Thinking Out Loud

March 17, 2011

Turning Up The Spiritual Volume

An updated post from something originally appearing in March, 2009…

 

god-is-with-us

Lately, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what it means to expect God’s presence in all that we do “at church.” I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.” This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.

When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together. Or at least, sort of. I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning. He never misses our church service, right?

So I’ll begin with something like,

“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us. Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here. No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize. Open our hearts. Meet with us today in a special way. Amen.”

The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory. And I think a church business meeting, or a church clean-up day are good examples of that. Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.

Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?” Yeah, seriously. What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities? What if…

  • What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
  • What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
  • What if every mail-out and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
  • What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
  • What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
  • What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
  • What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving?  (Update: Saw this done recently, and it was awesome!)
  • What if every pot-luck lunch was actually more like the upper-room meal Jesus shared with his disciples?
  • What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
  • What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?

That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.” Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.

god-is-with-us1

Quick example. Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario. I worked alone. One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me for free at a local church. To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.

But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse. At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to find an opening, but I couldn’t find a place to jump in.”

I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today. I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program. (See this post, Blocking Peoples’ View from exactly three years ago, for another way of describing this.)

Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us. But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen. And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.

It would also revolutionize the way we do things outside of church. We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives. Nah. That’s way too radical.

…After committing to write this piece a few days ago, I came across this today from Kaybee, a regular visitor here, on her blog Important to Me. She looks at the way we approach our local church as a sign of what our expectations are. Do we expect that God is really waiting to meet with us?

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April 20, 2010

Reblogging: The Lost Art of Giving

usher_sidebetsOne of the downsides of regular tithing to ones local church is that we can sometimes feel that we’ve ended our obligation to do anything else in a financial sense. Don’t get me wrong, the local church where you receive teaching, fellowship and spiritual nurture should be the first priority, when you look at where your money is going. But once done, your heart should still be open to the possibility of responding to other needs you hear about or see around you.

I’ll get back to that in a minute. First I want to consider another set of possibilities.

There are many people — especially in the blogosphere — who have gotten burned out on the whole church thing. Entire shelves in Christian bookstores are devoted to this theme. Those people are not current attending anywhere, which means many are not currently making financial contributions to the work of building the Kingdom of God. If you’re one of them, it’s possible that as the income tax deadline approaches (less than two weeks in the U.S. and four weeks in Canada) you’re realizing you don’t have the charitable deductions you may have had in the past.

For the people in either of the first or third paragraphs above, I want to suggest some guidelines that I have found helpful in choosing projects to support. I came up with some of this at a time we had no money at all, but am no trying to apply these things to some situations I have been aware of and trying to become more generous in my* giving.

*”My” in this case really meaning “our;” because I don’t do this alone but in consultation with my wife.

  1. How great is the need? Is this a project that one or two people can help with, or is going to take a lot of people pulling together to make this happen? Sometimes we tend to bail out if the need is huge, thinking our contribution won’t make a difference. Other times, if the need is small, we think someone else will take care of it.
  2. How urgent is the need? If the organization or project needs finances now, it means people need to respond now.
  3. How visible is the project or need? Item (1) notwithstanding, there is an organization I know of that is so very visible that I sometimes find myself looking at projects I think may be off the radar of other people.
  4. How able is the constituency to support itself? Some people think that the people who most benefit from a ministry or organization should be the people who are supporting it. But that’s not the case with ministry to the poor, or to youth, or to seekers and new believers who haven’t yet learned the principle of giving.
  5. How much of my gift will go directly to meeting the need? As with anything financial, we need to be shrewd; we need to be good stewards. Make sure the need is real and that someone’s plight is being exploited to maintain the organization itself. Giving in this sense may take the form of giving directly to an individual or family, bypassing the tax receipt.

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If you live in Canada and are looking for some practical suggestions on giving, e-mail me (see the contact-us button) and depending on the response you’ll get either a personal reply or a copy of some suggestions.

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April 20, 2010 update:  Sorry for the reblog today.  Things just got busy.   Link list for tomorrow is ready to go.

