I Go to Church

I Go to Church

I have always gone to church, but I almost quit. In fact, I almost quit every week. I spend many Sundays wondering what the point is? Many times I don’t really enjoy it. I doubt if I’d be missed.¬†Intellectually, I know God is not found in a building. In fact, I often wonder if God is to be found at all? I don’t feel especially close to anyone there.¬†I don’t experience¬†elation or a spiritual high.

I was seriously contemplating becoming a “None.” I know a lot of Nones. I know why they became Nones. I feel like I’m always on the verge of becoming a None, too. Because, really. What would happen to me if I quit?

My answer to that question changes. Today, I think I go to church because if I didn’t, I might loose what little faith I cling to. Going to church, for me, is worship. I depend on the concept of worship to weekly define and bolster my faith in the Big Idea that there is a Divine Soul who loves me.

All people worship.

Worship has been a part of human existence for a very long time. Depending on the century and culture, a worship experience looks different. But, the basic gist or functions remain the same no matter where or when it occurs. There is an idea that sparks deep emotion, breeding loyalty to a ritual that reminds us of that idea. These components are found in all religions and even in non-religious activities that are formed around an idea that inspires and practices routine.

worshipillustration.jpg

For instance, millions of people travel to Disney to experience worship. Even me.

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The¬†idea: Wishes have the power to make dreams come true. (Listen to this sermon, and tell me you don’t feel like glorying!¬†Disney Wishes Firework Show, Disney Magic Kingdom) Ask anyone over the age of 12 if they really believe that idea, and you’ll get a negative. But, the idea inspires nevertheless. The idea that births worship doesn’t necessary have to be true or even be believed to be true. The idea just needs to breed intense emotion. Disney has many ideas, but hallmark Disney is: dreams come true. We can all achieve a happy ending.

The emotional value of Disney’s core idea is undisputed. It is the happiest place on earth!¬†Blessedness is an important emotion to worship, but other emotions can promote worship as well, as long as the emotion is profound. Fear is often the emotion felt as a result of religious ideas, and it is often a more powerful motivator than enjoyment. Disney¬†delivers great emotional value.

Loyalty is bred in many different ways. Profound attachment, zeal, faith, and even duty play a part in being committed. Sometimes we are loyal because we want to be, and sometimes we are loyal even when we don’t want to be. The idea of loyalty in worship introduces self-determination to the component of worship. Ask any Disney fan why they keep returning to Disney Parks, and you’ll get many different answers. People commit for many different reasons. But, loyal fans keep plunking down their money to partake in the rituals surrounding the experience of Disney.

Rituals surrounding Disney are too many to name. Taking a  yearly trip to Disney Theme Parks has been compared to medieval religious pilgrimages. The discipline involved to save money for the excursion, the repetition of themes, the physical participation, the spending, and the  imaginative exercises remind us of religious habits that have been formed to remind us of the Big Idea. In ritual, we experience something physically, with repetition, so that the idea that started the whole experience is recalled and refreshed.

Disney has all the components of a worship experience. Hence, it is filled with meaning for millions and it inspires deep commitment.

Church without worship is pointless.

As I reflect on my Disney worship experience, I also reflect on why I still go to church. Why haven’t¬†I¬†become a None, when I empathize so much with them? ¬†And perhaps if you are a None, you will find the reason in your answers to one of these questions.

Do I believe in the Idea? I struggle with unbelief every minute, but I hope with my whole being the Idea is true. That is my experience of faith. I believe, so I sort it out accordingly. I doubt, so I sort it out accordingly.

Do I experience emotion from the Idea? Oh yes, but the emotions that come to mind first are annoyance, frustration, even dread. The church has been a disheartening place. But, it has also been a place of encouragement, hope, and love. It would be unfair to focus on the bad without recalling the good. Church is also a consistent place that I can focus on the Idea and give it space to elicit emotion within me.

Am I loyal to the Idea?  I am. And this is the strongest reason I still go to church. If I believe the Idea, then I must act like it. I proclaim my faith every Sunday when I go to church. Even when that faith is faltering.

Does the ritual still remind me of the Idea? ¬†Sometimes all the things I don’t like about church get in the way of the Idea. Christian ritual, for me, is a disciplined practice of faith. I attend church, take Jesus’ body and blood, witness baptisms, and serve others to bolster the hope of the Idea. Religious practices without thought are pointless. Going to church without using that time to remember the Idea is useless.

