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We were tootling along just fine in our schedule at small group last night, when, as far as I’m concerned, a grenade was dropped. One man, prominent in our group, mentioned a book that he said, “is the best book I’ve ever read.” Uh oh. It’s not the Bible, so what could it be? A book on the prodigal son by Henri Nouwen. He’s reading it, and will pass it on to the eager next person in the group. Another woman wrote the title down. I sat there, quietly taking it in. Now I have to proceed carefully. The man is not a bible study leader nor pastor. He’s also not necessarily tainted because he likes this one book. I do think, however, that we need to figure out how to address this so I am carefully taking advice from people I respect. I will not go in guns blazing, but I do not believe we should ignore this. My husband was proud of me, I am usually blasting away when I see a problem. I’ve learned. There is wisdom in silence for a time while we gather information and carefully present the problems with Nouwen.

I opened up my facebook on October 14th and this is what one woman had to say:
“I don’t understand how, when, or why selfishness became the “Christian” position.”

She continued:

“I’m just finding very frustrating that in this whole 99% debate, the “Christian” voices all seem to be saying, “I work hard for my money, therefore it’s mine, and I don’t wanna share, and if the 1% are richer than you, it’s just because they worked harder, so they deserve it more.” It’s just so opposite the teachings of Jesus, and so opposite of how I feel about the world, as a Christian. It makes me sad. Jesus told his followers to pay their taxes, and the only time he ever got really pissed off was at people profiting off of religion. ”

My response:
” I don’t think it’s greed necessarily. Saying that I work for my money and don’t want to pay MORE taxes than I already do is not greedy. And assuming the Christians out there expressing this don’t give to charity is wrong. We actually are struggling, have sought some help. We’ve not gotten help from government programs like we have from who? Christians. I don’t think all the the 99% people are arguing the same things. I think some would actually be able to sit with about the same signs as the tea party people. It depends on who you talk to. I was just talking to someone yesterday who is not a 99%er, and may not be part of the teaparty, but she realized we’re all looking to the wrong solutions. The Church SHOULD be providing more and is NOT. That’s the problem, the government cannot solve it, corporations cannot solve it. I fear for MORE taxes affecting charitable giving.”

I continue:
And I knew this was going to happen a few years back. I began to hear the attacks on the rich from the Obama campaign, and I knew there was going to be a fight between poor and rich that didn’t exist in the way it does today. I find that many of the things that weren’t a big divider before are becoming so now. It’s all part of the plan, I think (whatever that plan is I don’t know…but I think it is part of it). Not that I think there’s a big “left wing conspiracy” but that yes, in the hopes of creating a bit of chaos before an election, we must have some class division. The bible itself mentions in proverbs (I think, I’ll have to look it up) you no work, you no eat. (very loose and free translation, forgive me). Now, I’m not assuming the 99%er crowd doesn’t work. Just that the concept that getting to have some prosperity from hard work is NOT a sin.”

Another facebooker responded:
“Christ said in Luke “Blessed are the poor for yours is the kingdom of heaven” and tells the rich young ruler to give away everything he has to the poor before he can follow him. Christ told everytone to pay their taxes, in a time when a tax collector could take every penny you had if he wanted to. Christ never said pay your taxes until you feel like you’ve paid enough, he said look Caesars head is on this coin, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. So take your dollars, and give to Washington what is Washington’s. Aren’t you blessed to live in a day and age when there are laws that keep a tax collector from walking into your home and taking every penny you have? Praise be to God! And actually, A LOT of the 99%ers leave the protest to go to work, one of the faces of Occupy Wall Street is a public school teacher who is there all evening, sleeps there 3 or 4 nights a week and has not missed a day of work since this started. Most people I know here at Occupy Portland do work and they are not there 24 hours a day. And the ONLY person I know at occupy Philly who does not have a job outside the home is JA (the original poster) and I would argue that to say see doesn’t work is insulting to billions of christian women who have devoted themselves to raising children in a home fo Faith for the last 2 millenia!”

