Monday, July 30, 2018

Soul Rhythm

“Why do you go to church?”

It’s a fair question. A lot of people — many of them long-time followers of Jesus — have been asking it with increasing frequency in recent years.

When my friend Luke Geraty posed the question online last week, it got me thinking about the thin line between why I go to church (regularly) and why I should go to church (regularly).

Here — in no specific linear order — are a few of the things that came to mind:
  1. First, the obvious one. Hebrews 10:24-25: “do not give up meeting together”.
    Not out of some religious sense of drudging duty or slavish legalism — but because I need other Christians in my life. In their original context, these verses were not intended as a whip to enforce attendance, but rather an encouragement to gather for much-needed mutual support.
  2. It confronts my consumerism.
    Like many people, I have an unfortunate tendency to evaluate church through a consumerist grid of “what’s in it for me?” I want to “get something” out of the worship, the teaching, the prayers, the fellowship (even the coffee). I need to be reminded that I’m called to serve. On any given Sunday, there are opportunities to lay down my selfish consumerism and grow up (mature spiritually) by serving others.
  3. Spiritual rhythm/soul care is a real thing.
    Everyone loves Eugene Peterson’s phrase “the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30), and we all benefit from regular soul care. For me, part of my ‘spiritual rhythm’ is going to church — regularly. Attending once every three weeks or so (a growing trend observed in many churches) isn’t much of a ‘rhythm’ — you’re there just often enough to say you still attend, but not enough that you make any real connections or impact. Generally speaking, it’s easier to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), when I see them on a regular basis.
  4. It’s healthy to be around people who challenge me.
    If I only hang out with a few like-minded friends in a coffeeshop or pub, we will have great fellowship and a good time. Church gatherings, on the other hand, are often much more diverse: populated by an admixture of broken, needy, opinionated people who may push my buttons. I won’t mature as a Christian if I don’t learn how to appreciate and minister to/among others who are different.
  5. It’s good to be reminded of the foundations of our faith, even (especially) when I naively think “I already know this”.
    You’ve heard the analogy about how bank tellers can spot counterfeit currency, because they’ve handled the real thing so much that the fakes become easier to detect? The same goes for our spiritual lives — the more we’re deeply, thoroughly marinated in solid biblical theology, the less likely we’ll be seduced by clever manipulators playing “alternative facts” or Twisted Scripture games.
  6. There’s just something about corporate worship that nourishes the soul.
    Whether I’m on the worship team or singing in the congregation, there’s something rich and deep and powerful that takes place when a myriad of voices are raised in song. There’s a solidarity — a unity — that transcends our divergent personalities, backgrounds, opinions, struggles, and questions, as we turn our absolute, unmixed attention to worshiping Jesus. Together.
  7. And finally, if I truly want to “be the change I want to see”, I can neither be the change — nor see it — if I’m not there.
    Regularly.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Prodigals & Pharisees

I thought it was a great idea for a song lyric: “Prodigals and Pharisees, equal at the foot of the cross”. Last week, I even suggested to a friend, who is a gifted songwriter, that he should compose it.

He gave me the same kind of benignly polite look that I suspect would be on my face, if our places were reversed and he had suggested that I write a book based on one of his flashes of insight.

Still, the idea stuck with me. Not being much of a songwriter, it was probably inevitable that it would turn into a blog post instead.

The idea was sparked by one of Jesus pithy stories, found in Luke 18:9-14:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”
The characters were chosen quite deliberately by Jesus. The Pharisees were the super-religious heroes (at least, in their own eyes), and tax collectors clung by their fingernails to the lowest rung on the societal ladder of the day.

The point of Jesus’ parable is exquisitely clear: only those who recognize their spiritual poverty receive God’s mercy. And let’s not lose sight of where Jesus is aiming the parable: those “who were confident of their own self-righteousness and looked down on everyone else”.

The great irony is that both characters in the parable were in need of God’s grace and mercy. They stood in the same temple, prayed to the same God, yet only one went home “justified”. The other wrapped himself in a cloak of his own making and wandered off without even realizing his desperate situation.

It’s the same today: you don’t need a membership card or initiation rite to be a Pharisee. It’s an attitude, not an organization. And there are multitudes of ‘prodigals’ who have wandered in some way from their faith, and yet later find themselves wanting to reconnect with God (like the tax collector in the parable).

At the foot of the Cross, pharisees and prodigals are on equal footing, with equal need for forgiveness and mercy. Whenever a church meets, it’s really just another gathering of “Sinners Anonymous”.

Some may be further along in their understanding and practice of “living by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25), but none of us earned it, never did and still don’t deserve it, and daren’t* take it for granted.
*It’s a real word. Google it.
“The Christian does not believe God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”
~ C.S. Lewis ~