Change is hard, and not always for the best

Our church is going through a very difficult transition period.

Actually, it’s gone through many in the past decade, but this one seems to be the hardest. And while, in the long run, it might be for the best, right now it is not good. Very not good.

I share this in hopes of connecting with others and hopefully sparking some conversation.

So here’s some details.

We’re a small church. The highest I’ve seen our membership in the past 10 years was about 200. On average there’s been less than 100 of us. The lowest we’ve been is 15. It might have been lower than that for actual membership, but one Sunday – several in fact – there were 15 people in the seats. That included my wife and (at the time) 6 children.

At the time we joined the church, my wife and I were the youngest adults in attendance. And we were in our mid-30s. There was probably a 20-year gap to the next oldest. For a long time, our church was primarily ‘gray’. The “older folks” greatly outnumbered the “younger folks”. And except for my own, we had no kids.

Fast forward 10 years. Now there are many younger folks, and lots of kids. But the ‘gray’ crowd, is leaving. In droves. Some are telling us why, most just stop coming, stop talking to us, and just break all connection with us.

And while that in itself is not fatal to our membership numbers, since we are gaining younger folks and our numbers are about the same, it has been devastating to our finances. Truth is, younger families with kids just don’t give as much as older, retired folks.

Now that’s the facts. Sorry if that sounds cold and ‘numbery’ and all the other things we’re not really supposed to worry about when ‘doing’ church, but I had to lay it out there just for the background.

When you look away from the numbers, to the love and support and the spiritual grown of the church, we are thriving. We have a great preacher on staff, a great secretary that supports the whole set up, and a really great leadership team that is full of great people with varied skills.

But then we hit a wall. And we’re stalled.

We had a flood of fantastic ideas, we formed teams to run things, and then just…. flat. People got busy, meetings were canceled, others just gave up, and the teams sputtered and then died.

So we’re here, facing a huge shift in our demographic age wise – but also diversity. Now diversity is good. One of our principles as a church is to be a mosaic, a whole made up of very different parts. In that we are succeeding, but I think the change has been too much for some of the ‘old school’ folks and for whatever reason – agism, racism, old-way-ism – they felt it was time to move on.

So what does a church do in this situation? The word panic comes to mind, but that’s not what we need to do. We could do the ol’ “step out in faith” giving sermon, but that’s not something we do.

Here’s my personal opinion:

 

Modernize. Fast.

I know that’s kind of a dirty word in church – “modernize”, because tradition is important. And it is, it really is. But there’s traditon and then there’s “they way we’ve always done it”. Nothing kills anything faster than “this is how it’s supposed to be because we always do it this way”.

There’s a story I’ve heard several times.

A church did communion every week. Many churches do it, but this particular church had a very particular way that they did it. With great ceremony the elements were brought in, th trays carefully stacked with decorative cloths draped over them. After the elements were passed, the cloths were then ceremoniously draped back over and the trays quickly returned to the kitchen.

One day someone asked “why?” Why so quickly brought to and from the kitchen and why the cloths? What was the Biblical reason? No one knew, but everyone knew that it ‘had to be that way’. Finally someone took the time to find out. Only one person knew. Betty, a 98 year old founding member. Expecting great wisdom, everyone gathered around to hear. “The cloths and the shuffling back and forth from the kitchen”, Betty said, “is to keep the flies off the elements. If we don’t keep the trays in the fridge, and if we don’t keep them covered when they’re not in the fridge, the flies get on them.” Flies? The church didn’t have an insect problem. But then they realized. 50 years before, the church didn’t have air conditioning or heating. It didn’t even have electricity originally. The doors and windows were kept wide open during the warm months of the year, so there were always flies. But as the church modernized, the flies were kept out.

Yet the old ways remained, even when no one could remember why they were doing it.

Author Neale Donald Walsch put it this way:
“Honor the tradition, but expand the understanding. That’s what religions must do right now if they hope to be helpful to humans in the years ahead.”

If you don’t understand why things are the way they are, then we need to figure it out. If we can’t figure it out, then ditch it. But more than that, the tradition is not as important as the understanding. The root, the reason, God, the Bible, the people – if that is not ‘it’ then your church doesn’t have ‘it’.

