people don’t like Chrisitans

Churches can be really insular places.

It’s counter intuitive to say the least. Churches should be one of the most loving, welcoming places in the world. But we all know that often that isn’t’ the case. There are so many reasons why church isn’t welcoming and we’re not going to fix them here. We’re not addressing structure here.

We’re addressing you.

There’s a strong perception with people I know who don’t attend church that churches are harsh spaces filled with judgment and cliques.

This week we’re going to work on that.

This week talk to a co-worker, neighbour, etc. you’ve never had a real conversation with before. Try to speak with them more than once. Go outside the norm of your relationships. Go outside the church.

You’d be surprised how many people don’t know a Christian or even worse don’t know a Christian they like. The only Christians they know are ones they want nothing to do with and we know all the reasons why.

No more cliques, no more inward focus, no more rampant judgement.

Love and grace will be our mark.

We will be transparent and honest.

We aren’t perfect and we won’t pretend to be, or have the answer to make them perfect.

We will connect with people where they are.

People will know us by our love.

So go connect in some new relationships. It’s very possible you’re the first loving Christian they’ve ever meet.

apathy, likes and life of compassion

You could make the argument that tools are neutral.

A knife can be used for good or evil. I could use it to provide shelter/food/safety or for harm and darkness. I think this is why you hear people talk about things as a double edged sword. Good and bad.

The internet is very much the same. We talked about opportunity and connections yesterday and how the interest does so much for someone with intent. But wow do we ever misuse it. We abuse this tool in some really powerful ways. Like with so many tools, when we abuse it people often end up hurt.

It doesn’t take much to find the harsh and evil side of the internet. Go read a comments section on YouTube and you’ll get it.

But I think it can also build apathy for us.

“Well I said happy birthday on Facebook, what more do I need to do?”

“I liked all their pictures I don’t understand why we don’t connect better.”

“Of course I love my community I Facebook/tweet/email all the time”

The internet is the perfect space to, with almost no effort, present yourself as someone who cares. This is by no means universal but it’s so easy to do. So easy to like all the right things and share all the “proper” links so every can see and know how great we are. And then be done. No action, no follow through, nothing.

It’s so easy to be harsh and cutting to someone sharing a dissenting opinion when we don’t have to see them face to face. So easy to pick a fight and show how righteous or smart or whatever we are.

So easy to not love.

So easy to try and be right, forgoing unity and grace.

I’ve often wondered how true a representation of ourselves the internet is.

Is it the ultimate who we are when no one’s watching? We can look at things and no one will know. We can be cutting and mean because no one knows we wrote it. Just a screen name. It’s in a space where our local community will never see it. Does our real self come out when we know there are no eyes on us?

I don’t know but I wonder some times.

Facebook is the opposite. A perfectly crafted image of the person we want people to think we are. All the right movies, books and causes. Witty posts all to present some sense of togetherness or wholeness.

We have to be so careful to be consistent. That love dominates our online selves the way we try for it to dominate our offline self. We don’t get a pass because it’s the internet. We don’t stop being a disciple once we log on.

Even if no one knows it us.

death and loss

For something as universal and experience as death you might think we’d talk about it more. You might think we would understand the experience better. You might think we’d be better prepared to love those experiencing a death in their life.

But you know as much as I do that for all we might think when we look at death objectively, rarely is that the lived experience.

For worse, death will touch everyone. It will irrevocably impact your life at some point while you are still alive. Talking with a good friend has brought the topic back to mind.

We’re going to explore death a little.

We’re going to do that because society is terrible at supporting people and sadly the church isn’t often much better.

But we should be.

And we can be.

We will be.

Today we’ll touch on some fundamentals, staring points so we are all in the same space.

Death cannot be fixed.

While I understand how redundant a statement that is we still try. We try to make people feel better. To fix or change what cannot be fixed. Death is permanent. It’s dark and traumatic and often our best attempts to fix the experience end up minimizing it.

So we won’t try. We won’t fix this experience. We’ll be with people in the darkness not tell them the darkness isn’t there.

Death is not purposeful.

We won’t try to render meaning where they is none. This is so important I don’t want you to miss it. Death wasn’t part of the plan. So when we talk about death we have to be careful how we speak. We need to understand the implications of the words we choose.

God can bring good from evil but it’s never His plan. He doesn’t cause evil to happen so He can do good. Evil is a part of our world and death is wholly evil. God can bring redemption out of death but it’s not the purpose of death. It’s not why it happened and God’s ability to bring good from evil doesn’t detract from how evil something is.

