Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

As I mentioned in an earlier post, some characters are only set upon the stage of Scripture for a brief moment, and then they are gone; some leave lasting legacies, some barely register. In the grand scheme of things, what could we possibly learn from these minor, transient personalities? What, indeed? Let’s consider one of the most-well-known-but hardly-discussed people in the Bible: Joseph, husband of Mary, father of the siblings of Jesus (but of course he was not Jesus’ father). He has only a few lines, stars in but a couple of scenes, and he is gone…so why is he even here?

I must give my wife credit for suggesting Joseph, and the reason for his significance…she  reminded me how the exercise of faith often comes down to just moving forward, despite not fully understanding (or believing) everything going on around you. The most ordinary people, when moving in faith, can become the greatest heroes for the rest of us, by being living examples of trusting in The Lord to sustain us; Joseph is exactly that kind of person.

A simple carpenter, living a simple life in a simple village in Galilee, Joseph probably never imagined he would find himself in the center of prophetic fulfillment; like most of us, the routine of normal life was enough to think about. Then, his world is turned upside down by a series of events: his young, virgin fiance turns up pregnant – a scandal, and no one would think wrongly of him for just walking away. He nearly does, until an angel of God appears and confirms what Mary has told him: she was not guilty, but blessed; to his credit, he believes. He may not understand it, but he goes along with the plan. This act of faith (because what else can you call it?) is repeated practically every time we see Joseph – when he takes his radically pregnant wife to Bethlehem for the census, despite the dangers; when they are visited by a horde of shepherds in the stable, telling wild stories of visions of angels singing praises; when they are visited again, this time by wealthy foreigners who bow and offer worship to their young son, calling Him “the King of the Jews”; when the angels warns him to take his family and flee to Egypt, to avoid the Slaughter of the Innocents; still later, when the angel bids Joseph return to Nazareth, because Herod has died. All these incidents contain a common thread: the faithful, trusting obedience of Joseph to the voice of God. If he could hear and believe, in spite of everything his upbringing and his culture told him he should do…how much more should we, with the testimony of Joseph as our evidence, be willing to do likewise?

There is a great amount of pop-culture hoo-hah surrounding angels…there are movies, books, TV shows, and an infinite universe of knick-knacks, statuettes, posters, wall hangings, etc. A Google search for “angels” returns hundreds upon hundreds of images of female figures with soft faces, pale skin, flowing white or pastel gowns…and, of course, delicate white wings. I wonder sometimes where the artists received their inspiration? Because Biblical angels don’t seem to bear any resemblance to these icons.

The creatures known as angels are depicted as warriors, battling on behalf of the people of God (see Elisha’s revealed vision in 2 Kings); or lone executors of God’s will (the Angel of Death, as seen in the final plague in Egypt, and as a reprimand to David for his arrogance in ordering an unauthorized census); or as worshipers in the courts of heaven, praising God night and day. Some others serve as messengers, bringing the Word of God to Balaam, sitting on his donkey; to the shepherds outside Bethlehem one starry night; to the women at an empty tomb on Sunday morning, to name just a few.

The Christian canon of Scripture gives proper names to only two beings described as “angels” – Michael and Gabriel. Both appear in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament; Michael, (a warrior) is named in Jude and Revelation, while Gabriel (a messenger) famously delivers the news of the coming birth of John the Baptist to his father Zechariah, and of Jesus to the virgin Mary. (I do not include the naming of “Lucifer” in Isaiah, as this word appears only that one time, and in context is as likely to refer to the king of Babylon as any other person; nor do I include “Raphael”, listed in the apocryphal Book of Tobit. There are also extra-Biblical lists of angels, but I am not qualified to discuss this material, so I won’t – I mention it only in an effort to be complete.)

I feel that sometimes modern believers allow themselves to be distracted by these vague, modern, decidedly romanticized ideas about angels – watching over us as guardians; interceding for us by carrying our prayers to heaven; intervening in the affairs of humans to prevent “bad things” from happening. While God certainly could use them for some of these purposes (and probably does at certain times), they are only another tool at His disposal. These beings, when they appear in Scripture, consistently discourage and actively prevent any adoration of themselves, redirecting it instead to the only One who is worthy. Maybe we would be better served to pay a little less attention to the messengers, and a little more to the message, and the Author?

Most of us are  familiar with this guy: according to the bible, he and his wife Eve were the prototypes for the human race, created by God in His image and His likeness (and yes, those are two different things – one speaks to appearance, the other to characteristics, but that is a topic for another time).  Sometimes Christians can be harsh and judgmental towards this “first couple”, which is a shame; in truth we are not really very different, and certainly not any better!

