A couple weeks ago I picked up my daughter from school like I do everyday, on the way back to the car from the courtyard she asked me if those prayer cards at our church were for everyone. I assured her that anyone could put a prayer request on the cards. She seemed really interested in prayer cards, particularly if she could use one…the conversation became more clear:
Her: “You know how we pray every Sunday using the prayer cards that people turn in…”
Me: “Yes…” (dodging parents, children, and still oblivious)
Her: “Do you think I could fill out one of those prayer cards this Sunday?
Me: “I think you can fill out a prayer card whenever you have something to pray about.”
Her: “I have something daddy…”
Me: “Ok, do you want to share with me what it is?” (thinking she might share something embarrassing…or personal…)
Her: “Yes, I have a friend in my class and she told me that she doesn’t go to church because her family just does not go and she also told me that she doesn’t believe that there is a God…So I would like to pray to God so that He can show her that He is real.”
Me: Well then, that seems like a good thing to pray about.” (speechless really…)
About half-way through the second song on Sunday Morning, my daughter asked me if I had a prayer card. I told her I didn’t (because I never pick up one—too busy on Sundays to fill it out) and then proceeded to tell her where to go to get one. My awesome daughter stomped out of the row (she had loud boots on) and walked to the lobby area—returning with a smile and a card in her hand. She filled out her name and in the designated area she wrote, “I would like to pray for my friend ________ who does not go to church and does not believe that you are real.” (something close at least…)
She hands me the card and I glance at it because her spelling is still somewhat of a challenge to read at times…but she had made her message clear and I could decipher it! So, my daughter’s friend was prayed over in worship service that Sunday one or two weeks ago. I must admit to you I said a little prayer that Sunday Morning as well and it was, “Lord God, please help me not to mess this up…may she always have faith that you are real and that you listen and respond to our prayers for those in need.”
Sundays are busy for me. I teach. I preach. I hug. I shake hands. I field questions. I sing along. I pray along. I sometimes wonder in all of my activity if I fail to realize that God is there with us, ready to accept our offerings and listen to our cries for help. God empowers the truth we teach and revels in the hugs we share. God must be very proud of a young girl who brings her friend’s situation to Him…And God must think that I need a lesson in what it means to have faith that He can reveal himself to those who do not know him—maybe God needed to remind me that in my church activity there is time to connect with Him (The Living and Present God).
Lessons received, thank you God and B (my daughter).
I have had a few people approach me about my reactions to an article that has been making it’s way around Social Media. The blog post was by Benjamin Sledge and his title is “Let’s Stop Pretending Christianity is Actually Relevant, Okay?” So, what follows are my insights and reactions to this article…which you can read HERE.
First and foremost, I want to thank Mr. Sledge for his thought provoking blog. There is so much here that is worth considering further, which is what I plan on doing. I must confess that as a minister and preacher, I am having a harder time considering the “practical application” of Biblical texts and it is not because I cannot come up with them, but because I want to give people something they might actually consider being or doing. A fellow minister tweeted a few weeks back that preaching on the Bible is like “giving a book report on a book that no one else has really read.” That has stuck with me as much as Sledge’s remark, “It’s quite strange to expect people to conform to your morals because you quoted a book they don’t read.” I often wonder how Christianity might change if the Bible was taken seriously and read by the people who claim their devotion to it. I also wonder how our study of the Bible would affect our interactions with those who don’t hold to the same belief system that Christians hold.
Don’t mishear my apprehension, I know that there are some Christians who read the Bible and try to take it seriously, but I know many more Christians who would rather assume they know it from childhood memories and one sermon a week than to actually pick it up and read it. So, I say this to reflect some concern as to the level of relevancy the Bible has for Christians before we even begin to look at the larger American culture.
