Hands of the Leper (Should the Church get rid of Greeting?)

Jesus healing leper

 

Last week I read a few articles that were produced around the same time on the subject of Greeting Time during Worship Service. Most of these articles were about how this greeting time is actually negative and some of the articles even advocated to get rid of greeting all together. In fact, it is said that the number one reason why most visitors do not come back to a church is because they had to greet one another during the service. I found this to be a very bitter shock. Not all of these articles were saying this, though. One article informed us as to why visitors hate greeting one another.

These articles were shared by pastors who are friends of mine on Facebook. Some were looking for comments to see what others had to say, but a lot were actually supporting the idea of getting rid of greeting. Most of the comments I read (approximately 95%) were in support of “nixing the act”. I couldn’t believe this! My heart broke open when I saw so many people not wanting to shake hands with people of the same faith! Let alone, people in the same worship service!

I have to argue against the idea of getting rid of greeting. I will be approaching this subject from historical, theological, and personal experiences.

Here are the main reasons why people are against greeting time:

1. I’m an introvert (being forced)

2. It’s not sincere (forced)

3. Lack of hygiene

4. It is awkward

5. Even members don’t like it

(paraphrased into my own headings)

 

Let us take a look at the first two reasons, because I feel that they are connected. I completely understand what people mean when they say they are introverted and do not like meeting new people. I know that VERY WELL! You see, I have what is called Avoidant Personality Disorder. For those who know me personally, you know that I am terrible at keeping conversations going. You know that I will hesitate using my phone or asking questions. When I do get on the phone, I run away. When we first got married and were living in a one bedroom apartment, I would lock myself in the bathroom and turn the fan on because I didn’t want anyone else knowing what I was talking about. Jonee has to go do some of the most simplest of things for me because I cannot make myself do them. I rarely start a conversation and VERY rarely go out of my way to greet someone new. So I understand probably better than the person who uses this reason what it means to be introverted.

“It’s not sincere”. These two reasons are linked because what they are really trying to say is that the visitors feel forced to greet one another. “I’m an introvert so you might as well skip me, besides I know it is pretty well forced, so don’t waste your greeting time on someone like me.” (Let us go ahead and rope number 5 into this) “Also, I can tell that you don’t even like this part of the service and you’ve been here for 50 years!” Now, here is why these reasons do not work.

O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Do you know who said that to God? It was Moses. We all know the story (or at least the main parts) of Moses and the Exodus. So we know that since Moses was an introvert and felt forced, that God responded accordingly. “Oh, okay. I’m sorry, Moses. I didn’t realize I was putting this huge burden on you. You must feel so forced into this and I doubt you have time in your schedule. You know what, I’ll use Joel Osteen instead. He has no problem speaking for me.” This may seem like a silly example, but when you think about it, this cuts straight to the core. We know that God put Moses in His place. “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” (Exodus 4.11-12 NRSV). We want to use this excuse of being introverted to not have to do something that makes us feel forced. So if we see this as a reason with foundation, then we might as well go ahead tell God the same thing. 

God: “Go and give the clothes off your back”
Introvert: “No, God, you’re forcing me to do something that I’m not comfortable with.”

God: “Go and help that widow”
Introvert: “No, God, I’m not good at speaking to people. So I don’t want to.”

God: “Go and make disciples”
Introvert: “They won’t be sincere”

God: “Go and shake a fellow believer’s hand during this time of worshiping me”
Introvert: “No, God. They don’t even want to do it. Stop forcing me. Don’t you understand that I am an introvert?”

When we start to believe that our personality disorders give ample room to do (or mentally think not to do) what we want, then where do we see that line between us and God’s direction? Being an introvert and feeling like it is forced upon you is no different than when God calls you to do anything. You do have the choice to do or not do such things, but which is more rewarding?

 

“It is Awkward”

I’m not quite done focusing on the being forced aspect just yet. This will be short and to the point. You see, when we are forced to do something, we always experience something that we wouldn’t have if we freely volunteered ourselves to do in the first place. The next time you are at a church service, take a quick look around during the greeting time. Hopefully you’ll see the same thing I notice. There are major generational and ethnical gaps that are bridged instantly. When I was a teenager, I attended a Christian Union church in my hometown. This was my first church, ever. And I was one of the youngest members (who wasn’t a child brought by their parents) to attend. There were members well into their 80’s. In fact, if the age difference was seen as a See-Saw, then I’d be flying in the air as the elderly would be weighing down the other end. And I did not enjoy the greeting time because here was this awkward teenager who hung out with drug dealers, thieves, and “adulterers” (or horny teenagers/couples) having to shake hands with elderly Christians who have attended that church for many years. But that is exactly what happened. This troubled teenager in great health was shaking hands elderly Christians who were not in great health. I had to cross a generational gap, and because I did that, Christ was truly in the midst.

So if the Church stops “forcing” people to greet one another, then where else will we see teenagers shaking hands with elderly? Ex-felons shaking hands with priests? Whites shaking hands with blacks, latinos, asian, polynesian, etc.? The healthy with the sick? And where else will we see all of this happening in the love and joy of Christ? Most people will quickly respond by saying, “well, we are Christian. So we will do that anyway.” And I will quickly say, no. No you won’t. If you cannot do it in a small 10 sec-5 minute window while you are all gathered to worship the same God, then you cannot do it anywhere. If you argue that Christians in Church are not sincere when greeting one another, then they never will anywhere else. This is the one place to be sincere!

Another argument that I heard was that people will greet visitors before the service, so why have a greeting time? This is exactly why! We are showing how universal Christ is! He is not just white, middle-class, and American! He is young, He is black, He is poor, He is rich, He is dying, He is healthy, He is the priest, He is the ex-Felon, He is us. But again, if we cannot do it for just 10-seconds during our collective worship of God, then we definitely will not do it before or after a service. We will pick and choose who we greet (and research shows that the people we choose to greet are those who are most like ourselves). So now, I ask, how is being forced to shake hands with people of all ages, race, health, and class during our collective worship of the same God, such a bad thing? How is it awkward?

Or let us look at it from a more Episcopalian and Catholic view. What about churches who “Pass the Peace of Christ”? There is something extremely beautiful in passing the peace. What passing the peace is, is an act where congregants will come face to face with one another and say, “Peace be with you”. This may not seem like much, but when it is in context of the Scriptural words of Christ, it is supernatural. “27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14.27 NRSV). We are telling people that we bestow Christ’s Peace onto their soul. The very peace that Christ says will calm our troubled hearts. This is a peace that is given through Christ’s loving forgiveness. When we are “forced” to pass the peace, then must remember the very members of our congregations. These are real human beings who have probably done something to wrong us or hurt us in one way or another. But by passing the peace, we have to truly step up and say to them with a sincere heart, “I am passing Christ’s forgiving Peace to you. What you have done to hurt me, is forever erased by Christ’s peace that I have passed to you.” If we are not “forced” to greet one another, then how in the world can we do something like this? Therefore, we must get rid of the excuse that it is awkward and forced upon us. If it wasn’t forced and uncomfortable, then you’d never pass Christ’s intergenerational, interracial, interclassed peace to those who are not like you.

 

“Lack of Hygiene”

This is the one excuse that makes me angry. It may be the most understanding excuse, but it is also the most counter-Christian. We as modern Americans would rather give invisible (online) money to those who are sick, then give our own cash that we have touched. We would rather pray for those who are sick, then to be even near a hospital. We have created a mentality that God is not bigger than sickness and disease. Living in Dallas has really opened my eyes to the way that American Christians view sickness. We live only a few minutes from the very hospital the man with Ebola died in. It is the very same hospital that the nurse had gotten Ebola from. Seriously, Jonee passes that hospital on her 12 minute drive to work every day. We had many people who would say how worried they are for us (and they didn’t even know how close we actually were to it). I once had a conversation with some friends who were talking about someone they knew who planned to go to Africa for a missions trip. This person wanted to drop everything and go to Africa for two months. First they thought it was ridiculous to do a mission trip for that long (even after I explained how short term missions hurt the very people they came to help). Then they started talking about how selfish (I’m not even joking) it was for them to go while there is an Ebola outbreak. It was selfish of them to go because they could get sick and make us all worry about them. They thought it would be better for them to wait until the outbreak was over before going to Africa.

This is the attitude that we Americans have developed about diseases. We do not see the point in risking our health for someone else’s. It is noble to help a man who cut his hand, but it is stupid to help a man with Ebola. But guess what, here comes Jesus to once again kill our American ways.

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8.1-4 NRSV).

This may not seem like a big deal, until we look closer at the text. “He stretched out his hand and TOUCHED HIM…” Jesus touched the leper! HE TOUCHED THE LEPER! WITH HIS BARE FLESH! Imagine watching your pastor put his/her hand onto a man with Ebola. How would you treat your pastor from then on? You’d most likely stay away from them! You’d quarantine your pastor for a month, and even after then you’d still hesitate coming within 20 feet of them again! You’d pack up your neatly uncreased Bible and move to the back pew or even to the balcony. In the time of Jesus, He would have been outcast for seven days after touching the leper! But the leper was made clean and was told to do the exact ritual to be proclaimed clean! Jesus did the unthinkable and I’m not talking about what He supernaturally did that we will never be able to do. No, I’m talking about what He humanly did. He touched the leper.

Can you imagine being the leper? He begged Jesus to heal him, and that was all. He did not grab Jesus, and he did not force his skin onto Jesus’. All he did was ask Jesus to heal him. What Jesus did next was completely on His own. We don’t know how long this man had been a leper, but most skin diseases take quite awhile to become noticeable (don’t look it up, I could be wrong). This man may have been a leprous outcast for most of his life. This means that he hasn’t felt the touch of another human being in a very VERY long time. He knew not to touch anyone because he wouldn’t want to wish anyone be outcast like him. But Jesus didn’t care. He saw the compassion this man needed. He saw the love that was gone. He saw the hopelessness. So He placed His bare skin onto the leper’s.

So let me ask you this. If you are not willing to shake hands with a fellow believer in worship, then why are you even there? Are you there to worship in community as a unit? Are you there to be a part of the Body of Christ? Or are you there simply because you still think that Jesus is just your personal Savior? We must twist our American minds around this thought of it being about me. We are too caught up in clinging onto the fact that Jesus is a personal savior, and don’t want to take the next baby step. The next baby step is realizing that Jesus is also a UNIVERSAL Savior. He is beyond white middle class America. He can save anyone, anywhere. By taking the next baby step, we enter a whole new mindset of worship. We realize that what happens to me, is not just happening to me. What happens to my Christian neighbor, is not just happening to them. You see, when one member of our congregation is diagnosed with brain cancer, then we all have brain cancer. Because when we come to God, we rid ourselves of…well ourselves. We put on a whole new body, and that is of Christ Jesus. But too often (WAY TOO OFTEN) we are stuck in baby step one, which is that Jesus is MY PERSONAL Savior. Most people never take the plunge into Jesus is the UNIVERSAL Savior. In all reality, it is not a plunge. That is why I keep calling it a baby step. It is simple and easy, but since we are American, it is taboo. We refuse to let Christ make us into a new creation (which is to mold us into the shape of His body). So we would rather get rid of greeting as an act of worship, than to do something we feel forced to do.

