciously or subconsciously) to make sure God does not feel compelled to punish us!
- This shift in belief away from the traditional view of ‘judgement’ has helped me to understand and experience the work of God’s grace that much more. God recognizes that we are weak, broken, imperfect. And that’s OK. I don’t have to beat myself up for not being ‘good enough’ because God’s not going to punish me (and I don’t have to punish myself so God doesn’t have to punish me). He has no desire to punish me when I ‘fall short’. His grace is so much greater than my weakness. As I come to understand this truth more and more, I have less fear, less guilt, less stress. There is way more freedom in relying on God’s faithful love and grace to walk me through Life’s journey.
Let me interject by saying that by no means have I ‘arrived’. There are numerous areas of weakness in my life where I continue to function in fear and I’ll have my bad days (and weeks), but my shift in perspective means that fear has much less of a hold on me. I don’t wallow in self-guilt and loathing nearly as long as I used to. There is more freedom. There is more peace within myself. There is more acceptance and grace for others. There is less comparing myself to others. There is less striving to live up to unrealistic standards – although I still have a lot of unrealistic standards (I have less than I used to).
This leads me to my opening comments in this post. I feel saddened because I believe there has been far too little emphasis on God’s grace and love in the evangelical church (the church that I have grown up in and is my Christian point of reference). And I see the results of this lived out in Christians around me.
It’s almost like we think everyone knows the ‘basics’ – God loves us and His grace is for us – but now we need to focus on the ‘more important stuff’ like daily Bible reading, prayer, faithful attendance, overcoming our weaknesses so we can be ‘better’ Christians, etc. The problem is that without God’s love (and grace) as our lifeblood, we can’t truly be freed from the things that bring us down. If we don’t really know God loves us, we will continue to live in fear, we will continue to be insecure, we will continue to compare ourselves to others, we will continue to feel that we’re not ‘good enough’, we will continue to strive. God’s love is the answer to transformation in our lives. I firmly believe this. Nothing else will set us free.
Yet I see many Christians running around in circles striving to improve themselves (with God’s help), striving to free themselves from (insert sin here), striving to overcome the Enemy’s grip on their lives. It won’t work. Not without God’s love.
But in order to understand God’s love and grace we need to experience it (at least I found that for myself – I could read about His love and grace but it wasn’t until I experienced it that it started to make sense). And that’s a topic for a whole other blog post.
I’ll leave you with one other verse (which makes more sense to me now from the point of resting in God’s love rather than trying to ‘will’ myself to not be afraid):
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18).
I decided that I am going to try to read more classics. Currently I’m working through Robinson Crusoe. One of the themes running through the book is how Robinson Crusoe came to faith in God after he had been shipwrecked on a deserted island. And this change of faith changed his perspective on his circumstances. He became exceedingly thankful and believed God’s mercy had been extended to him.
I admit that I am not naturally a thankful person. My tendency is to focus on the things that are not working properly, not on what is going right.
Midway through 2010, I stumbled across The Book of Awesome which actually stems from a blog (www.1000awesomethings.com). It focuses on the ‘little things in life’ and reminds us to stop and appreciate those things because they truly are awesome. I’ve got this blog on my RSS Feed so every weekday I am reminded of one more awesome thing in life.
This is good for me. Because as I mentioned above, I don’t tend to be very thankful and I know I should “stop and smell the roses”.
Which leads me to “thankfulness”. I have another blogging friend who has worked through a list of 1000 things she is thankful for. It took a couple of years but she got through it. I’m feeling prompted to start my own “thankful list”. I’m not as ambitious to try to get to 1000, but I think I’ll try to list something once a week.
So here goes…
I am very thankful for my house church family. They are one small corner of the body of Christ but they are precious to me. Through this family I have been able to share my life – the struggles, the triumphs, the up’s and down’s. Through this family I have been able to share in the lives of others – to mourn with those who mourn, rejoice with those who rejoice, encourage and exhort. Through this family I have been able to study the Word of God unlike any other context. I have learned so much more from the Word by seeing it through the life experiences and lenses of the people in this group. It has given me a much richer perspective than just my limited view (or the limited view of one person preaching from a pulpit). And through this family I have gained important relationships spanning generations. I truly love them and they love me. Isn’t that what the body of Christ is all about?