Because of the Big Idea of a Divine Soul who loves me, I go to church. I worship at church because I make a point to. If I became a None, I know I would loose the little faith I have without the ritual to remind me that I am loyal to the Idea that sparks great emotion within.

This year, I am tracking my journey of worship by going to church. See my pictures each week with #Igotochurch on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Join me?

 

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Women in the Text: Sarah’s Submissive Reputation

Women in the Text: Sarah’s Submissive Reputation

Thousands of years after Sarah lived, we learn she was a well-admired woman by those who studied the Hebrew Scriptures.¬†Peter describes her as submissive to Abraham and full of courage (1 Peter 3:5-6). The author of Hebrews extols her faith in God’s promise (Hebrews 11:11). At face value, these may seem like different aspects of her character, but I’d argue they are both referring to the same episode in Sarah’s life: the time¬†Isaac was conceived.

Sarah did not submit to Abraham’s sin.

In 1 Peter 3, the author¬†uses Sarah’s submissiveness to Abraham as an example for women who are married to unbelieving husbands. Sarah herself was not married to an unbeliever, so what aspect of her life is to serve as an example? What was Sarah known for in the time Peter was written? It has been proposed by many preachers, theologians and women’s studies that Sarah submitted to Abraham’s lie and endured the sexual attentions of Pharaoh and Abimalech for his protection. But as I wrote in a previous article, The Sister Story was not a¬†lie, but the truth that Abraham and Sarah publicized in order to¬†survive the culture of licentiousness surrounding their family in Canaan. Abimalech and Pharaoh’s gifts of honor support the facts that they had abused and dishonored Sarah through no fault of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah did not submit to Abraham’s sin because Abraham did not sin in these circumstances of bride theft. Wives married to unbelieving husbands should not use a misunderstanding of The Sister Story as¬†the example to submit to their husbands, even in some twisted way for their husband’s protection.

My lord is old.

So what part of Sarah’s reputation is Peter referring to? Verse ¬†6 says Sarah¬†called Abraham, “lord.” Glancing back at Sarah’s story, this title for her husband was only recorded once. Doesn’t that simplify the context Peter is referring to for us?

So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‚ÄúAfter I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?‚ÄĚ Genesis 18:12

Sarah was 89-years-old. She was infertile. This verse records her reaction to God telling her the time had come for God’s promise to materialize as a baby. It was a sensible reaction, yes? She was not a virgin. She understood that to have a baby, she and Abraham were first going to have to make the baby. ¬†Yada-yada-yada, if you understand my Yiddish. Hence her first concern was that her lady parts were worn out and that her “sire” was decrepit. At 99, Abraham would have difficulty fulfilling his job as well. Hebrews even says “he was good as dead.” Even in her cynicism, Sarah’s faith shines bright, and she submits in faith to try once more to make a baby. She believed God.

If you have ever struggled with infertility or walked alongside of someone who has, I’m sure you understand the enormity of Sarah’s submissiveness to the promise of a baby. The fear of failure is overwhelming, yet the hope of success urges you on again and again until your optimism is exhausted. You are wrung out and your heart can only survive with callouses. You learn to quarantine¬†your desire for a child… so you can stay alive. Sarah knew all this for 7 1/2 decades. She probably thought she was over it. Until God’s Word sparked her amusement and re-kindled the dreaded desire to try. just. one. more. time.

She believed God and submitted to Abraham again.

Submissive Sarah cooperated with God (and Abraham).

In the recorded stories of the Bible, God seeks human participation in God’s work in the world. I was recently reminded of this as I discussed baptism with my daughter. Baptism is a person’s action of faith. It is a submissive response that proves to witnesses that we’ve formed a heavenly alliance. My favorite prophet, Elisha, was the master at getting others involved in God’s work. Sure, we could look at this participatory involvement as a “test of faith.” But, I’ve never liked that perspective. Instead, I believe these are acts of grace designed to attract our affections through our cooperation with the Divine. And that is my personal definition of submission.

Sarah cooperated with Abraham to procure their tiny bundle of grace, who she named “Laughter (Isaac)” after the pivotal moment in her life when she faced her fears and hopes with action and courage.

The [women of old] submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. 1 Peter 3:5-6

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Hebrews 11:11

Sarah¬†believed God’s¬†promise.

Sarah’s submissive reputation was the result of her faith in God’s Word that she would birth a royal family. She cooperated with God’s plan for her and joined Abraham to participate in the act of grace required to conceive a child. Against all the odds, Sarah birthed the¬†promised child.

