Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cheating is Okay as Long as it Doesn't Affect the Outcome

Imagine this: 

A high school student is taking a test, and has a couple of the answers written on her hand. The teacher gains knowledge of this cheating after the tests have already been graded. Instead of making her retake the test, or giving her an automatic 0 on the test, the teacher simply states "she would have passed even if she hadn't cheated on a couple of the answers."

You're playing a high stakes game of poker with a group of friends. After the game is over, an ace falls from the sleeve of a player who had walked away with most of the money at the table. The other friends shrug their shoulders. "He's a good player. He would have cleaned us out even if he hadn't cheated." 

This is what we're teaching...

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the AFC championship game, in which the Patriots had a huge win over the Colts. Somewhere between when the Patriot's footballs were inspected a couple hours before the game to half-time, 11 of the 12 balls had been deflated a significant amount. Deflated balls theoretically make the ball a little easier to handle. In simpler terms - they cheated.

And Patriot fans, and sports commentators, have made it quite clear that this had no impact on the end result of the game. The Patriots still would have won.

In simpler terms, they are telling everyone that integrity doesn't matter. They're telling everyone - including our children - that cheating is fine, so long as you're talented, or so long as the end result would have been the same regardless.

What Does the Bible have to Say About This?

Someone once told me that the measure of a person is their integrity. Now, I don't think that is the only measure, but it is important. And most of us try to teach our children this... until it comes to our favorite team. Then it's ok. Then it's ok to ignore God, and ignore integrity.

Proverbs 28:6  Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.
James 4:17  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Effectiveness Does Not Equal Butts in the Pew

If you add more sugar - it'll be sweeter. If you add less - it will be less sweet.
If the class scores higher - the teacher is doing well; if the class scores lower - the teacher isn't doing well.
If your church doubles the number of congregants - it's effective; if it loses people - it's ineffective....

In an ideal world, the logic of adding sugar, or children's test scores, should also apply to Church effectiveness. But, we don't live in an ideal world.

Standing in a Garage Does not Make You a Car

 There's a saying - "Sitting in Church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car." (Or, something to that affect.) And, this is true.

I have been part of Church communities where the pews are packed full of people who just do not live Christian lifestyles. They believe going to Church is all they need to do, and can spend the other 6.5 days turning their backs on the poor and helpless, insulting and talking behind the backs of others, and sinning without a second thought as to their actions.

I have also been part of Church communities where there are only a few butts in the pews, but the people owning those butts spread the news of Christ through their words, and actions, and service towards all. 

Why Effectiveness Cannot be Measured by Numbers

On Facebook earlier, there was a conversation going on about how, if a Church is effectively changing people, it will equal greater numbers. Now, as I stated before, this logic does make sense... in an ideal world. If a Church has changed people to live more Christian lifestyles, one would assume these people are going out into the world and bringing more people into the Church. We are called, after all, to spread the Good News.

But logic and reality rarely meet.

There are many who are turned off by the idea of traditional Church. What appeals to me does not appeal to others. I do believe that inside each of us is a desire to know God and His love. But how we do that differs. And, of course, there are those who simply will not admit to a need to know Him. They do not believe. They do not want to believe. I could talk until I'm blue in the face, and do everything in my power (and with the power of the Holy Spirit working within me) to show these people the grace and mercy and love of Christ, and how much better my life is by knowing Him, and I still would not be able to get their butt in the pew - short of dragging them there kicking and screaming and duct taping their butts in those pews.

But, does that make the Church effective? Does having unwilling people sitting in the pew, their ears turned off to the message of Christ, make that Church effective simply because I managed to drag another body there?

I live in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota. It's a small town with a population less than what many would consider a small Church membership. And this population is divided into 5 or 6 Churches, with each Church losing numbers annually due to a dwindling town population. Do these smaller memberships, caused by the loss of a town population, equate to an ineffective Church?

Church Effectiveness Can Only Be Measured By Changed Lives

I'm sure we could find some cool mathematical formula that measures the change in people's lives due to Church, the change in Church populations, factoring in all the circumstances which could cause a growth or decline in membership, and in those members who actually willingly plant their bottoms in pews every week... and this formula would spit out that yes, an effective Church will both change lives and grow in numbers (i.e. we lost 15% due to population decrease, and 5% due to a generation who feels being a Christian does not mean having to attend a Church, but gained 5% because we're effective at reaching out to others, which actually results in a loss of members but a gain due to effectiveness...).

But, even typing that was confusing. All we truly have to go by is the people we meet within the walls of the Church - seeing how their lives have changed because of being there. You can have a congregation of 200, only 5% who have actually started living better lives; or you can have a congregation of 50, with 95% who have actually started living better lives. Which Church is more effective?