When we do look at American culture, I think this article assumes an emerging correlation between the pagan Roman culture of the first century and the current American culture. This assumption exposes a division in the larger Christian landscape. I know Christians who hold to an understanding of American history and cultural development that claims the United States is a Christian nation, founded by Christian principles, and held together by Christian leaders. Yet, Sledge represents a growing group of Christians who point out that the United States has strikingly familiar parallels to Greco-Roman rule and culture, and has been that way from its conception. Perhaps a truce might be had if we acknowledge that regardless of our bent in regard to history, American culture is growing more pagan and Roman cultural practices, as described by Sledge in his article, are taking precedent over the teachings of Scripture.
Let me try to supply four observations from the article that I believe need to be addressed and corrected if the church is to be Attractive to the culture once again:
1. The relevancy of the church is found in our actions and not in our doctrines.
Ok, so before you pick up your stones to drag me out in the street, what I am claiming is that the church has high-level doctrines like God, Christ, God as creator, Humanity as the beloved creation, the Holy Spirit…etc. And the church has low-level doctrines that have developed between denominations and lead to our unique identities as sects and tribes. So often, we take our lower-level doctrines and try to show the larger culture why our distinctiveness needs to be appreciated and followed…we lead with low-level doctrines. In contrast, it is the higher-level doctrines that produce within us the ability to love, serve, give, and extend hospitality. So, as the church leaders teach us about life as a ______________ (insert denomination here)…as opposed to life as a ________________ (insert hated denomination here…the culture around us scratches their heads and continues to be lost. To seek the lost, we need to actually DO - love, give, serve, and invite - and it is the sum of these qualities found in a group of Christians taking Jesus’ life seriously that becomes attractive to others.
2. We have replaced the pursuit of faithfulness with the pursuit of fame.
Why must we use social media for every little concern we have? I must agree with Sledge that Christians on social media during an election year is one of the most Kingdom destroying activity I have ever witnessed in the American culture. It doesn’t matter who your candidate is, what side of the isle your on (if your even in the chamber), some one is going to represent Christ in a way that makes you go…WHAT!?!? But that isn’t all…what about our Christian celebrities that people flock to go hear speak at the colleges and non-profit events? I mean, what’s better than a super Christian with mega-bucks? I’ll tell you, a widow who has lost her husband and continues to visit the sick, reach out to young mothers, and attend worship services even though she doesn’t know what the internet is….because she continues to be faithful. Sledge says that churches have become bigger, but that doesn’t mean they have become better…I experience the pull and tug between being a famous minister or a faithful minister. I didn’t use an and/or there because I have a hard time understanding what a famous and faithful minister really would look like. I really wonder if anyone can really be famous and faithful…It almost seems to much for us to handle. But I do know this, my neighbor doesn’t really care how famous I am, but she does care about the respect I give her and the conversations we have…What does faithfulness look like, well, it starts by being present and paying attention to others. The famous are often absent and self-focused. Our culture needs more faithfulness.
3. In making God accessible to the peoples, we have displaced God’s holiness.
We can dress God up in skinny jeans, hand him (or her) a guitar, and request Oceans (a good song) as much as we want. But God resists being our friend and pal because God is not as we are…God’s ways are different…God’s thoughts are different…and God as the Holy One refuses relevancy to some degree. Some groups of Christians have synchronized with culture by placing persons and our lives at the center (or top) of our priorities and then they ask God to provide something good or grand for us to entertain and maybe adopt as our way of life. God is a counselor in our efforts to self-help, and this notion of God should be foreign to the Christian experience and is completely unheard of in the text of Scripture. God is Holy, and we are to live a life that is relevant to God and whether God is relevant to us depends upon our choices to put God at the center of our lives and view God as top priority. If God became less of a friend and more of a…well, God…the great “I AM” of the Old Testament who cannot be controlled or manipulated, then we would do as God wants and the life of service to God by loving and serving other would flow out of this attitude adjustment.