March 21, 2010

The Top 100 Issues That Divide Us

When the blogger at Free In Christ started his blog in July of 2008, he noted his indebtedness to a book by Cecil Hook also called Free in Christ.   Not being a regular follower of that blog, and so not having read everything in between then and now, it does appear that 21 months later, he hasn’t stopped blogging his admiration for the book.

Recently, he cited Cecil Hook’s list of 100 things people disagree on in the churches of Christ.    Rather than simply link to it — many of you never click anyway, and even fewer leave comments — I wanted to have this list recorded here.    I’m not sure about the order in which these are listed, but here it is:

1. taking of oaths
2. serving in the military
3. inflicting capital punishment
4. using force to defend oneself or others
5. voting for political candidates
6. serving as a government official
7. engaging in political activism
8. Christmas or Easter programs
9. letting a non-member lead prayer
10. lifting hands while singing
11. joining a ministerial alliance
12. indwelling of the Holy Spirit
13. work of the Holy Spirit
14. baptism of the Holy Spirit
15. prayer for healing
16. the Trinity
17. special providence
18. how God answers prayer
19. fasting
20. translations of the Bible
21. use of Thee and Thou in prayer
22. authority of elders
23. who selects and appoints elders
24. qualifications of elders
25. tenure of elders
26. elders presiding at the Lord’s Table
27. qualifications of deacons
28. deaconesses
29. enrolling widows
30. addressing disciples as Major or Doctor
31. long hair on men
32. midweek contributions
33. dimming the lights during prayer
34. singing as the emblems are passed
35. use of church buildings for secular activities
36. use of pictures of Jesus
37. use of symbols such as the cross
38. use of steeples and stained glass windows
39. use of the term Sunday School
40. passing of the collection baskets
41. eating in the church building
42. grounds for disfellowshipping
43. support of colleges from the church treasury
44. divorce for any cause
45. remarriage of a divorced person
46. preacher officiating at a wedding of a divorced person
47. disciples marrying non-members
48. preacher officiating for a mixed marriage
49. use of an instrument in “church” weddings
50. method and type of inspiration of the Bible
51. re-baptism of Baptists and Christian Church members
52. the “five items of worship”
53. use of choirs, choruses, quartets, solos, etc.
54. serving the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening
55. serving the Lord’s Supper other than in assemblies
56. integration of races
57. smoking
58. total abstinence from alcoholic beverages
59. membership in fraternal orders
60. contributing to public charities
61. use of Bible class literature
62. youth directors, youth rallies, youth camps
63. the six days of creation being literal days
64. the extent of evolution
65. the operation of Christian hospitals
66. awards and prizes for church activities
67. debating religious issues
68. ministers of education, ministers of music, etc.
69. benevolence to fellow-disciples only
70. the baptismal “formula”
71. formal confession before baptism
72. going to law against disciples
73. dedicating babies
74. signing contribution pledge cards
75. children’s homes under eldership or a board
76. dancing
77. women wearing shorts and slacks
78. women wearing slacks to church services
79. girls leading prayer in family devotionals
80. girls leading prayer in youth devotionals
81. clapping hands during singing
82. buying VBS refreshments from the treasury
83. the present day activity of demons
84. applauding in the assembly
85. use of God’s name as a by-word
86. use of euphemisms of God’s name in by-words
87. use of contraceptives
88. abortion
89. adopting out an illegitimate child
90. women working outside the home
91. Children’s Bible Hour
92. busing children to services
93. “What is to be will be.”
94. bodily resurrection
95. if we shall know each other in heaven
96. degrees of reward and punishment
97. whether heaven and hell are literal places
98. dress code for men serving the Lord’s Supper
99. whether Christ came in AD 70
100. a name for the church

The unnamed blogger follows the list with a brief discussion here, but I’m wondering if you think there’s anything there that shouldn’t be or anything that got left out?

And now, for today’s bonus item:

This is the “disagreement hierarchy.”  Anyone know the origin of this?   Here’s an article (without the chart) which would seem to attribute this to Paul Graham.

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