Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Are we really all in this together?

After going to churches for over a month together Caspar comments to Jim:
"If every church is of the same body...then why is this megachurch [The Potter's House, Dallas, TX] all black and megas like Willow and Saddleback all white? The leading roles are reversed - with blacks in the majority here and whites making token strategic appearancs. But why don't they worship together? If you follow Paul's metaphor, the church should be the most integrated place in Amercia, but even I've heard the line about eleven o'clock Sunday morning being the most segregated hour in America. Why the segregation? Aren't you guys in the 'love your neighbor as you love yourself' business? I mean it. No other group out there preaches togetherness more than the church, and no other group out there is as obviously segregated." (pg. 134)

What do we think about that? When we look around our workplace, our church, our grocery stores, our children's classrooms do we see more than one color? Or are we completely segregating ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ who do not look like we do, whatever color our skin and whatever our socio-economic status?

Is it an issue of socio-economic status? Is it an issue of culture? It is an issue of unackknowledged racism that is driven by a fear of differences? The cultural and fear issues don't hold much weight - get over those. Didn't God create all of us in his image? At the core, we are all the same - children created by one God. That fact should overwhelm any other objections we have about being in relationship with people who from outward appearances seem different than ourselves.

As far as socio-economic status being a dividing wall - that is also something that we should actively be working to tear down. Aren't we called by Jesus to help those who have less than we do? Did Jesus just go and deliver food/services and then walk away or did he befriend and eat and live with those who were different and had less?

I know that getting from where we are to where we should be is too overwhelming for any of us to handle on our own. But if we each take one small step at a time, we can do it together.

What first step will you take?


"Then God said, 'Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' " Genesis 1:26


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cross cultural misunderstanding

Just a quick blog today. Caspar talks to Jim about the prevalence of 'blood' in the Christian church.

When you think about it, it is true. There is talk of blood at the Lord's supper. There is talk of blood when we speak of salvation. There is blood when we talk of how are sins get washed away. Heck, if we want to give an exact physical description of the crucifixion we need to say that we believe in a savior who actually had to be beaten, nailed to a cross, and die from asphyxiation in order to save us from our sins. It is impossible for us as humans to completely appreciate that gift, but as far as I can appreciate it, I do. But from an outsiders point of view, it must seem strange....

Caspar begins talking about hymns and states, " 'What baffles me as always, though, are the words. 'What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus....No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.' 'Blood, blood, blood. Imagine if Christians heard a Muslim singing about blood all the time. I bet they'd get kind of freaked out.' " (pg. 92)

Just a thought - but with all the anti-Islamic sentiment going around right now, might it not behoove us to be a little more critical in our thinking about other religions? Maybe we should take time to learn what other religions actually believe and teach and not just what others say they believe or what fringe groups say they believe. I mean, do we want certain Christian factions speaking for all of us as far as what we believe as Christians?

Remember that in the Early Christian church, Christians were labeled 'cannibals' because of misunderstandings surrounding the meaning of the Lord's Supper.

I'm not saying that there are other ways to Salvation apart from Christ. What I am saying is that we shouldn't let fear dictate how we think about and treat people who have a different belief system from us.

If we truly want to spread the gospel to the whole world what will make it easier: Going in with guns blazing to discredit someone's entire belief system? Or approaching someone with love and respect for who they are and where they have come from?

When I look at Jesus examples in Scripture of how he approached different people in the Bible: The Samaritan woman (John 4:7), the centurion (Luke 7:3), I suspect that I know the answer.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye', when you, yourself, fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Luke 6:41-42)


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An outward focused fellowship

This is my third blog about my thoughts on the book, "Jim and Caspar go to Church". One of the themes that keeps coming up for Caspar is the idea that I will call 'fellowship'. There is a Greek word used often in the New Testament to express the relationship of people within the early church. It is called "koinonia" Koinonia means, "communion by intimate participation." It is a word that describes a community in which people are fully bonded together through their mutual love for and faith in Jesus Christ.

I think it is this idea of koinonia that is missing from many of our churches today and Caspar easily recognizes its absence when he is visiting churches with Jim. Caspar explains it by saying that people don't seem to be engaged in church (I talked about this two blogs ago) or he seems to constantly say that the people don't seem connected. Or that church just seems to be something that people are checking off of their list. I think he is probably right in all three descriptions. If Christians don't feel a sense of communion with the others they are worshiping with, then they are most likely not engaged, not connected, and just checking off their list.