The bible tells us that from the very beginning, God’s plan was that His creatures were integral elements of His plan; as we read the first two chapters of Genesis we see that Adam and Eve lived together in this perfect world, with all their physical needs met; their roles and purposes established; and enjoying the companionship of their Creator. So what went wrong? Adam did, that’s all…he did what came naturally to him, even though he knew better.

Adam was given power, and authority, and above all else, the one thing that separates humanity from the animals: free will. With this gift came an opportunity to either succeed or fail, of his own volition; to submit himself to the commandment and intentions given to him by God (remember, at this point there was only one explicit prohibition – to not eat the fruit of one particular tree), or to set out on his own path, contrary to the wishes of the One who made him. We know which path Adam chose, and the consequences of that decision, and it is easy to blame him for all that has happened since – I have heard more than one person joke that the first thing they wanted to do upon reaching heaven was to kick Adam in the shin! But what makes us think we would have done any differently? How many of us have been given everything we ever wanted or needed, at the cost of simple obedience, and yet cannot maintain this minimum standard? No wonder we needed a Savior, a new Adam to replace the original and restore humanity to the original purpose, free from original sin.

Jesus, in His incarnation, was also given power, and authority, and the same free will as Adam – yet He consistently chose to submit His will to the will of the Father; there are dozens of verses, but allow me to quote one of my favorites – John 6:38-40:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

As we approach Easter, I am reminded again that I am grateful that Jesus came to be the New Adam, and that by Him, we have opportunity to be restored to our original place and purpose in God’s plan. This wonderful gift is available to any who will acknowledge the grace of God which supplies our need, and accept the words of Christ right above,  and receive eternal life.

It has been a very trying and taxing week in the life of a Nicky…death and discouragement have been all around, but praises to God that He is more than all the enemy could ever send against me.

Through the course of her chemo treatments (today was the last one, btw…hurrah!) Karen has made some wonderful friends; adversity is a fantastic incubator for closeness. One particular person, Danni, has really been through it – she had already undergone surgery to remove one lung, and a lemon-sized brain tumor, and met Karen while doing a course of chemo for “insurance”. Well, the chemo caused an episode of kidney failure, and while being treated for that, she suffered a stroke – which led to the discovery of a second brain tumor. At that point, Danni called BS on treatment, and said she could just ride out the rest of her life in peace and dignity. Her family consented, and the next step was moving her into hospice about a week ago. We have been visiting every other day, for as long as she has left, she will know we are here with her. Last night was hard…she kept telling her daughters “Today is the day, they are here for me.” We don’t know who she is seeing, because communication is very difficult for her, but she is convinced “they” are there, and so we wait with her…

Last Monday a dear friend from the church called me, sounding desperate, tired, and depressed – she has been fighting asthma and COPD from years of cigarettes, drugs, and life on the streets of New Orleans; the Lord rescued her from all that, and sent her to Houston in the aftermath of Katrina. She became a member of our church, and an invigorating reminder of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power – I have never in my life met anyone who more understood what it means to be redeemed. But last week, after several rounds of in-and-out at the ER, suffering pneumonia that just wouldn’t quite go away, she called me to pray with her – she said she was so tired, and hurting, and ready for God to heal her any way He wanted to, if she could only find some rest. So Friday morning, He did just that…Patricia went home to her reward, and now she is by His side: no more pain, no more sadness, received into His rest at last…

Yesterday morning, as I was making notes for the morning announcements at the worship service, I learned that the church secretary’s brother Wayne had also passed this week; he had been in the hospital for some time, and was not really expected to get better, but the loss hurts just as deeply, no matter what…

All this just kind of piled up on me, and I went and sat at the back of the church alone, to pray and collect myself to welcome the congregation, when the Lord brought back to mind a couple of passages of Scripture; some of them I had just received the other day from another blogger friend. I threw away my notes, and read these instead, and as I prayed I sensed the Holy Spirit settling over us, bringing the comfort only He can. I would like to share those verses with you…perhaps someone reading this is also in need of His touch –

When someone close to us dies, or is near death, it often helps us to remember the words of the Apostle Paul, who addresses the church at Corinth about these very concerns:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal…For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens… For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.  (2 Cor 4:7-5:5, selected)

And then, while we may be comforted about our friends, we may still end up angry at God, or confused and wondering just what He is doing…if nothing happens outside of His will, what exactly is His will? These two passages explain precisely what His will is: Jesus, speaking to the crowd gathered at the seaside says,

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:38-40, emphasis added)

And then, again from Paul, this time in exhortation to the church at Thessalonica,

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:12-18, emphasis added)

God’s will is very clear – we are to serve one another, in love that is the likeness of Christ’s love for us; and to endure in that love, so we may be lifted up in the last day. Those who have gone on ahead to glory, those already lifted up, are no longer under obligation…we who remain in this world are indeed in debt to Him whose love has redeemed us…and it is that very love, which makes all the rest something we can endure.