It happens because we live in a dark fallen world and people need to be allowed to experience that darkness without it being minimized or overly spiritualized. It’s complicated enough experience loss we don’t need to complicate it with some theological controversy over God’s involvement in death.

God doesn’t want death.

God doesn’t cause death.

God is 100% with us during the darkness, but that darkness and pain are very real.

With that as our start we’ll look at how we respond to death tomorrow. If death cannot be fixed and death isn’t part of some bigger purpose what do we say?

Or rather to start what don’t we say?

don’t get me wrong prayer is important…

Prayer is important.

I worry every I write about prayer that people will get the impression that I don’t see it as important. I do. I value it a great deal. If you’ve been following along here you know that I wrote three prayers (here, here and here) and then reflected on them the following week (here, here and here).

Prayer is important.

But so often we stop there. I’ve written about it before. The temptation to just pray. To see or know someone in need and just pray. We are so much more than that.

That’s why this week’s challenge is for you to think of someone who you have recently said or have been tempted to say “I’ll pray for you” and go the next step. Make sure you pray for them, but also draft a list of the things you’re really and honestly prepared to do to love and support them. Then give it to them.

Most of us truly mean it when we say “let me know if there is anything I can do” but I’ve found this to be more impactful. It shows time, caring and thought. It wasn’t something that just slipped out or was said out of duty.

They’ll know you’re serious and that’s the point.

To be serious about our love and to not just pray for support but answer that prayer with tangible support as well.

no true Christian

People love a good controversy. I love a good controversy. I love to debate.

It’s like a logic puzzle to me. Looking at all sides, taking in the information, probing and testing the ideas and their implications. I find it all fascinating.

And it’s a good time for controversy. At times it seems like the internet was built to create and perpetuate controversy.

You could look at what’s happening in Toronto with the mayor or in Ottawa with white poppies or the senate if that’s more you thing.

But if like me you love controversy the church may be the best place in the world to find it. We’ll argue about anything.

Love vs. judgement.

Saving money vs. trusting God.

Hymns vs. chorus’.

Big churches vs. small churches.

I remember being in a discussion about music and if it was possible for specific beat patterns to be demonic.

Not the words or ideas, the actual sound of the music.

And those are off the top of my head with no real thought. I didn’t even hit the big media ones!

We so often require either or. We so often want a clear definitive answer.

But life is so much harder than that. We push people to choose an answer. Pick and defend your side. And to do that we start to build these mutually exclusive perspectives. It’s like one giant no true Scotsman argument, “no true Christian would believe that.”

Rob Bell in his video Everything is Spiritual looks at these mutually exclusive perspectives and when asked “is it this or that?” he answers “yep.”

Not what I was expecting.

Watch it here.

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If you didn’t watch it Bell is talking about the shift from two dimensions to three. When you shift from two dimensions to three everything changes. He holds up a marker and notes that from the side the marker is a rectangle but looking at its end it’s a circle.

The answer then to the question of is it a rectangle or a circle is, yep.

So often we create division and disconnect with either or. And as we go out into community it is often the easy response. We need people to affirm that the marker is a rectangle and not a circle before we can love and connect with them.

Controversy and debate are fun but not when we use them to keep people away. Not when we use them to keep God to ourselves and not shared. Not when they are used to divide. Not when the controversy is at the centre and not Jesus.

Hymns vs. Chorus’, yep.

Big church vs. small church, yep.

Love vs. judgement, yep.

Saving money vs. trusting God, yep.

We have our beliefs and our understanding and that’s ok. But so often we take one stance and extrapolate it out.

“You think God calls us to love everyone? So there is no judgment? You’re not a real Christian.”

And worse

“You’re interested in connecting with God? Well you must believe in only hymns, the King James bible only and a God of wrath and judgment. If you don’t you can’t be a Christian. You can’t know Jesus.”

When we go out and share the God we know, share a God with space for the answer to be “yep.”

sometimes…

I so want you to care about this.

I so want this to mean something to you.

I so want this life for you.

I so want you to want this life.

 

Why is it so hard?

Why doesn’t God make this easier?

Why isn’t this just how we are?

Why do we need to change?

 

What am I doing wrong?

What is it that I can’t show you?

What is it that I can’t teach you?

What is it I can’t help you to feel?

What am I missing?

 

Sometimes when all of these thoughts come I don’t know what to do. I just want to yell. I want to shake people. I want to press and be harsh. I want to scream. I want to leave people where they are because that’s all they want anyway. I want to not come back to someone who is content with what seems to me like a life that’s just existence. I don’t want to meet them where they are at, I want to drag them to what’s better. I want just loving people to not be enough. I want an excuse or reason or permission to make people a project because that is so much easier. I want love to be easier. I want life to be easier, mine and theirs. I want to give up on people. I want to just care about me.