Using lack of hygiene is a pitiful and shameful (the most shameful) excuse! Jesus was more than willing to touch the untouchable. But we won’t even shake hands with people in our own congregation. We do not worship with them, we do not love them, we do not focus on God, then. We are telling God that we need Him to do something for us (like get rid of greeting), than to tell us what to do next. Take a moment to imagine something with me. Imagine an old woman who has cancer in your congregation. She is very sick, and is not able to walk during the greeting. How many people do you think would actually walk up to her and shake her hand? Of course, it could be said that those people are worried about getting her sick, but in all honesty, that is not really why they didn’t shake her hand. They were afraid that they would get sick (even though we know that is not how cancer works). Imagine how sincerely she wants to feel just the touch of another human being. What if there is a man with Parkinson’s disease? Or a man with HIV? How many people would actually shake their hand? You see, disease does not create lepers, we do. We do not see ourselves as being a part of the Body of Christ. Therefore, these people with cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s, Epilepsy, STD’s, and even Ebola have no business being a part of our church. If they are a part of our church, we should get rid of greeting one another just out of respect for the rest of the congregation! Except, those who have taken baby step two, will see why this is one of the most flawed views of Christianity since Marcionism. The rest of the congregation isn’t healthy. We all have cancer. We all have HIV. We all have Parkinson’s. We all have STD’s. WE. ALL. HAVE. EBOLA.

If we get rid of greeting time because we are afraid of other people’s hygiene, then we are a walking contradiction. We are a misrepresentation of Christ. I honestly would not be surprised if God would lock His gates to keep people like us out. When we treat people like lepers, I believe God will treat us like lepers in His Kingdom. He will make us outcasts. We did not inherit His Kingdom, then, because we are dirty. We are the ones who are sick.

Finally, we come full circle. If we still hang onto the notion that it is because of hygiene that we should get rid of greeting time, then we still believe that God is below diseases. This is Scripturally untrue. “Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back into your cloak”—so he put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored like the rest of his body—” (Exodus 4.6-7 NRSV). 

There is no reason not to use Greeting as an act of worship. The Body of Christ has no secrets, has no individual health, and has no room for declining to pass Christ’s loving peace. There is no other act within the Church that physically shows the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God co-existing at the same time before our eyes. You will never see these gaps being crossed outside that of Christ. Therefore, we must get rid of our self-righteousness and take that baby step. We are a body who is worshiping God together. Let us be the Body.

 

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Transitions (Finding order in the chaos of life)

transition

It has been a long time since I last wrote. In fact, several miniature seasons have passed since my last post. God has really moved us from one situation to another rather swiftly, even from one location to another. Since my last post, my college graduation was nearing. I had less than a month left until my wedding. I had many things planned out, where we were going to live, how much we had to spend on rent, how to pay for our loans, how to split up our holidays, etc. But sometimes, we need to be prepared for the transitions that life throws at us.

Just weeks before graduation, I received a phone call from my mother explaining that my parents were getting divorced officially. Not only did this create chaos for my plans of graduation, but also for my very soon to be wedding. As graduation weekend came, I had to split my time with both parents. This was supposed to be a moment of joy where I could show both parents around the town I had spent the past four years in. Instead, I spent it on the fly, changing plans at the last second to accommodate for two separate parents now.

The next transition from graduation was moving. We moved from Greenville, IL to Hot Springs, AR. We moved in with family just for the time being. The plan was always to move to Little Rock, Arkansas after the wedding. So we spent 24/7 finishing up wedding plans and making decorations for those two weeks before the wedding. There was very little time to find an apartment in Little Rock, along with a job. I had started looking for jobs in April, but still had no luck. Yet, we held onto hope. As the wedding was approaching, we found out that we were unable to get an apartment after getting married. This meant that our honeymoon of putting our first apartment together was now forever gone. Then we knew we had to get out of our family’s home as soon as possible out of respect, but had nowhere to go. This was a huge blow to both of us as we were looking forward to starting our lives together.

The wedding came, and everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Our sound engineer for the ceremony was very uncooperative, our rehearsal was only an hour (which actually turned out to be about 35 minutes), our reception caterers did not do their job and made us do most of the work that we paid them to do, and our honeymoon went from a week of putting an apartment together to two nights at a hotel in the rather small town we already lived in. Plans just seemed to be crumbling left and right.

After our honeymoon, we moved back in with family. We became the dreaded boomerang kids. This was not by choice, though. We did not have a job, therefor we could not get an apartment. We made the mistake of moving to a state that had very little employment opportunity. After two weeks of living with family as a married couple, we moved into a one bedroom one bathroom apartment with my Mother-in-Law. We just could not get a break. We had been married for only a few weeks, but still were unable to start our lives together. While in this new (cramped) apartment, we searched heavily for jobs. In the span of about a month, we sent out roughly 250 resumes and applications. That is how hard we were searching for jobs. Eventually, we changed our plans from Arkansas to living in a whole different state. We looked all over the southern Midwest. Nothing.

Then we got plugged into a Nazarene church in Hot Springs. On our first visit, the worship pastor (who was preaching that day) mentioned their need for a media person, specifically with video. Jonee nudged my rib, but my response was, “I am not staying in Hot Springs”. Well, turned out that we were staying in Hot Springs for another two months. After the sermon, we were introduced to the worship pastor. He quickly took us out to lunch with his family and the church’s family pastor. They got to know us as a newlywed couple and wanted to know all of our struggles. They genuinely cared for us without previously knowing anything about who we were. At the time, we were visiting many different churches because that is what I love to do. I love to visit different congregations and see how they operate. But from that time on we stopped doing that and faithfully became committed. Jonee became a part of the worship team (and was supposed to only be for a few weeks, but stayed on every single week), and I helped with audio and some media on Wednesday nights. We went to Sunday School and even a small group instantly.

This was not what we had planned! We were not going to stay in Hot Springs because it was not big enough for us! We wanted something more urban. I wanted to stay in student ministry! But none of the many churches I applied to wanted me or even wanted to give me a chance. No jobs wanted to give us a chance. We spent two and a half months married, without ever getting to experience married life. We felt that we just had a piece of paper saying we were married, but that was it. So I went out on a limb and applied for a position that used my digital media background. But I only did this because we visited the Nazarene church specifically on the day that the worship pastor announced they were looking for a media person. The only issue was that the position was not ready for someone just yet. And none of the jobs we applied to in Hot Springs were working out. This started to feel like God was just pulling us in many different directions with no plan. But I took my chances and applied for a Communications Director job in Plano, TX. After our visit to the church, I was offered the position.

Packing out things was bittersweet. We finally were able to spend our life together, but at the cost of moving to another state away from all the people we grew to love. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that being an adult is MUCH harder than ever anticipated, especially in a different state. There are different regulations and laws that must be followed. Also, we moved on practically nothing. All we had was our stuff from college, wedding presents, an overweight cat, and $3,000. No furniture (except for a blowup mattress), no spending money, no clue what to do.

We never knew we would have to go through such difficult transitions in such a short period of time. But as each day went on from that phone call to now, we noticed one thing. God took care of all our needs, every step of the way. He also took our situations and molded them to fit our strengths the best. As people kept causing us to change our plans, God was there to pick up the pieces. Man came and destroyed the sculpture, but God put the clay back together to create something better. If we were able to stick to our plans, I don’t know where we would have ended up (most likely Little Rock or St. Louis). But people changed everything, threw chaos into our order. But God is not a God of chaos. Look at the laws in our world of science that cannot be broken. Look at how perfect our water cycle works to keep us hydrated and the earth healthy. Look at the way that matter is never created or destroyed, yet new humans exist every day.

Transitions will occur. Chaos will fall. It will happen sometime in our lives. But God refuses to let that happen. If we had fought God’s changing hands, then we’d probably still be stuck in a small apartment feeling lost and like children. But that is not what happened. We let God order our chaos and followed Him to where He could use us the most.  God is bigger than our own plans. I know that some people who read this will feel as though they already know all of this, but until you experience these chaotic transitions, you’ll never fully understand. The best thing you can do when that happens is to really be open to the changes that face you. Do not be afraid to have your life completely remolded by God. Embrace it. For through such an experience is when you’ll find out just how much faith you truly have.

“Consider seriously how quickly people change, and how little trust is to be had in them; and hold fast to God, Who does not change.”-St. Teresa of Avila

Looking through the Smoke: A Methodological Research on the Ethics of Recreational Marijuana

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2014 has seen a very important historical moment occur. Recreational use of marijuana is slowly becoming legal within a few states. It may not be long until we see the rest of the nation follow through on legalization of the demonized drug. Yet, is it ethical for a Christian to partake in smoking marijuana only for pleasure? Although it is becoming legalized, is there an ethical way to smoke marijuana without a medical reason? This paper will be looking strictly from Paul’s view on such a contemporary issue. 

Marijuana is obviously not talked about in the Bible due to its rather recent use. That is what makes this issue interesting. Most of us have grown up knowing it as an illegal drug, but that will not be the case for future generations. We could look directly at how the Bible addresses drunkenness and alcohol, but that is very specific towards drunkenness. Even though most of my Scripture and notes reference drunkenness, it is important to remember the issue surrounding drunkenness, not the sin in itself. So this issue of recreational marijuana use must be done from a delicate sense of prayer and research. There are four main Pauline passages that will be used; Romans 13.8-14, Galatians 5.19-26, 1 Timothy 3.1-7, and Titus 1.5-9.

Romans 13.8-14:

“8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (NRSV)

It is always important to see how other pastors and theologians have interpreted these passages, especially throughout history. For example, Origen says that these works of darkness of works of the Flesh, which will be addressed in Galatians. In his Homilies on Psalms 46, Jerome said, “Let us live our lives in the same way now as we are going to live in the day, that is, in the future world.” To Jerome and Origen, reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness (lacking legal/moral restraint usually regarding sex), quarreling, and jealousy are all things to stay away from as Christians. They are things done in darkness, and are opposite of living in the light of Christ. Ambrosiaster said, “People do not usually sin in public, so behave as if we are constantly in public.” We are the public representation of Christ on Earth. Ambrosiaster has a very strong belief that if we do any type of sin in public it is no different than the one who crucifies Jesus all over again, as seen in Hebrews 6.6. Finally, we look at the wise words of Chrysostum. “Paul does not forbid alcohol or sex, but rather the excessive use of such things.” This is a subject that we will visit later in the text. Paul targets the acts against the body within this passage. He is urging his readers to invoke in the presence of Jesus as Lord as a spiritual discipline. By doing so, we have a defense against all evil, especially that of the Flesh which we see in Romans 12.1-2. 