My friend did indeed respond, but the nature of his answer pointed out some defects with the scope and structure of my arguments; here is his response, followed by my attempt to correct and re-orient the conversation.

Well Nick, I see what you’re saying.
But Where exactly are you getting this information from? The “let there be light” comparison you’ve made..
You’re defining my nature or science as a “god” and I guess if you want to say that maybe I’m observing the nature of god, instead of the god of nature(which I guess can define religion).

But I don’t see the proof of god anywhere. Nor has any scientist. But in all fairness here, nor can we rule it out. Nor can we rule out any other god that ever existed for that matter.
The burden of proof lies on religion. You can’t win any court case without evidence being provided. If I make the claim on something then I must follow the scientific method in proving that. And that’s where religion fails. Its faith based.
And if there was a god that created the heavens, the hell, the universe and everything in between… I don’t see why’d he be so concerned about what I do or who I have sex with.. As if he doesn’t have anything else better to do. What did God do during that eternity before he created everything? If God was all that existed back then, what disturbed the eternal equilibrium and compelled him to create? Was he bored? Was he lonely? God is supposed to be perfect. If something is perfect, it is complete–it needs nothing else. We humans engage in activities because we are pursuing that elusive perfection, because there is disequilibrium caused by a difference between what we are and what we want to be. If God is perfect, there can be no disequilibrium. There is nothing he needs, nothing he desires, and nothing he must or will do. A God who is perfect does nothing except exist. A perfect creator God is impossible.

I cannot say what’s after this life.. But I have been studying this stuff called astral projecting. I’m new at it and I don’t know much- but if you do, feel free to correct me.
Basically it’s a spiritual thing. Astral projection is the separation of your spirit from your body. You’re fully aware and everything is actually happening. As crazy as this may sound, I’ve been reading people’s stories about this and what they say really influences me to want to try it. It has nothin to do with religion or god or any of that. But they say it does indeed answer some of life’s big questions. There’s testimonies where people can visit absolutely anywhere at anytime. France, Germany, ocean floors and even space. But what really gets me is when they say they visit other dimensions… They say there’s a higher state of mind at higher frequencies. A serenity- a tranquility. Most call it the heavens, or whatever you classify it as.. It’s there. And everyone can experience it. They also say higher beings with a higher conscience exist- and most call them angles, guardians or spirit guides. And again, it’s nothing to do with religion. It’s actually a new type of science. Now, I’m not sure how true this is, nor am I saying that this is the answer.. But you have to approach it with an open mind. I am doing some research on it. I watch some of these videos on YouTube where a guy talks about this.. And he breaks it down a lot. He gives resources about what he’s saying and really goes into depth with it. His videos are actually animated so to me, they seem less boring lol. I’ll give you a link to his first video.. He breaks the episodes down into chapters. It’s very interesting and he does point out many religions, including Christianity and the bible. Again, I’m not saying this is the answer.. But I think it should be considered ya know.

Here’s the link:

I have not included the link, because it is not germane, as I point out below; if anyone does want to see it, reply in the comments and I will post it for you. Anyway, here is my reply:

OK, this is a very interesting response. I do believe that I see one common error we are both making, and that is that we are over-generalizing, and this is causing the waters to get a little murky…I first defined “religion” as “the response of humans to the concept of a personal creator God”, and then later tried to apply the same term to atheists – obviously I cannot have it both ways, so let me rather use the term “theistic worldview”, and narrow that down to include only those who believe the universe was created by an intelligent, personal Being; the actual nature of that Being may differ from one school of thought to another, but those are differences of style, not of kind. You seem to be using “religion” to mean collectively, all schools of thought which believe in a personal creator God, and that term would better describe the response of a particular “style group” within the larger “theistic” set; because the way any “religion” answers the questions of life will vary according to their particular interpretation of the nature of the Being. A better term for the opposite view to a “theistic worldview” is obviously “atheistic worldview”, which we can then define as “those who deny the existence of any personal Being as the universal creator”; this leaves an equal amount of room for differences of style within the same kind, and a variety of ways to answer those questions of life, which you rightly point out are universal to all humanity. I have a theistic worldview, and within that I have a series of truth statements I use to further make rational distinctions to answer some of the questions of life. I think that you are claiming an atheistic worldview, and you also have a series of truth statements that you use to make rational distinctions about the questions of life. What I am working towards is trying to understand your worldview, not disprove it…so my questions are directed, first to see if I have an accurate understanding of your general worldview, and then towards the nature of your truth statements. I will be happy to reciprocate, but only if you are asking real questions, not making belittling attacks against what you think I believe, and then only if you are willing to answer my questions…a fair dialogue can enhance both our understandings, anything else is a pointless waste of both our time, wouldn’t you agree? I think we should settle these basic questions, before we go off on tangents (like the “Spirit science” videos you link to, or my particular thoughts on morality, as from the previous thread). Let’s deal with one level of our beliefs at a time, OK?

What follows is a Facebook post I made to a young man who once attended church with us, until roughly around the time he graduated high school. Shortly after, he began proclaiming publicly that he had become an atheist, and how glad he was that he no longer had to suffer under the lies and mythology of Christianity;  in essence, he has taken whole-heartedly to the cause of the New Atheists; often cut-and-pasting large swaths of text directly from some leading atheistic websites to his Facebook feed. We had the conversation I refer to, spanning a couple of days, after he posted some particularly offensive (to me) and inflammatory comments concerning the Immaculate Conception; my intent was to try to get him to think about the logical inconsistencies inherent to a relativistic view of morality. (I did not succeed… he has become quite adept at re-direction, avoiding the question, and setting up straw-man arguments to swat down and proclaim “victory” over, when there was not a battle going on in the first place.)

I posted this to his page, and I’m waiting to see how he responds, indeed if he does. I thought I might post it here as well…can anyone suggest how I could improve my position? Reply in the comments, I can always use some help.

(name withheld), I was re-reading the conversation from the other day, and I realized something…we actually have the same basic belief system…only the nature of the creator is different, and thus the logical conclusions we separately arrive at. Let me explain…

My God is benevolent, personal, and intimately involved with His creation; creation was a deliberate act of His will. Despite our indifference to Him, or reluctance to acknowledge Him, He still loves us enough to hold us accountable for our decisions, because we have the free will to choose to respond to Him or not; this process is what many call “religion”, in all it’s many forms. There is more to the world than the merely physical, but I do not expect to understand all of it; I admit that I am not omniscient, and I must trust in a higher intelligence than my own to administer how it works. There is something waiting for us after this phase of existence is over, which gives me reason to hope.

Your god is random chance: indifferent, irresponsible, and impersonal. The creation was an accident (and how does the “big bang” look or function any differently than “Let there be..and there was”, except in the form of intent?); everything since then is either predictable by chemistry and physics, or random occurrences, which may or may not endure; the “religion” of an atheist appears to be either science, mysticism, or some combination: either nothing exists beyond what can be measured, or things exist which we cannot measure, but must nonetheless admit are there, however irrational that may appear, so we must make up stories to explain them. At the end of life is only entropy and nothingness…a most hopeless and bleak prospect: however “good” or “bad” a life you live, by whatever standard you choose to measure that by, it all comes to naught.

Have I been inaccurate in any of this? Can you point out my logical fallacies without bringing in other irrelevancies? I am very interested in your response, please take the time to think it through, and choose your words well…I did.

I just made it home from my long day at work and running errands, and the first thing I heard on the TV is news of the terrible tragedy in Connecticut. (I have no access to news and such on the jobsite, and I never got around to replacing the radio in my truck when it got stolen…the hole in the dash makes a pretty good theft-deterrent system.)  My immediate reaction? Begin praying for the families, and turn off the news – because the very last thing I want is to hear any more about it. That reaction got me to thinking… why am I turning away? Am I becoming  insensitive, or inured to the pain of others? Well, no… but the truth is quite revealing in its own right.

