Congregational Journey – Visit #12

31 March 2009

Sometimes in life, half the problem is getting past your own biases. You want to look at something with a fresh approach, but too often you can get sidetracked by previous experiences or the opinions of people you know and trust (or know and distrust). So often, you have to take steps in order to get some distance from a situation, to step back and view things from an angle other than your usual one. That’s why companies hire consultants, so they can get input from someone who doesn’t have the same history as those already inside the firm. That’s why television and film people do pre-release screenings, to get the reactions of eyeballs that haven’t been staring at their project for months on end.

And that’s why I took a couple of days before posting my impressions from the latest stop in my Congregational Journey, Calvary First Assembly of God. I needed a little space first.

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The appeal of Heaven

27 March 2009

When I mention Heaven, what do you think of?

I’ve found that almost no two people will answer that question the same way.  Descriptions of Heaven in the Bible are available, but don’t give a full picture.  Those in Revelation in particular come across as not just feeling translated from a different language, but from a different race entirely.  (Which, if you think about it, they are — since they attempt to describe a spiritual realm to us physical folk.)  It’s an open question of how literally we should take the details of jeweled foundations, gold streets and trees that produce different fruits each month … though I have no doubt that an infinite and omnipotent God could produce these wonders and more if He was so inclined.

But most Christians, I’ve discovered, aren’t really fixated on the architectural and landscaping marvels of what will be their eternal home.  No, other aspects have more appeal — and they’re usually intensely personal.

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A thank you from the state

25 March 2009

I just got my family’s state tax refund today.

That, in itself, is not a big deal.  For one, it was only $213, which does beat a slap in the face with a dead lobster but isn’t going to make or break us financially.  For another, we got our federal refund – over $6000 – three weeks ago, part of the reason the state refund isn’t that big a whoop.  No, what made it special is that the state included a thank-you note.

You think I’m kidding.  I’m not kidding.  This is what was printed on the stub attached to the check:

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(Not) answering the critics

25 March 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote two posts on what I see as a huge problem in the American church: that our leaders are not necessarily challenging their congregations enough to help them grow in the ways of God, and that people in those congregations are getting restless.  (You can read those posts here and here.)  A friend of mine — the same friend that invited me to both the events described in those posts — thought enough of what I’d said that he forwarded links to them to the senior pastor and the head of the men’s ministry at his home congregation.  I didn’t expect much to come of it; after all, pastors are busy people and don’t have time to read everything that falls into their inbox, right?

Well, I missed my guess on that one — something came of it almost immediately.  And … let’s just say my words weren’t received very cordially for the most part.

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This is a recording …

24 March 2009

Things that hack me off, in no particular order:

  • People who swerve in and out of traffic without using their turn signal.
  • People who walk into moving traffic (I think they’re too dumb to be allowed to reproduce).
  • Baseball teams that bat a guy with a .288 on-base percentage leadoff because he can steal bases (that only works if you can steal first base … which you can’t).
  • “Church-friendly” congregations that insist “we’re a friendly church” even when most of the visitors say otherwise (see several previous posts).
  • Pre-recorded telephone solicitations/surveys.

I’m only going to deal with the last one today.

Think it through for a moment.  It’s bad enough when the phone rings during dinner/in the middle of a good game on TV/after your kids’ bedtime, and you rush to pick it up, thinking it might be a friend or family member … only it’s some poor teenage wage slave reading off a lame script in a monotone, who’s only talking you because the computerized calling program brought up your number next.  I feel bad for those kids, having such a horrid job (my experience is that having a soul-sucking job really is worse than having no job at all), and while I’m not interested in hearing about the product or answering the survey, I still sympathize with them as a fellow human being.  But a recording?  That’s like the company on the other end decided, “we don’t care about people enough to hire them OR even speak to them — we’ll just have a machine talk to you, because that’s how important you are to us.  Sucker!”

So I never give the reording more than about five seconds before I hang up.  Except last week, I made an exception …

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Honesty is such a lonely word …

23 March 2009

I just added a new link to the front page of this blog (see the box over to the right, marked “FAITH RESOURCES”).  It’s for another blog, actually — that of David Hayward.  I discovered Hayward’s work through Michael Spencer (his blog is in the same box on the right) and was immediately hooked; I check it daily, sometimes twice a day.

Hayward is the pastor of a Calvary Chapel congregation up in New Brunswick, Canada, but describes himself as “an artist trapped in a pastor’s body.” And that’s kind of how his blog operates – quite a few of his incisive line-drawing cartoons, occasionally interspersed with a few paragraphs of observations on life, the Church and his life in the Church. He has real insight into how we North American Christians operate, how we relate to God and to each other, and how often it doesn’t make sense humanly or Scripturally (or both). And he doesn’t hesitate to use his own weaknesses and shortcomings as Exhibit A (or if he does hesitate, he doesn’t do it for long). Every time I read one of his posts or see one of his cartoons, I’ll find myself saying either “Whoa – I know that guy!” or “Ouch – that’s me!” He’s refreshing in his honesty.

Alas, what makes David’s honesty so refreshing is that in the Church, it’s all too rare.

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Congregational Journey: Visit #11

22 March 2009

Nobody’s perfect.  That’s what we’re all told, isn’t it?  And it’s true.  Everyone has weak points, everyone has things about them we’d hate if we knew.  Each of us knows that we aren’t right, true and shiny clean every second of every day.  “We’re only human,” claims the world; “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” is how the Apostle Paul put it.  And as I like to say, only one person in history had a perfect theology … and we crucified Him for it.

So on my Congregational Journey, just like every time I look in the mirror, I don’t expect to see perfection in action.  If no person on earth today is 100% on, then no congregation made up of people will be either.  But I do hope every Sunday to find a congregation that is at least moving in the right direction, that’s (quoting Paul again) “press[ing] onward toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  A place where the people are allowing Jesus to work on them, to conform them to Himself.  Sometimes I go somewhere that’s happening, and sometimes not.  It’s nice when it’s happening.

This morning, I think I saw it happening, at a little place called Family Worship Center.

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