Galatians 5.19-26

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (NRSV)

The historical interpretations of this passage can be summed up in one sentence. “We must mortify our sinful passions (Chrysostum), taking our baptism as an act of crucifixion (Basil of Caesarea), not refusing to suffer in the flesh (Epiphanius). Notice that the Church fathers did not say we must mortify our sins, but rather sinful passions. Chrysostum does not think this passage is saying that what we do is sinful, but rather our sins start from passion. Each work of the flesh listed above starts from a passion that is from desires of the Flesh. Paul talks about the Flesh as a supernatural desire. According to Paul’s theology, the Flesh is trying to destroy the Church in Galatia, but the Spirit bears fruit to counter the Flesh’s desire. This is a supernatural battle that is still happening today. It is trying to pull us away from “walking in the Spirit”. 

In context of the entire epistle, we see Paul dealing with a group of missionaries who are trying to convert people into Jewish Christians (living under the Law). Instead of living under the Law, Paul says to live by the Spirit of Christ. When Paul says, “the desires of the flesh,” he is referring to the fleshly evil impulse that empowers humans to sin. The Spirit of God is the only agent powerful enough to overcome the desire of the flesh (of simply, the Flesh). The Flesh is opposed to the Spirit, much like a military battle that is focused on conquering another military base. This understanding of the battle between the Spirit and Flesh is seen in Romans 7 as well. So we can see that Paul’s theology is wrapped around this cosmic battle. 

Verse 21 has mainly been understood as a very strict verse saying that Christians need to be fully free of sin. But that would contradict Paul’s passage in Romans 7 (see end of paper). Prassontes (πρασσντες) in Greek means continuing action over time. So clearly Paul does not mean that one act of sin means a loss of inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Yet, Paul’s theology is wrapped around eschatology. If we keep our eye on the Return of Christ, then we must remain as pure as possible. This means staying away from desires of the Flesh and living only in the Spirit of the Lord. 

1 Timothy 3.1-7

“The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishopdesires a noble task. Now a bishopmust be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.”

In one of his Letters, Jerome gave incredible insight on this passage about reasonable control. “Whatever intoxicates and disturbs the balance of the mind, avoid as you would wine.” (Letters 52.11). Even though this passage is made towards those who want to be in a leadership position within the Church, Jerome makes it clear that some of the commands mentioned are not exclusive. Not one to be clear of addictions, Jerome hits home here. Sobriety was a huge factor in the Greco-Roman morals. Even women deacons must abide by this set of morals as seen in other pastoral letters of Paul. It is important to be self-controlled (a fruit of the Spirit), not given to chemical intake. The supervisor, bishop, or pastor must not be corrupted by outside pleasure for this will cloud his judgment. If the leader does not stand up to public esteem, he is vulnerable to Satan’s attack of malicious gossip. 

Titus 1.5-9

“5 I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.” (NRSV)

This passage can be understood better when read next to 1 Peter 3.15. Any preacher who cannot speak only sound Gospel doctrine is not fit to carry the title of God’s steward. For the bishop/overseer is set to administer to God’s estate, the Church. But it is not just bishops who have to follow these commands, because Paul seems to speak of the battle between the Flesh and the Spirit again. The Flesh makes us bad stewards, arrogant, irritable, addicted to wine/drunk, violent, and greedy. The Spirit, however, makes us good stewards, hospitable, good, prudent/sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled. If we give into the Flesh, then we clearly sin. This can take us back to what Jerome said, “Whatever intoxicates and disturbs the balance of the mind, avoid as you would wine”. 

Wine itself is not sinful according to Scripture. We see this by the fact that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine for people to drink. It was clearly a social and cultural item used in gatherings. But when wine is used in excessive amounts, this causes one to become drunk. This, then, intoxicates the mind and disturbs its balance. But we know that wine has many uses throughout Scripture. Noah planted the first vineyard in Genesis 9.20. It was the first plant put into the ground by man after the flood. Wine was given to those who worked hard as seen in II Chronicles 2.10. People on a journey would take wine with them to drink for its healthy and sterilized benefits (Josh 9.13, Judges 19.19). It was even used as an everyday beverage for kings and special ministers. 

It should be noted that it is not drunkenness that is the real sin, but the lack of self-control. Lack of self-control shows one’s debt to the work of the Flesh. Self-control is a work of the Spirit according to Paul, and when it is missing it can lead to any of the works of the Flesh. Self-Control is the restraint and mastery of passions and desires. This is exactly what Chrysostum was getting at. Wine is not a sin, but the way we use it can be. Clearly it is okay to drink wine in moderation. John Calvin gives us a better understanding of moderation, “Moderation requires avoidance of all excess and requires modesty, contentment with one’s lot, patience, and prudence.” Throughout history, particularly within the majority of the Old Testament, immoderation of drug use was considered to be connected to sorcery and black magic.  

Paul goes a step further than that. In Romans 14.21 he says to not partake in events around “weaker” brothers that will cause them to stumble. We are not to be associated with drunken Christians because they are full of alcohol. They gave up self-control for the desire of the Flesh. Therefore, if a newly converted Christian is a recovering alcoholic, it is unwise for any Christian to drink around him. It is better to abstain from alcohol than to cause a “weaker” brother to stumble. But how does this work with marijuana? 

Using, again, Jerome’s words, “Whatever intoxicates and disturbs the mind, avoid as you would wine”, we see that recreational marijuana has some serious issues with Christianity. Yet, there are many Christians who argue the abstaining of marijuana by using Scripture. Many pro-marijuana Christians focus on Genesis 1.21 “God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food”. The issue with this theory is that the text clearly says that every plant that bears fruit is used for food. Marijuana is not ingested as a food source. This theory is also very dangerous. It implies, then, that Belladonna plants are safe to eat from, except this plant is one of the most poisonous fruit bearing plant in the world. 10-20 berries alone can kill an adult, while eating one leaf of the plant will certainly kill the average adult. Finally, we must look at the context in which this Scripture resides. When God said these words, it was after he finished the Garden of Eden, before the fall. In chapter 3 of Genesis we see that even the vegetation is cursed. 

Can you recreationally smoke marijuana in moderation, then? The Gospel Coalition released an article in January of 2014 on this very topic. They provided information on how much alcohol and marijuana it takes to become intoxicated. 

“For alcohol, the unit of measure is the “standard drink,” that is any drink that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol (about 0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons). A standard drink is conventionally defined as the alcohol content of 12 ounces of 5 percent-alcohol beer or 5 ounces of 12 percent-alcohol wine or an ounce and half (a shot) of 40 percent-alcohol (80-proof) spirits (hard liquor). In most U.S. states, the legally defined level of intoxication typically occurs, depending on pacing, after four drinks for an average-sized woman or five for an average-sized man.
For marijuana, however, a much lower dosage is needed to induce a state of intoxication. Studies show that 
intoxication occurs at the ingestion of less than 7 mg of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). That is approximately the equivalent to four puffs of a marijuana cigarette.”

This information shows that alcohol can be drank within moderation, but for marijuana it is impossible to finish a single source of marijuana without becoming intoxicated. Alcohol can be stopped and walked away from, but one cannot smoke marijuana without getting high. The whole purpose of recreational smoking is simply to get “high”. 

Does this apply to medicinal marijuana? Cannabis is used for medical reasons within Glaucoma and anti-nausea for chemotherapy patients. We do not find medicine being condemned inside of Scripture. Wine was even used for medicinal purposes. Paul tells Timothy to drink some wine in his first letter to him as a way to help his stomach. When someone has a headache, we don’t condemn them for taking ibuprofen. We also don’t condemn a cancer patient for going through chemotherapy. Drugs of any sort are to be used for medicinal purposes only. But medicines can be abused and used for a desire of the Flesh to become intoxicated. 

But what if marijuana is not habit forming? This is a huge counter argument to pro-marijuana Christians. The truth is, multiple studies have shown that marijuana has many affects on the brain that have been thought to be untrue, including habit forming. Such as, physical dependence on marijuana is actually moderate on recreational users. This means that people who smoke marijuana do have a physical addiction of some sort. Based on physical dependency alone, we see that self-control is given up. But that is not the only affect on self-control that marijuana holds. Psychological dependency is moderate to high. Some of the possible effects on one smoker are; euphoria, chemical relaxation, increased appetite, disoriented behavior, decreased judgment, memory impairment, decreased motivation, fatigue, paranoia, and psychosis. All of these side effects attack our self-control. Overdose effects are; fatigue, paranoia, and possible paranoia lasting more than 4 hours. There is an even research showing withdrawal syndrome. Withdrawal syndrome can include; insomnia, hyperactivity, decreased appetite, irritability, and continued symptoms lasting more than 4 hours. 

In conclusion, we can see from strictly Paul’s perspective that recreational marijuana is not a work of the Spirit. Paul would see this as someone losing to the work of the Flesh and freely giving up his or her inheritance to the Kingdom of God. It is unethical to continue carrying on the name of Christ and publicly partake in recreational use of marijuana. There is no reason a Christian has to use marijuana other than for legitimate medicinal purposes. We are called to be the salt and light of the Earth, not those who practice works of darkness for recreation. We are the representation of Christ to nonbelievers. Paul would instruct us on keeping our eyes on the Return of Christ and the Redemption of Creation. Scripture tells us to walk in the Spirit, this means not giving up self-control for any reason. Let us continue to bring glory to God in all we do. 

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Additional Scripture

Romans 12.1-2

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 7.14-2514 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

1 Peter 3.15

15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.

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Works Cited

1 Timothy, Titus. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament;9. Gorday, Peter. Orden, Thomas C., Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press, 2000. Print. 

 

Romans. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament;9. Bray, Gerald Lewis. Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press, 2000. Print. 

 

Galatians. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament;9. Edwards, Mark J., Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press, 2000. Print. 

 

The New Interpreter’s Bible. Petersen, David L., Nashville, TN. Abingdon Press, 2010. Print. 

 

Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Paul, Shalom M., Stern, Ephraim, Wigoder, Geoffrey, Viviano, Benedict. New York, New York. Macmillan. 1986. Print.

 

Wallace, Ronald S. Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1959. Print.

 

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984. Print.

 

Hunter, Rodney J. Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling. Nashville: Abingdon, 1990. Print.