“Yes, it’s true Erin, it was because the rich young ruler wouldn’t admit he was a sinner and imperfect. He knew the man’s heart. IT was not about being rich or poor. The society he was living in was much different than our representative form of government. And because we DON’T have to pay those taxes yet, we are free to express frustration with people trying to get more taxes to redistribute the money people have worked and saved for. The bible contains many examples and exortations to work and to save…how the ants are wise in saving for the winter. Yes, I know many work…they have to pay for the things they find to be important for them just like those of us who don’t happen to agree with their particular philosophies.”

Other facebooker replies, “I would suggest you read ANY of the Church Father’s on that passage, you seem to be taking your interpretations from 20th Century America and ignoring what 2 milllenia of Christians have believed that passage to mean. it is the height of American Prosperity arrogance.”

To this I replied, “I know many are trying, just like tea partiers, to make America better. They are expressing their freedom to speak. Some are downright crazy, but I’m sure that’s not all. The squeaky wheel syndome, I guess, when it comes to media attention on that. But I do think there is much more going on than just the tax issue. Biting the hand that feeds you is only going to hurt our economy. Regulation itself imposed by our government can often have consequences beyond which we cannot see today. Every law has many consequences we do not count on. All the best intentions, but this could turn out to be pretty ugly for us regular families relying on jobs…because those corporations are the ones that hire most of us. And they are the ones that support even the government with the current taxes they have. So when the economy is bad, even govt. workers suffer. More taxes on the corporations, more regulation…it has to be WELL thought out and looked at. Because no one is going to give the people better when they are giving more to the government. The tax burden is always passed on to the public.”

And I added further:

“Jesus names several commandments, and that arrogant man claims HE met them all perfectly. It was about HIS sin, it’s in the text. Mark 10:17-31 in context. It’s about him “trusting in riches” not in God. He thought he was perfect enough, and could not give up what he truly trusted in. It was not about giving up riches, it was about giving up his misplaced trust.”

Other facebooker reply:

“i interpret scripture in light of Christian Teaching and Tradition, I do not rely on my own intellect to interpret God’s Word, because I am not equipped to do so. If you feel that you know more about scripture than the Church Fathers, that is fine, I do not.”

My reply to the attitude given:
“Hey, I got my teaching somewhere. I didn’t make this up whole cloth. And I’m not attacking JA for her opinion directly, nor you.”

Original poster:

“If you look at some of the numbers, it’s downright scary. We are in a recession, and the super-rich just keep getting super-richer. Meanwhile, hard work isn’t enough anymore. Our parents’ generation told us to go to college so we could have a better life. They said, don’t worry about the loans, you’re investing in your future. Then, when the job well dried up, they said, Oh, too bad, I guess we were wrong about that whole education thing, have fun with your debt. Yes, I should take responsibility for my own choices (even though the pressure to go to college when I graduated from high school was insane). But when student loan interest rates keep rising, and you can’t just take a job at McDonald’s because it doesn’t pay enough to make loan payments, let alone pay rent, and people are dying because they can’t afford health insurance, yeah, I think I am entitled to be a little ticked off at the establishment.
And frankly, I’m tired of the argument that Christians should be helping by giving to charity, not supporting social programs, and that churches should be the ones feeding the hungry and housing the poor. Why on earth do you want all that responsibility? Can your church afford the millions of dollars that national social programs cost? Mine can’t. And as much as this nation pretends to be a Christian nation, if we were supposed to run the entire social safety net based on the tithes of church-going Christians, it would be woefully inadequate. The entire country – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Pagan, you name it – needs to work together to make things better.”

My response: (and what I meant by own community is it’s own responsibilities within the body)
“Each church has it’s own community, and my church does work very hard to help and meet as many needs as it can…but Jesus also mentioned the poor will always be with you. He was seeking people to follow Him, and to serve when they could. The focus was on serving Him first, then meeting the needs within the body, then beyond. And trust me, JA, I am aware that church people are NOT perfect, and not all “our” ideas are perfect. As a Christian, I do know there IS selfishness, and greed…many examples. But I do think the bible does provide the Gospel despite us.”