When spurs leave you bleeding and jumpy…

Pixabay: Denver Colorado Statue Monument Cowboy Horse Sky
Pixabay: Denver Colorado Statue Monument Cowboy Horse Sky

I have a history with spurs. I’ve been kicked and prodded by well-intentioned Christians hoping to change my direction. Those spurs hurt. I fear them. They leave me confused. I lose my sense of direction and purpose.¬†I thought I was walking the straight and narrow¬†until a sharp jab startles me into flight, and I take a nose dive off the path.

“Spur one another on!” They use Hebrews 10:24 as justification for their punch in my gut. They don’t notice the direction their kick launched me.

Yet Hebrews¬†tells us to apply the spurs to stimulate each other to love and good works. This has never made sense to me, I’ll be honest. The word translated spur or stimulate here means to incite or irritate. When I get irritated, love is not my go-to response, let me tell ya.

Something similar happened to Barnabas. Paul seriously did not trust Mark who had quit the work with Paul once before.  Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance.

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Acts 15:39

So much for provoking the love. That word for sharp disagreement is the same one the author of Hebrews (interestingly, there is a good case it was Barnabas!) used as spur or provoke. They spurred each other in opposite directions. And frankly, that is my response to spurs.

Yet, in Hebrews, the follow up thought to this provoke is to come together with encouragement (Heb. 10:25). I guess the early church had given up on each other.

I wonder if those spurs had anything to do with it?

Today’s church-dropping habit

We are seeing the same thing happen today. People are giving up meeting together. Some people think this is a big problem. Some people have lots of answers:

It’s not really happening.

Its the fault of a watered down message.

We need more authenticity.

They just don’t believe its true.

I’m not going to add my opinion here.

What I am going to do is ENCOURAGE those still faithfully attending church …

…to lay off the spurs.

When you hear someone has stopped going to church, please don’t provoke them. Please try not to be irritating. Please don’t add to their pain or frustrations. Don’t poke them with promises to pray.

Instead, be a soothing balm. Build up your relationship with them regardless of your own disappointment. YOU hang out with them, and not to preach the Bible at them, but simply to BE with them. Love them – that doesn’t mean tell them everything they are doing wrong in the guise of truth. It means enjoy who they are! Encourage them – not to follow your understanding of Biblical instruction – but to be brave enough to explore their soul. Together. And do this together.

Do not give up on being together, but encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:25)

Its time to stop hurting others in the name of doing good.

And for those of you in church leadership, consider adding a few Millennials to your decision-making boards. Kevin Lloyd details 5 Reasons you need a 25 year old on your church board. Its a great way to encourage the younger set that you are listening and want to hear their voices!

Satan’s best tactic

Satan’s best tactic

How many of you have heard the sermon about what to do when tempted? <raises hand>

I bet the teacher used either the temptation of Jesus or the armor of God as text, right?

  • What did Jesus do when faced with temptation? He quoted God’s Word, of course!
  • We must weild the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God!

But does quoting the Words of God alone work in our battle against sin? Nope. Words are not a talisman of protection against strong desire or deceit. In fact, referencing God’s Word is Satan’s best tactic¬†in tempting Christians to act like heathens.¬†As the first woman learned to her shame.

The Bible describes two famous temptation scenes: The First Humans and Jesus.

These two stories have much in common. Both Jesus and the First Humans were perfect. Neither knew what life was like unconnected to God. Unlike us, they were not enticed by the evil desires of their flesh, because their flesh did not desire sinful things. (James 1:14-15) Could that be why a literal Being presented itself as the tempting force?

Both the First Humans and Jesus were tempted by the evil one, who took visible form and talked with them. Not only did Satan appear, he initiated.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman…

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him

The devil used food as his opener.

…‚ÄúDid God really say, ‚ÄėYou must not eat from any tree in the garden‚Äô?‚ÄĚ It asked the woman.

The devil said to him, ‚ÄúIf you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.‚ÄĚ

Both Eve and Jesus battled with God’s Word.

[The woman said] … God did say, ‚ÄėYou must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.‚Äô

Jesus answered, ‚ÄúIt is written: ‚ÄėMan shall not live on bread alone.‚Äô”

Satan responded by using God’s Word. To the woman he said God said something He never did, and to Jesus he twisted the context.

‚ÄúYou will not certainly die,‚ÄĚ the serpent said to the woman. ‚ÄúFor God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.‚ÄĚ

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‚ÄúIf you are the Son of God,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚Äúthrow yourself down. For it is written:¬† ‚Äú‚ÄėHe will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands,¬†so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.‚Äô‚ÄĚ

Eve used God’s Word, but it wasn’t enough.