But what does that look like in practice? What are the practicalities of it? What does a church need to actually DO to catch up?

There are some realities that can’t be avoided. Not the least of which is money. Churches need money to function. There are expenses. Bills that need to be paid. Paychecks for staff. That reality can’t be avoided. Churches also need buildings, be it their own or a rented space or whatever. That too can’t be avoided.

But then what?

All the rest is negotiable. All of it. Every bit of it. (Ok, so a church also needs the Bible, but I figured that was assumed, and discussions on the interpretation thereof and all that are for another blog post.)

Modernize. It’s not a bad word. You don’t have to compromise belief to do it.

You want to reach ‘millennials’ or anyone else, you reach them where they live instead of expecting them to come to you. And they live in the new millennium. Our fast-paced, social-media connected, world is what it is now. That’s where people live. And that is where your church needs to live.

 

I’ve ranted enough now. What I really need is discussion. What are your thoughts?

 

10 Lies That Have Been Told To The Church

AManSitsPrayingPromo1500Dearest Church,

I am writing to you today to discuss with you a very difficult topic. This is going to be hard for both of us, but I really hope you’ll take the time to read this and to really think about what I’m saying before you just get mad and lash out.

So here goes:

You’ve been lied to. A lot. For many many years.

Now before you react, please just hear me out. Some of this is going to be hard to accept, but you’ll know I’m telling the truth if you just listen.

I’m not talking about the Bible., The Bible, by itself, is a wonderful thing. It tells and important story. It gives us some amazing lessons. Above all, it gives us hope. It’s an amazing amazing book. And deserves to be read and revered.

The problem comes when someone picks something out of the Bible and they build a whole “thing” out it. When they ignore the entire story of the Bible, when they force us to focus on a few verses and build an entire “mission” out of pushing that agenda they’ve created for themselves, we run into trouble.

You know who I’m talking about. He’s on the radio all the time. Sometimes he’s on TV. At first he seemed OK, but over time he’s developed an entire career around his message.

And it’s all a lie. Lie upon lie. Lies and more lies. But you, dearest Church, may not recognize them. So let me bluntly, honestly, lay them out for you. You might not believe them at first, I know I didn’t WANT to believe them when someone pointed them out to me, but trust me, you will be better for knowing.

 

Lie number one:

The United States of America is a Christian Nation Based on Christian Values and/or is God’s Chosen Nation

I have no idea where this came from. The basic premise is that just as the nation is Israel wasIn_God_We_Trust_AFA_Poster_in_New_Philadelphia_High_School God’s chosen nation during the time of Moses and after, the United States of America is now God’s chosen nation during this time in history.

That must be in some lost or forgotten Testament of the Bible because as the Bible reads now I don’t see that at all.

Now, granted, some of our Founding Fathers were religious men, or at the very least theists (meaning they believe in the existence of God but not necessarily the Christian God), but as many, if not more, were atheists or agnostic. And yes, some very general “Christian” principles are part of the writings that our country is based on, it is arguable that they are EXCLUSIVELY Christian. In many people’s eyes, these things are just common sense and common decency. And many other countries of the world have these same principles in their founding documents or common legal writings.

So why is this a thing?

Because, generally, Americans think they are better than everyone. We like to hear that we’re the best country. That everyone wants to come here because we’re best. And why are we the best? Because God must approve of what we are doing by blessing us with wealth and military might.

Ugh. I call bullshit. Pardon my language, but I really can’t think of a better word. Other places in the world have fantastic health care, lower crime rates, almost zero poverty and zero unemployment. These places are, from a common man’s perspective, much better places to live. But they have fewer millionaires, so they aren’t the best. The reason they have fewer millionaires is because they put people above business. The exact opposite of what we do in the United States. America is the best if you scratch and beat and claw your way to the top, crushing people along the way.

How very Christian.

No. America is not God’s chosen nation. Christians are God’s chosen nation. We’re a nation of faith, not a nation of money and might or geography. We’re supposed to be a nation of love and caring for each other and the world, not a nation of government and guns.

Please, stop and consider. You’ll know I’m telling the truth about this lie.

 

Lie number two: 

There are groups of people that God hates, therefore it’s your job to hate them as well.