Original poster said:
” I don’t want to play the Bible verse game. For every verse you find praising posterity, I can find another condemning wealth. That side-steps the whole point. The point is the general attitude portrayed by “Christian” pundits in the media: That somehow, poor people deserve to be poor, and that they are stealing from me if they need help. Which is decidedly un-Christian.”

My response:
” I personally was making that point about the “bible verse game” myself in quoting the ones showing prosperity itself is NOT an evil. What is wrong with people is not an opinion about how our government handles this, it’s about sin. And yes, you have a point in that greed is not okay. Pride is not okay. The problem is with sin and NOT with whether you support one political agenda or another.”

Original poster:
” And if a “Christian” is railing against the lazy welfare leeches who steal his tax dollars, I have a REALLY hard time believing that he is going to let his tithe money support them, either. That’s where the “Churches should be feeding the poor, not the government” argument really breaks down for me.”

My return:

“I do think it’s possible that if I heard someone arguing that way when someone is in true need, not just purposely not working and “working the system” we would agree.”

Original poster:
“No, prosperity itself is not evil. But the love of money is the root of all evil, and the fact is that in the United States, very few people get rich without exploiting somebody else to get there. And the Bible says that it’s harder for a camel to fit through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter heaven and Jacob sent his sons to ask for food from Egypt. It’s okay to need help. But because we have this mindset that working hard to earn everything we need in life is the only good thing, we are tricked into not even accepting help when we need it.

My response:

“Yes, I do not think when needed help is above us. We’ve asked for it. But I don’t blame corporations NOR my government because I have need a times. Sometimes we cannot HELP our circumstances, and sadly, sometimes our circumstances are a result of our poor money management. We have experienced both…
We do have a bit of pride and don’t LIKE to accept help, we’d rather be the ones giving actually. But yes, we’ve accepted help and no one in the church has ever suggested (to us anyway) there is anything wrong with it.”

Now, I know my ping pong with these women was not the best, but I did try to redirect a bit. The original poster was dead set on saying Christians are selfish. True, we can be selfish. Some of those who represent the church aren’t actually Christians anyway. But it wasn’t about defending the church for me. It was about trying to explain they are using the bible incorrectly. Note how they picked out verses to say the rich in America should pay more taxes. Well, it doesn’t say that people should pay MORE taxes in the bible, just that we should pay the taxes asked of us. And the point of the mention of money is often to draw our attention away from money and toward Christ. Money is the root of all evil because people pursuit it rather than Christ. Whatever solutions we come up with for America are likely going to be practical and political. Using scripture to back us is dangerous and better be used correctly. I think, if we look at our nation, a large part of the failure in the country is greed within the hearts of individuals and families, not just in the hearts of CEO’s. It’s evident we’re going through more than just a readjustment, people really have a wrong idea of the bible, and the meaning of Christ’s words.

I hope I did something good in engaging others in this topic. I do feel it might be a fruitless effort! These women only want to use Christ as a means to an end. It’s just the same with many.

I do know the church cannot be the “social justice” branch of the world either. I do think some of the jobs our government does would better be handled by the church if and only if the church follows it’s role given by God. I do not believe the church is in the world to make it a better place, though I do think because of the church, God has blessed the world in many ways. I think those who are true believers do, because of Christ and His sacrifice, often do wonderful things and reach out to help those who live and work around them. It’s the natural goodness that comes from the heart of God. But, it is not a mandate for us as believers to fix all of society. Please correct me where I am wrong, I do believe the first place the church is meant to serve and help is within it’s own body. Going outside is secondary.

Rewarded

This Sunday, I had been lamenting the weeks we’ve missed church due to summer activities we volunteer for out of town.  Well, we went to church and it was a wonderful sermon from the gospel of John.  The pastor spoke of our Lord and the crucifixion.  Remembering his death, the love he had for the thief, the promise of paradise, the horror of our sin, the power of Christ to give up his own life, the prophecies fulfilled in the events, all of it was powerful in one sermon.

Cannot Wait

We’ve been volunteering for a family friendly canoe livery “ministry” on a river one state over, and it has taken our family out of church for many weeks this summer.  Though I still am not “clicking” and feeling involved in church, I still cannot wait to get back.  This weekend we are home and not on the road.  Hope they don’t think we’ve abandoned them.