These two situations had more in common than not. But the distinction is what made the difference between success and failure. Eve was deceived. ¬†She probably didn’t even know she was being tempted! She believed something that wasn’t. She acted on information that was false. Believing she was doing the right thing, she ate. But she understood God all wrong.¬†And she was ashamed that she was duped by lies.

Oh dear. How often have I done the exact same thing? Believing my actions were what was required from God’s Word, I’ve sown discord, pain and destruction. Looking¬†back, I realize I was tempted with pride, self-righteousness and¬†the fear of man. I succumbed to the deceit of those desires. And, I too am ashamed I fell for the lies I believed about God.

3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  2 Corinthians 11

Paul, who wrote those warning verses,¬†understood deceit. He was a zealous Jew. He loved God’s Word. He believed killing Christians was the right way to serve God. His sincere desire was to live -or die –¬†for the Lord. But he got it all wrong.

Deceit blinds us to the temptation.

13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  1 Timothy 1

I wonder at this. Can I even tell I’m being tempted if there is deceit sugaring the bait? How can I battle this ignorance?¬†Paul was¬†blindly sinning away, all the while believing he was acting righteously…based on his understanding of the Word of God. Only an encounter with the true Word, the incarnate and resurrected Christ, set him straight. And this is what he taught as the antidote¬†to¬†deceit. Holding our beliefs up to the light of Jesus, with the help of His Spirit. Paul knew how easy ¬†it is to be deceived, and so he warns Christians to be aware to the possibility that teachers are twisting God’s Word to bind us to a gospel that is not Jesus’. Just like Satan. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

Heed the warning.

There really¬†isn’t a formula of Words. Sure, knowing God’s truth helps us discern error, but what if we¬†ignorantly follow an¬†interpretation that is in itself¬†an error? It is Satan’s best tactic. He twists God’s Word to tempt us.

 

 

Gems from Numbers 11: “Let me out of here!”

Gems from Numbers 11: “Let me out of here!”

In Numbers 11, Moses was stressed out.

‚Äú What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Did I conceive them? Was I their mother? So why dump the responsibility of this people on me? Why tell me to carry them around like a nursing mother, carry them all the way to the land you promised to their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people who are whining to me, ‚ÄėGive us meat; we want meat.‚Äô I can‚Äôt do this by myself‚ÄĒit‚Äôs too much, all these people. If this is how you intend to treat me, do me a favor and kill me. I‚Äôve seen enough; I‚Äôve had enough. Let me out of here.‚ÄĚ

In my head, his tantrum sounds just like the one I had this morning with my three children. Moses felt the stress of a mother*, who constantly cares for her children only to have them complain about the ONE THING they don’t have. And he lost it.

Oh Moses, I so get you.

*Or father, or nanny, or any full time caregiver of children.

The Thin Gray Line

The Thin Gray Line

I have said many times that those who believe as Complementarians, often practically live out their marriages¬†as Egalitarians. There are¬†many varieties of marriage in the Complementarian basket. Some follow a strict hierarchy, others practice a more democratic system. Many Comp marriages are a great example of unity and partnership. Even though many Comps believe the wife is to follow her husband’s leadership, most Comp husbands¬† don’t require absolute obedience. In fact, they consistently yield to and seek to please their wives. They never (or rarely) pull “the trump card” of authority in their marriage to¬†override their wife’s desire. A great explanation of this is found this article by Alan Johnson.

A Christian Understanding of Submission (A Non-Hierarchal-Complementarian Viewpoint)

In essence, many Complementarian husbands believe they have the authority of rule, but they don’t demand it. As a result, it is hard for Comps to understand the temptation inherent in the Complementarian belief system to domestic abuse. Here is the circle of thought by a husband prone to controlling, dominating ways.

“The Bible says I am to be the head of my house. I am responsible for what happens in my home. My wife should submit to me. She doesn’t. I must make her, so I can be a good husband.”

The husband’s role performance is based on the wife’s role performance. Hence, “wives submit” becomes uber-important for Comp marriages to properly function. This is why Ephesians 5:22 is emphasized in Complementarian churches. It is the hinge that swings a godly marriage. If it squeaks or rusts shut, the marriage is not functioning as God intended. The husband can’t lead because the wife won’t follow.