1280px-GodHatesPepsiYou’ve seen the picket signs. “That” church in Kansas is on the news all the time for going to funerals and other events. “God Hates Fags”. And while, outwardly, you the Church, reject their ways, inwardly you  agree with what they say. God does hate Fags. And He also hates Muslims. And He hates alcoholics. The list goes on and on.

And because God hates these things, you’re obligated to hate them too. Hate them with a passion. God needs you to do His hating for him here on Earth.

Now there are things God hates. The Bible makes that clear:

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.
– Proverbs 6:16-19 (ESV)
 Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God,  and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.
– Deuteronomy 16:21-22 (ESV)
(God speaking through the prophet Isaiah):
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
– Isaiah 1:14 (ESV)
“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. – Isaiah 61:8 (ESV)

And there are a few other similar verses I didn’t include for the sake of brevity, but these make my point. I don’t see anything about skin color, where people come from, who they love, how much money they have, what they do for a living….. All those things you’ve been told to hate because God hates them? Where are they in the Bible? And where does God command you to do His hating for him?

You’ve been lied to, church. God is God. He doesn’t need you to do His hating. He needs you to be aware of what He hates so you don’t do it. What he need you to do is LOVE. The word hate shows up in the (English) Bible 127 times. Most of those verses are about a person hating another person or the actions of another person. Only a few are about God hating something. The word LOVE shows up 686 times.* And many of them are commands to one person, or to us, to love another or to love all men. God commands us to love, he doesn’t command us to hate.

And to make matters worse, you don’t differentiate between things and people.  Oh sure, you say “love the sinner, hate the sin”, but you don’t see the sinner as a PERSON, you only see sinner and therefore only see the sin.  All you do is use labels. Gay. Muslim. Unwed mother. Divorced. But people are PEOPLE. People are not the labels we put on them. They’re not (only) sinners. They have jobs and lives and feelings and families and are more than just a label.

Please, Church, think this through for yourself. Again you’ll see that you’ve been lied to. Your purpose is not to hate, never to hate, always to love. And to love selflessly, completely, and insanely. Love PEOPLE. All people. Leave the hate behind.

*Results are from the English Standard version. Different versions may have slightly different counts of the words ‘hate’ and love, but the verses, the lessons, are identical in meaning.

Lie number three:

It’s important to use any political influence you have to enact laws that will force others to live as you believe God intended, even if they reject your God.

Voting_United_States

By all means, vote, run for school board or mayor or city council or anything you like if you are able. I think it’s very important for everyone to be as politically active as they can be.

But I also believe that being politically active means you have a responsibility to everyone and not your own interests.

Dear Church, you have been told a huge lie in this area. You have been told that the only thing you should be doing, politically if you should be politically active at all, is forcing everyone to live as God intended. Or rather, as someone has told you God intended. Abortion. Marriage rights. Climate change (or rather the non-existence thereof). You’ve been told these are religious issues and they are the most important things to the religious voter and therefore it’s your responsibility to vote for the candidate that has God’s interests at heart in these things. And to hell with anyone that disagrees or will be harmed by the actions of that candidate.

There are important things that need your political attention. Your local school board. The city council. Whether a bond measure that will fix that dangerous bridge at the edge of town should be passed. Those are important things. Very important things to your everyday life. And there are important things at the state and national level too, things you’re probably ignoring because you’re too busy listening to that guy on the radio saying that abortion is the most important issue of our time and that same-sex marriage is a sign of the Apocalypse.

Dearest Church, you were never, ever called to force people, through legislation, to do things or not do things. You can argue that Jesus was not aware of the democratic process and therefore never spoke of it, but that doesn’t excuse you from trying to force your neighbor to live in a way that is detestable to him or her. You were never intended to take over the government to do God’s will here on earth. God is GOD. God’s will won’t be thwarted by the actions or inactions of man. God doesn’t need your vote. Your neighbors do. Your kids do. The stop sign that needs to be put up at the corner of Main Street needs your vote.

You can’t legislate morality. You can’t legislate love or choices. Oh sure, you can make them illegal, but the legality of something doesn’t mean it can or will end. In fact doing so could have disastrous effects. Something that is safe and legal can become dangerous.