On another note, we have so many kiddos and some are growing up.  Because of this our week nights are getting full with activities.  This is only allowed because we homeschool the bulk of the kids and get to be with them most of the time.  It does mean though that weekday bible study with other adults is next to impossible.   Even if both parents are home, we loose our older kids as baby sitters.  So this means we loose out.  I think this would be the one way we could get more involved and get to know people better.  This getting into the local body is so hard.  At least the people of the church are still very kind to us and go out of their way to make us feel welcome.  Is it too terrible I wish there was a better building layout so there was more time and a better place for face time on Sunday morning?  Not a coffee shop, but just some place to sit down and have pot luck meals?

I have not really spoken here about my family life.  We’re a large family and we homeschool our children.  In about 4th grade, we then have used a public school virtual curriculum, so technically we are teaching at home but not pure homeschooling.  Well, my husband has been wanting to get our oldest son out into the public school.  Mostly, it’s because he fights me on every turn with instruction.  He wants to learn, he just doesn’t like me to teach him.  And he doesn’t want to do his Algebra at all and only finishes because I push him to do so.  He also seems bored and sort of picks at his siblings around here.  My husband believes that if he’s gone, I’ll be less distracted with the behavior and will be able to teach the other kids more effectively. 

Also, our son is always at home performing for me.  He’s often worried about pleasing us as parents, and never is free to just work without worrying.  He tells me everything he does, he shows me every lego set, drawing, and all.  At some point, he needs to shift away from pleasing mom with everything.  We began to notice that he gets compliments when away from us.  We’re always told he’s helpful and is a great kid.  He shines when he’s not worried what we think of him as parents.  He performs well at home, so maybe without the pressure of every math problem being observed by Mom or Dad, he’d be free to fail and learn? 

We know our oldest son is very strong in his belief in Christ.  He’s willing to share, and unwilling to compromise at this point.  He expressed a real fear of straying, that was one of the things on his “con” list.  He also is worried he’ll argue with teachers about truth because he knows they are not going to be teaching from a Christian perspective.  I agree, he might actually get into some discussions.  He’s sort of strong willed and zealous on many points.  It might get him into trouble. 

So, we’ve decided to send him out.  We do not have the money to put him in the private school (run by a reformed Presbyterian church).  Even with scholarships, it’s a budget buster for us.  I cannot really work that much with six children at home, so public school it is. 

My problem is that I feel I’m personally letting my son down, sending him away.  I also think homeschooling is superior in most cases.  Sure, being there for your kids no matter what helps a lot.  Teaching them to follow Christ and teaching them the bible is important and will help, but they can be tempted, they can be abused. 

What gets me too are all the comments that he’ll learn some lessons he needs to learn out there.  Really?  It’s almost like people really believe a child must be in the public classroom to function.  They must have these other teachers, these run ins with other students to succeed in life.  I fear that what we will be doing is baking the cake to almost done, and then will just expect it to finish on the top of the stove while it’s cooling down. 

My main problem is that my husband is not really strong on what he wants to do.  I want them home until they graduate, and then want to be very careful about where they get their college education.  We don’t have the money to just do whatever we want.  My husband wants the problems at home to end, wants the boy to move on and do something different.  He’s not on the same page as me.  My husband does want our kids to be Christians, he wants them to have a good education, but he also wants me to be happy.    So much of this is on me, and I haven’t always been the best organizer or doer in this house, so if my husband really wants our son to go, I feel I should honor his wish.

So, I sit here, enrollment is on Thursday, and it’s taking all of me to not get upset.

We Like Sheep

I’m starting to mull over people who attend church and how they follow after.  I admit, I’ve blindly followed at times.  I want to be lazy, I want to sit and relax.  I want to just eat and not study.   I clump with others at times, and this causes problems when I line up with the wrong crowd.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that people react and run.  If things are revealed to be wrong, we can leap wildly in the other direction.  In college, I recall a man who went from a charismatic style church group straight into Wicca, and then into another church group.  He jumped from one thing to another, or the guys I knew who jumped from a controlling group into the gay lifestyle.  But it doesn’t even have to be that extreme.  I mean, it can be that one might jump from one denomination to another, or from one leader to another.    It is easy to abandon one whole set of beliefs or people just because of some bad things/bad people and not really think about why.  I’ve done it, I’ve seen it.