Caspar senses something different however, when he visits his friend Jason's house church. Jason holds worship in his home with a small group of people, most of whom Caspar knows from different activities and events. They eat together, they pray together, they sing together, and they sit silently together. While the small numbers make Caspar feel a little uncomfortable, he says the following about the service: "And then, just like everywhere else, the call to worship was followed by prayer. And - maybe because I knew everyone, or maybe because of the intimate setting - it took on an intensity I haven't seen or felt anywhere else we've been, Jim...I could really see how deeply they felt what they were doing - these people whom I've seen in so many other settings - it was as if they'd just gotten naked in front of me." (pg. 81)

Caspar has finally witnessed a true Christian community in action, in communion with each other. He isn't quite sure what to make of it. He doesn't know if the people were "...communing more with each other or with God..." (pg. 82)but he does know that he has seen something different.

At Live Oak we want to encourage koinonia - to encourage communion within our community. We want folks to stay and talk to each other (while tearing down and loading up the trailer :) ), to begin forming friendships and relationships with everyone who comes on Sunday morning. But we also need to remember that when we have our 'group' of folks with whom we do have true communion and fellowship, we can't stop meeting other people. It is our job as Christians to continue to reach out and create new relationships with new people. Otherwise, a community that enjoys true koinonia, simply slips into disengagement and becomes a church where people go on Sunday mornings to check off their 'to do' list.

This coming Sunday, I would like to challenge all of us to meet someone new and learn one thing about them that we can remember. Let's start to create and environment that will make Live Oak into more than a church - it will make it into a community.



Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"If you died tonight...."

This blog is going to continue through some ideas I found interesting in "Jim and Caspar go to Church", the story of a Christian pastor who hires an atheist to give him honest feedback about churches they go to visit. Today, I am discussing a tactic used by many Evangelical Christians to get folks to 'convert'. In the chapter, "Mega in the Midwest", Jim and Caspar go to Willow Creek - a mega church in Chicago and discover at the beginning of the service that a mass baptism of 300 people is to happen the next day. One of the pastors, Gene Appel, urges anyone who hasn't been baptized to come the next day because " never know 'what happens five minutes after you die.'" (pg. 44)

(Aside from the Presbyterian belief that I subscribe to fully - that baptism doesn't save you, faith in Jesus does - there are multiple issues with this kind of tactic.)

Caspar comments that the VP of marketing at his job at Outreach Marketing had tried to 'save' him with this approach once and he did not like it at all. Basically, Caspar conveys the concept that if you don't believe in God, you don't worry about what hapens after you die - you simply die. He sees this conversion method as a lazy way to try to get people to have faith in God.

I would tend to agree. When I was in high school, my sister was dating a real holy roller who engaged me in a theological discussion. Well, back then I didn't have trouble disagreeing with people either, and the end result was that he told me I was going to Hell for disagreeing with him. How rude! I can guarentee you that this did not make me change my viewpoint. Telling someone that they must convert because otherwise they won't go to Heaven is not a good way to win them to your belief system.

After Caspar shares his story about the marketing VP with Jim, Jim and he have a conversation about death. Jim states that we are all going to die so shouldn't we be concerned with what comes after? Caspar gets a little frustrated that Jim is going to take this postition also and asks him if he has any proof about what happens after death. Jim says, " 'No, Caspar, all I have is faith - that's it - no proof. The fact is I can't prove one thing about what I believe to you. All I have is a hope, and the reality is neither of us will know who is right until we actually die.' " (pg. 45) Caspar is shocked into silence by this admission and then replies, " 'Wow Jim. I have never...heard anyone admit that it's all based on faith. So often people precede an attempt to get me to join up with Jesus with a threat and an unprovable claim: Choose Christ, because you're going to die.' " (pg 45-46)

When Jesus walked the earth, people loved him. They would do whatever they could to be near him and hear him speak. As a Christian, yes, I believe there is an afterlife and I want everyone to be there, but why would I want to scare people into believing. How is that helping someone to discover faith in a God who loves them?


" 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.' " - Matthew 11:28