Stop Worrying about the Numbers

Don't get me wrong - it is important to have people in those pews listening to the message. It is important to reach out to others and invite them to join your faith community. But, it is more important to have a strong and effective Church - one that holds members close, changes their lives, helps them gain a closer relationship with God and with the community, helps them live differently.

When churches put too much focus on the number of butts in the pews, they lose effectiveness. When they focus on their effectiveness, they make stronger Christians. This may or may not equate to more butts in the pews, but it will equate to move loving Christ-like people.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I'll Sit With You

A loved one breaks down in tears. Her pain evident. You know she's going through something difficult. And...

You can't seem to find the words. You want to comfort the person, but the words fail you. You want to pray with and for the person, but the words aren't there.

Today, I was venting to a good friend of mine over some past injuries that had come back to haunt me. There really was nothing that could be said in that moment to comfort me, other than the four words which were stated... "I'll sit with you."

"I'll sit with you while you cry."
"I'll sit with you while you vent."
"I'll sit with you for as long as you need me."
"I'll sit with you."

Simple words, simple phrases... and often the most comforting. In all the times I have grieved, or been hurt, or angry, or any other intense emotion - the kind of emotions that make many people (including myself) uncomfortable, and unsure of how to help - the most helpful and comforting thing anyone has done for me has been to just be there. Words aren't needed. A hug, an arm around the shoulders, or just sitting with me - that's what mattered. Just that presence let me know that someone cared and I was not alone.

And, if we think about it, this is what God does for us as well, and this is what we often find ourselves asking Him for. Yes, of course we pray for physical healing, or help out of financial strains, or the ability to forgive someone who has hurt us deeply. But most of all, we want to know He is sitting there with us. And every time we do this for another... every time we say "I'll sit with you".... we are reminding that person that God is sitting there as well. That person is not alone.

So remember... the next time you are fumbling for words to comfort a friend, all you need are four little words: "I'll sit with you."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

TJNS: Hope in Me and Your Depression is Gone!

"Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression..."

One of the women in my Bible Study gave each of us a devotional for a Christmas present. It's a wonderful book, and I am very grateful for the gift. However, as I was reading the devotional for a few days ago, something struck me as just not quite right.

"Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression." This is one thing Jesus never said. Now, don't get me wrong, there is much to be gained from hope. It is one blessing God has given us that provides a lot of comfort, and yes, it even can help us as we go through depression. But the way this one phrase is worded, it brings to mind the thought that we will not get depressed. Ever. If we simply have hope.

This can be dangerous!

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from depression? I'm not talking about the simple down and outs we all get from time to time, but rather the honest and real medical depression? Many people have depression that comes from a chemical imbalance, or "bad wiring" (as I like to call it) of the brain. Yes, having something to hope in and for can help us to a degree. Knowing we're loved by God or others can help us to a degree. But the medical problem still stands. Sometimes medication is needed. Sometimes it can be managed through therapy. Sometimes faith, hope and love really are all that is needed. Sometimes we just learn to deal with it without medication or therapy. It all depends on the person and the type of depression they have.

When we insist that simply having hope in God will cure our depression, and that depression does not go away - the depression worsens. Significantly. Suddenly...

1. God didn't cure our depression, therefore He must not exist, or just doesn't care.
2. We're obviously not capable of hoping enough, otherwise God would care... if He exists.
3. We're just not worth it... not even to God.

The Truth in the Message

 Three Bible verses accompanied the devotional for the message about hope:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

These are all power scripture verses, indeed! I do not disagree with that one bit. Nor do I disagree with the fact that God is our refuge and strength (or, should be), and that hope is a good thing. We should hope in the Lord to help us through our suffering. But to say that to hope in Him means we will not have physical or emotional suffering? Eventually, yes, that will happen. And yes, until that day comes, we should continue turning to Him in prayer. We should keep praying for and hoping for and reaching for peace and joy.

Just do not let your heart grow weary and cold when your depression is not lifted from you immediately and permanently. Understand that depression is like other diseases - cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. But also understand that while you are suffering, God is there to hold you.

God bless you all, and remember - while this may be one thing Jesus never said, keep hoping in a brighter, peaceful tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Things Jesus Never Said

We've all encountered them - well-meaning Christians, telling us things, hopefully with the belief that it'll make our Christian lives better. But, when we search the Bible, we find these things do not truly exist. Jesus never once said them.

This series will examine some of these concepts.

Have you ever had someone tell you that the reason you do not feel Christ's blessings is because you do not have enough faith? Or the reason a loved one is not healing is because not enough people are praying for him/her? Have you ever been told you're depressed, or poor, or in pain is because God doesn't love you? Or because you haven't repented? Or because you don't have enough faith?


Yes, we have been fed lies through our Christian faith. And, perhaps those telling us these things didn't mean to lie. They probably don't even recognize them as lies. But, this series will expose them anyway, and hopefully will help you on your journey to knowing Christ.

To find all in the series, please do a tag search for TJNS.

God bless!