Vote. Run for office. Support your candidates, but do so intelligently. Do so in a way that loves your neighbor, not fans the flames of division.

Lie number four:

There’s only one kind of Christian and anyone that is not the same kind of Christian as you is doomed to eternal Hellfire.

Why are there so many denominations within Christianity? Especially in the United States? According to the 2006 1280px-Christianity_Branches.svgYearbook of American and Canadian Churches, there are 217 Christian denominations. Two. Hundred. And Seventeen.  That seems insane to me.

But you have been told, Church, that yours is the only one that is “right”. Yours is the only true denomination and everyone that doesn’t attend with you on Sunday morning is doomed. They’re all going to Hell. It doesn’t matter if they sing the same songs as you, it doesn’t matter if they use the same Bible as you (translations are huge problem too, aren’t they? But that’s for another discussion), it doesn’t matter if their building is exactly the same as your’s, if they aren’t part of your denomination then they are lost. They’re cursed to endure eternal Hellfire.

It must be true, right? Because (insert name here) founded your denomination because they learned/discovered/were told by God Himself/told by an angel that all other churches were wrong/corrupt/used the wrong translation/allowed women to do stuff/didn’t allow women to do stuff/followed the wrong Jesus.

And obviously your guy is right and all those other guys that claim the same thing are wrong.

Denominationalism is both the best and worst thing to happen to you, Church. On the one hand, it’s made you bigger, it’s made you stronger, it’s made you look and learn and study and debate and discuss things. But on the other it’s made you smug, it’s made you feel superior, it’s made you argue, and in some cases it’s even made you kill.

Worse, it’s made you tell people they are going to Hell. That they are going to be eternally punished because they are just not right with God. That they are doomed to eternal Hellfire because they are Catholic or Anglican or Lutheran or whatever – because they don’t go to the same building as you, they are just not perfectly right with God they are doomed to burn forever.

We even tell it to children. Little children that aren’t really able to make a decision on something as important God. We tell them they are not right and they better get right or they’re going to die forever. That’s practically child abuse.

Are there ‘bad’ denominations? ‘Bad’ congregations? Well, sure, probably. But is it YOUR job to to judge them? Everyone you see, every face, is beloved by God. Consider how much God wants to punish anyone He loves.

You can’t be sure that everyone that doesn’t attend your church, that isn’t part of your local congregation is ‘wrong’. You should instead, assume, that they are all loved, because they are.

Lie number five:

Eternal Hell Fire.

 

I had started to write a whole big discussion on the debate as to whether Hell is real or not. Instead I am going to put my personal opinion and the entire theological debate aside to get to the real point I want to make:

The point of Heaven, of Jesus’ death on the cross, of fogiveness and redemption is NOT simply to avoid Hell.

I say again: there is more to being a Christian than just avoiding Hell.

There’s a Christian (or rather he calls himself a ‘Conservative’) comedian that  I’ve seen a couple of times. Both times he does a ‘rant’ at the end of his show that ends with this: “So, you say, mr funny guy, that I should only believe in God so I don’t go to ‘Hell’? Pretty much.”

NO! NO NO NO NO NO NO!! A buzgillion times, no.

If you are just looking for ‘fire insurance’ I think you are missing the point. If God is real and you believe He’s real and you believe that Jesus did what He did, then you need to do more than be content that you aren’t going to Hell. If you aren’t moved to respond to God with love and compassion and giving to your fellow man, then do you really actually believe?

Hell is not the point. Heaven is not the point. Love is the point.

Lie number six:

You have to like things that are “Christian” like movies and music and books while ignoring or even destroying movies, music, and books that are not “Christian”

Not all that long ago we heard a lot about Harry Potter book burnings. We sometimes hear about this leader or that holding a Quran burning. When I was in high school the big thing was to burn ‘bad’ music. Kids would bring their Kiss and AC/DC tapes to church and throw them in a fire. The kids would then be presented with a pamphlet that gave them Christian alternatives to popular artists. (“If you like Boston, you’ll like Petra”, that kind of thing.)

I mentioned a Christian comedian in the last section. He is actually kind of funny. Not brilliantly funny, but kind of funny. Mediocrilly funny.