This gender-based role of wife-submit and husband-lead,  creates a thin, gray line. On one side of the line are Comp marriages that espouse gender-based submission and leadership, but in ways that look very Egalitarian. On the other side of the line lay the Complementarians that believe in a strict hierarchy: males and females must remain in their given roles or the church is headed for ruin. Because the line is thin, it is often hard to see the differences in Comp teaching, but the line is exposed by taking a look at the outcome of the teaching. Unified, peaceful marriages or abusive, subservient ones?

Because Comps believe a wife’s duty is to submit to her husband (regardless of the husband’s leadership abilities) , it is hard to find a firm line around what her submission should practically look like in a difficult marriage. Some Comp marriages are strict traditionalists bordering on abuse. Some Comp marriages find women negotiating¬†their role of submission into something they are comfortable with, and the husbands distancing themselves away from having “the final say.” There is a wide discrepancy when it actually comes to how submission looks in a Comp marriage. Many times this teaching is simply empty theory. Many times it is an excuse to wield power over one spouse.

I have no profound conclusion. Understanding the differences in individual marriages may help those who label themselves Comp or Egal see an opposite view that may have been clouded. Not all Comps marriages follow the dogma, just the label.

A Woman Made Me Say It

Proverbs 31:1-9 is a collection of the King Lemuel’s favorite sayings. It reads like a catechism of simple truths. Three things I find interesting.

  1. The gender of the author.
  2. The meaning of chayil.
  3. The emphasis on compassion and mediation, namely the use of pain killers.
The Golden Book Encyclopedia, Book 10. 1959. 933.

Who taught the King?

His mother, a woman. Verse 1 says:

The sayings of King Lemuel‚ÄĒan inspired utterance (KJV¬†–¬†prophecy) his mother taught him.

Jewish legend teaches that King Lemuel is Solomon. If this is true, then Bathsheeba is the author of this portion of Scripture. Regardless of the woman’s identity, there is no doubt¬†its author-ity is female. And the student is royal. Since none of us are destined to rule, we cannot take the instruction literally, but we can pull principles¬†for the commoner.

Don’t waste your chayil. Find more.

Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. (KJV)

The word translated strength is chayil. The same word used 7 verses later to describe the type of woman the king should find: A woman of chayil.¬†¬†It can mean power or might in a warlike setting. It is more often translated as army than any other word, and it carries the sense of courage. It also means¬†wealth¬†and the power of material¬†substance. And some translations replace “strength” in this verse with “wealth.”

Theologians¬†interpret this verse as instruction in chastity, and I think that is a part, but it may miss the entire intent. No where else¬†is chayil a reference to sexual prowess. It is a¬†power term. A strength proven in battle –¬†or with gold. Could Lemuel’s mother be warning him against strong-arming the women in his life? Or more likely, that this type of strength should have no place in his most intimate relationships? Or, if the intent of chayil is monetary power, that women should not be obtained with it?

If you believe the author is the same for the last part of the chapter (which is doubted by many translators due to the transition of style), the monetary sense goes nicely with verses 10-11. Connected together, we have a witty play on words.

Verse 3: Give not your chayil to women…

Verse 10: Find a woman of chayil.

The context of verse 10 is wealth. She is worth far more than rubies.¬† Her husband has full confidence in her¬†and lacks nothing of value. Lemuel’s mother is concerned with what her son does with his chayil. Not only should he not give it away needlessly, he should obtain more of it by finding a wife with chayil to add to his.

Just because its not for you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let another have it.

 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,

It is not for kings to drink wine,

Nor for princes intoxicating drink;

Is Lemuel’s mother teaching total abstinence from alcohol or temperence? The word used for “drink” can imply either drinking or drunkeness. And for those who have no experience with alcohol…there is a difference. One glass of wine does not a drunk make. I believe her meaning is evident in the following verses when she describes the act of the miserable forgetting their misery. She is speaking of drinking with the intent to lose your rational mind.

Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,    and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty    and remember their misery no more.

But that is splitting hairs. The intent of her instruction is clear: a king can never forget he is Justice. Why should he do anything to endanger his ability to rule fairly?¬† But that does not mean there is no place for alcohol in his kingdom rule. She instructs him to¬†give alcohol to dull the pain of the dying and the bitter-hearted. Not just “let them have it,” but GIVE it to them.

In the mind of this mother, there is a place for pain-killers. It is a compassionate act to allow the hurting a brief reprieve of forgetfulness.

Speak Up!

His mother wraps the proverb with an appeal to kingly mediation. And who needs the mediation of the king? Those sentenced to die, those who have no voice, and those without money to obtain personal justice. The same folks who plead the ear of King Jesus.

Before the law, we are condemned, silenced and bankrupt. May He ever plead our case.