NOTE: This is an updated post from a couple of years ago.
To be left alone or to be in community?
Hmmm, if I am honest, I too often prefer to be alone than in community. What does that say about my view of spirituality and of the character of God?
Here are some thoughts coming out of Psalm 133 in which the Psalmist clearly says that it is good and pleasant to be in community, to dwell together in unity! Jesus had a few things about this in John 13 and 17!
The kind of community described in Psalm 133 is something attractive, something that most of us (including myself) long for.
First of all, it is GOOD (tov). Think God said something about it not being good to be alone from the beginning! So, it should not surprsise me to think that he thinks it is good to be together.
But community/unity is also delightful or it is pleasant. A quick search on na’im which is the Hebrew word, gives the picture that the delight of community should be similar to the joy we have in our relationship with God when we praise Him, the delight that comes with compliments, the pleasure that wisdom and knowledge brings to our heart.
Two images–like oil and like the dew. Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction suggests that the oil communicates a “sense of warm priestly relationship. “
With this imagery, we see God’s anointing of one another–we recognize that God is (equally) at work in my brother or sister’s life. I recognize and value what God is doing in my brother and understand that this may mean speaking the truth in love to one another.
What extravagance to see oil flowing down—community as rich, sweet and fragrant. It is natural that we honor our brother/sister and rejoice when they rejoice!
Peterson suggests that dew brings an imagery of a “sense of freshness and expectant newness.” Should community not bring a thirst quenching for the soul? It is like water on hot day or rain after a drought or the hot season. This image of community provides the promise of better things to come, of blessings!
What creates community? Colossians seems to bring unity and community together well in Col 3:14 “love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Yep, back to love and 1 Cor 13!
What prevents community from forming?
- Seeing others as competitors
- Seeing others as problems to fix
- Using others as a means to make me or the organization successful
What to do?
- Stop labeling others
- Stop presuming to know why people do what they do
- Take each person seriously
- Learn to trust one another other
- Depend on one other
- Be compassionate with and towards others
- Rejoice with others.
Peterson quotes Bonhoeffer,
“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother . . . as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word . . . Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.” Cost of Discipleship
So, if I choose solitude over community, can I understand myself? how growth occurs? what is really important to God? learn how deceived I am about my own spirituality.
What can we do to build into community around us today?
Because of the problems with the church as it currently exists, many seem to be opting out of attending today, preferring to meet with a small home group. That has its own set of problems! A Time article, cited at the Kruse Kronicle, suggests that a reason to go to church is to build relationships. And those relationships will improve your well-being.
As important as this is, there must be other reasons to go to church. Question: why do you go to church?
Update on Monday morning: I did go to church yesterday. Didn’t get much out of the message but the total sum of the service–worship, prayers, people, helped me to remember that I am not alone in this faith journey and the service led me into the presence of God, who is wholly other. I needed that! So, I guess in the end, it is all about God and that is the way it should be.
How do we make disciples? As important as is this question, maybe we should also be asking, what does not make disciples. Heard a devotion out of Romans 12:1-2 on discipleship. A true disciple is one who is
- Surrendered to God
- Separated from sin
- Sanctified mind
- Seeking to know and obey God
In the first point, the speaker started to merge surrender with service and so I came up with the following:
Disciples will never be made when there is attempted
- Service without surrender
- Freedom from sin without separation
- Transformation apart from sanctification
- Obedience without knowing the will of God
How does the American Church look in 2010? Not too good according to a recently posted study by the Barna Group on the state of the church. About the only positive comment in this study was a greater desire for involvement in community issues. Yet, without a biblical understanding of why the church should be involved in community issues, Barna warns that this will likely not be sustainable.
Here are the six megathemes identified by Barna’s study:
1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
- Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
- Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
- Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
- The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
- The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
A few of the words used to describe the church in this study:
- biblically illiterate
- lack of spiritual confidence
- in a theological free-for-all
- possessing unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency
- more spiritually isolated from non-Christians
- reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations
- people with little time for spiritual practices like contemplation, solitude, silence, and simplicity
- superficial approach to faith
- compartmentalized spirituality
- fear of being labeled judgmental
- tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies
- in desperate need of a more positive and accessible image
- possessing a need to revisit criteria for “success”
Ouch! Thanks to my wife for the heads up on this rather depressing article!
Can anyone out there help to identify the good things happening in the American church in 2010?
Too many of our teens are following a “moralistic therapeutic deism” with an “imposter” faith” because they have been hearing a “gospel of niceness.” Those are a few of the sharp words John Blake mentions in his review of Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian.
According to Dean, a few churches (Mormon and Evangelicals) are providing teens with a “significant faith community” that makes a difference. Blake writes,
“No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.”
As expected, Dean says parents are key to bringing about change in the faith of their teens. “One act of radical faith” can make a difference but only if their action is explained. More from Blake about Dean’s book:
But it’s not enough to be radical — parents must explain “this is how Christians live,” she says.
“If you don’t say you’re doing it because of your faith, kids are going to say my parents are really nice people,” Dean says. “It doesn’t register that faith is supposed to make you live differently unless parents help their kids connect the dots.”
Post clarifying what should be at the heart of our worship by Joel Brown (found at Zoecity.com)
Priority #1: Truth
As Paul says in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Truth from Scripture must be the framework and standard by which every other priority is subjected. If we have a gathering with killer music but no truth, we have a pointless gathering: we’ve led people astray by placing their focus on something far less important and valuable than a God who redeems broken sinners.
Priority #2: Corporate Response
If the songs we play are only true, but not singable, memorable, or enjoyable, our people will be far less likely to have their hearts stirred by the truths we are presenting. They will be distracted with trying to get around the music instead of into it. Songs that teach and admonish are best when they are SUNG!
Priority #3: Musical Style, Arrangement, and Execution
When we gather to sing, the “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” are the means by which truth is prompting people to respond. Though this is our third priority, it is only because it is in subjection to priorities 1 and 2. The music serves truth and responsiveness.
Should we ever suggest that people leave our church or our Christian organizations? Donald Miller has an intriguing post on his blog about one pastor that suggested some people might be better off at another church if they didn’t want to get plugged in via service or home churches. Lively discussion in the comment section.
Here was my comment:
I don’t remember Jesus ever asking anyone to leave because of a lack of space or because they lacked committment. People did, however, stop following Jesus after he spoke about commitment and what it meant to be his follower (Jn 6:66). He asked the twelve in v67, “Do you want to go away as well?” His words were hard and yet they were loving–I think of how Jesus loved the rich young ruler (in Mark 10:21 but not said in Mtt or Lk) and yet still spoke the hard truth–truth which made the young man sad because he was not willing to obey and he went away.
Challenging people to live the life of a disciple will make them uncomfortable if they are not. Yet we continue to love them. If they leave because they don’t like to be challenged, hopefully we are sad because we love them but we let them go. Trying to keep people in our church because we think we need their money or talents when they are unhappy and out of synch with the direction we are moving will only lead all to much pain down the road