And that kind of describes most things in Christian culture, mediocre. Christian music, Christian books, Christian comedy, Christian kids shows… all of it is really, honestly, pretty mediocre. I would even go so far as to say that mediocre is the high mark and most of it is really terrible.

“Oh, but I like Third Day! And I like that movie with Nicholas Cage in it!” That’s OK, you’re allowed to like what you like. Even if it is pretty mediocre in my opinion.

But the problem isn’t the quality of Christian music or films. The problem comes when church leaders insist that you have to ONLY like stuff you find at a Christian store and must forsake things in “secular” culture. Worse, you have to actually despise secular things so much you have to destroy them. And also push the Christian stuff on your kids and family.

If you want to be sure to push your kids to listen to AC/DC, tell them they aren’t allowed to listen to AC/DC.

Now, granted, the Bible does say “Do not be conformed to this world…” (Romans 12:2) and “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever isjust, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8). But what do those MEAN? Do they mean that everything that is labeled “Christian” is ‘good’ and everything “Not Christian” is ‘bad’? Are we to avoid great works of are in the museums of Paris because we don’t know for certain that their artists were Christians? Should we only look at things Thomas Kincade paints because we know he’s a Christian (or at least claims to be?) Are we to avoid great works of classical music because we don’t know if the composers are now in Heaven? Should we only listen to Micheal W. Smith and Amy Grant because we know they are Christians (or at least claim to be?)

How insane is that?

I don’t think that’s what the Bible is saying. I think the point is where you put your love. What do you love more? The music of Led Zepplin or your kids? What should you love more? The books of JK Rowling or your neighbor? Should we set fire to everything that we see as ‘bad’? Becasue after a while, if we follow everyone’s opinions of what we think God wouldn’t like, that fire would get pretty huge.

The bottom line, though, is what is the intent of people telling you to only shop for music at Family Christian Stores (or similar places)?

They’re trying to get you to buy stuff. They’re trying to get you to spend money and make a profit. Yes, even Christian stores are there to make money. And that, honestly, is a worse sin than listening to the Beatles, simply aquiring things, filling our lives with things.

And that, just getting more an more things, is more conforming to the world than the things themselves.

Lie number seven:

You need to be afraid. Very very afraid of a whole long list of things. And if you’re not afraid you’re not faithful enough.

Isis. Big government. Iran. Syria. Terrorists. Fluoridated water. These are all things that I’ve heard political candidates, who refer to themselves as Christians (and are running because “God told them to”), say we need to fear. And that’s only a few of the things we should fear. And it’s not just politics, too many church leaders are preaching fear. Fear of everything from immigration to what’s in our food.

Why do they want us to be afraid?

One answer. Control. If you are afraid, then you will cling to the thing or person that you think has the way to keep you safe. In the case of the church, most often it will be the leader telling you what to be afraid of. Obviously they have ‘the answer’ because they’re talking about it. In some churches, it’s  guns. God gave us guns to keep us safe.

No, I’m not kidding. I know one right here locally.

But you know what the Bible says?

Fear not.

Fear not, Abram, I am your shield”
Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is”
Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring”
Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord”
Fear not; do not be dismayed.”
fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God”
fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
fear not, for I am with you”
Fear not, I am the one who helps you”
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine”
Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it?”
fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings”
fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage”
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Fear not, I am the first and the last”

All of these are either God speaking or Jesus.

Now the Bible does say we should fear God. For example, Acts 9:31 – “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

But did that mean they walked around, cowering in fear of what God would do? And how do we reconcile that with the “comfort” of the Holy Spirit?

The word in Greek (the earliest manuscripts we have of most of the new testament are in Greek) here is “phobos”, the root of the word we use in English as “phobia”. But in Greek, as in English, context is everything. Phobos also means “astonishment” or “amazement”. They weren’t afraid of God while being comforted by the Holy Spirit, they were AMAZED by what god was doing. They were ASTONISHED. Not cowering.

If we follow God. If we call ourselves Christian, then we have nothing to fear. And Isis and Iran and fluoride are nothing.

If we put our trust in God, then why are we talking about this stuff?

Granted, we shouldn’t be stupid about it. But we can talk about common sense ways to deal with terrorists and war without giving in to fear.

Lie number eight:

The Bible is perfectly clear on how we’re supposed to feel about just about everything, especially concerning the actions of other people.

