Friday, May 28, 2010

When Faith Wears Thin

A friend mentioned a Twila Paris song on facebook today, and I pulled up a few of her melodies on youtube because I hadn't heard them in a while. I have said many times that there has been a Twila Paris song for every season of my life thus far. Typically, she releases them a year or so before they reach and anchor me. Perhaps her lifewalk with Christ is a few paces ahead of mine. Regardless, her songs are milestones the Lord has often used to encourage and even navigate me on this narrow path. 
Do I Trust You is one of her earliest, and it touched me in a powerful way as a new Christian. Listening to it again today, some 20 years later, I remembered that sweet wonder I had in Him, in all His awesomeness and limitless power and love. And I realized that I have lost a great deal of my joy somewhere along the way.
I know much more of the Word than I did at the age of 16, when I first heard that song. Sadly, I also know more of this world. Some of what I know, I wish I could forget. Life can sometimes wear thin patches in your faith that aren't neatly mended by "doctrine and theology." I think that's why the lines of Do I Trust You struck a chord within me again today. I think you'll understand what I mean if you listen to it, so here's the song, and here are the lyrics.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

When Politics and Worship Intersect

If you read my last blog post, you know that we had a...let's call it interesting...corporate confession at my church Sunday. Here's the text, for those who did not read my last post:
Now is the time for fasting and prayer begging our Father's forgiveness for destroying his creation with our carelessness and greed. We are all guilty. Have mercy on this country, O Lord. Free us from our addiction. Restore your ocean. Amen.
Honestly, I was dumbfounded, and I'm still processing it, four days later. The more I meditate on it and pray about it, the more troubled I feel. I think what concerns me most about this incident was the way it was sprung on the entire congregation in the middle of our service, replacing the confession printed in our bulletin, and incorporated as part of the order of worship, in which everyone in the church was expected (per tradition) to confess it jointly.
I welcome dialogue about political and social issues and have frequently engaged in such discussions over dinner and in small gatherings, and regularly do so on social websites like facebook and twitter. But is a formal worship service the proper venue for introducing such a polarizing political subject to the church? Did anyone ask if this was an appropriate subject for our corporate confession? And who answered? Where is the opportunity for dialogue? In this case, it felt very much like a political agenda was being thrust upon the entire congregation, without regard for the fact that probably half of that congregation disagrees with the conclusions made in the confession at hand. There was no room for dialogue except after the fact, and that seems a little late, for me.
We were informed at the introduction to this confession that a member, moved by current events, penned it. I say bravo for their ability to articulate their raw emotions and opinions concisely and pointedly in what they may well consider a heartfelt prayer to God. But who decided that this confession was appropriate for the entire body?
Does this mean that the rest of the church's members are also at liberty to write confessions for our body, based on what moves us individually, and are free to present these confessions for corporate prayer? Should we expect everyone else in the congregation to share our convictions?
I am aware that our particular body represents a broad spectrum of political and social opinions. Some I personally agree with, and some I don't. But until last Sunday, I never once felt that any particular opinion or agenda was being endorsed by my church. That has suddenly changed.
Before I close, I would like to make clear that I have a great deal of respect for my church's leadership. They have always struck me as the type of leaders who put a great deal of forethought and consideration into every decision. Perhaps that is what makes this incident all the more disconcerting.
I would love to know your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Politics in the Pews

I go to a church that utilizes corporate confession in our service every Sunday. The confessions are often pulled from the Westminster Confession or the like, and a great deal of thought is put into them. This Sunday's confession was different. Projected on the overhead as usual, it was penned by one of our congregants and accompanied by a picture of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill:
Now is the time for fasting and prayer begging our Father's forgiveness for destroying his creation with our carelessness and greed. We are all guilty. Have mercy on this country, O Lord. Free us from our addiction. Restore your ocean. Amen.
This confession troubled an untold number of our congregation. Some took issue with the fact that corporate confession was being used for something...well...corporate, rather than dealing with our individual sins. However, I had no problem with that. My background includes experience with both corporate and identificational repentance, and I am comfortable with the concept of repenting corporately for the sins of our nation, our culture, our church, and so on. True Christianity is corporate in nature, and that corporate nature is rooted in the Hebrew foundation of our faith. The western Church has individualized our walk with Christ to the point that we've lost sight of the fact that each person is only one cell in the vast body of Christ. So I got it. I think that's the problem. I understood exactly what was going on. We were supposed to be repenting for our sins.
A discussion ensued today on facebook. One friend pointed out that the Gulf catastrophe was rooted in the greed and carelessness of a corporation. But the confession did not say that. We were not led in a prayer of repentance on behalf of British Petroleum. It specifically said, "...our carelessness and greed. We are all guilty. Have mercy on this country, O Lord. Free us from our addiction..."
Whose carelessness and greed? Not BP's...not according to the confession. And that leaves "this country."
Whose addiction? Our country's.
Our greed and addiction to what? Oil.
I've heard the term "oil addiction" in political debates about the environment enough times to recognize the term as a very political one when it appeared, thinly veiled, on our church projector screen Sunday. The chosen wording lended itself heavily to a liberal political interpretation, and I personally don't think the church should make room for politics, either way.
Bottom line: it felt political, and a little icky because of that...I couldn't help but think when I first heard it, "why are we as a body taking sides in environmentalism?"
Will we next repent as a body for global warming? Or let's strike more toward my personal side of the political fence and ask if we're going to repent corporately for the countless lives lost to abortion...that's an even greater travesty in the eyes of God than the Gulf catastrophe, in my opinion...
See where it could go, and how quickly? This is why it felt icky to me.
If the church is going to participate in corporate repentance, I think we should take a close look at WHAT we repent for, and WHY. Does our nation need to repent for using fossil fuels? Is that biblical? Being poor stewards of the Lord's creation, yes, I can see that as a biblical subject for repentance. But oil addiction? How about our addiction to abortion for convenience...or pornography?
Don't get me wrong. I'm horrified by what's happened to our beautiful Gulf, but I disagree with labeling this as a sin that deserves to rest on the conscience of the nation and the church as a whole, when greater (translated: more scripturally proven) sins are effectively being ignored.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cussing Versus Cursing

