Mar 27, 2006

when prayers seem unanswered

Answers to our prayers with all their intertwining possibilities is absolutely mind-boggling. God has granted us, as mere sinful humans created from dust, the high privilege and honor of approaching His throne confidently in prayer. While engaged in prayer the Creator of the universe lovingly meets us one-on-one in live prime-time, and there is no need of an appointment, rescheduling, or fear of rejection. He listens patiently to our feeble pleas and even promises that His Spirit within us will intercede on our behalf.

God promises to answer our prayers in 1 John 5:14,15 (ESV):
And this is the confidence we have towards Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.
Prayer is an awesome gift from an awesome God.

The toughest part of prayer (to me) is grasping how and when prayer is answered. At times our prayers are answered almost instantly, completely, and recognizably; often nothing seems to happen at all. Since God always answers prayers, and when I'm unable to detect a positive answer, I can only assume He has denied my petition, or at least delayed it until a more opportune time.

Praying with selfish intent or for things harmful to us as Christians, and not receiving what we ask for is understandable, but millions of Christians praying for the lives of the starving and dying Jews during the Holocaust doesn't seem like a selfish endeavor, yet over six million men, women, and children were murdered during the Third Reich in spite of countless prayers on their behalf. Perhaps my miniscule brain doesn't have enough horsepower to fully comprehend the workings and thoughts of God..... Yep, that's it!

It all boils down to faith; by faith I believe that God, being perfect, accomplishes exactly what He desires. It's not within me to understand everything God sets in motion in His creation, but after reflecting on His perfection and total love for us, we have no alternative but to recognize His unerring decisions and live according to His will, which often means our prayers will be answered negatively for our own good, the good of others, or how it fits into His overall plan for His people.

Mar 22, 2006

some thoughts on unity

Perfection in any aspect of our lives is something we will never accomplish. We may do some things better than other things, and better than other people, but still, regardless of our high achievement (and accolades in some circles) we will never arrive before God in a perfect state.

Being religiously imperfect is also our lot as humans. We may do everything possible to follow the Bible perfectly; yet we go over-board in one direction and fall far short in another. Not that we don't understand how human and fallible we are, but often we hold on to cherished traditions in our churches for decades without honestly understanding why; we refuse, deny, or don't understand the spiritual consequences of loading our traditional baggage on the shoulders of other Christians, and those seeking to become Christians.

Spiritual change does not come easily and without a fight. When we realize what we have believed for decades is dead wrong it's tough to admit our failures. We need to continually examine our belief system making the necessary changes the Word of God and our conscience demands.

Perhaps our unwillingness to honestly appraise our beliefs and spiritual condition is a product of our fear that a thorough investigation might take us out of our comfort zone and put us in uncharted waters. Change is scary, but often necessary, especially if we are to ever unite with other Christians that also dread change.

Unity in the Christian community will only occur when we finally decide to make a concerted effort to understand our brothers and sisters in other churches rather than focusing on their glaring errors and glossing over their attributes. By dropping our preconceived ideas that have no scriptural basis, and realizing that we are far from perfect, we just might have grounds for a united fellowship.

Like the turtle, we quickly seek spiritual refuge in our shell after we spout our church laws and opinions, and refuse to investigate or consider the thoughts of other Christians. Perhaps we grab the one and only authorized, acceptable, and approved King James Version (some people actually believe this) and bolster our preconceived ideas while happily reflecting on the merits of Christianity without having to be unequally yoked with the other so-called Christian groups.

Will the time ever come when churches will agree to disagree over their opinions, and still work together united to spread the love of God within their communities rather than promote discord? If churches with different names on their signs ever realize unity it will be because of our incessant prayer and God's intervention.

Mar 17, 2006

polls and church growth

Strange results often occur when pollsters put their spin on poll findings. The following polls and quotes (if correct,) paint a downhill struggle for the church in America over the last few years:

"In America we are closing 7 more churches a day, than we are opening!! -Charles Arn"

"The United States of America remains the third largest unchurched nation in the world!

"In 1900 there were 27 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 1950 there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 1996 there were 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans. -George Gallup

"Evangelical churches have failed to gain an additional 2% of the American population in the past 50 years. In other words, we are not even reaching our children! -George Barna

"Estimated America Unchurched Population - 195 million (January 1996, Gallup Princeton Religion Report)."

"Half of all churches last year did not add one new member through conversion growth. -Charles Arn"

"During the last 10 years, the combined communicant membership of all Protestant Denominations has declined by 9.5% (4,498,242) while the national population has increased by 11.4% (24,153,000). -ASCG Journal of Church Growth"

Mar 14, 2006

10,000 disciples praying

The Disciples of Christ are praying for the future of their church and unity of God's children. I join Clarke over at ClarkeComments in urging all Christians, especially those with roots deep in the Restoration Movement, to participate in this effort. Prayer is vital if unity is to be achieved.

Sign up here and join other Christians praying for the unity of God's children.

Mar 10, 2006

cruel words innocently spoken

The last four or five Sunday mornings a young woman with two boys (7-10 years old,) and her little baby, have visited the church sitting on the back row with the rest of us back pew reprobates (as we call ourselves.) Her boys are a little rowdy, but definitely no worse than most other energetic children in a church setting.

