February 27, 2011
Posted by withthetableatthecenter under Church
, Life Together
, Life with Christ
| Tags: authenticity
, Bethany Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
, Richmond VA
, The Body of Christ
| 1 Comment
I don’t like making mistakes, and I downright despise making mistakes when I am leading worship. I want to read perfectly, pray perfectly, preach perfectly, speak perfectly, share perfectly and come as close as I can to singing perfectly. That has been my goal as a Youth Minister, as an Associate Minister and has continued to be my goal as a Pastor. I deeply desire that everything in worship go right, that the words are said correctly, that the songs match the service well and that everything should fit together; scripture, prayers, children’s moment, call to worship, music, communion, offering and sermon. I think that this is a common desire, that the congregation and other worship leaders feel the same way. But I am starting to question it.
There are plenty of reasons that I can come up with for wanting worship to be perfect and plenty for not wanting it to be perfect. I want to focus on two reasons I don’t think worship should be perfect. But first, I want to add the caveat that I am not saying that I am sure worship shouldn’t be perfect but we should at least question the assumption that it should be. First, I think that perfect worship can be a barrier for imperfect people to experience God. Second, I think that when we are focused on having a perfect worship then we become so critical of imperfection that we worship the service not God.
When we attempt to make worship perfect then we have a tendency to exclude that which is imperfect, both intentionally and unintentionally. Intentionally, we try to make sure that we only have the best; the best readers, the best singers, the best preachers or whatever else. And our definitions of the best tend to be narrow and exclude those who may be able to bring us a word from God or an experience with God in the midst of their imperfection. Unintentionally, we may make those who are deeply scarred and badly broken feel like they aren’t good enough to be present in our worship. If someone who is keenly aware of their imperfection finds themselves in a service that is geared around being perfect then they will not feel like they belong or are welcomed.
As for ourselves, if we are spending our timing worrying about the worship being perfect then we are focused on the perfection of the wrong thing. We are called to worship God, who is perfect, but we are called to worship God as ourselves, imperfect and flawed. Focusing on worship being perfect takes our focus off of God, and may prevent us from experiencing God, as our focus is on being critical of the service instead of on encountering God. We should try to make worship good, but our focus should be on creating opportunities to experience God, not on making every element of the service perfect.
February 15, 2011
“Again, you heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all.” ~Matthew 5:33-34
Recently, I saw a new commercial on TV for a movement called “Keep the Promise”. There is a guy sitting at a table in a restaurant waiting on someone. He pulls out an engagement ring and says, “God, if she can just say yes, I promise I’ll…” The scene pauses and the words “Keep the Promise” appear on screen. I appreciate what this campaign is attempting to do, and I especially applaud that for each promise kept there is something tangible being done for those who otherwise would have to go without. At the same time, I think it is time to change the conversation on this topic, not just encourage people to follow through on their promises made in desperation.
The leading reason I think it is time to change the conversation is because Jesus said as much. In response to the ideology which is being espoused by “Keep the Promise” and many others Jesus says, “No, don’t do that, don’t do it at all in any way. Don’t keep your promises, never make them.” He says that we shouldn’t swear by anything because, well, anything we could swear by we don’t have control over. Just do what you say you will do and don’t do what you say you won’t do.
But that still doesn’t necessarily answer the why. I think there are probably a large number of reasons. I want to cover three of them. First, I think that when we make these kinds of promises we are trying to take control over something that we currently can’t control and shouldn’t control. To use the example of the guy waiting to propose, he is trying to control the answer of his hoped-for wife. Probably not the best way to start a relationship, trying to control the other person. But, beyond this particular example, we turn to God with these kinds of pleas because we know that God can control the things that we can’t and we want God to do that for us. In return, we will give our first born child, or an hour a week studying scripture, or regular worship attendance, or twenty percent of our future earnings, whatever it is that we think of to offer God. And so, we hope that our offering is good enough for God to allow us control that we currently don’t and shouldn’t have control over.
The second problem is that when we try this bargaining we are suggesting that we should only do the right thing if we get something in return. When Jesus says let your yeses be yeses and your nos nos he is saying do what’s right because it is a good thing and don’t do what’s wrong because it is a bad thing. In the end, it’s not only what we do that matters but why we do it. If we will only do the right thing because there is something in it for us then we won’t do it when there is nothing in it for us, and that is not what followers of Christ should base their actions on.
Finally, when we make deals with God it shows a lack of faith and trust that God cares for us, wants what is good for us and knows better than we do what is good. This does not mean that we shouldn’t talk to God about our wants and desires, or have a relationship with God that is open and honest. What it means is that when we try to bargain with God we aren’t talking about the good and bad of something we want, just trying to get it. But God doesn’t want these offerings, God wants us, wants a relationship with us where we talk about our wants, fears, problems and joys. If we bargain with God we are shortchanging God and ourselves. So, no, we shouldn’t make promises. We should do what’s right no matter what is in it for us and engage God about our desires, our inadequacies, and all of our lives.
February 10, 2011
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“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” ~Jesus, Matthew 5:13
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” ~John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton
You may be wondering what these two quotes have to do with each other. You may also be wondering what Jesus has to do with the Separation of Church and State. Finally, You may be wondering if I’ve lost my mind talking about religion and politics. On the first two points, I hope to make clear the connection, although that may prove impossible if the final point is true.
Jesus calls His followers to be the salt of the world, but warns them that if salt no longer flavors then it becomes worthless. The defining property of salt is that it changes the flavor of things, but if salt loses its distinctive flavor it can no longer do so. Salt changes whatever it is added to, but if it becomes like that which is supposed to be changed it has lost its value. Jesus is telling His followers that their defining characteristic is that they have the potential to change the earth, but if they become like that which they are supposed to change then they will have lost their value.