 

Carter, Joe. “The Gospel Coalition – Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin?”The Gospel Coalition. 6 Jan. 2014. Web. 19 May 2014

Suffering: Where is God & where is the Church?

screaming man

This is another Sermon I wrote. I wrote this as a general sermon so that I will only need to do very little edit each time I use this. This is a very personal sermon to me. Quite honestly, it is my favorite. If you know someone who is suffering and doesn’t feel God in their life right now, please send this to them.

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Psalm 22.1-2 NIV

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”

 

Suffering.

This is a psalm about pain, hurting, abandonment, betrayal, loneliness, heartbreak, darkness, and affliction. This is Truth. Prayers like this Psalm are meaningful because they are 100% true. David (assuming it was David who wrote this psalm) was going through great affliction when he wrote this. His heart was broken. His people hated him. He was suffering. And where was God?

 

My God, my God…why, have you forsaken me?

 

He was abandoned, alone. He had to go through the suffering on his own because God did not end it all. No, He did not intervene. We see the same thing happen in the Old Testament over and over again. Kings afflicting the poor, the diseased and sick thrown out of the community, children being killed, war after war slaughtering women and children, famines, destruction, murders, rape, and even gang rape to the point of death. Where was God during all of these dark times?

 

My God, my God…why have you forsaken me?

 

Isn’t it amazing that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present God…sits back and lets this happen? Some of you may believe that God is the cause of such suffering. That God causes the physical pain, the psychological torture, and societal oppression. Or, at least He doesn’t stop it. Yet, we worship such a God. Why? Is it out of fear? Is that love? What is God doing during these times?

 

Why have you forsaken us?

 

How about World War II? How about during the reign of Stalin? How about the victims of mustard gas in the Middle East just a few years ago? How about 9/11? How about the tsunami victims? How about the slaves only several generations ago? How about the soldiers that were in POW camps? Where was God?

 

How about the teenage girl who got pregnant? Hmm? What about the little creation of life within her body? The girl who received no help from the Church, and had to get an abortion? What about her? Is that not suffering?

 

What about the poor kid in the community? The one who comes from a very broken home? The one who witnesses brutal fights from parent to parent? The one who suffers from siblings abusing him physically and emotionally? What about the child who has to wear the same old, torn clothes to school everyday? The child who is never invited to church, or is judged? Where is the Church? Where is God?

 

Why have you forsaken them?

 

What about the bride? The one whose father died just five months before her dream wedding? The one who was waiting patiently to have that same walk down the aisle that her sister had? Where was God? She needed that man more than ever. She was about to graduate college. She was about to have a wedding. She was about start her new life with a new man. She needs his advice! She needs his care! She needs him! Where was God? Where is the Church?

 

By this point, some of you are angry at the words I am saying. Some of you are uncomfortable. And yet, some of you understand and know what I am saying to be true. The addict in the congregation. The poor. The widowed. The ill. The elderly. The parentless. The lonely. The outcast. The one with secrets. The one with bruises. The one with cancer. The one missing their loved ones. The confused. The homeless. The betrayed. The lost. The stepped on. The little man. The divorced. The suffering.

We all suffer. And we are all suffering.

 

So, where is God? Where is the Church?

 

Let us look at it from different view. How about the pregnant teenage girl who was pushed out of the church? How about the neighbor who couldn’t afford the water bill again, even after asking for help? How about the Jews who were slaughtered by a nation of people who erased the Image of God on them? How about the kid down the road who is living in Hell, yet nobody wants to help him? How about the bride and groom, asking for help from the Church when they can’t get it anywhere else?

 

We are so fast to blame God for our suffering because it is easy. It takes the weight off of us as humans. We don’t care how much free-will we have, for once we start to suffer, it must be God controlling us simply to hurt us. It must be God abandoning us.

 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

 

When we lost Kevin Whatley, we lost so much more than a man. We lost a wonderful husband. We lost a great father. We lost a generous giver. We lost a hard worker. We lost a servant. We lost a man who lived out the life of Christ. We lost him just 5 months before our wedding. And that pain will not leave any time soon. It will be absorbed into our genes and reproduced like a cancer cell. We will hurt, we will suffer, we will cry, we will question, and we will go on.

And where was the Church? The Church was split, to be honest. We had many people try to comfort us. And we had many people speak, before acting. If I could tell you the amount of scripture verses that were thrown at us, you’d think the whole Bible was covered. We had people telling us all sorts of things like, John 3.16, or Psalm 23. We even had a lady come up say, ‘don’t worry, the rapture is going to happen soon’. The next day, people treated us as if we were a plague. They didn’t say anything to us, barely even looked at us as we sat in the back of the room because nobody wanted to sit next to “them”. They simple gave us their empty words and went on their way…feeling better about themselves because they spoke to “those” people.

 

But, at a different church, there was something different. There was a woman who lost her father when she was 17, six months before her wedding. The second she heard about our situation, she immediately hugged Jonee and just cried. She said nothing, she only cried with Jonee. It was that moment that I realized something. God was suffering with us. God was right there in that moment. We had never been comforted by anyone during this time like we were then. God was crying too.

 

You see, when we suffer, we feel like God forsakes us because we don’t feel His power anymore. We feel like He is long gone, far away from us. But that is so far from the truth. I tell you today, when you are suffering and you don’t feel God…take comfort in that. Take comfort in that emptiness. Because it means that God has lowered Himself from His heavenly throne to meet you in your darkness. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t do anything. He just does the same thing that woman did. She could have spit a few verses that had comforted her when she lost her father. She could have done that once at Jonee and gone on her merry way. But she didn’t. She chose to lower herself and go through that awful pain again to comfort us. She knew the exact pain we were going through…how hard it was, how hurtful, how empty, how lonely…and still chose to suffer with us and feel that pain all over again. Even though she is older than us and deserves our respect, she gave up that status to be on our level. She willingly chose the pain, the suffering, the emptiness, the loneliness…all for us.

 

This is where the Church is. When one member has cancer, the whole Church has cancer. When one is an addict, we’re all addicts. When one is cheated on, we are all hurt by infidelity. When one family loses a child, we’ve lost that child too. When one girl is pregnant and in need, so are we. When one child is living in Hell, we go through Hell with him. Otherwise, all we are doing is spitting out verses at people, and continue to walk down our higher path of content and happiness, leaving them in the dark pits of Hell. But not God.

rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! (Philippians 2.7-8)

 

God did something incredible. The Creator of the universe stepped off of his throne. The Glorious King of Kings made Himself nothing. Our Lord became our servant who was made in human likeness. He chose to come down from His high throne of praise and meet us where we were. He chose to give up His glory and praise, and took on frail flesh and bone to be tempted and tried. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient, even unto death. He chose to die for us so that we may know Him. He CHOSE to suffer with us.

 

Matthew 27.46 reads, “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

 

Jesus showed us that our suffering is not alone for God suffers with us. We should suffer with those who are suffering. God chose to suffer. The woman in the church chose to as well. We have the full freedom of choice. To continue on our high path, OR to stop in tracks, lower ourselves down, and take on the same pain. We can no longer blame God for our suffering, for He is right there with us. His presence is gone because He chooses to leave it all behind so He can meet us in the dark. He leaves His power and takes on our pain. When we hurt, He hurts. When we cry, He cries. We will not be force over us when we are hurting. Instead, He steps down and meets us where we are. If you don’t feel His presence today, that is okay. It doesn’t mean God has forsaken you. It means that He has forsaken His High power to come down and hurt with you. When you feel alone, you’re not. Wherever you feel pain the most…

that is where God is.

 

Now, where is the Church?

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Kevin

We all miss you dearly, Kevin.

 

This sermon means so much to me because it helped me understand where God is in our time of suffering. For awhile there, it felt like God had forsaken us. There were some points where we couldn’t understand how God could allow such hurtful things to happen to us. It took some deep theological thinking and research on my part. I had to find out what was going on. And this time has deeply shaped my theology.

So often we think of God as a powerful Ruler. We often imagine God on a throne, never leaving it. But rarely do we realize that God is with us through all things. And far too often we forget that our emotions were created by God. God can hurt too. What is incredible about our God is that He willingly chose to leave His throne, His power, His realm, to come down here to us. He knew what was going to happen. He knew it wasn’t going to end well for Him. He didn’t even have to come down, but He did. This is at the center of Paul’s theology. God made Himself into nothing, becoming a human servant to die on a cross for us. He willingly chose to do all of this because He deeply loves us. And even after that time, He still chooses to come down and meet us where we are. He still leaves His throne and feel the hurt again, simply out of deep love for us.

We blame God for our human actions. We blame God for the loss of loved ones. But we never stop to think that maybe God isn’t to blame. What if when someone we love dies, God cries? He cries because we are crying. And in that time of suffering, He suffers with us. It would be easier for Him to take that pain away and give us comfort…but it wouldn’t be sincere…it wouldn’t be love. We have to go through suffering. If God stepped in and intervened, then the world would be worse to live in. There would be no need for a God. If God cannot give sincere emotional love to us, then there is no life.

I beg you, if you know someone who is suffering, do not speak. At least, not yet. I encourage you to act as Christ in their life. I ask you to step down from your life and enter theirs. Choose to suffer with them. Choose to hurt. Choose to be with them. Give up your power, become nothing. Be obedient to suffering, even unto death. For this is the truest form of Christianity that will ever exist. We must learn how to switch our status instantly for the sake of another.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15.13 NIV)

 

Powering the Church (Church & Tech Final)

Image

In every church across America, there is some form of technology being used during their worship services. For some churches, it may be a simple microphone and speaker. For others, it may be so digital that if the power goes out church must be cancelled until further notice. As we continue to progress into technological advancement many churches are quickly integrating as much as possible in order to feel relevant. As Marshal McLuhan stated, “the medium is the message”. Does the Church understand exactly what message the medium is saying? Although technology is often used within worship services, the Church must take caution in order to not worship technology itself.

As we progress into developing our present age, it would be absurd for the Church to discard the technological presence that surrounds us. Technology has advanced our way of life greatly. These advancements in technology have allowed the world to be connected by the click of a button. It has allowed an elderly woman to hear her grandchildren again. It has enhanced our learning capabilities to new levels. It has even allowed us to make breakthroughs in medical research. Yet, we must understand the power and danger that comes with the integration of Church and technology.

New technology should not be adopted into a worship setting without first considering the effect is has on worship. Technology that helps us progress, but remains docile to the way we understand worship can be useful. But technology can become the master over worship; molding and shaping the theology of the church into the technology’s capacities. This mold changes the way a church thinks, acts, responds, and ultimately worships. A church must consider what is to be gained and lost when implementing new technology into its worship service.