A Christian friend wrote a blog post today about using foul language or "curse words." You can read his post here. He brought up many interesting points, one of which I'd like to extrapolate on.
My friend wrote that when condemning "salty language," folks often refer to James 3:9:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.
I do agree that the use of foul language should be avoided. I must say, however, that anyone who uses James 3:9 as a reference for the condemnation of foul language is missing the point of this passage entirely. That verse has NOTHING to do with what we've come to call "curse words," or "cuss words." "Cursing" in Scripture is NOT saying d*mn, sh*t or h*ll. In Scripture, cursing is speaking death to yourself or another person.
Which of these two examples do you think is a curse?
a) "Damnit!"
b) "John is useless. He'll never amount to anything."
If you said "b," you'd be right.
There are many "Christians" who would never use a "curse word," but who speak death over their kids - telling them they won't amount to anything, or that they're stupid - or criticizing their spouse. They won't "cuss," but they'll run the pastor or their employer into the ground with their gossip. The Hebrew word for gossip is "lashon hara," which really means "evil tongue," and it's considered a form of murder.
They use their tongue to praise God, then turn around and use it to curse those who were made in God's likeness. Yeah, that sounds like James 3:9 to me. That's just the sort of self-righteousness Jesus talked about that amounts to a whitewashed tomb. Really pretty on the outside (no cuss words!), but full of death.
Cursing is something we all do. Try going a day without speaking death - without saying you hate your job, or that you'll never get that promotion. Try not telling your kids that they never listen, or telling your best friend that your husband will never change. Try going a day without saying you'll never lose that last ten pounds.
Each of those things is a curse. Scripture tells us to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:18-20), to bless others and not curse them (Romans 12:14). It tells us that life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
James 1:19 tells us to be slow to speak. That's great advice. A few verses later (1:26), James refers to the person who thinks he is righteous but does not bridle his tongue. He goes on in chapter 3 to compare the tongue to the rudder of a ship, able to steer the whole person to either death or life.
Refraining from words of death or cursing feels like the impossible challenge (believe me, I know this's a daily struggle for me), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Yes, we're still human and will still fail, even if we are saved by grace and faith in Christ. But in watching every word that proceeds from our mouths, we begin to walk that redemptive lifestyle, to walk out our salvation in a way that will produce good fruit.
So the next time you hear someone use a "cuss word" (or use one yourself) and start to bristle about it, stop and ask yourself when was the last time you truly cursed (in the Biblical sense) - either yourself or someone else. If you're honest with yourself, the truth might be sobering. A stray cuss word seems so trivial in light of what a real curse is and what it can do. What's worse? A cuss word, or a word of ridicule? A word that offends the sensibilities, or a word that wounds the heart? Even secular psychologists understand this very biblical concept. For example, in this short secular article from USAToday, experts discuss the long-term effects that hurtful words from a parent or teacher can have on a child.
I'm a little less concerned now with the use of "cuss words," and a lot more concerned with speaking life and blessing. I want to tell my children that they can be Godly, that they can make a huge difference in this world. I want to make sure that I praise them for acheivements, for choosing to do good, to obey or listen. I want to reinforce the fact that they are a blessing, not because of how they perform, but just because they are. I want to make a point to tell my husband that he's a wonderful husband and provider, and give him concrete examples on a regular basis to build him up. I want to speak life into situations, not death. I might stumble and fall, but I'll get right back up - with Jesus' help - and speak life again.
Would you like to join me?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

When Literature Comes to Life

Yesterday I wrote about our discovery of the ducklings at the park, and how excited my kids were to see what we had read about in The Trumpet of the Swan, by E. B. White.
Well, it gets better.
The same day we went to the park and saw the ducks, we went to Costco. That's really not such a big deal, I know, but my kids are hooked on the free samples, so they were excited. But the real excitement that day wasn't in the store, but in the parking lot. When we drove toward the Costco entrance, we spotted this:

Yes, that is a Canada Goose nesting on an "island" in the parking lot. There is a run-off pond below the Costco parking lot, and several geese have made this location their summer home.
Her mate stood protectively nearby. He hissed at us quite a bit when we stopped our van and took a better look at them. The children were beside themselves with delight at getting to see a goose, the closest thing we have in our area to a swan, nesting just like in our chapter book.
We made a point to drive by and see her several more times. Just a few days ago, we drove by and the nest was abandoned. I got out of the van and took a closer look, and several egg shells were there, but no whole eggs. Apparently, the goslings had hatched.
So we drove to a parking lot that bordered the run-off pond and found the goose family at the water's edge. The geese were alarmed to see humans coming toward them, and they hurried their goslings into the water where they'd be safe from the perceived threat.
The children counted eight goslings altogether.
On our way back to the car, we were confronted by a large goose. He spread his wings and drew close. The children stood behind me, and I extended my arms in what I figured was a similar gesture to his. He closed his wings, eyed me, and backed up. I guess I was a bigger bird than him.
It's amazing what a child can learn about our world through reading. Have you read to your child today?