Life has been busy. It feels like I haven’t stopped to rest in while (though I did a bit of that today).
- We’re insulating our home to take advantage of rebates with the EnerGuide program – a few weeks ago we insulated our attic; this week Leighton insulated our main floor (using spray foam insulation injected into the wall cavities); we are still going to insulate the floor and attic of our veranda so we can use in during the winter
- Home-schooling our oldest boy – choosing curriculum (I’m happy with what we chose); getting into a routine has taken a bit longer than I thought it would take, but David is enjoying it (and Leighton is a great teacher)
- Work is crazy right now – it’s the uber-busy time of year and our admin assistant quit a couple of weeks ago, someone else gave their notice last Friday and another person gave their notice this past Friday. Luckily we have someone to replace the one person and I’ll start training them on Monday.
- I feel very tired and weary.
- Loving our house church! I love the social interaction, the richness of studying God’s word together and being able to share in people’s lives and to pray for them and encourage them.
- I watched the last four episodes of Avatar, season 3 and LOVED IT! We purchased the entire third season on ITunes and are going through it.
- Heroes begins their 3rd season on Monday. Stop Sylar!!!
- Went shopping today for the fun of it – haven’t done that in a long long time
My computer is running out of juice. Signing off…
A couple of weeks ago, a friend wrote this blog post and it got me thinking. I have a somewhat different take on why people ‘deviate from the truth they once knew’ as she puts it. Let me preface this with a little bit of my journey. Over two years ago, I found something new happening to me as I would sit in church. As I would listen to the sermon, this question kept coming back to me: ‘What is the message of the cross?’ I found myself listening to the words spoken and wondering if this truly was the message of the cross. Or were so many other things being added to the message that the true message had been lost?
You may wonder what I’m talking about. Here’s one example: we say the message of the cross is that Jesus died for our sins so we could be free; we don’t have to strive to be ‘good enough’ to be a part of God’s kingdom. Yet how do we measure whether or not someone is a faithful Christian? They need to read their Bible every day, attend church regularly (meaning Sunday morning service), pray, tell others about Jesus, volunteer in a church program… the list could go on and on. Although we say there is freedom in Christ, the relationship we have with Him can become a bunch of rules to follow. Where is the freedom in that?
People may argue that there is a part the individual has to play in this relationship. God does not do everything. While I agree that a relationship takes two, so much of what I see does not really focus on the relationship but rather on the ‘list’ of things we should do to be a ‘good’ Christian. The relationship part seems to take a back seat to everything else.
I believe the church has ‘tacked on’ so many other things to the message of the cross that the true essence of the Gospel has been lost.
So here’s my question concerning those people who walk away from the truth: did they ever really know the Truth in the first place?… Did they experience the reality of the message of grace? Or were they promised one thing, but received something quite different?
This leads to my theory of why people leave the church (meaning they stop attending church on Sunday morning). I see two reasons:
1. They believe there is more to life in Christ than what they’ve experienced in ‘regular’ church and they leave seeking more depth in their relationship with God and with others. These people don’t necessarily stop meeting with other followers of Christ; they just don’t do it in the Sunday morning church context.
2. They are disillusioned by the disconnect between what Christianity promises and their own church experience. They cannot reconcile the two and so give up on the whole thing. They abandon Christianity (or at least their understanding of it).
In this last case, I’m not saying these people were never Christians. I consider myself a Christian and yet I admit that I don’t have a clear understanding of God’s grace, which I believe is key to the message of the cross. But this also begs the question, “Why don’t I understand? What have I been taught to hinder my understanding of this fundamental truth? If my life does not reflect the belief that I am truly saved by God’s grace (which is what we as Christians say we are), why is that?” I can see why people would become disillusioned. Being saved by grace sounds appealing, but its not the reality I see in the lives of a lot of Christians. Is there something horribly wrong with the salvation message we speak of?
In her blog post, my friend said she didn’t suppose it was up to her to decipher the whys and whats behind people’s reasons to leave. I disagree. I believe it is very important to examine the reasons behind the exodus from the church. If the reason has to do with a skewed presentation of the Gospel, then the church is at least partially responsible for the reason why so many are leaving. This should be a warning for us to re-examine what we believe and ask God to reveal whether what we say we believe – is the Truth or an altered version of the Truth (which in reality is no truth at all).