There is only one thing to say about this. The Bible is not an instruction manual. It contains instructions on how to build the Tabernacle and what to do if Israelites found mold on their walls, but as for things like sex, marriage, medicine, education, and so on, the instructions are either obsolete or not existent.

Certainly the principles that the Bible teaches can be applied to you life. But if you think the Bible is meant to be a step by step instruction manual for every little part of your life, then you haven’t read it.

A huge part of the Bible is history, history of the Israelites. And instructions for how they were to live in the desert and the promised land. Other parts are songs and stories. And there are letters.

Certainly there are things to be learned. But it’s not a sex manual. It’s not a marriage manual. It’s not a medical journal.

And above all it’s not a political manual on how to govern people that don’t believe in the Bible. It’s not something that is meant to be used to clobber people that don’t believe it. It’s not meant to be a book of laws to dictate the lives of people everywhere.

We don’t get to say “The Bible says this is wrong, so you shouldn’t do it”. I’m not talking about things that are obviously wrong, like murder. There are law codes that pre-date the Biblical record that show that there are things, like murder, that are pretty commonly agreed upon as wrong. But there are other things, like eating pork, like having tattoos, that we can’t insist on making law because “The Bible is against it”.

And yes, I am tap-dancing around Same-Sex Marriage and Abortion. These are two things , among many, that the Bible is not clear on – I don’t care what anyone says, there is nowhere in the Bible that definitively says “do not get an abortion” or “do not let two men enter into the contract of marriage”. And nowhere does it say “enforce these laws I have given to you upon all people everywhere even if they don’t agree with you”.

It just doesn’t. I challenge you to show me where the Bible says any of those things. Not your “interpretation”, where it definitively says it.

You can certainly use the Bible to guide your life, but you have to agree that it’s not a step by step instruction manual for anything other than things that applied to the ancient Israelites. Now if you want to follow those instructions, more power to you, but I think you’ll find their treatment for things like leprocy to be far less effective than modern medicine.

Lie number nine: 

Women.

Pretty much everything taught in churches about women and their place in the church and society is a lie, so it’s hard to narrow it down to one lie.  Even in my own church there is a ‘tradition’ that women aren’t allowed to speak during the service. Oh, they can talk to greet people, they can sing, but they can’t read a verse from the Bible, nor can they lead prayer or do the Lord’s Supper meditation. (Our current preacher is trying to change it, but is’s been engrained into our congregation for so long that it’s really hard to shake it.)

One preacher even offered that women are meant to be Baby Makers. And that’s it. That’s their only job. And if a woman doesn’t want a child, she’s condemned to eternal Hellfire (see previous sections for my opinion on that).

(He didn’t last long at our church and I honestly don’t know where he is now.)

But dang it everyone, why do we do this? Why do we insist that women don’t have a real place in any part of the church?

I don’t… I can’t…. I don’t even know what else to say on this topic other than EVERYONE THAT TRIES TO SUBJUGATE WOMEN IS WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG! God made men and women in his image (Genesis). If women are in the image of God just like men, then they deserve an equal place in the church, in the workplace, and in the world.

Period. The end.

 

Lie number ten: 

You must always be happy. Even though you need to be afraid (see number eight), you must always be happy. Happy happy happy. Because you’re “saved” and you are “loved” so be happy! And if you’re not happy, you’re obviously not faithful enough.

There is even a “churchy” word for this. Pollyanna. Someone is a ‘Pollyanna” if they are always happy. You can recognize these folks because they say things like “God is blessing my socks off!” and “God couldn’t bless me more if He tried!”

But there is a worse side to this than someone who is just so fake happy all the time.

I’m going to get a little personal here.

I struggle with clinical depression. I take medication for it and it’s pretty well controlled, but some days are a real struggle. Doctors and psychiatrists say it’s a disease. I don’t like that because in my mind a disease is something really medical like cancer or diabetese. Something you can look at in your blood and see that something is objectively not right. Depression isn’t like that. it’s not like there is something that is in your blood that you can look at and say “yep, that’s not right. (I have seen medical journal articles that there some promising tests being done that could lead to a test that could definitively diagnose the chemical imbalance that causes clinical depression, but it could be years and years before it’s a reality.)

