Friday, October 29, 2010

Impact of Online Friends

I sometimes wonder about the effectiveness of online ministry, the impact of online friends who we never meet in person. I recently had an experience with this I feel compelled to share at this point.

A few years back, while cruising through MySpace, I discovered that it was used for a lot more than merely meeting people and as a path for musicians to increase their fan base. I saw there were Christians there who were blogging, participating in forums, and generally trying to discuss faith with others.  Pretty early on after finding this out, I met someone named Amy.  Initially we just exchanged faith posts and small talk; I discovered pretty quickly she was much more Reformed than I:) A few things about her stand out to me. I am a former Catholic, so that was perhaps part of it.

She was staunchly pro-life; I recall seeing her affiliated with the people who put red tape across their mouths, writing LIFE in large letters along the tape. She was always involved in prayerful demonstrations at abortion clinics. As I got to know her better and started to realize the difficulties presented to her, this was even more impressive.

I recall at least one year where during Lent she would abstain from all social networking. Once again, as an ex Catholic, this was really food for contemplation for me. Do we need to perform a Lenten fast from something that is important to us? I would argue no. However, if that allows you to become closer to God as a result, by all means, go right ahead.

I recall also a time where she posted online, looking for a large print King James Bible with a soft cover for someone she knew in a jail or prison.  I happened to have just such a Bible that wasn't getting much use, so I offered to send it to an address she gave me.

This girl was radically obedient to God; she really was an example in that way. I believe there are many others out there like myself that she inspired. Almost 2 months ago, I happened to see on Facebook the day that it happened that she had passed. I was bummed; I did not know that she was THAT ill. The thought I have regarding this whole thing is this. When you meet people online, although this is usually not as good as an in person relationship, do not underestimate the impact you may have. It may be an inconsequential exchange of pleasantries, or it may also be something leading to an inmate coming closer to God. We do not know His plans, only He does.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Thoughts on church

Regarding what some people believe is wrong with the Christian Church, here are a few thoughts I have had or things I have observed.

We have gotten too into the show, the emotional intensity, the what can church do for me mindset. We have forgotten what Lordship means, the importance of real exegetical teaching, and the real reason we should be there, to worship.

I believe we are all sinners. Those of us who are truly saved, because of our changed hearts, will be less likely to sin, but I do not believe it ever goes away in totality. Now then, what is the impact of this? Those who are in church leadership positions are not exempt from the above. So, when a church leader screws up, what are the consequences? At the minimum, he or she will be less credible, less likely to be followed. Leaders should be and often are held to a higher standard according to 1st Timothy, but they are not perfect. We are all ambassadors for Him; I am reminded of a DC Talk song where it talks in an opening monologue about us affirming our faith with our lips but denying it with our lifestyle.

There is also another trend that is occurring now that is not new; people are moving in an attempt to return to what they perceive as the 1st century church. Some who are opposed to organizational structure, in churches or otherwise, are drawn to this movement by this perceived lack of organization. There are risks however, to me these exist primarily in the realm of lack of accountability. Even if there are no pastors in this methodology, leaders will still emerge, they always do. What is to prevent these leaders from teaching false doctrines, as we see so often mentioned in New Testament letters. For me, the risk of a cult type group emerging is worth mentioning. Additionally, to go too far down this road is to risk discrediting the Biblical mentions of the gifts of shepherding and teaching.

Some of us see verses about breaking bread house to house and think that was their worship, without noticing or thinking about the Hebrews 10 and Colossians 3 ordered assemblies in synagogues. We are told to assemble, to teach, to admonish, to sing, and to encourage one another, among other things. Are we doing that? We need to seriously ask what our assemblies are about. If the experienced believers amongst us are going to help the milk drinkers become meat eaters, we really need to look at that. A new believer needs different teaching than an experienced believer.  This can happen in a couple different ways.  The experienced believer, if they have the teaching gift, can and should teach the new believer.

Regarding our roles in church, I really believe a change of mindset is necessary.  We cannot continue to act in a way that is self-serving as opposed to focused on God.  We in the USA are far too comfortable with church hopping, treating it like a consumer experience.  I don't think people should leave a church for many reasons; perhaps the most valid is preaching that is not Biblically correct.  Aside from that, if a church needs work, those with the proper gifts in the congregation should be stepping up to have at it.

Atheism is also an area where those that have that religious belief are more vocal than before. If you just stopped in disbelief at the apparent contradiction in the previous sentence, read on please. I would argue that, although atheism is by definition lack of belief in a God, it is a religion. There is a something from nothing creation story that requires much more faith than intelligent design.  The idea of entropy, which is an order becomes disorder line of thinking, is counter to those who believe in biological evolution.

I will stop there to limit length for now.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Am I a Believer or Disciple

I recently had a chat with a pastor regarding the above, specifically the difference between being a Christian believer and being a disciple of Christ. What I learned from that and from listening to some recorded sermons on this has been enlightening. To become a saved member of the Christian church simply requires belief in Christ. Now this belief is more than head knowledge; the demons know Christ is the Son of God. So then, what does saving faith look like, and what is the difference between that and being a disciple? This will take time to cover completely, so I likely will address it in pieces. This is important to consider because it seems to me that some of my Christian brethren are rejecting the idea that someone can be saved if they still have sin in their lives. For me, I assumed that all should desire to become disciples of Christ, making sacrifices along the way throughout our lives while seeking to grow more close to Christ. Sadly, this is not always the case. In the past, I have always interpreted the believe phrase in John 3:16 to include follow. I now realize that for some, that does not enter into the picture.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pastors spending time

Having recently read Eugene Peterson's book "The Contemplative Pastor", I have been wondering, although I am not a pastor, about how Godly men spend time. This is an excellent read for someone who thinks that he might be called to ministry, to help him discern how to spend time and what is important. I confess that for me, in at least one sense, this is a slightly easier process, since I do not have children. Still, for the average Christian, this is a difficult situation. One has to keep Christ at the center while trying to manage many facets of life in a society that is increasingly faster paced. Whether or not this is correct will be another blog later.

Now, for the pastor or minister, this is an even more difficult problem. It really seems to be the case that a pastor ought to be spending substantial time in The Word, reading, contemplating, praying, and trying to hear Him through all the noise in our lives. However, church leaders are increasingly pressured to be doing other things, related to their local church, that take away from the time mentioned above. A pastor does need to be a shepherd to the flock, to protect them from the wolves. What is the right balance for this? Inevitably demands of the world and family sometimes seemingly conflict with those of God and the local and global church. This gets even more difficult for bi-vocational pastors, those with a full time job that are also pastors.

What is the answer? I see it like this. A preacher does need to spend time in the word; those that I've talked to or listened to suggest that 30 hours a week in study, contemplation, prayer, and sermon prep is about the norm for a week in which one is going to deliver a sermon or message. So then, what does that mean? Well, in a larger church, this is easy; there will be associate pastors and other administrative staffers to handle much of the busyness that occurs on a daily basis. In a smaller church, this is much more difficult; help is required. Laymen have to get off the sidelines and be willing to assist in some ways, as opposed to simply sitting there as consumers, warming pews or chairs.