Luke 11:46 – He said, “… You’re hopeless, you religion scholars! You load people down with rules and regulations, nearly breaking their backs, but never lift even a finger to help.”Â (The Message)
Jesus was ranting about the Pharisees and teachers of the law.Â They made up all these rules to follow in order to truly ‘follow God’, making it impossible for the people to find God.Â They couldn’tÂ live up to the standards.Â Jesus was not very impressed with this!
I believeÂ there are many so-calledÂ ‘biblical principles’ that have become the new law and those who teach these biblical principles have become modern-day Pharisees and teachers of the law.Â When I talk about ‘biblical principles’, I am referring to those things that have been made into a whole new theology but areÂ basedÂ only loosely onÂ a passage or fewÂ passagesÂ in the bible – things that are neverÂ directly covered in Scripture.
Â As if people are not burdened enough with all theÂ ‘rules’ for following Christ (ie: daily devotions, regular church attendance,Â etc.), others feel the need to add more burdens – tithing,Â being under ‘covering’,Â etc.Â Although the Bible talks about reading the Word regularlyÂ and meeting with other believers, it does notÂ make any reference to ‘daily devotions’ or ‘regular church attendance’.Â These things have become unwrittenÂ RULES, when they were never meant to be rules.Â It eliminates GRACE.Â Who needs ‘grace’ when you can earn your way into God’s good books?Â
The other list of burdens (tithing, ‘covering’ theology,Â etc.) are never explicitly laid out in Scripture.Â While tithing was commanded for the nation of Israel as a means of God’s provision for the Levites, Paul never commanded it for the Gentiles.Â Giving generously was encouraged, but it was never made into a law with the threat of curses coming upon whoever did not comply.Â Rather Paul fought very hard for the Gentiles NOT to be forced to follow Jewish law.
Acts 15 – “1Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question….7After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (NIV)
Why do people pour all their energies into these new ‘teachings’ when there are things Jesus and the apostles actually taughtÂ that we don’t do?Â Making disciples, bearing one another’s burdens, confessing our sins to each other, forgiving one another…Â There’s plenty of things listed to keep us going for a while without having to create new theologies.Â Even so,Â these things were never intended to be made into laws to burden the people underÂ weights they cannot bear.Â Jesus died to take care of that, didn’t He?
I heardÂ sermons on discipleship today and last Sunday.Â Discipleship has become a very big emphasis at my church,Â but with all the emphasis on discipleship, a particularÂ component has been strangely lacking: theÂ discipleship ofÂ our children.
I’m feeling more and more strongly about this all the time.Â It’s an often unspoken assumption that parents disciple their children, that a child’s spiritual formation begins at home.Â But I’m beginning to think more and more that although its assumed we do it, very few of us parents actually set aside a specific time each week to spend one on one time with our children to read the Bible and talk together about what it says.Â I think that its far too easy in the midst of our very busy lives to not schedule time with our kids and when we don’t have time to do it, we think to ourselves, “They have Sunday school and youth group; its ok if I didn’t have time this week.”Â And as that becomes a pattern, we don’t even give a thought to discipling our kids, and we believe they’re covered by what they get in church.
I think we’ve been lulled into believing a lie.Â That our children don’t need us to disciple them because there are programs that cover that.Â I had a big wake-up call a couple of weeks ago, which I posted about, when I had an ‘M-study’ with my 5 1/2 year old.Â We spent 45 minutes reading the Bible and talking and he wasn’t even getting bored.Â It is so very important to disciple our children.Â I need to take seriously what it says in Deuteronomy 6: “6And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands I am giving you today. 7Repeat them again and again to your children (italics mine). Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again.”
I think one of the roadblocks people encounter when it comes to discipleship is that they themselves have never been discipled and so don’t feel qualified to disciple someone else.Â Â Maybe a person has not been discipled but don’t let our children say the same thing when they become adults.Â I hope my kids will be able to say that their parents discipled them and so they don’t have to feel intimidated to disciple someone else.Â The other roadblocks to discipleship (time, fear, etc.) should be the easiest to overcome when discipling our own children.Â Â This should be the least scary form of discipleship becauseÂ we already have a relationship with our children; we live in the same house so we should be able to find time somewhere; we may not feel qualified, but how many of us feel qualified to parent and yet we do it anyway, trusting God to give us the wisdom we need to raise our kids up in His ways.
