The # 1 way we (Christians) have failed our children

A friend shared this on Facebook the other day:

“If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?” I asked the children in my Sunday School class.
“NO!” the children all answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?”
Again, the answer was, “NO!”
Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my wife, would that get me into Heaven?” I asked them again.
Again, they all answered, “NO!”
“Well, I continued, “then how can I get into Heaven?”
A five-year-old boy shouted out, “YOU GOTTA BE DEAD!”

We have failed. In a world where even a 5 year old identifies heaven as something you “get” when you are dead, we have failed.

I recall at least once when Jesus said that “unless you become like a child” you won’t enter the Kingdom.

I don’t recall a single time that Jesus claimed you have to die to enter the Kingdom.

Jesus never taught heaven or eternal life as something we get when we die.

Ever.

Jesus taught that eternal life was and is knowing God. (John 17:3)  He taught, variously, that the Kingdom of God is “already here,” “is among you,” will come before some of you here will taste death.

Jesus taught and lived a way of life that knows the presence, power, and love of God now – before death – so deeply that time isn’t wasted on wondering if one might have eternal life after death.

There is still time to teach our children well.

The # 1 way we (Christians) have failed our children

If it were this easy, EVERYONE would do it!

prayI followed this SUV most of my way home the other day.  While I suppose some of you may tell me that God was trying to tell me something else, here is what I took from this “inspirational” sticker.

Prayer does work, I agree.  In my experience, however, it rarely works is a way that I infer from this sticker.  In other words, I don’t believe prayer that “works” is like a “Precious moments” moment.

Abraham bargained with God.  Jacob wrestled.  David sang and danced prayerfully, but also wrote long laments about the sense of God’s absence, of begging God to remember His promises.

When it came down to it, Jesus was so stressed in prayer that he sweat drops of blood. (Luke 22:44)

Prayer works  in part because prayer is work.

If it were this easy, EVERYONE would do it!

My Belated Apologies, Paul and Art

darknessYesterday I cracked open Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark.  This is the July selection for our Summer Book Club.   Here’s how the Introduction opens:

I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.  – Isaiah 45:3

Immediately, this memory surfaced from more than 30 years ago.  As a young Christian in high school, I reacted strongly and arrogantly against a musical duo that performed at a Midwinter Retreat because they performed Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”

Near the pinnacle of the phase of my life when I knew everything, I was utterly certain that the line “Hello darkness my old friend…” was (bot so) subtly conjuring up the Prince of Darkness Himself at this unsuspecting Christian event.

Oh, the horror!  The Horror!

Then, today, I crack

HOW CAN IT BE!?  In scripture, no less, a positive reference to darkness!

I had no idea, as a 16 year old young Christian-who-knew-everything, that this could possibly be from the same source, the Bible, as all my outrage at the reference to darkness.

So, I didn’t actually know everything then.  I don’t know everything today. It hasn’t taken me all these years to realize this. But it is not every day that something from my past is brought so clearly back into focus.

I am sorry, Simon and Garfunkel, for being so arrogantly presumptuous and condescending.  I am sorry, duo who sang at that Midwinter, for all the attitude a 16 year old Christian-who-knows-everything can muster.

I am looking forward to reading this book.

I am also looking forward to giving others the benefit of the doubt.  It turns out I didn’t know everything at 16.  I still don’t.

My Belated Apologies, Paul and Art

This is just WRONG

In case you hadn’t heard/read this elsewhere, a church in Joplin Missouri raffled off 2 AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.

While I cannot say I am surprised, I will tell you I am appalled.

Not only does this support gambling – yes, raffles are gambling – but look deeper into what is going on here.

This particular raffle was, the article says, for fathers only:

the church gave area fathers an opportunity to put their names in a free drawing to win one of two AR-15 rifles. Fathers could get tickets for each child they brought to church, and for bringing his own dad to church.

It seems only fair to me that if a church is going to invite people to gamble for guns, they ought not be sexist about it.

This is just WRONG

Speak Carefully?

Before writing this, I checked.  I thought I had blogged before on the use of the phrase “everything happens for a reason,” and I had.  Here.  But that was in 2009.  It’s been almost 5 years, so I’ll feel free to dredge it up again.

This post is inspired by a conversation I started on Facebook yesterday.  I posted “You do not know that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ so stop saying it!”

Rachel graciously pointed out that this post is a bit harsh.  Thankfully, by the time she told me that, I had realized the same thing and expanded my thought this way:

While I do not know with utter certainty that every action of the universe is not ordered, I do not believe thinking this is so is beneficial to us choice-laden or -driven people. Nor do I find such a cliche truly helpful or healing to one who has just suffered unjust loss.

and this

I think it is (at least sometimes) because we WANT there to be order and answers to why things happen. After a recent conversation with someone who has faced the loss of 5 close family members in less than a year, though, I realized this person was not actually comforted by such a ‘promise.”