One thing I hear all the time, all the freaking time, is “You’re depressed? Pray harder!” and “If you have enough faith, you wouldn’t be depressed” and “God loves you! If you knew that you’d be happy”.

GAH!

God never promised you’d be happy all the time. God never promised you’d never be sick. God never promised you wouldn’t have or get a disease. But Peter wrote, “Cast your anxieties on him because he cares for you”. No where does it say you will never have those anxieties. Or any other problems.

Faith is not magic. Faith is not a miracle cure. Faith, in faith itself, is nothing. It’s in where your faith is placed. Can God heal me of depression? sure. Will He just because I have faith in him? Maybe, maybe not.

But the fact that He hasn’t (yet) is no indication of my faith. At all.

Anyone that tells you they are always forever happy because of their faith is a liar. It’s not possible to be always forever happy. And not being happy, or not happy,  is not an indicator of faith or love. Depression, or any other psychological or medical condition is not an indicator of being sent to hell.

Drop it with the freaking hell stuff already.

 

 

Contradictions?

I stumbled across this interesting little gizmo. I forget where, initially, but a Patheos blogger discusses it here.

That it does is take every apparent contradiction in the Bible and link it all together. You can move your cursor over every arc and it will show you it’s connection to the verses that seem to contradict each other.

BibViz Project – Bible Contradictions, Misogyny, Violence, Inaccuracies interactively visualized

Some of the things it connects seem like a stretch, or at least pointless, like “Does God work on the Sabbath?” But others are real head scratchers, like “Can God do anything?”

I love and respect the Bible. It’s the written basis of my faith.

But unlike others, I do not believe the Bible is, in its entirety, is the word of God. I believe it contains the word of God, but it also contains human communication. I also don’t believe it was written by God. I believe God guided the authors, but ultimately it was written by men.

As such it’s important, vitally important, to know where the Bible contradicts itself. Or at least seems to. (I don’t believe all the contradictions on this site are, indeed, contradictions, due to the “humanness” of the authorship as I mentioned above. There certainly are contradictions, but I think a lot can be solved by know where God is speaking and where men are speaking.

I’m kind of off on a rant here, but it’s important to approach the Bible, if you approach it all, with respect not only to it’s Godliness, but also to it’s humanness. Not everything was written to be taken literally, not everything is written for all people at all times, and not everything needs to be hammered into your brain. Sometimes people are just talking to other people. Sometimes it’s history, sometimes it’s poetry and sometimes we just need to get the gist of it and not waste a lot of time comparing every jot and tittle to every other jot and tittle.

Ok, end of rant. But I hope you enjoy this website and can learn something from it.

Defining the Christ-Centered Church

Disclaimer: I cannot claim credit for this model. While what is written here includes my thoughts and feelings, the original idea and the original pictures (that I reproduced because I could not find the originals) belong to someone else. I could not find the original blog post from which they came. If you are the author please let me know. I will gladly credit you or remove this post according to your wishes.
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As a boy my family sporadically attended the United Methodist church in the small Nebraska town where we lived. At the time it was (and I believe still is) the only church building in town.  As is the habit of the Methodist church, sometimes they’d move the pastors around. By the time I graduated high school, three different preachers had come and gone.  I can’t speak for all Methodist churches, but in our small town we were definitely Pastor centered. Each brought changes that were not always welcome, but because he was the ‘head’, the people had to go along with it. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood why the Methodist churches do things the way they do, especially in small towns, but the impression it left on me was hard to shake.
Like all churches, the Methodists claimed to be “Christ centered”, while at least to the eyes of a young boy being Pastor centered.  But what does it truly mean to be a Christ Centered church? Is it just teaching the Bible? Sharing some songs? Having a cross on your steeple or sign? What does that even mean?
It might surprise some of you to know that the term “Christ Centered” does not appear in the Bible. When the Bible does talk about Christ and his relationship to the church, it uses terms such as “Christ is the head” (Ephesians 5:23) that He is a shepherd (John 10) He is the vine and believers are the branches (John 15:5), you might even infer that Christ calls himself the cornerstone (or keystone/capstone) (Matthew 21:42). But no where is he called the “center”. That’s a term that came later. It’s not a bad term, in fact it’s a great term, but what does it mean to be a Christ Centered church?
Take a look at this model:
How most people view the Christ-centered church

 This is how many “church people” see the church. The larger circle is Christ, the small ones are people, and the largest one represents the church. If Christ IS the center, then those closest to Him are IN the church, and those further away are OUT of the church. Theres an easily recognizable border between one and the other.