Lastly, if we disciple a number of people throughout our lifetimes, but didn’t disciple our own children, haven’t we missed the most important part?
Last SundayÂ I had a ‘light-bulb’ moment.Â My youngest son, who is 5 1/2 years old, informed me Saturday night that he didn’t want to go to Sunday School because it was boring.Â Upon further questioning I found out the only thing he likes about Sunday School is when they talk about God (he doesn’t like crafts or other activities).Â So I decided to perform an experiment.Â I suggested that he spend time with mom and we would read the Bible and talk about God instead of him going to Sunday School.Â He thought it was a great idea.
Â So Sunday morning I grabbed a Bible and we sat down.Â He wanted to start at the beginning so we started with Genesis 1.Â It was so much fun!Â I loved challenging my 5 year old to think about what we were reading.Â For instance, even though God created light on the 1st day, he didn’t create the sun until the 4th day.Â So where did the light come from?Â It was awesome to see the wheels turning – he thought it came from the houses, but when I said there were no houses or light bulbs, he was stumped.Â So we went to the back of the book (Revelation) to find out that at the end there will be no need for the sun because God will shine on them.Â So our theory is that the light came from God at the very beginning.
Â Matthew wanted to keep going on and on and we’d already spent at least 45 minutes just reading the Bible and talking about it.Â And all day afterwards Matthew could not stop talking about how much he loved his ‘M Study’ (Mom and Matthew study).Â He couldn’t wait until we did it again.
Â I was amazed.Â It was such a simple thing, to read the Bible and talk about it, and Matthew loved it so much.Â I began to wonder – if kids love this kind of stuff with their parents – what is the point of Sunday School?Â My oldest son is the same way – he loves Bible study with dad; he hates going to Sunday school.
So I have a few questions milling around my mind: 1) if kids hate going to Sunday school, why do we make them go?Â I’ve heard the arguement that it is important for them to go, so you have to make them go even if they don’t want to be there.Â But if you are constantly dragging your child off to something he doesn’t like forÂ all his life, when he finally is old enough to decide whether to go to church or not, what makes us think he’ll suddenly want to go?Â And why is it important to go to Sunday school anyway?Â I’ve heard it stressed that parents need to be discipling their children.Â If parents are doing that, why bother with Sunday school?Â Or is it just something to fill up time during the sermon?Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2) Why do we force kids to attend something they don’t like instead of asking WHY they don’t like it?Â Rather than trying to make children fit ‘our’ mold, why aren’t we asking what they would like to do?
There’s another thing I want to note: even though I’ve heard it stressed that it is important for parents to disciple their kids, how much are we actually held accountable for that?Â I don’t hear people asking me if I’m discipling my children, but I do get asked if my child was in Sunday school.Â There’s a different message being communicated:Â Sunday school is more important than personal discipleship.
I know Sunday school did not originate in the early church.Â So where did it come from?Â And why?Â Is it still applicable for today?Â I’ll post more as I find out more information.
I see ‘church culture’ in one form as something (structures, processes, attitudes) that is unique to the majority of North American evangelical churches.Â I see it as something that is probablyÂ not directly biblical butÂ has become so much a part ofÂ our concept of ‘church’ that we almost believe that without it, we areÂ lacking in our spiritual walk with God.Â
As I’ve been thinking about what the essence of the Gospel is, I’ve also felt it necessary to examineÂ common church structures.Â What things that are a part of ‘church’ are simply ‘church culture’ and not necessarily what is laid out in the Bible as a process or structure to model?Â Some of the things I find myself examining are: Sunday School and the Sunday morning sermon.Â Are these biblical models?Â And if not, where did they come from?Â What is the history behind them?Â Are there other (and possibly better) alternatives?Â I’ll post more as I digÂ deeper into this.Â
“church mode”: a term I’ve heard used to describe the way people suddenly become different people once they enter the doors of the church on Sunday morning.
“It may be that Christians, not withstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners (italics mine). The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hyprocisy.” – from “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning (here quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
I think this lies at the heart of ‘church mode’. We cannot be seen as sinners on Sunday morning because only the righteous are there. Therefore, we become chameleons, so no one will see who we really are.