When the Church introduces new technology into worship, there is a responsibility of consideration among the demands of that technology. Integrating different forms of technology into worship can change its context. It can take a community of believers in Christ and create an audience waiting to be entertained. Within the past several years Christianity has seen a rise in worship songs becoming commercialized. According to Pete Ward, author of Selling Worship, these songs follow the trend of pop music and become disposable. The quality of this music is based upon performance and likability, not authenticity to faith and a robust theology. Those who lead in worship are then judged by the quality of their performance, not by their response to lead others in praising God as a collective whole. Marshal McLuhan was able to foresee this situation long before it had occurred. In his doctoral thesis, Impact of Mass Media on the Church, According to Marshall McLuhan, Father Dariusz Gronowski claimed that, “every change in the system of communication has an impact on the Church; the same as it has an impact on culture…The rapid development of the electronic media movements has transformed the Church on all levels”.

Freedom to access such music is a rapid development of electronic media. The internet has allowed people to listen to whatever worship songs they please, which also means they are capable of disposing of many they do not like. The Church looks on relevance within culture as a factor of worship. Worship pastors must look at what songs are relevant and well liked, while picking through the songs that are being disposed of. This happens without much consideration of theological content. As the form of worship is being changed, so is the content and meaning of worship itself. Several decades ago we saw churches across America singing from the same book with the same theology, now that is not the case. Each church is allowed to pick whatever song they feel is important for their congregation, despite its theology. Songs are based upon likability, not content. This is a consequence of having such a free access to material and how it can impact the Church. This is not to say that our contemporary songs are useless. Our worship pastors have a greater responsibility today in choosing the right songs for the Church to worship with.

The act of worshiping within the Church has gone from being a community of believers praising God together, to a congregation becoming an audience. In drama and concerts, the audience is the main focus and that is the case in many churches today. Many of today’s worship songs have changed characterization. Lyrics focus on the individual instead of the communal. It is uncommon to hear a song where the lyrics speak about how “we” worship God, or “our” God. This can be brought on by picking through commercialized music and the way we implement technology. Technology has allowed changes to occur in terminology as well. For example, the chancel has become a stage. This means that the focus is not on the Word, sermons, or sacraments anymore, but on the music. When the church forgets what the chancel symbolizes, then it turns into a stage that needs an audience, not a congregation.

As more and more technology is added to the worship services, the church must rely on capturing the attention of those present. Just like an audience, entertainment is factored in as the primary tool for captivating congregants. But is this necessary or is it just a ploy? There is a hidden level of manipulation to the hearts of Christians in a worship setting simply by the use of technology. When certain lights and sounds are artificially involved, there is a disconnect from reality, thus, causing a manipulation. We must remember, then, that the Church is not an audience. The Church is the collection or body of firm believers whose lives depend on the truth that Christ is Lord. By focusing on entertaining the individual, this truth can be lost. Instead of the body coming to worship God as a whole and grow together, the individual comes back expecting to be entertained more than last week. This is a heavy job requirement for many worship pastors today, but is that really their job? Their job is to make sure that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is portrayed throughout the entire liturgy. Yet, many are only hired based upon their musical skills and their choice in worship songs. Thanks to an abundance of commercial worship songs, the content does not have to be based upon Scripture. These songs will continue to exist as long as Churches continue to see the congregation as an audience.

Again, we go back to understanding that the medium is the message. On Christmas 1922, the Basilica of Saint Louis King of France in St. Louis, Missouri broadcast the first radio Mass. On Christmas of 1948, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris broadcast the first televised Mass. These were attempts to spread the act of joyful advent worship to those who could not be present. Soon after these events, many cathedrals around the world installed microphone systems to be used for their services. Even a simple installation of a microphone can cause a significant amount of change. The priest now had to face the congregation instead of the Cross in the same direction that the congregation was looking. Not only did the priest have to face the congregation, but he also had to speak in English instead of Latin. Now that the congregation could hear every word clearly, they had to be able to understand what was being said otherwise the microphone was useless. This soon led to the movement of Vatican II in the 1960’s. But these installations were not welcomed with open arms. The medium of microphones made congregants think Mass was becoming just like political rallies, popular music concerts, sports events, movies in theaters, or travel in airports. That was the message the medium was portraying.

This simple technology created a dissonance. The priest could be seen in front of the Mass, but his voice would come from behind. The metallic voice was seen as the same as those with no personal connection guiding an audience or crowd. A sense of imposing ideas and power over the listeners would occur among weary congregants. The priest did not have to add personal emphasis to sermons or liturgical readings, the microphone gave enough volume for him. These feelings have not changed over the years as more new technology is added.

As technology continues to advance and captivate people’s attention, the Church continues to find ways to implement technology. Some churches over the years have looked for different ways to be relevant in their surrounding culture. These churches have decided to change their method of worship, ultimately changing the message as well. There is a heavy emphasis on musical style for many churches today. It is so heavy that it has caused splits within the Body of Christ almost as severe as the Reformation. Hymnals have been thrown out and screens have been hung up covering the Cross. Lights have been installed to give more of a “Holy-Spirit” movement within the sanctuary. Better speakers and larger sound boards are now a must for many ‘new’ churches. This integration of technology has even affected the churches that do not use heavy amounts of technology. Between 2006 and 2013 the Synod Lutheran, Evangelical Lutheran, Southern Baptist, Roman Catholic, Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Community of Christ, United Methodist, and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church have changed their hymnals to fit their own denomination according to Mary Louise Bringle’s article Singing from One Book, Why Hymnals Matter. These hymnals are not to be shared across denominations. Those seven years have seen an extreme form of individualism brought on by the surrounding culture. These hymnals include contemporary songs that the denomination feels is important only to them. Of course, there are many other denominations who have taken this path. But is this an act of sincere worship and discernment, or an influence brought on by individualistic society?

These churches are trying to find ways to reach those who are uninterested in the Church. Technology can be a connection between the Church and the lost, but the Church has a lot more research to do before jumping on the “emerging” church bandwagon. A recent study has found a connection between the decrease of religious affiliation and increase in internet use. In the 2010 US population, Internet use could account for 5.1 million people with no religious affiliation, or 20% of the observed decrease in affiliation relative to the 1980s. Internet use decreases the chance of religious affiliation; in the 2010s, 53% of the population used the internet 2 hours per week, and 25% more than 7 hours (Downy; Religious Affiliation, education, and Internet use). Technology is actually driving people away from the Church. Could there be a link between the decrease of community within the Church and the disinterest of religious affiliation? The answer to this question is unsure as of now, but should be heavily looked into by the Church.

Yet, this should not be seen as purely negative towards technology. Cathleen Falsini wrote an article in Sojourners Magazine in April of 2012 called, Why I Hate Religion, but Love YouTube. In this article she tells a story of a children’s Sunday school. The kids were very active and could not sit still. The teacher then turned on their laptop and played a video from YouTube. The kids instantly straightened up and watched the entire video. From that point on there was a lengthy and well thought out discussion. This use of technology was used as a learning tool to get kids thinking about their role in God’s story. She then concludes with these thoughts, “The lesson for me, as the parent of a middle school child, was to pay closer attention. To popular culture and new media. To the music I can’t stand but my son can’t get enough of. To the trends and fads that seem utterly vapid to me but have meaning for kids my son’s age even though they might not yet have the language to articulate it. To the passions of children and their language, even—or perhaps especially—when it sounds foreign to me.” This technology finds a way to bridge generational gaps within the Church if used correctly.

Communio et Progressio (the means of social communication council) stated that “modern media offer new ways of confronting people with the message of the Gospel”. The Roman Catholic Church then decided that it is appropriate to use social media as a form of evanglization. Pope John Paul II declared that it is not enough to use the media only to spread the Church’s message of Christ. It is necessary, also, to find ways to integrate the Gospel into the newest forms of culture that are being created by modern ways of communication. Modern technology has become a blessing to many churches. Even though the rapid access to free material has created disposable music, it has also created new ways of gathering information. The Church has seen this as a way to proselytize to those who want to know about doctrine. The Church soon found ways to appropriately use technology for the work of Christ. New forms of worship were formed to broaden the Body of Christ. Technology becomes a blessing when the Church remains in control of technology.

Vatican Council II states that, “members of the Church should disclose to their pastors ‘their needs and desires with that liberty and confidence which befits children of God and brothers of Christ”. In other words, the members of the church need to speak to those in leadership roles what they feel are beneficial for the whole church. When a church goes from an organ to full stage set up within a week without notice, problems will arise. The whole church must be aware and a part of changes that are being planned. When a church does not know about new technology being installed there is a breaking of trust. If the Church does not feel it is necessary to install six subwoofers beside the stairs to the chancel, then there is no need to go ahead and install them. It is extremely important that the church has an understanding and vast agreement on what direction to take.

History has shown us that God’s message has evolved and will continue to evolve within new contexts. Societies will change and it is the Church’s responsibility to figure out the best ways of providing the greatest medium of God’s message; Jesus. Our churches must remember that Christ is at the center of all worship. The liturgy must be focusing and pointing to Jesus at all times. There is a temptation to allow new forms of technology to shape our worship and theology. The most important task of the Church today is recovering a theology and Gospel that points to God’s earthly kingdom. This must be at the center of our strategy for implementing new forms of worship.

Technology in worship is not bad, but the way we use technology can be. A church has to pray and discuss why they feel a specific form of technology must be added to their services. If the use does not point to Christ, then it is useless to the church. A church can use a Jumbo-Tron television in their service if they control it to point towards Christ and keep from creating an audience. Technology that brings a church together is encouraged to be used. Christ died to free us from the powers of this world; therefore we must stay in power of the media we use. If we fail to do so, then we create an audience expecting to be entertained, ultimately failing to be loyal to our Lord, Christ Jesus. Media is meant to be used to further our worship, not for us to worship media itself. All glory goes to God and the Church must figure out how to give God the glory in an ever changing culture. In the end, our churches must discover ways to reach out to the lost without becoming lost within the seas of wires. If we focus on Christ, He will guide us in the correct direction.

Downloading Good Friday (Church & Tech Series 2)

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Good Friday is such a great time to remember the love of God within our lives. And this weekend I have felt a great presence over me. Out of nowhere, my head was flooded by memories of those who have come and gone in my life. I was reminded of my first youth group that I was a part of. My youth leader shared Scripture with us rowdy teenagers in Iowa back in 2008. She probably didn’t expect to see this redhead anywhere near a church back then. Yet, she didn’t ignore my presence. She didn’t give up on me. It is incredible to think back to how she was always there trying to get us to think about our faith and how to apply Scripture to our lives. She never gave up on us, even though the group I was a part of was very obnoxious (not much has changed I suppose). But It was her faithfulness that really made an impression on me. So much so that I went into youth ministry myself. 

I was then reminded of my first youth group in 2010-2011. We had some great teens of different ages go through that youth group. And I can still remember all of them, although I am not facebook friends with each one. I remember spending that Summer praying for each individual almost every day. They made such a great impression on me. I wish I had more time with them, but I only pray that I was faithful to them in teaching them the Truth of God. 

