Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Discipline of Fellowship

I’ve known many people who have been disillusioned with the church. Some of them have left their congregations in bitter disappointment, never to worship anywhere ever again.

Perhaps they were genuinely hurt, but they were wrong to leave church.

Consider the thought that the benefits for fellowship might include the conflicts we have with each other. It is an exercise in discipline, requiring us to forgive, be patient, communicate better, become humbler, and let go of anger. In short, fellowship demands us to grow.

I’ll grant that it is much more peaceful to be by yourself on the lake as you watch nature unfold in the early morning. We certainly need some quiet time. But that’s not where growth in spirit and character comes from.

Our relationships are where we get the rough edges smoothed out. It’s not particularly easy, but it’s good.

We grow as we develop the humility to be gentle when we’d rather fight. Fellowship demands that we learn self control. The touchy people in our lives inspire us to find just the right words (they’re like apples of gold, the Bible says). Perhaps only in church, where we work for more than just ourselves, do we find true spiritual discipline.

I’m sure someone is wondering at this point if I am thinking of a specific conflict we are having right now in this church. The answer is no—in fact, I’ve waited to write this when things are relatively rather smooth.

But they won’t stay that way because God’s people have to work hard to work together.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Remembering Why

When we talk about revitalizing a church, we’re often talking about more potlucks, ice cream socials, and kids’ activities. Maybe we’ll build a building or enlarge an old one. Yeah. Or maybe we’ll improve the quality of the music. And we could get another preacher—one of those hotshot fire breathing charismatic superstars that draw crowds. And by all means, let’s get a sign so we can say all kinds of clever things to those that drive by—that’d be cool.

We can draw all the members from the other churches away. We won’t worry that no one new is really coming to Christ. We’ll be the best and the brightest in town.

But will we honor God?

The church in America has been declining for the last forty years, and it has taken those of us in leadership nearly that long to admit it.

I know why it happened. We forgot why we exist.

We got so busy with our activities, public relations, and infighting that we forgot that our purpose is to help each other get closer to God. And people are still lonely for God. In fact, they’re desperate for him.

Frankly, so are we.

So let’s use our best tools—ice cream, music, and all the rest. But let’s remember why.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Impractical Religion

I have heard churches advertise themselves on the radio these days, promising that if you come to their church you’ll hear sermons that are practical.

This is a promise I just can’t make.

There’s a great deal about Christianity that the world would consider impractical. We worship Someone who refused to defend himself, but let his life be taken, and we try to be just like Him. We preach that real strength is found in submission and sacrifice. We value meekness, gentleness, and sacrifice. We teach that it is better to speak softly and not insist on our own way.

We tell each other to love our enemies and bless those who would harm us. We believe in being honest and keeping our promises even if it is painful to do so.

We encourage each other to give up a significant portion of their wealth for the sake of God—we call it tithing.

None of this is considered practical. Others would call us na├»ve and tell us that one can’t really practice these values in the real world.

By the way, how is it going in the real world? .

In the real world, people are brutalized with unspeakable violence. Our economy has taken a nasty turn because people have been selfish and dishonest. Children are losing their innocence at an early age. We live in a time of uncertainty and anxiety.

If that’s where practicality has taken us, perhaps it’s time to embrace the impractical righteousness of Christianity where we try to do things that are good and even beautiful.

So if you’re looking for practicality, don’t come to my church, because you won’t find it. Instead, you’ll find people who are looking to change the world to a less practical state.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Matter of Excellence

It was an old Dick Van Dyke episode—one of my all time favorite shows. The music swelled and the guest star stood to sing.

In the instant before he uttered a sound, I knew he was a real singer. Other singers will understand how I knew when I say that he stood straight, like a string was pulled taut from the top of his head on down. The weight on his feet was evenly distributed and one foot was slightly in front of the other.

He wasn't going to belt out a catchy pop phrase with a laryngitic voice. He was a real singer who made his whole body a musical instrument from his toes up. He used his lungs, throat, mouth, even his sinuses for resonance.

The song itself was beautiful with a true rich melody and a poetic message.

I know it shows how much of a sissy I am, but it got me all emotional.

How to relate it to others? It was like watching an athlete who trained all his life for a winning Olympic moment. Or like a mechanic who hears the first throaty roar of a his shiny custom made hotrod.

It was more than just good enough.

It was excellent.

The song got to me because in recent years I've grown weary of most of the music that surrounds us. And that's discouraging because music has been a big part of my life since before I could talk.

I'm tired of monotonous rhythm, nonmelodic melodies, and the standard key change at the third verse.

I'm sorry, but I'm also tired of a lot of religious music: the praise songs with their single phrases repeated over and over, and the same old hymns that I can sing in my sleep.

I hasten to say how much I appreciate the music of our own wonderful church choir. For that matter, I don't wish to criticize anyone's musical preference—if it does something for you, I'm glad.

I just want to say that I yearn for more than just good enough, and I'm grateful when I experience it.

It makes me remember that the time, effort, and experience that it takes to be excellent can be worth it. Whether it be in music, sports, cars, or education.

In matters of the spirit, too.