About fifteen minutes into the "worship service" her boys were squirming around a little more than usual, and while she was trying to get them under control an elderly lady sitting in front of her who has a real problem hearing, and whispers loud enough to be heard all the way to the front of the building, whispered into another elderly sisters ear; "we're going to have to find another place to sit." This remark cut me like a knife, I can only imagine how the visiting mother must have felt.

The young lady was obviously hurt and embarrassed by the remark, and within a few minutes she bundled up her boys and headed out the door. I thought she was just taking the baby out for a minute, but she never returned. It worries me that this lady may never darken our doors again, and will carry a bitter taste in her mouth for Christians in general, and our little church in particular.

The elderly sister making the unkind remark is not accountable (at least in my opinion); she is approaching ninety, hard of hearing, doesn't realize she has the loudest whisper in history, and has border-line senility. She is a sweet sister who wouldn't harm anyone, yet her innocent words just crushed this young woman.

Later I contacted one of the elders and notified him of what had happened; thankfully he has her phone number and address and will make contact with her and try to explain that the cruel words innocently spoken were not the words describing how the rest of us feel towards her and her children.

Mar 6, 2006

ceni, silence, and unity

The Restoration Movement from its inception promoted unity among believers; yet today we are divided and splintered as bad, or worse, than any religious group in the world. It's difficult to convey a message promoting unity when our miserable track record evidences complete failure on our part.

The scriptures teach that division is wrong among brethren, and I believe most Christians realize that barricades between God's children are certainly undesirable. So how do we go about achieving unity? One reason it's so difficult to achieve unity is because we seek unity on our own terms, we want others to adopt our belief system (traditions and all,) while foregoing their own beliefs and traditions.

Once our plea was for unity among all believers, now the divisions within our own ranks are so deep we're seeking unity primarily within the Restoration churches; a far cry from the original intent. When we demonstrate the willingness to remove the weighty traditional baggage from our own shoulders, perhaps other people might notice and respond to our noble plea.

Alan Rouse (an elder in the COC in Atlanta Georgia) is asking some tough questions on his blog Christian Unity about CENI, and the Principle of Silence, in an attempt to better understand how these concepts impact the church.

After almost 200 years of fussing and fighting over these principles I can't help but wonder about their negative import. If members within the Restoration Movement can't agree on many of the practices CENI and Silence has produced over the years, how do we expect someone outside our little group to walk some of our narrow unlit paths when we can't even find it within ourselves to walk together!

The concepts of Silence and CENI have merit to a point, but over the years they have been used in ways that have alienated Christian brothers and sisters. Unfortunately both concepts are easily manipulated to suit a persons personal preferences, and often become wedges that divide, rather than unite God's children. These concepts can easily be construed to make my viewpoint and opinions gospel truth, and your viewpoint totally wrong.

We can have unity in Christ without total agreement in every detail. CENI and Silence can work to a point, but when it's used to hammer another Christian into submission who honestly disagrees with the conclusion, I think it kicks dirt on our efforts for unity.

As long as the CENI and Silence concepts are foundational in the COC groups I wonder if there will be any tangible results in our efforts for unity.

Mar 2, 2006

kiss vrs megachurches

There's a plethora of wonderful thoughts in the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid.) This philosophy (or whatever) just might be beneficial to many of us, especially churches. Not that simplicity is always the answer (sometimes the problems are complex,) but applying KISS when it's appropriate, is much better than following a complex system of problem solving that only adds to the confusion, and muddles up the solution.

We only have to look at the mess Washington has created over the years; complex red-tape and unwieldy programs that are impossible to govern and maintain even by the savy lawyer/politicians appointed to keep things running smooth.

The local church, like Washington, often gets so involved in it's own little world it over-manages and puts the lost in the community on the back-burner. Megachurches usually have a glut of programs for every conceivable situation, including harvesting souls, but often over-systemized programs require a ton of time and effort to manage, and solving problems is slow and cumbersome, usually a-day-late-and-a-dollar-short, missing critical time frames and seemingly lost in committee meetings, retreats, and self-improvement courses. A whole lot of chiefs, and a dearth of warriors seldom wins a war.

Emulating big business, or the government, does not offer positive solutions for church growth and solving problems in our churches and communities. The body of Christ you are a member of may be huge, and still do all the little things well, but believe me, there are many megachurches that are ninety-percent business and organization, and ten-percent into seeking the neglected, hurting, and lost souls in their communities.

Me-e-e-e-e wrong! probably, but where the church is heading (in my opinion) with all the emphasis on entertainment and showmanship is scary, but not to worry; in the future we can proudly wear our hula skirts, leis, and sandals to a luau "worship service" complete with palm trees and warm sand to run our toes through in the aisles, while listening to the background music of Don Ho and Hilo Hatti singing their favorite Hawaiian religious chants (accompanied by a bevy of ukes,) all the time enjoying an entertaining and enlightening sermon on the religious aspects of Hawaii five-0, delivered by an eloquent preacher sporting a bright red Kimono. Now we have truly arrived.