4. In prioritizing education through the pursuit of knowledge, we have forgotten to teach the discipline of discernment.
When I went to seminary to study ministry and theology, in my very first class I was handed a book entitled, “A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.” It was a brief book that I could make much more brief—the book told us to shut-up! Yeah, not that way but basically the book assumed that we would be gathering all of this knowledge and would learn new things and the author made a point to suggest that take the time to discern what was appropriate for us to pass along and what we should think about a little more before putting it out there. I think that I am smarter than the generations of old, that is I am more well read and have a more well-rounded education. I can look anything up on the internet and learn to do anything on YouTube. We know a lot…but I think we have a hard time discerning…between sources of information…between socially appropriate outlets…between private and public arenas…and so forth. I agree with Sledge that Christians need to halt the relenting pursuit of being right in favor of a pursuit of doing right.
I’m sure there is more I could have thought about, but I think the relevancy of Christianity is dependent on the relevancy the faith finds in the hearts and lives of Christian people. Which brings this to me and to you…are we part of the 70% who are culturally Christian or are we going to be the smaller group characterized by love, grace, and acceptance who live the life of Jesus?
My daughter received a Gideon Bible from the fair we went to a few weeks ago, and in that Bible, printed in the front is their take on how a person is saved. Under the heading, “All May be Saved” is a reference to Revelation 3:20 which reads:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
Seems appropriate, doesn’t it? Just don’t consider the context of this verse and it will fit about anything you want to make it fit. But I can’t just pick on the Gideons, because in my own tradition we have songs that take hold of the very same use for this passage. Just go to the Scripture index of the hymnbook “Songs of Faith and Praise” and look up Rev 3:20, there are four numbers listed there: 908, 919, 923, 945; all in the “Heaven’s Call” section of the book.
908 is the song “There’s a Stranger at the Door” and I remember singing this one as an invitation song imploring those who don’t know Jesus to “let the stranger in” and receive salvation.
919 is the song “Behold a Stranger at the Door” which I have not sung, but seems to be in the same category of the song above…Jesus can go from stranger to friend if you would simply open the door and let him in.
923 is the song “I Am Coming, Lord” which quite honestly doesn’t connect to the verse at all from a thematic or lyrical point of view. So, probably can put this one on the editors of the songbook and not the author of the song.
945 is the song “Kneel at the Cross” which I have sung a few times and never really connected it at all to a picture in the book of Revelation. I guess it might be the last line of the chorus, “Jesus will meet you there” that somehow connects to the verse, but seriously?
This is much better than I thought it would be when I first started writing this. The context surrounding Revelation 3:20 is a letter to the church meeting in Laodicea. So, My first assertion is that Jesus is indeed not a stranger to these people. My second assertion is that John is writing to a group of people, not one particular person. And my third assertion is that it should be quite embarrassing for Jesus to be knocking at the door of this church asking to be welcomed back into their midst…their fellowship. Therefore, this passage is not at all about “heaven’s call” or “personal salvation” but the Lord and Master of the church trying to get back in to a lukewarm church (You can reference an earlier blog post on that image!)
What this has to do with asking Jesus into your heart or for that matter “personal salvation…” I haven’t a clue. That is not the point of the passage, nor is it the intention of the author. I bring it to our attention because good-intending Christians sometimes make a bad habit of taking verses and passages out of context and using them as proofs for the most interestingly contrived arguments ever asserted. Of course, when persons who don’t profess faith or who come from a different group of Christianity do it, then we charge them with all sorts of things including false-doctrine and heresy. Yet, we must return to taking the Bible seriously, instead of perusing it like the comic section of the newspaper or the latest news apps on our phones.
How can this happen? How can a group like the Gideons who pour resources into Bible research and linguistic studies make such a glaring error? How can editors of a songbook take such a negligent approach to interpretation of the Bible in connection with lyrics? I would assume it is because an inaccurate understanding has become firmly fixed and so it has become “tradition.” And that is both the power and pitfall of tradition folks…which often, in this case and many others, continues to effect the life and practice of our faith. We need to read with humility, and when wrong may we have the courage to change our minds and come in better fellowship with him who stands at the door of our deeply traditional churches asking to be let in once again.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.