And I am reminded of my own youth group I have now. It may not be large, but I would not trade those girls for anything. They listen and go out of their way for our youth group. They have the choice to go somewhere else where their friends are, but they try to come to our youth group. 

The Churches that have raised me to be who I am today. The people in and out of my life. And Kevin Whatley. All of these people have been great examples of Christ’s faithfulness. I am overwhelmed by their great love. 

So I had to tell them this. I had to tell everyone I could how much they have impacted my life. It is incredible. But I could not have done it if it were not for technology. Here is where I am going to play devil’s advocate for my tech series. Technology is a great thing for the Church. It really is. Social Media has given us an outlet for reaching people we never thought we could. It has given us phone numbers, instant messaging, pictures, and so much more to keep us in touch. In fact, I often wonder if my memory would leave someone out if it were not for social media like Facebook. I have a Newsfeed to remind me of these people even years after speaking to them. 

 

There is connection from one side of the world to the other through this technology. We are able to instantly share encouragement, prayer requests, Scripture, love, and heartache with those who can never be present in our lives again. We can see what they have done, where they have been. It is a connection for the Body of Christ. Yet, it can also destroy it. The amount of drama that happens over social media is astounding. Social media should be seen as animal that can be trained to love, but can attack when provoked. It is easy to forget intimacy through technology and can easily erase the Imago Dei (Image of God) within people. We can say anything online, especially things we are afraid to say in person. 

 

This Good Friday, we must remember the sacrifice of Christ and the faithfulness of God. We are to love one another fully. Let us bury our hatchets today and use technology for good. Let us reach out to one another and encourage. Let us love. For today is a glorious day. The day Christ gave Himself for all. So we must put our differences aside and reach out to others. We must download Good Friday into our hearts. We must love each other and technology can be a great source to do so. So I encourage all of you today to show Christ’s love through your speech to one another.

Let Us Crucify Church TV (Church & Tech Series #1)

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I will have a short series of posts focusing on the use of technology within the Church; anything in between a Christian’s perspective to the use of it within a worship service. These are mainly arguments that are meant to drive some thinking about how we use technology. This post is focusing on the Church’s use of televised worship services. Again, this is my view and it may change depending on the conversations others would present to me (not forced views, but conversations). 

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       Television has opened up a gateway from one part of the world to all the rest. With the onset of televised news and even narratives, the world felt a connection that seemed to have been missing for all of time. Then, radically, the world changed forever. Reality was welcomed into the home, but it was not expected to be so violent against our morals. Television has connected the world in great ways, but has also presented a danger. The Church is no exception to this danger. Television can lead us to a great temptation to cut off relationships and gain power of those who are in need of Christ if used wrong.

In his article, Television as Teacher, Neil Postman asked the question if Sesame Street was really a grand tool of education for children or not. In the article he states, “It encourages them to love television” (Postman 1985). Postman argued that television is a less superior tool for learning than all other forms, and can be a dangerous one if not used properly. Yet, television is a major part of our culture and cannot be ignored. It is such a huge part of our culture that churches have been using television for decades now to reach out to those at home. However, is this really a good tool for teaching about Christ? Can we have a church within a box that sits in our living room?

            The way a church uses television needs to be figured out as to why it should be used. Television has allowed us to travel to different lands and hear different teachings, but is that the point of a church service? There is a major issue with a church being in a box in your living room. To look more deeply into this issue, we must first have an adequate understanding of the Church. The Church catholic (that is, universal Church) is not a building, but an act. In Greek, Church means assembly, which is what churches were called in the Apostolic Age. To the Early Church, missing an assembly meant missing a time to worship with your brothers and sisters. This was taken very serious. To even become a member of the church by the second century, people were taught for two-three years before they could even partake in communion and baptism. They spent that time learning about the Church and about Christ. 

            Today, it seems almost okay to miss a church service. When one is unable (or chooses not to) attend a service, they can just power on the television and hear a pastor that will never know their name or their background preaching about something that is culturally irrelevant to them. That is not to denote the power of the Gospel in preaching, but sermons are meant to be prepared for the audience in that surrounding culture. It is much like a pastor from Los Angeles preaching a sermon on how the church should deal with the gang violence in Compton at a church in Burbank, Alaska. The church does not understand culturally what the pastor is trying to teach them. It does not work. Those in Alaska will go home and forget everything that was taught because there was no connection or value between the preacher and congregation. This same kind of disconnect from the preacher to the congregant exists within televised church services.

            When many choose to follow televised churches, their ability to become present, both physically and mentally, is absent. Our minds travel because we are watching a man on stage speak about a Bible that is not physically in front of us. And this allows us to be excused from being present in worship of our Creator, God. Don’t take me wrong, I am not saying that it is impossible for all to worship God through television, but that it is very hard because we are not physically present with the Church. To elaborate, let us look at a fictional character named Jenny. Jenny does not attend a church; she is comfortable at her home watching a preacher instead. As she is sitting on the couch, her hands are rubbing against the fabric of the seats. There is a window open and a breeze gently brushing against her face. The kids are at their grandma’s, so she can peacefully listen to the nice preacher with a tight smile and glistening teeth. She has an apple pie in the oven and after several minutes, she can smell that refreshing scent of rising crust and warm apples. As the dancing scent enters her nostrils, she is reminded of being a child at home while her mom would be in the kitchen baking that same pie. Memories flood her resting brain and a smile creeps across her face. She remembers her mom lighting a very beautiful candle every Sunday. Suddenly, she is reminded of the candle she left burning in the bathroom. She gets up to blow it out. Then she thinks she should probably check on the pie. Once she has that all done and over with, the preacher is wiping away tears from his tight cheeks as there is an address on the television screen to mail large checks to.

            That may be an extreme example, but it shows how easy it is for our minds to travel while we are physically absent. In 1945, the NCAA tested out a new rule in basketball that allowed players to score three points in one shot. This was never necessary before 1945, because seeing the game in person was entertaining and engaging enough for the audience. Once the games became televised for fans to watch at home, fans were becoming bored. There was no more entertainment. The low score games and jogging back and forth did not captivate the viewer’s attention enough, so the three point system was put into play. Other major sports started to follow and soon televised sports became more entertaining for the home viewer. It didn’t take long for televised churches to realize this need within home viewers.

            More instruments, louder speakers, bigger arenas, and more outgoing preachers were placed on the screen. Entertainment value went up for the attention of the viewers. Watching a preacher from a church in Iowa talk about the crop and how that applies to our faith with an out-of-tune organ in the background did not captivate many viewers, especially those who lived in urban centers. Eventually, churches were losing members to televised and more “entertaining” churches. This caused the Church to implement new changes. This change hasn’t stopped over the years, in fact it has continued to progress. Now there are churches within sports arenas that sell tickets to their services, Jumbo-Tron screens pointing in four directions for people to see the tight smile, concert lights during the worship of song, and many changes within the liturgy every few minutes to keep the audience from getting bored. God has become digital. This is what Neil Postman was warning us about. Television has taught us to love entertainment. It has even created the idea that a church service is almost always boring unless if it has all of the newest gadgets. This is not to be mistaken as thinking that technology is bad, but rather the way we implement technology can be destructive.

            S. Craig Watkins stated in his article The Young and the Digital that, “Life online has always been intricately, though predictably, connected to life off-line. Social inequalities still matter in the physical world…They also matter in the virtual world” (Watkins, 2009). Watkins strived to show people that no matter how you try to fake something in a digital world; it will affect the physical world. The Church of America may have misunderstood this thought. What happened with the onset of televised churches is that the virtual world changed the physical. The virtual was spiced up to entertain, and therefore creates a false portrayal of the real. This false view of church services shocked many new-comers. Those people from rural Iowa watching these televised churches didn’t expect to hear those old out-of-tune organs. They also didn’t expect to be able to hear their neighbor singing “The Old Rugged Cross”. Rather, they expected to barely even be able to hear themselves from the loud music. They didn’t want a brightly lit sanctuary because the churches on the TV were dark with strobe lights and projectors. The virtual world changed the physical.   

            The Church catholic was built on unity, but that is now disappearing. Every time a viewer watches church on television, they are not expected to worship with someone next to them, which led into new modes of worship. Consequently, many of our worship songs have been written to apply to the individual instead of the collective. Most worship songs are about “my” relationship with Christ, not our following of God as a whole. That is the stark differences between most hymns and contemporary songs. Even the phrase “a personal relationship with Christ” was popularized by televised preachers speaking to the individual at home. Christ used to be universal and to be sought out, now He is individual and brought to us through digital formats.We can download Christ when it is convenient for us on our own time, not when it is a time to sacrifice for and spend with others. 

            As the idea of an individual church begins to form our “faith”, we don’t recognize the hurt that comes with that. When assemblies of believers gather together, they are able to seek out the needs of the world around them and attend to them with great ease. Yet, when the individual sends a check to a televised church, the money goes to salaries and bills to keep that church on. It creates blindness to the world. The faithful giver does not know where the money actually goes, but hopes that the church gets to stay on the TV. The same argument can be made for giving to a church in person, but with a case like that there is somebody you can approach to find out where your money is going. That is contrary to television, because you won’t have someone respond to you, at least not face to face. It also takes away the satisfaction of working as a Body together. When we send our checks to an address to keep the Church on, there is no satisfaction as a whole unit. In fact, it creates pride within ourselves. We create a false view saying that we are good people for keeping this Church on so we can watch it every week. Or it may even lead some to say they are a good person for sending this check. But when we see what the Church can do from the collective tithe and offering, that is more powerful and creates a bond within each other. The Body of Christ feels joy from working together. 

            Technology, however, is not to be blamed for such a creation of individualism. We do not blame the Jaws of Life for not getting to the crash on time. Nor do we blame the scalpel for not cutting into the right arm during surgery. It is the operator who decides the outcome. The way we use technology can be for good or bad. Technology, especially television, shows us new perspectives on what God is doing and how we interpret such acts. But it also gives us the temptation to disregard the Body of Christ as a whole. Therefore, we should see these visual aids as a living creature in the way that it can be loved and trained, but can also attack when provoked.