I just thought you may appreciate knowing how I feel about compassion sometimes.

prayers, songs and hollow words

Did you think about these at all?

We say so much without thinking. We sing a song because it’s on a screen. We repeat a prayer because we’re asked to by the pastor. So much of this Christian experience has us doing and saying things we often never stop to think about.

This week we’re going to look at each of the prayers from last week. See what they are really saying and how that relates to our life of compassion.

First, a prayer of compassion.

Did you think about the words at all? Do you have any idea what you’re saying when you say you want to love like Jesus? How about your actions being your worship not your thoughts or ideas?

Those are not small statements. Those are huge life altering statements.

But so often we don’t see them like that. Of course I want to love like Jesus, I’m a Christian, that’s what I’m supposed to do. And we even know that it’s harder than it sounds and that Jesus loved those forgotten and abused by society. And we still say we want to do that.

But it often doesn’t translate. We don’t then go and love. The words ring hollow. Loving like Jesus loved is something you say and think about how hard it is, few go and do it.

Or how about letting your actions be your worship. If you’ve spent any time in church you’ve heard how our worship is more than the songs we sing. But most don’t even believe what they sing!

We trust God.

We love Him with everything.

God is all we need.

Then we go back to our homes, full fridges and savings accounts to worry about how we can afford to pay for whatever we want to buy next.

I know it’s overgeneralized and you may be the exception. But are you really the exception or do you just not want to face that it’s all more talk than anything else? That you sing those songs because they are on screen not because you really believe it.

How many time have you heard/read the call to a different life and known for sure that’s what Jesus has called you to and done nothing about it? The prayer, this post, just another in a long list of times you said you’re in and then stopped short of change.

A house isn’t wrong, saving isn’t wrong but so often we talk all this great talk about living the life Jesus called us to. We even talk about how hard it should be.

But we keep going back to a life that’s not that hard. Not full of sacrifice and love and grace for others. Just full of more reasons why we can’t and quiet hopes that Jesus wouldn’t really ask you to give this up.

He wouldn’t really ask for everything, it’s just something we say right?

Like the prayers we just say, He didn’t really mean it right?

He did.

My point isn’t to shame or guilt you into change. I hope that’s not what you see here. My point is for you to reflect. To be honest with where you’re at when it comes to the life Jesus called you to. Maybe you’re not ready, maybe you’re not sure this is really where you want to go. That’s fine. Maybe this is the time you finally make the change. That’s great too.

It’s about being honest with where you’re at and honest with God. Honest with how far you’re willing to go at this point. Honest about what’s really Gods. Honest about how much you really want to give up and what small step you’re ready for.

And maybe you’ll be a little more careful next time you sing a declaration or repeat back a prayer that you have no intention of fulfilling.

Because you’re not just lying to yourself are you?  I’m not just lying to myself am I?

fair, earned and the choice of generosity

It wasn’t going to be fair.

Well I suppose it had the potential to not be fair.

I was out with my volleyball team after our game. We had gone out the week prior and got the split of the bill wrong. Nothing big, I needed to have left another $3 or $4. Instead of giving over the money this week I just covered the beer of the guy I owed the money too.

If you don’t drink you may not be aware that $3 does not get you a beer.

He said, like most would “Thanks, I got it next time.”

Perfect!

It all worked out. I was short her covered. I pay more this week and next time he’ll make up the difference.

But what if it doesn’t happen?

Or if next week he gets drinks, then I get drinks, then he gets drinks, then I get drinks, then our season is over. When will I get back the drinks I’m owed?

Because my mind does crazy things like that process I just described I need to be intentional. This week I suggested you be generous once a day. I suggested you try to pick someone who hasn’t earned it. This case isn’t’ a great example because I actually owed him money.

But it shows why I need intentionality.

Without it my mind wanders in to fairness.

Without a decision to just be generous I start to think about how fair or unfair what I’m doing might be. I start to worry that he may not follow through next week or that I’ll end up on the short end of the deal at the end.

I start to think about me.

Maybe you’re not the same. Maybe you’re really good a just keeping others first.

I find it so easy to just slip back to me getting what I need. Me getting what I think I have earned or deserve.

So what do I do?

I should probably just buy again next time. I should just stop thinking about me getting what I deserve and being the generous person I keep telling you I want to be.

But the idea is the easy part. The hard part comes when I need to put down more money next week while my mind tells me I’m actually owed something.