You’re IN if you’re “Born Again” or “Baptized” or “Filled with the Spirit” or … or… or…  (lots of different churches use lots of different definitions about what it means to belong.) And while I agree that the concept behind these terms is important, I don’t think they fully describe what it means to keep Christ at the center of the church and, ultimately, our lives.

Drawing lines isn’t the best way to describe any church. When you do that, someone is always on the “wrong” side of that line. And when someone is on the “wrong” side, that inevitably leads to permission to leave that person out, to exclude them, to say they are “wrong”, to tell them they need to “get right”, that their thoughts and opinions are “unbiblical”…. we in the church find lots of ways to tell people they are on the wrong side. But what does the church look like to those that are on the “wrong side”?

What the Christ-centered church really looks like

Here’s what the church looks like to people that don’t know where the line is. To people that are not part of the church. When you’re at the mall or driving down the interstate, or sitting in a movie theater, you don’t know who is “in” or who is “out”, unless they tell you, and even then you can’t really be sure. Without a church service going on, you can’t tell which people are “church” and which people are not “church”. Everyone pretty much looks the same. Without some example in their words or deeds, people that are “in” look just like people that are “out”.

 There’s a danger here. When you can’t tell who is “one of you” it’s really easy to take one of two extremes, assuming that all are equally “Christ Centered” or all are equally “non-Christ Centered”. You’re not ministering to them because you see them as all “in” or you’re not ministering to them because you see them as all “out”. That’s not to say you’re going to stand up in a movie theater and start preaching or handing out tracts (there’s a time and place for everything), but neither should you avoid an opportunity if one presents itself because you’re assuming that someone else will do it (because that ‘someone else’ knows if that person is ‘in’ or not) or that the person doesn’t really need it because you want to assume they are “in”.

Both of these models are wrong. While looking down from above it looks like Christ is the center, it’s not really how the church IS, or better still, it’s not how God sees people. There’s a better way to look at people rather than “in” or “out”.

What the Christ-centered church really is
Picture this. The arrows, vectors, are the paths of people’s lives. A vector shows not only direction, but magnitude – strength or force. The vectors here show not only the direction of people’s lives in relation to Christ, but how hard they are working on going the direction they are.

In our first image, the dot closest to Christ seemed to obviously be the most Christ centered, Christ-loving, person, definitely ‘in’. But in this image we can see that this perso
n, while they seem to be closest to Christ, is actually moving the wrong way. Their life is going away from Christ. In the first image, the one furthest away was obviously ‘out’, but here we see that not only are they moving toward Christ, they are working really hard at it. There are a couple that are closer, they have less distance to go, but they’re barely moving. Others have stagnated, they’re going sideways in relation to Christ.

But there’s one that best represents what the church should really want to be, what everyone wants, or should want. The U-Turn. Someone that was trying to run away, but has turned their life around. We as the church best represent the Christ Centered church when we are the ones that help that person make the U-Turn. Or when we share the stories of our own u-turns. While we as the church should always strive to be moving toward the middle, more importantly we need to be the ones pointing people to the middle, to the center, to Christ. Not with picket signs and sermons and other ways to tell people they are going the wrong way, but with love, gentleness, and respect for them as people that God sees as deserving love, gentleness, and respect.

How do we do that? How about this: 

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27 NASB) 

and this: 

“And whoever… gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42 NASB) 

and this: 

“[Jesus said] Come, you who are blessed of My Father,inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;  naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?  And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?  When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

and this: 

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

Are we moving toward Christ in our lives? Or do we think we’re already there? Are we helping others do move toward Christ? Or are we leaving that to others? A Christ centered life, and a Christ centered church, is not a destination, it’s not something you can ever be totally certain that you’ve “arrived” at. Rather it’s the journey, the ever prayerful, ever searching journey that should define us as a Christ centered church and a Christ centered people.