Many people are familiar with the quote by Acton, but somehow the Church, and individual Christians, just can’t seem to avoid the temptation of power. For followers of Christ, though, the temptation of power is the temptation to lose our saltiness, to use the methods of and become like what we are called to change. For followers of Christ the warning that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, should be seen in the context of the Jesus statement about salt and its potential. When we seek power, when we attempt to change the world through the power of the State, we are giving up on the potential of salt and we are giving up on Jesus’ calling to us.
While there are many other reasons that Separation of Church and State is good for the church, and there are also many argument in favor of Christians and churches becoming involved in politics, this seems to be the crux of the argument to me. I am not suggesting that Christians should not vote or be involved in the political process, or even that they should not hold office or other government jobs. What I am saying is, this is not how we bring about the Kingdom of God, this is not how we act as the salt of the earth. If we pour our time and energy into lobbying the government or the voting process then we are beginning to lose our flavor.
Have I lost my mind? Maybe. Is Jesus for the Separation of Church and State? I would say definitely. Does power corrupting have anything to do with salt losing its saltiness? Absolutely. There are many ways in which Christians are called to be distinctive, and this is just one of them, but it is one of the main ways we have lost our flavor in recent years. The Church in America needs to act as salt or it will become worthless. Let’s be salt.
February 3, 2011
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A popular idea a little over a decade ago was the theory of “The Butterfly Effect”. The theory is supposed to show that even the smallest things can have great consequences that we never could have expected, suggesting that a butterfly flapping its wings changes particles around it and could eventually lead to or change the path or the timing of a tornado. This theory has popped up in movies such as “Jurassic Park” and even had its own movie, “The Butterfly Effect”. It is mainly used as a way of demonstrating that, though we would like to think otherwise, what we believe to be simple cause and effect often times involves a great deal of other, smaller stimulants that we may not observe.
So, what does this mean for our lives? There are some who may hear this and think that it is better to simply give up in despair, feeling that no matter how hard they try they can’t control outcomes. If they have no control over outcomes then what is the point in trying, especially if trying may just make things worse. Extremists may even try the life of a hermit in order to keep from causing unwanted outcomes. Some on the other end of the spectrum may develop an obsessive desire to control even the smallest details in order to guarantee the results they are seeking.
These are not the only options we have in response to the butterfly effect, though. In many ways, they are not the most appropriate options for Christians, either. Those who give up in despair or run away from the world ignore Christ’s instructions to be the salt and light of the world, which suggests that there is something that we can do. On the other hand, attempting to control everything to the tiniest detail will fail as well. First, the butterfly effect reminds us that it is impossible to know of everything that may change an outcome. Secondly, this is a level of control that Jesus Himself did not seek. Although Jesus could have controlled everything, as God still can, He does not. He does not force himself on anyone and does not use methods of control or manipulation to get people to do what he wants.
So, what are our other options? I have one suggestion, although there are likely more possibilities worth exploring. Instead of trying to live lives of control we live lives of influence. As much as we may want to be able to control events, we can’t anyway. With our limited understanding the results may be disastrous even if we could. We live in a world which is beyond our control, with other bearers of the Imago Dei who are also beyond our control. But, we do have the ability to influence. We have it within ourselves to engage deeply in the world around us with God’s spirit of love, compassion, justice and mercy. If we do this then we will begin to influence those around us and the world is likely, no guarantees since it is beyond our control, to become a better place.
February 2, 2011
I used this story in the sermon on Sunday to help us examine how we live out our faith and how we live into the words of Micah 6:8, “To do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” Who do we identify with in this story, if not both? In what ways does each brother live out Micah 6:8 and what ways does each brother fail? What can we learn from their successes and failures?
There were once two brothers who both grew up without really going to church. When they reached their teenage years each of the brothers was invited by a friend to go to two very different churches. The one brother went to a church where they were told that God had explained, in the bible and through correct doctrine, exactly how to live and how to think. They were told that they should give ten percent of their income, no matter how much or little they made. They were taught that they should go to worship and bible study on a weekly basis. They were taught to say prayers in the morning, in the evening and before they had meals. They were taught to do devotionals each day and to read the bible from cover to cover every year. They were taught not to put themselves in situations where they might sin, and exactly what those situations looked like and what exactly was a sin.
The other brother went to a church that taught him about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This church also taught about the importance of bible study, worship and prayer. It taught him that it is important to avoid sin. But, it taught him that he would know these things just by having a personal relationship with God. As long as he kept that relationship he wouldn’t need to worry about sinning or behaving in the right way, because God would lead him. It emphasized the importance of feeling and experiencing God, that worshiping God was simply an experience and response to that experience and there was no one way to do it.
Both brothers grew up and were very successful in the business world, acquiring reasonable amounts of wealth and comfort. The first brother continued to attend church weekly, to tithe his income, to do his bible study and devotions, as well as his morning and evening prayers. He continued to stay away from temptations to do anything that he had been told was a sin and did not associate with anyone who was known to commit those sins.
The second brother continued to pray whenever he felt he should, to read the bible whenever he was in need of guidance and to go to church whenever he thought he needed to or was hurting. As the years wore on he prayed a little less, studied the bible a little bit less and became very irregular in church attendance. But he still tried to have a relationship with God and continued to trust that God was guiding his life. He did God on his own time and in his own way and to him that meant that he had a true relationship with God.
Which of these two better lived out the instructions to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God? Let those who have ears hear.