            Televised church needs to be crucified. It needs to be put to death. Then it should be resurrected. Televised church is not evil; in fact it can hold the church together. But the way we use television is evil. Most churches only gather for worship at least once a week. Sometimes churches have cancel their worship services due to weather or other reasons. These reasons then take away the churches time to worship together and be a church. When something like snow storms or certain preventions happen, then we can use technology to fill the gap. Churches that use technology like television should not be aimed at being sold outside of their assembly. Televised services should be meant for those times when the assembly cannot meet, or when an elderly member is unable to leave the house. There are more examples that can be used, but this is the main gist. Televised church is evil when it is sold for the sake of becoming a source of income. It destroys the Body over time. Rather, television should be used to hold and bridge missing elements within the specific member of the Body. A specific church needs only to worry about its own congregants when it comes to worshiping as a union. This keeps our elders informed on what is happening in the church and allows them to feel included still when they are unable to attend. This allows our congregants to worship and hear the same message when church has to be cancelled. Technology can be a great tool for moving the Body of Christ forward in this world, as long as we use it for that purpose. The same can be said for all forms of media. Therefore, televised churches need to re-evaluate their purpose for existence. Is it for the glory of God and benefit of the assembly, or is it a source of income meant to promote individualism? If it promotes individualism, then it needs to be crucified. Through this death, the leaders need to focus on Christ again. Sure it can be a way of getting the word of Christ out to the lost, but that also gives us a reason to not have to do it ourselves. When televised church dies, then it can begin a new life after its resurrection that is meant to glorify God and build unity within Christians. 

 

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Postman, Neil. “Television as Teacher.” Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Viking, 1985. N. pag. Print.

Watkins, S. Craig. The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social-network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future. Boston: Beacon, 2009. Print.

Letting Go of Pride

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I am mixed up. I may even be a little confused. My home church is “traditional”, so I love hymns. My age is 22, so I have an emotional response to contemporary songs. I’m mixed up.  

As I have stated in an older post, I grew up surrounded by corn. There is a major age gap in my church. It goes teenagers to the “Matinee Special Age” of 55+. There are a few in between, but this is the main population of my home church (at least when I was attending). There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it taught me how to speak to my elders and learn from them. I tell you all of that to show you why we used hymnals. Contemporary music didn’t really fit very well in our culture. We somehow (by the grace of God) were able to use one or two contemporary (Late 90’s and early 00’s) songs within the service. Of course, we used CD’s and the same four songs on rotation, but it worked nonetheless. 

We are coming to the end of the Worship Wars. The fight between Traditional (hymns) & Contemporary (instrumentation) Worship is starting to die down for the most part. But with every war comes casualties and reparation. Buildings must be rebuilt, infrastructure must be constructed again, new systems need to be put into place, etc. The Worship Wars are no exception. Churches are still feeling the loss and damage of this senseless war. But this isn’t a post about the Worship Wars, rather about what do we do now that is ending?

Worship is a sensitive topic. That is mostly due to the lack of understanding when it comes to worship. Worship has been dwindled down to meaning mainly music. We don’t usually consider Communion and Baptism as worship, or even marriage. We also don’t consider ordination or confessing our sins to one another as worship. The Catholic Church does, but we as Protestants do not. We call the music portion of our Church services the worship time. We don’t think of greeting one another, praying, giving our offerings/tithes, the reading of the word, the sermon, or even the chat after the service with one another as worship. Usually only the music. This needs to change. The whole liturgy (order of the service) is worship. The second you get yourself out of bed is an act of worship. That was a discipline to get up early on your day off to gather with other believers to praise God and seek more about Him. The car ride to the church, sitting down and thumbing through the bulletin, going out to lunch, taking a Sunday nap, etc. etc. is all worship. How we live determines how we worship God. 

That is the first step we need to take in changing our understanding of Worship. The Second step is letting go of our pride. This is something that happens mainly in older people, but not always. Whichever side won the Worship War in your church, there is heavy pride of turmoil and rejection. If the contemporary side won, then you know there will be several Hymnal lovers standing there during the worship in song not singing. The same goes for vice versa. If our “side” did not win, then we will not participate in the worship of song. There is a huge problem with this.

The Body of Christ is meant to work together. We are meant to praise as a collective whole. It is often argued that hymnals brought the church together by singing from the same notes on the same books. But honestly, the same can be said from the other side. In Contemporary Worship, the church is collectively looking at one screen, rather than individual books. All have their heads up rather than down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not speaking against one or the other, I am just pointing out the flaw in this argument. But there is common ground. Both sides acknowledge the importance of doing it together. This is one of the only points in the service (at least one of the points that occurs every week) where the church participates in the worship at the same time. When I say this, I am not excluding prayer, I am meaning the outward praise towards God. When we stand there in protest against the style of music, then how are we worshiping God collectively? How is that being a church? How is that helping anything? It doesn’t. And it has led MANY churches to making the mistake of splitting the Body of Christ up just to please these protests. Many churches thought it would benefit God by breaking apart the Unity of the church. There should be no reason to do this unless if the building you gather in simply cannot hold the whole congregation anymore, or if you are trying to reach out to those who cannot attend a service at that specific time. But to split the Body up for the reason of disagreement upon the musical style is absurd. I am sure I will one day work at a church where this is the case. So many churches have followed in this choice that it is almost a guarantee that I will someday work in one environment like that. This is a bold statement, but understand that Christianity is built upon unity in Christ. Therefore, I cannot see unity in splitting a church simply for musical tastes. There are way better ways to solve the issue of a Worship War than to split the Body. As another consequence, we see these churches having the “Traditional” worship earlier, and the contemporary service later. This allows the “younger” members to sleep in later than to actually make it a discipline to get up early on a weekend and go to Church. Now that issue is not as important to me, but it should be noticed. Discipline is an act of worship, and by splitting up the Church and taking away this discipline is not the best form of unity within the Body of Christ.

All of this has to do with our human pride. It is our pride that we hold onto and prevents us from moving forward as a Body. It is like a foot that refuses to move forward simply because it does not prefer the style of shoe you are wearing. The Body is being held back by our pride. This is something I am guilty of. I am one of the “old” people just standing there not singing. I don’t sing because I have been made fun of for my “tone-deaf” singing. This seems like a legitimate excuse, except it isn’t. It is my pride that holds me back from singing. How so? Well, I have so much pride in my image that I dare not allow someone to make fun of me for singing off key. How is that worshiping God? It isn’t. It is just as pointless as standing there looking at the screen with a glare and crossed arms expressing your sealed lips. It is just as pointless as your refusal to pick up that hymnal and sing along with the older lady next to you. It is not worship. It is pride. And we have to learn how to let go of it.

It isn’t easy, and it isn’t fun. It is hard. Pride is a sin that develops from the inside of our hearts and works it way out. It is a very serious sin because it damages many. I have proven to you how sin has damaged the Body of Christ almost as a whole within American culture. It is sneaky. That is why we must realize the reality of our Pride. We must face our pride with great strength. Are we willing to let go of our pride for Christ’s sake? This should be a heavy focus for this time of Lent. Chaplain Lori Gaffner said it perfectly in her blog post that we must “[let] go so that I can live in the present, and live as if I really DO believe”. How true is that? Pride blinds us to the present situation before ourselves. When it comes to worship, we shouldn’t let our pride stand in the way of that. Letting go of pride will not happen overnight. It is a spiritual discipline that must be acted on day after day. But when you let go of that pride, when you work hard at it, you realize that your faith is being made stronger. You actually just worked at making your faith more real. And soon, you may just see the footprint where the Body’s foot used to be. That is my prayer and hope, to see the Church moving forward again after such a hard fall from the Worship Wars. I hope we see the Body moving in unity.  

 

 

*When I speak of a side winning the Worship War, I have a horrible taste in my mouth. There should not be a winner. There should have not been a war. Our disagreement about musical style (whichever fits the surrounding culture should determine which is the best to use, anyway) is brought on by our own pride. We are fighting the Body of Christ. How does that make sense? There should not be losers, but all winners. All shall gain for the praise of God. 

 

That’s not ‘Normal’

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On Wednesday, March 5th, Jonee and I attended an Ash Wednesday service at a Free Methodist Church. This church is a little different than what we Protestants are usually accustomed to. Most of us are still dealing with the introduction of instruments on the chancel. Some of us don’t even know that it is called a chancel, not a stage. At St. Paul’s Free Methodist Church, expect to read and recite from the Common Book of Prayer. I’m completely okay with the Common Book of Prayer, and I am okay with the Lectionary. If you are not okay with it, then don’t worry about it. It does not mean that churches who use these items are holier, or those who don’t are going to Hell. These are tools meant to bring us closer to God from ways we don’t think about on our own. 

I decided to keep the handout of the reading for Ash Wednesday to use as a guide for my prayers every day. I did this because I realized that I was forced to have to pray certain things that I would never even think about. The most interesting part is that these forced prayers were true. In fact, they were more true than my own prayers. Ash Wednesday is a very important time for us all to remember our mortality and our wrong doing. It is a time to get us on a moment of fasting to rid ourselves of impurity and add on spiritual disciplines to make us stronger in our faith. And these prayers that were printed out for me to recite do that perfectly. Here is the prayer I have been reciting every day since Ash Wednesday. 

Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and
strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We
have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved
your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the
pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation
of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those
more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and
our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to
commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our
indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our
neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those
who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of
concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

 

Now, go back through and read that again, only take out we, us, our, and replace it with I, Me, and My. 

Do you see how that changes your view on your own prayers? Tonight I watched the movie, Crash, that was put on by Greenville College. At the end of the film we had a discussion about the many different views on race and how that applies to us here at this small Christian college in the middle of Illinois. After watching this fantastic film again, I realized something. I realized that what I see as normal, is not everyone’s normal. 

I was raised in the middle of Iowa, with literally corn (or soy bean, depending on the yearly rotation) fields on three sides of my home. I could see a five mile corn field from my bedroom window. My neighbor had horses. And I lived in town. This town is one square mile, and at this point has 750ish people. I knew everyone in my high school, from grades 7 to 12. I knew their full names, faces, friends, and most of their parents. My graduating class was 48 (the largest class in several years). The town was mainly 90% (roughly) white, with a few Mexican families, and one or two black families. 

Jonee grew up in Mississippi for the first several years of her life, then moved to Elkhart, Indiana. Elkhart has a population of 51,152 (as of 2012) and multiple school districts. She barely knows most of the students in her graduating class. The city is literally 24 times larger (in size, not population) than Milo, IA. I walked to school, whereas Jonee relied on her parents transporting her. Along with living in a city, she knew there were diverse families, even several mixed race households. Do you see the difference between our backgrounds?

Yet, I still get upset when she doesn’t agree with what is normal! How dare she think it is weird to address your teachers by their first names? How dare she not think it is okay to walk everywhere? How dare she think cornfields are boring?!!!! (Seriously, that last one still baffles me). But how dare I think never getting to know your teacher on a very personal level is horrible? 