The most basic, primal feeling in my gut was exhaustion…I am just completely worn out by this latest horrible occurrence in a series of horrible occurrences this year alone. I hope that doesn’t sound shallow or self-centered – I am quite aware that I have suffered no personal injury or loss in any of these circumstances, and real lives have been permanently changed for the worse; who am I to try to make this about me? (Some might even say, “How dare you?” , but I have never been afraid to say things that others might not understand.) But it’s not about me, so much as it’s about the world…I think I have lost my capacity to feel shock or surprise at the pervasive nature of evil. The bible tells us the world is fallen, ruined by sin and death; why do we act surprised when we see continuing evidence that this is so? On the contrary, I shake my head in disbelief when people speak of the “essential goodness of human nature”, when in truth there is no such thing. Jesus Himself said as much, speaking to the rich young man who wanted to know how to get into heaven. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not “anti-people”; that would make the calling God has placed on me to be a pastor seem kind of silly, wouldn’t it? But there is a reason that the tag line on my email for the last several years has been:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”   Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!  (Rev 22:20 NKJV)

This verse has been a part of my daily prayers almost since I returned to walking with Him in 2005. My faith in God, in the perfect redemption of mankind by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, makes it possible for me to eagerly await His return. I take comfort that all the suffering, the pain, the despair…all these will come to an end. It also makes it possible for me to endure until such time as His plan and purposes are fulfilled, as I have no wish that any would perish, but that all would come to know Him and believe, despite knowing that there are those who will not. Many, many people will look at today’s events, and those of previous days, weeks, and months, and curse God for allowing this to happen, or question whether He even exists… the newsfeed from my relatively small number of Facebook friends is evidence of that. I have no answer for them which they will accept, and my heart breaks because of that. Others will take the opportunity to push their own agendas, or profit from it in some way, and that saddens me even more…and underlines my point at the same time – the world IS going to Hell, and it doesn’t need a handbasket to get there; it knows the way all on its own.

Following hard after Him, (even when some days are harder than others)

Nicky

Hello, Audience. Are you still out there? It’s been weeks since I’ve posted anything, and there’s a very good chance that whatever following I was beginning to build has faded away; consistency is a key to maintaining momentum in anything, but the lack of consistency seems to be one of my identifying characteristics…or at least it has been for the greater part of my life – along with the guilt and excuse-making that often go along with it. But I’m tired of that being true and I want it to change. So here I am, back where I belong, doing what I was made to do, and I have the feeling that this is an answer to some of the frustration I have been allowing to fill up my world lately.

That sentence was very hard to write; I hate admitting that I myself am the cause of most of the dissatisfaction I feel. It is much easier and safer to blame the world around me for my moods…to point fingers and sulk and whine, “It’s not my fault! Look at all that is happening to me! How am I supposed to get anything dome with all this going on?” But that reaction has never solved anything. I spend a great deal of my time counseling others against doing that very thing, telling them that the first step to moving forward in life is to get moving, to accept personal responsibility for the condition of their character instead of making it Someone Else’s job to grant them fulfillment. Maybe I need to record these conversations and play them back for myself; I need to learn to recognize hypocrisy when it’s staring back at me in the mirror, to heed the words of the philosopher, “Physician, heal thyself!” Or, better yet, the words of the Great Physician, my Lord Jesus – He has several things to say on this subject:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt 7:3-5)

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

I could go on, but the simple truth is that quoting Scripture is not the same as living it, and I have been falling short. Life is always going to be hard, and Jesus knows this…that is why we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, perhaps the greatest gift short of salvation itself – to help us overcome this life in anticipation of the one to come. I seem to have lost sight of this truth recently, but God is faithful (even when I am not) and He will receive me back to Himself, bind up my wounds, and restore my spirits…if only I will trust in Him.

Stay tuned; I think I am well on the way to finding the true path again; at the very least, I am tired of hacking my way through the weeds and thistles off the side of that path on my own.

Following hard after Him, (in spite of my own hard head and hard heart),

Nicky

Yes, it has been some time (feels like way too long) since I’ve posted anything. There’s no one singular reason, just a feeling that I needed to get some other things lined up in their proper priority, before I returned to my work here.

Last we met, I was just returning from the Kairos weekend at Eastham Prison. As always, God is glorified during these events, and hope in a life with Christ becomes something our Participants can grab onto with both hands, and make into a reality for themselves. I am honored and humbled to share in such rewarding and meaningful service to the Kingdom of God.

I am also honored and humbled to serve Him at my home church, stretching beyond what I thought I could do, and more importantly, what I thought I should do, and into the newly discovered country of continuing in faith what I was already doing, and no more than that. I have found myself flat upon my face a great many times the last couple of weeks, oscillating between thankfulness at His grace and mercy, and disgust at my own sinful heart; He is revealing things about myself I would rather not have known, but it is His infinite wisdom that prevails…thus may I be healed when I ask forgiveness for my pride, for my lack of trust, for my refusal to follow Him and only Him.