In fact, this person seemed to feel more distant from the source of such a promise.

I offered, OTOH, that God, by grace, is able to bring good from every situation and event without having caused that situation or event. I believe this perspective on God’s grace is more helpful.

What I’d like to tackle now is related to several responses I received.  I was quickly challenged by some that I don’t know that everything does not happen for a reason.

This is true. I don’t.

But neither do I teach, preach, or say to wounded people that “everything is meaningless!  Nothing happens for a reason!”

To encourage or implore people NOT to say “everything happens for a reason” is neither to say that

  1. nothing happens for a reason (that is beyond your or my control); or
  2. not everything happens for a reason (that is beyond your or my control.

Whether there is a grand design behind every single thing – an Ultimate Cause beyond every single effect is beyond my understanding and yours.

Generally, I think the cliche is offered out of the best of intentions.  It is not always heard that way.  The more I thought about it yesterday, in fact, the more I wondered if Christians saying things like “everything happens for a reason” and “God is in control.” are heard by non-Christian folk as words of judgment and condemnation upon those who suffer.

We want to be able to say something to the hurting and broken among us.  Can we at least agree to choose our words carefully in these situations?

Speak Carefully?

It must be God! Right?

77 Preachers Can’t be Wrong!

I saw this claim on the bottom of a poster in a shop window.  My immediate response was a chuckling, “Yes, they could.”  If you look back over the last couple hundred years, you’ll notice we get it wrong sometimes.

This post isn’t really about preachers getting it wrong.  Today I am thinking more about the way we try to make numbers work for us.

We like to think and proclaim that success presumes God’s blessing, and we especially like to throw numbers around to support this. For example, who hasn’t heard this kind of claim: “That church has grown from nothing to 10,000 in five years – God must be in it!”

If you are thinking I am on a rant because your church is bigger than my church, give me a couple of paragraphs, please.

I am not negging numbers; I am concerned that a focus merely on numbers never tells the whole story.  Oh, sure, numbers are measureable – and in these MBA days we are all about metrics and measurability.

But can you measure a soul, or the growth thereof?  Is the distance of a person from God something that can be expressed in units?  Tell me, please, precisely, how much closer you are to Jesus today than one year ago today.

There are more Baptists than United Methodists – does that make them better?  There are more Muslims than Baptists…?  One of the fastest growing religious demographics in the US is “none of the above” – Does this mean that God’s blessing is most on those choosing no religion at all?

Numbers are a part of the picture of success, but only a part.

It must be God! Right?

Sometimes it isn’t about comparison

Last Wednesday was a strange, surreal day for me.  The day started normally, though an afternoon appointment would, I knew, feel strange.  A member of our church was dying of cancer, but had insisted I come and take some things from his house that he wanted to give to the church.

Then, around 11, I got a call from my mom that my dad wasn’t doing well – that he was, the words I remember, “failing fast.”  I went into son mode and took off toward Arlington, making phone calls as I went.  Dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s related dementia, several years ago, and the decline has been, well, long and uncomfortable.

It turns out dad was not as close to death’s door as we thought, but he was having a difficult day.  He had, perhaps, had a small stroke the previous weekend, and was less responsive and not interested in food or drink.  While I was there they got him to take some food.  The immediacy of the situation lessened, I went back to work.

I went back to work but probably wasn’t worth much.  Apparently thinking one’s parent is about to die is rather more distracting than I would like it to be.

Later that afternoon, I made it to visit with my dying church member.  After sharing communion and visiting with him and the friends who were gathered, I began carrying things to the truck I had borrowed for the occasion.

One the way out, I caught myself thinking, “this hasn’t been a very good day for me.”

I stopped those words and played with them in my head.  On a day that I visit with two men who were both likely not to live out the year – perhaps the month – I was feeling like I wasn’t having a good day?

I have not shared this for you to feel sorry for me, to join the piling-on over feeling sorry for myself.

I decided to share this because sometimes in the midst of a challenging time, or despair or sadness, we lose perspective by comparing ourselves with others.

My realization that I was having a bad day was NOT AT ALL about, or to be compared with, the situations of the two men I visited that day.

I have my ups and downs, and you have yours.  That yours are worse today than mine, or that mine were worse last summer than yours is only relevant if being human were a contest, but it isn’t.

In the presence of either my father, or the other man I visited that day, my own situation or challenges appropriately paled in comparison.  But my life is not well lived in comparison to the lives of others.  Neither is yours.

Here’s to knowing when to compare, and when not to.

Sometimes it isn’t about comparison