We Fix The Church By Fixing Our Number One Problem


Read the news. The church is in decline.

How do we fix it?

I don't quite know the answer to that problem. I don’t know how to fix the church in your community. I don’t know how to fix the church in America. I don’t even know how to fix the church across town if it even needs fixed.

But I do know what we need to do in our church. We need to be living out our lives loving God and one another. Together. That looks like church for some. For others it doesn't although it still is church. But when that “together” part disappears - when we start loving God alone and not loving one another, we mess it all up. That push toward an individual spirituality to the exclusion of the collective spirituality is what got us to this point. The church in decline.

These days with our new technology, we have the option of digital church experiences. We can turn on the radio, head to a website, download a podcast, or just hop on over to Youtube and watch the best speaker in the nation give an amazing sermon. It will be way better than all of the sermons that we can possibly hear in a local church near us unless that amazing speaker’s local church is our local church. The same with worship songs. We can worship to whatever style we prefer with whatever leader we prefer – all with just the click of a button. And there are advantages. You don’t need to give. You don’t need to serve. You don’t need to deal with people who may frustrate you. You don’t need to compromise or live in community with anyone else. It’s the perfect individual spiritual experience. Spirituality, your way. Who could ask for anything more?

We, church leaders, feed it. Maybe we even should, for it isn’t wrong to help people grow spiritually. I don’t have it totally figured out, but it makes me question things. We want to reach out more and minister more, so we put our messages online (I get the irony of sharing this online too). We want people to encounter God because we know that encountering God changes us. One cannot encounter God and remain unchanged.

But in doing ministry this way, are we feeding the beast?

Is physical interaction necessary in a digital world? Are in real life relationships necessary for us to follow Jesus?  I think so. There are elements of following Jesus that just can’t be done alone. We won't have people alongside of us when we serve. We won't have that someone to love and to be loved by in return.

Then there are benefits to being part of this community of people meeting together in real, physical space. One big benefit of faith is its ability to carry us through crisis. This doesn’t happen in isolation; it happens with encouragement from others. Without a faith family (or a healthy biological family), we won't have someone to just be with us when things are tough.

This is where the faith family is superior even to the biological family. It’s the place where Jesus’ radical teachings to abandon biological family for spiritual family comes together. A brief disclaimer: This doesn’t make sense if you aren’t coming at it from a place where you have surrendered your life to the leadership of Jesus. Biological family is great. It is a foundation to support and success in the world. But for those who don’t have that biological family to support them, the spiritual family is there for them. The dilemma is that the spiritual family is not there for the outsider if people are just focused on their biological family. Some get the benefit of both families being intermingled, but others don’t. For those who don’t, the spiritual family can only be a benefit if the person who claims to follow Jesus takes Jesus’ family seriously -- if they are willing to make their spiritual family more important than their biological family. That’s a radical calling. Probably just as radical today as when Jesus challenged people with it back before his death on the cross.

If we disconnect from Jesus’ family, the church, the body of Christ won’t be there for others when they seek out its support. For the seeker when they seek a church for spiritual answers.

We have done a disservice to the kingdom of God when we have made it all about individual spirituality rather than a spirituality we share together. It is true that we must be growing individually to be a help to the group. We need to be part of the local body of Jesus from a place of overflowing in our relationship with God. Where just being around us is refreshing as the love of God overflows from us. But that won’t always be the case. There will be days, months, maybe even years, where we are the empty ones. Where we will need to be carried along. This is where a selfish, individualistic approach fails. It’s not enough to carry us through, except for the strong, super spiritual people in our midst. But even for them, they are strong and super spiritual -- if that sort of person even exists -- to help out others on their spiritual journey too. They are not strong and super spiritual to be proud of how far along they are. They are there to help.

The news and policies percolating through the media should convince all of us that we are not a Christian nation. That view should be easily discarded at this point. Discarding it isn't such a bad thing. Let me explain because you may think that being a Christian nation is an extremely important goal. If we accept that we are not a Christian nation and recognize that making our nation Christian is even a worthwhile goal (as if a nation can ever be Christian), we can just focus on living out radical lives together, devoted to God fully, rather than try to win a political battle. This is sort of a new era for the church in America. Or maybe we just deceived ourselves in the past by believing we are more Christian than we actually were.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The church must be reminded that it’s not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority” (A Knock at Midnight, June 11, 1967).

This starts with us being that spiritual kingdom together. Living out the kingdom realities in a way that we are an expression of God’s kingdom as much as we possibly can here on earth. Taking seriously our prayer that God’s kingdom will come here on earth as it is in heaven. And then, like our individual spiritual life overflows into our spiritual family, the life of the kingdom will overflow into the community, state, and nation around us.

We get it all wrong when we make that end result our goal and not the process though. Our goal is not a perfect America. Our goal is to love God and to love our neighbor.

Springtime



So I sit here. Waiting. Looking out the window at the barren earth. The leafless trees. The cloudy sky. The biting cold. Springtime is coming. I know. It’s never failed me yet.

But at this point, it’s not here. It never helps to just sit and wait. It won’t come faster just staring out this aged glass, longing. With the way time seems to move, lingering idly will cause it to arrive slower.

There are things that I need to do for spring to come.

So I do what I’m supposed to do now. Remembering that the world around me always flourishes into something beautiful, eventually. I seek the things that God wants me to accomplish. To change. Convinced by reflection that it is never fruitless to pursue the way of God, not just in the world around me but especially in my own heart.