I am also honored and humbled by the level of trust displayed by my employer, who has helped me create the perfect working environment for my needs at this time, while still maintaining productivity and profitability on multiple jobs for multiple clients…I could not imagine a better training scenario, and I am getting paid for it – who writes this stuff?

Beyond all this, Karen is tolerating chemo far better than either of us ever dared to hope. It is wearing on her – the blood counts are dropping, the energy level is dropping, and we are both just a touch paranoid about cold and flu season this year – but she is still willing to make plans and do things, and we are grateful to God more than we can express in mere words.

So I am working out what my actual schedule is, and how much time it leaves me for writing. I am still trying to live my life according to this bible verse; I am learning that it often means doing less things, with more quality. This is a valuable lesson, but I must fight against the reflexive response to abandon everything in frustration, or else I have learned nothing of balance. This is the hardest part for me, but the most important.

What that means for you, O Constant Reader, is that you will have to settle for a few less posts a week. but hopefully those that do appear will be worthy of this blog’s title. The bible lessons will resume next week…I hate to leave a great story when it’s just getting started, even when I’ve seen it before! Beyond that, we will see what each day brings. I seem to be a in a transitional interval – some things have changed, more are going to change, and this is the breath in between; the trick is to remember that life does not stand still, and there is work to do while we are waiting. I will be sending out the occasional update as I navigate this strange country, and deal with the low-level anxiety of not knowing exactly where I am going. Please keep me in your prayers.

Following hard after Him,

and some days are harder than others,

Nicky

There are a couple of guys I met through the prison ministry I serve with; they have become very good friends and Christian brothers (my wife jokes and calls them ” Bert and Ernie” ) We try to meet up once a week for a couple of hours, to share advice, prayers, and accountability, and generally just to discuss how God is working on us. So we met up tonight, and we got to talking about different purposes that “church” is supposed to serve. Bert has recently left the Methodist mega-church he attended for several years, looking for something more “authentic”. (Ernie is still a member at that church, and he feels fulfilled there; and my readers know about the little Southern Baptist church I belong to.) Bert now attends a non-denominational, “coffee-shop” church, which he likes, but he is missing the structural stuff that large bodies tend to do well, you know: small groups, bible studies, discipleship…it’s there, he feels, he just hasn’t connected to it yet. Ernie commented that the mega-Methodists have those programs down to a science; everywhere you go, there is something to get involved in, and most of it is “plug-and-play” as he put it. Meanwhile, my fellowship is in limbo – we need to start almost literally from nothing; we have two elders; one deacon (me); three teachers (I’m one of them); one “pulpit filler” (me again); two people who can run the lights and sound (me and one other) and no permanent pastor to help guide the re-building as of yet (probably not me, but who knows?)

All this talk of activities and programs and “doing” has me thinking again about the purposes of church. The bible speaks much in the book of Acts about what the first-century church was doing; Paul teaches at length regarding attitudes and practices within the body of believers, but I still have questions for those who sit beside me or in front of me every Sunday: What are we gathering together for? I get different answers – we gather to exhort and encourage each other; or we gather to receive instruction and training for our work for the Kingdom; or we meet to hear the Word of God proclaimed; or we meet to see to it that the needs of the body are being met; or we meet for corporate praise and worship. The more honest ones will say it’s all about us – “celebrating life together in oneness in Him”; the more contrite ones will say that we meet only to be empowered to go out – that we are to be looking outward, not inward. Problem is, I think they are all right; or they are all wrong; or I don’t know what I think, is the best answer I have right now. That’s OK, because, to paraphrase a character in a Heinlein sci-fi novel, true knowledge only begins when we can honestly say, “I don’t know.” (Why, I may be on the brink of genius!)

I’ve read the proverbial s**tload o’ books, and I follow a lot of bloggers who have opted out of “traditional churches”, and they seem fulfilled and connected to what God has for them where they are…but I’m not feeling a pull to leave this place…I’m feeling the call to help it realize it’s full potential. With all the changes we have going on, everything is on the table; I may never see an opportunity like this again –  to plant an idea that could have an impact that extends beyond my own personal reach…and I don’t want to waste it. So I’m gonna go bold, and go public, and ask YOU, Dear Readers, for some input.

If you could re-build a church, what would you HAVE to have, and what would you HAVE to keep out? I am only one voice in this conversation, but I will have my turn to speak…what should I say? Let me hear from you in the comments, I will leave this one open for dialogue if it gets lively.

Following hard after Him,

Nicky