We all have backgrounds that create normals. Where we come from, who we come from, and when we come from determines certain traits we expect in people. Luckily for me, I actually did grow up very diverse. Even though I am almost as pale as you can get without being classified as an albino, I had an interest in the black communities. I had an unbelievably diverse music library growing up; for example: The Doors, Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd (Oh….how I love them), AC/DC, Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Collective Soul, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Lil’ Jon & The Eastside Boys, Beastie Boys, Kiss stations (not KISS the Band), adult contemporary, etc. Seriously, I had a lot of different tastes in my lifetime. This created an interesting balance and curiosity for different races within me. And I didn’t even like Country music until I got into college…outside of Iowa. 

But unpack that joke real quick. I didn’t even like country music until I was outside of Iowa. It is predetermined by most people that I automatically like country because I am from Iowa. This is what I am getting at. We have predetermined views on life. We expect our normals to be right. When we grow up in a white community where the token black person acts a certain way, we develop a stereotype for all blacks. We group people into traits. It is uncomfortable to do it any other way. This creates walls and barriers where we racially separate each other, simply because we do not want to understand one’s culture (or one’s normal). Because what someone else does is not normal. 

The harm in normals not breaking down brick by brick is that we create a prejudice. Pink Floyd made an entire album dedicated to building a wall of alienation from the world around us. It was appropriately titled, The Wall. Listen to that album with the mindset that you are the main character building a wall to block out anything that is not normal to you. When we leave our walls up, we fall apart on the inside. We judge. We misinterpret others. We put our own view in place of their image. We wipe the Image of God, and slap our stereotypical image onto them. 

But as I was going through my prayer tonight, I felt extremely convicted. This would not have happened if I did not decide to read an already laid out prayer. It was more truthful than my usual ‘God, I’m an alright person,’ prayer. I had to confess to God that I did these things. These are the very lines that convicted me the most. 

I have not loved you with my whole heart, and mind, and
strength. I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I
have not forgiven others, as I have been forgiven.
Have mercy on me, Lord.

I confess to you, Lord, all my past unfaithfulness: the
pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of my life,
I confess to you, Lord.

My self-indulgent appetite and ways, and my exploitation
of other people,
I confess to you, Lord.

My anger at my own frustration, and my envy of those
more fortunate than myself,
I confess to you, Lord.

My intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and
my dishonesty in daily life and work,
I confess to you, Lord.

Accept my repentance, Lord, for the wrongs I have done:
for my blindness to human need and suffering, and my
indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept my repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward my
neighbors, and for my prejudice and contempt toward those
who differ from me,
Accept my repentance, Lord.

I raise these convictions with you for two reasons: 1) As a confession of my own sin in doing all of these things against those who differ from me and my normals, and 2) to tear down our walls start to communicate our different cultures with one another. 

I know this is an abrupt ending, but I feel it is an appropriate place to stop. What better way to end than to pray these prayers with fully repentant hearts? We must tear down our understanding of what is normal and start to explore the very people that our One God has created. Jesus prayed for unity, and the Gospel is the same Gospel for both Jew and Gentile. Therefore, let us pray. Let us think. Let us love. 

 

Crap & Righteousness

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“That is one big pile of s***”-Dr. Ian Malcome (From Jurassic Park)

Some of you reading that line will be instantly offended at me. But understand this, I am simply referring to the Bible when it comes to human excrement. But before we get there, let me start off my blog post. 

We all come from some kind of home. Some of us come from loving homes with two parents who care. Some of us come from one parent homes where we desperately strive to survive. Some of us come from homes where we don’t know our parents. Some of us come from homes where, well…we don’t even know what is going on and feel like we are unwanted. But there is one thing that connects us all (well, obviously more than one; but in this case we are only looking at this one), and that is our crap. Or garbage. We all have a back story. We all come from somewhere. We all develop and learn certain rules and “normals” within our lives. But most importantly of all, we are all human in a sinful world. I know that the word sin is overused and often used for attacks. When I use the word sin, I am talking about our universal sin that we all commit; and that is disobedience towards God. 

When we choose to go against God, we are sinning. Jesus summed it up pretty well for us, 

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22.36-40). 

All the Law hangs on these two commandments. The Law in the Old Testament is a little bit longer than two commandments. In fact, it is about three hundred times that amount. So how can the Law hang on two commandments? The Ten Commandments has eight more than that! 

Except, if you look at the Ten Commandments (or Ten Words) and had to categorize them into two categories, you might find something surprising. I know what you are thinking, “There are other things that need to be taken into account here, like the whole spectrum of human emotion. You can’t just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else.”-Donnie Darko. 

That is a fair assessment. Valid. But sometimes, life needs to be split into categories and simplified for us to start understanding. Look at the two books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy! That is a prime example of over-complicating life and its simplicity. We are humans with intellectual limitations. We only progress by working together. So, let’s get back to splitting the Ten Words (or Commandments) into two categories. Let us look at the Ten Commandments. 

I am going to use the Protestant listing of the Ten Commandments (or Words), simply because I am Protestant (in tradition; not that I am protesting anything right at this moment). That is not to say that Protestant listing is the only correct listing. 

  1. You shall have no other gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
  5. Honor your father and your mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor
  10. You shall not covet

Look at the first four commandments. They seem to be mainly about our relationship with God. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. Now look at the remaining commandments. They are more about how we treat each other. They teach us how to treat our parents, how to not hate and murder our neighbors, how to not turn people into objects for our own gain, to respect the property of others, to be truthful about our neighbors, and to not be jealous of our neighbor’s well-being. Therefore, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

There are our two categories. Love God, & Love your neighbor. We can yet go another step from there and say that the Ten Commandments simply means not to be selfish. None of the commandments are meant to be for our gain, but for the gain of those around us. Sure, number 5 gives us a promise of a long life if we obey the commandment, but in the end it is our Mother and Father who is gaining something, not us. I say all of that simply so we have an understanding of sin. We commit sin when we are selfish. Any time we use God or others for our own gain is any time we sin; and we are all guilty of that. You cannot say that you’re righteous, or blameless. Nobody can. We have all sinned. I have probably sinned more than anyone. That is part of being human in a sinful (selfish) world. When we are young we are taught to grow up, make lots of money, and have a happy life with a huge house and a good job. That was something I was taught in elementary school. It is the American dream! But that is opposite of God’s plans and needs. We were not created for that. Humans sin. It is taught to us at extremely young ages. Some even believe it is at conception that we are considered sinful, passed on from Adam. I do not believe that fully, but I will not dismiss it. 

But there comes a time in every human being’s life where they strive to be righteous. That is honorable. It is good, actually. Except, most people strive to reach their righteousness, not God’s righteousness. When talking about gaining righteousness, Paul explains how he thought he was the most righteous of all. 

“4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Philippians 3.4-6 NIV). 

He gives us a list of reasons why he should be considered the most righteous. Look at his credentials on his resume! He was circumcised on eighth day after his birth like a good Hebrew. He WAS born a Hebrew. He was born in the tribe of Benjamin (a good tribe to be born in), he even calls himself a Hebrew of Hebrews. When it comes to the WHOLE Law (all 603), he was a Pharisee. Pharisees were extremely well trained in knowing the Law, focusing on purity, and believing in the Resurrection of the Dead. He even persecuted this blasphemous sect of Jews following this dead man named Jesus with great zeal! They were speaking against the Law, that faultless law. 

But that was before his come to Jesus talk with…well, Jesus. He saw the speck of dust in EVERYONE else’s eyes, but never noticed the entire TREE in his own. That is, until God struck Him blind and showed him what the followers of Christ were actually doing. He had to rely on them to take care of him until his eyesight came back. Now look at how Paul sees his own righteousness;

“7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

Paul realized what the Law was really saying. He realized that the Law wasn’t about obeying every single silly Law, but rather obeying God. His gains were of selfishness. He was the priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He would rather cross the street and walk in the ditch than help a naked and dying man at the risk of breaking a part of the Law. He let that naked and beaten man die in the middle of the road. What is incredible is that Jesus took Paul from being the priest in the story, to training people to become the Samaritan. He gave up his zealous righteousness for Christ’s sake!  He even considers them to be garbage…or a better translation would be dung. And an even closer (to many scholars) translation would be our dirtier version of crap that is censored by most parents and media. That’s right, Paul may have said a swear word in the Bible. But that is okay, because it makes an even more powerful message. Think about it, look at that sentence again and replace garbage with crap or s***. (I will use crap for the respect of many who will read this and feel uncomfortable with the other word)

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider…them crap, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.” 

Do you see how much more powerful that becomes? He considers his righteousness something that we flush down the toilet. Something that offends us. Something that is disgusting and unclean. Something that is repulsing and needs to be rid of immediately. 

So let us go back to the beginning. We are all humans connected by our past acts of selfishness. We are told to be good people, because only good people get into Heaven. Right? Isn’t that how you get into Heaven after you die? Well, that is what the world tells us. That is not what God tells us. It is amazing how selfish the world is. God creates human, human creates gods. Each god tells us to be “good” and gain our own “righteous” state. The God of Creation does not say this. He tells us to follow His righteousness. Paul tells us that this righteousness comes through faith in Christ. So according to this, we have two options: keep piling up the dung (for reference, see picture at beginning), or leave it behind. 

Righteousness comes from loving God with our entire being, and loving our neighbors as ourself. BUT! Let me add this: This type of righteousness is not attained overnight. It is a process that lasts our complete lifetime. 

“10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3.10-14 NIV)

Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead. We cannot move forward until we leave our crap behind. Our self-righteousness is crap. It needs to be left behind forever. I picked that picture for two reasons: I absolutely love Jurassic Park, and it is the perfect illustration. That pile of excrement is way too big to be flushed down any toilet, and the thing is; it is the most realistic to what our self-righteousness looks like. It is most likely a pile of crap that is larger than ourselves and isn’t going anywhere. It is so big and heavy that it ends up holding us back from moving heavenward. It prevents us from straining toward what is ahead. We have to leave our crap behind in order to follow Christ. 

The hardest part about giving ourselves over to following Christ is that we want to cling onto our crap piles. We don’t want to let it go. It is scary. It is hard. But the only way to move forward is to leave it all behind and take your first steps toward God. Just trust in Him and He will guide you. Like I said, it is not an overnight process, but every now and then, it is good to look back and see how far we’ve come. You can always run back to your crap pile and cling onto it, but then you’d be back where you started. But if you hold it out until the end, I can promise you it will be worth it. All things that take hard work are usually worth the wait. This is a lifelong commitment to follow God. You have two choices: stay where you are, or leave it all behind and follow Christ. Are you willing to do that? My last bit of advice is this; when we do not leave our crap behind, it will pile up on top of us and weigh us down until everything starts fall apart and everyone else walks over us. Is that where you want to be? Or do you want to move forward, helping all of those who now weighed down by their baggage or suffering? Out of their piles of hardship, anger, loneliness, depression, hurting, crap? That is loving your neighbor and God. That is God’s righteousness. That is love. That is Agape.