The path to spring. Planting seeds of peace. Tilling up mercy to give out. Resting through the night by being humble and living meekly. Working to be pure in heart. Sweating. Effort. Prayer. Grace. Work. For a better world. For a better me.
I look out the wavy glass and know that springtime is coming for our souls. It doesn’t matter the way the world looks out there this moment. Springtime is coming. It always has. It always does.

A Conversation With Doubt



So I had this conversation recently. I just thought I would share because this isn't the first time these questions have been asked of me.

The Inquisitive Friend: I have been reading some books and I have been thinking about free will. Do we have free will?

Me: Well, I don't think we can prove that we have free will or not, but I think it is useful to live as if you have free will. Does that make sense? The Bible seems to imply that we have free will in multiple sections - where God responds to the actions of people.

The Inquisitive Friend: Yes, that makes sense. I guess it came to mind because of the omni traits of god. Which conflicts with that idea.

Me: Theologically, I'm a proponent of the idea of open theism. That God is going through time with us and that the future hasn't happened yet. You can see in Revelation that it talks about how God is blotting out names in the book of life. Why would they have to be blotted out if he already knew for sure? He's blotting them out based on our decision.

The Inquisitive Friend: That is an interesting thought. So he is confined by our time?

Me: God is not confined. He chooses to go through time with us. He is still all powerful. Take prophecy for instance. A prophecy isn't about having seen the future. Instead, it's about him knowing what he is going to do. He is all powerful and will bring about what he says will happen. He has the power to do that. It isn't like he has seen what he will do; he knows what he wants to happen.

I wrote this a while back: http://regansravings.blogspot.com/2011/01/god-does-not-know-future.html
The Inquisitive Friend: So then he isn't omniscient?

Me: Depends on how you unpack omniscience.I think God knows everything that is to be known. He knows every potential outcome for the future, but the future hasn't happened yet. So it isn't a concrete knowing, but he knows all the possibilities. He created us as free will creatures for some reason, and this was part of what he did.

The Inquisitive Friend (with some serious comic book knowledge): So it is kind of like in Civil War 2 for Marvel. The prediction is a percentage, but there is always a chance to change it.

Me: Right. God is a God of hope trying to always steer us to the better. He knows the possibilities. He is trying to steer us in the right direction. But our choices influence the outcome. The world is the way it is - not because God wants it this way - but because this is the world we wanted. He's prompting us and guiding us to a better world all the time. But we say no way too often. 

The Inquisitive Friend: So is god good? Like morally.

Me:
I would say totally. He is the measuring stick of good. But how would we evaluate that? We would come to conversation with our own moral values. As a Christian, I have decided to surrender my moral values to God's moral values. 

The Inquisitive Friend: Why would he not directly intercede on our behalf? I have trouble in that regard. My brain doesn't work right to believe in god. 

Me: I believe he interacts with us much more than we recognize. And when we get in tune with god, it happens even more on a personal level. I totally understand doubting. I think we all have programmed in us certain ideas. Like good. Like beauty. 

The Inquisitive Friend: I can't remember the name of the guy. But one philosophy dude said that regardless of morality it is best to believe in god, tp hedge your bet. Even if it is hollow faith to start. I struggle with the idea of something I can't comprehend. As i got older i felt like praying was just talking to myself. 

Me: I wouldn't say it's about hedging a bet. That makes it all about eternity. I honestly think it is about living the fulfilled life now. It's better to live the life following Jesus. At least that is what I have decided. I would be a follower of Jesus even if there wasn't an eternity because I like the world his views tries to bring about. I like the life of true followers of Jesus. 

The Inquisitive Friend: Faith, as you are stating in your answers, seems more like an active decision rather than a compulsion. 

Me: Well, Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to love God and love your neighbor. I'm sort of rejecting the experiential thing these days more and more. So it isn't about whether I experience God or whether I feel my prayer is being heard. It's about the good that Jesus wants us to bring into this world. Am I doing that? 

The Inquisitive Friend: I think so. I whole heartedly agree. 

Me: That's really what following Jesus is about. Literally following him in the path of bringing good into the world. Literally following him in helping the world became what it is intended to be. So whether you get an emotional experience or an inspirational high, I don't care.Let's get to following Jesus. 

The Inquisitive Friend: I wonder how that sets with the common good. Jesus said to be in the world but not of it.

Me:
he idea that there is even a common good seems to be a philosophical tenet that there is a God who prompts us to what is good.

The Inquisitive Friend:
Is man capable of that revelation on its own?

Me:
I would say that no man is. But that is an irrelevant question. Because I believe in a God who is prompting every person all the time. We just don't notice it because we are living like zombies, aren't self-reflecting, and aren't examing our lives. 

But again, that prompting comes, not as some supernatural force. It is something that has been happening to us our whole lives. We may call it our conscience. It may be that or something slightly different. But the idea is that when facing a decision, we generally can tell the wrong and right action. We will often choose the wrong though because we want that which the wrong provides. To our detriment. 

The Inquisitive Friend: Does intent matter? Like if I give 1 million to charity but I do it for my public image. Does that negate the good?

Me:
It doesn't negate the good it does for others. But it does negate the good it would do for you. I'm reminded of Karl Meninger who taught that the greatest way to get over depression is to love others. But if you are doing it for selfish reasons, then it won't probably provide the benefit to yourself. 

And that's it for now.