I think the key is to remember that we people are sinners, our reactions can be prideful, can be sinful, even if we are right in realizing a bad church, a bad situation.  It is not wrong to point out the error, and to run from it.  When doing so though, I need to keep in mind where I am running to.  (this is not to say the church I am in is bad or that our family ran to something bad.  I don’t believe we have…just that it is very easy to react rather than to stop, pray, and think about things.  It is also easy to paint everything with a broad brush because I don’t see the whole picture).

We have been attending our church now for well over two years.  We’ve been members for almost a year (I think, I’m terrible with dates etc, I remember how long we’ve attended because we started in January two years ago).    I enjoy the sermon, and the brief talks we have with people.  We do have some people we are getting closer too.  But, there is no excitement when getting ready to go to church.  It’s not that we ever regret going, we just don’t look forward to it here, unless we’re talking kids, they love it.

We still feel distant.  The sermons are solid, even it seems with the associate pastor.  He gave a sermon on “the law” yesterday, and it was one of the best I’ve heard him give.  Not an easy topic, and yet he hit it.   We are in this church because the preaching is solid.  We are in this church because it has no agenda in terms of promoting men’s books or pastors, it is not even about the lead pastor.  What I see in this church is strong teaching directly from the bible.  I see people who live their lives according to the bible as far as I can tell.

So, why the distant feelings?  I believe there are two definite and obvious possible reasons.  One is that it’s us, the other is that it’s the church.

I think we have been distant ourselves for self preservation.  We came out of a church with problems, serious problems.  I now think our former pastor was a bit of a bully.  I did not like the church being led by Warren, Hybels, and others.  The small groups were less about good true teaching from God’s word that any young church member could run a small group with just a meeting place and a DVD player.  Seriously.     We did learn there, there was some good teaching.  However, there was enough of the bad we had to get out.    But before we really opened our eyes to the problems, I need to say that we looked forward to Sunday.  We were going to church.  There were friends there.  I can think of some specific people, some awesome and wonderful Christian friends (some of whom are no longer there for various reasons, most left because they saw issues too).  We had fun there, we had fellowship there.  Despite all the problems, the goal for many of the people we were in fellowship with was to live the Christian life and was to honor God.  It’s just that the leadership derailed some of that, pushing people into manditory studies of Warren books, or preaching from simple formulas.  Not all messages were bad.   What really drew us back again and again?  The people.  We also enjoyed the music most of the time, and the pastor who lead music always read directly from scripture and included it in his worship sets.

We were also immature and not seriously paying attention, we were responsible for being in a place with bad teaching (again, not most of the time…it was good sometimes).  We didn’t really examine the Purpose Driven Life the first time around.  I understand that people were fighting in small groups over that book.  We were just immature, laughing at Rick Warren’s shirts and generally doing just enough to get by, we were in it.  This makes it hard for us to trust ourselves now, we know we bought it or ignored it ourselves.  We were not really in the bible in our own free time enough, we had a weak personal life with God.   We relied on church time and small group a lot for our own personal study of God’s word.   So, our own faults kept us blind.  Our own ignorance and laziness kept us quiet.

We also enjoyed all the extra stuff our church had for our kids.  There were carnival like events, soccer camps, VBS events that were more like summer camp than VBS.  There were concerts and more.  Most was free for our family.  Even without money, we could get.   Thinking back, that’s part of it.  We had some time when my husband lost his job, and really, financially, we struggled for years after due to his gaining a job with much less pay as we had bought our house when he was employed at a higher salary.  We kept having kids, and sometimes we couldn’t pay our bills.  Our car died, the church gave us an old but working car.  Our furnace died in the middle of the winter, we were struggling to buy groceries, the church paid the bill for the repair.  We were taken care of.  Our kids were taken care of, and were kept busy and entertained.  Our family was given fun in a time when we couldn’t afford it ourselves.  Our family was strong, and we had great friends too.  Our social standing as “poor” in the church didn’t mean anything except we were a couple who could be served.

Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t just take, we did give as Sunday school teachers, Awana leaders, and helpers in various capacities.  We tried to be there for the church, and even began to lead a small group with DVD’s and books for a while ourselves.

So now, we’re members in this new church and we’ve avoided mooching.  This is a good thing, but it means we don’t feel the gratitude for all the help.  It means we’re not depending like we did in our former church.  We also avoid small groups because of schedule conflicts, but I also believe because of fear.  That kind of commitment, meeting together, is a risk.  What if small group is the same?  Sure, we might make some great friends.  We did in the former church, and I believe we did meet with brothers and sisters in Christ.  But what if we find bad teaching?  We’ve made a commitment in membership, and I refuse to just leave without a very good reason.  If there is error, we’d have to learn how to properly address it (not sure we properly handled the former church, though we think we did in some ways….).  It’s a risk to get close, to open up.  Not taking the risk though, it means we haven’t spent time with the members to really get to know them.  In fact, our church offers Sunday night activities.  We don’t attend.  We also don’t go to the Wednesday night things because our kids are in activities.   We miss out, and I think has made it harder to get to know people.

Yes, it’s possible it’s our fault, very possible.  What if it’s the church though?  They do reach out and offer all these activities.  They introduce themselves to new people.  They speak to us.  We’ve gone to some church wide events, but we still feel like strangers there.   We have not been invited to people’s houses for dinner, or even out to dinner.  I attended a women’s retreat, and it was okay.  I had my little one with me and she my priority.   One woman was exceptional in her contact, but we don’t really intentionally call one another or anything regularly, we’re just friendly at church.  We do have a few families we knew before we went to this church that we have deeper relationships with, but not the people who were there before we got there.

Some of it might be that the church building itself is basically a big sanctuary with a hallway and entry lobbies on two sides.  There are small classrooms, and is no  real formal meeting area besides.  There is not space to stand around and talk really, it’s clogged in transition time in and out of the church.  There’s no place to really sit and enjoy.   There’s no big kitchen (I think there might be a very small stove there), so meals are all pot luck and it’s mostly picnics.  There’s not a real “fellowship room.” The teen  Sunday school  room is used for this, but it seems there’s not really a place in the church to get together other than the sanctuary (which is more like a gym with a stage than an actual church sanctuary…chairs come up and it’s a basketball court).   People do chat there, but it’s not easy to just sit somewhere and really seriously talk.

So, our issue is trying to figure out what involvement we need to do in order to be connected to the people.  Likely, we need to find ways to be more involved.  We also need to be willing to serve.  I am helping with VBS this summer, that will at least put me with other women who are helping.  We really need connection to other families too, people who feel safe with a large family.  I know some of it is that my home is not really a hospitality haven, because we could be very active in inviting others over for dinner, which would be less intimidating than having people invite our large brood over.   Some changes can be made that are practical.  But if we make the effort and still feel distant, what then?  Good preaching, no fellowship in our hearts?  I still feel we’ve made a commitment…

Hubby was speaking with someone who mentioned our former church.  He stated some issues that had been going on in the leadership, and it’s amazing how a bunch of men can line up behind a bad leader and basically support him despite his horrible behavior.  They can do something unethical, and as a group, break a promise.  I am glad I wasn’t anywhere near when this corporate decision was made, and I am so glad we left when we did.  Ugh.  I am noting that even when we don’t want to know things about our former church, there are people still sharing awful stories.  There is a theme too, it has to do with leadership.  Time and again, leadership.

Persecution….

I have heard pastors mention that we in America have not experienced real persecution in recent years.  This is true as far as I’m concerned.  The reason given is much more ominous.    “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because  you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  John 15 (18-19)

So, the pastor flips this, an obvious conclusion.  If the world does NOT hate a group of people, then maybe they are no threat to the world.  Maybe they are not like Christ, maybe these so called churches are failing.  This could be.  It may also be that the persecution is coming, and the church in America has just been spared for a time and will still be going through it one day soon.

Praying for Peace

I pray peace at this time and am sad it’s come to this…

http://ingridschlueter.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/catharsis/