Tuesday, March 29, 2011

crossing the lines of age we draw in the church

I borrowed a book from my Mom a few days ago that looked really interesting. And upon reading it - definitely has been an interesting read. The book is called Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith . . . and How to Bring Them Back, by Drew Dyck. There is much I could write about the book, but that's not what prompted this post.

I read a few sentences in one of the chapters that jumped off the page at me because they resonated with something I have wondered about for a while. I have often wondered whether our division of the church according to age was a good thing.
"According to Smith's research,* one key indicator of whether or not young people stick with their faith was intergenerational connections. Basically, those young people who had relationships to older Christians, whether their parents or other faithful congregants, were far less likely to abandon their faith in their twenties." (Generation Ex-Christian, pg. 177)
I guess having grown up in a church that my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were active members of, I was incredibly blessed to have those intergenerational connections happen naturally. But, I also know of many other people in the church of other generations who took an interest in my life, and still do. Until the last few years I have taken that for granted. I realized how blessed I was in a conversation with a friend who came to follow Christ as a young adult and really only knows other young adults at church well.

It makes me wonder if we have lost some of the richness of the church as the body of Christ by always segregating people by age for church events. I wonder if we need to once again become more intentional about connecting the generations in our church. After all, the body of Christ needs all of us to function as God intended it, but we cannot do that if we never talk to anyone outside of a ten year age span around our age.

There is definitely a place for youth groups and young adults ministries and seniors ministries, but there needs to be a place for ministry that speaks to more than one generation at a time. If we do not do that, we will risk losing young adults in the church. Even with the strong family of faith I come from, I love sitting around a table at the women's Bible studies I am a part of with women of all different ages and walks of life. I learn so much more than if I was to sit at a table doing the same study with all people my own age. We have much to learn from the other generations in the church.

It makes me a bit sad sometimes to sit in a church service and look around to see all the youth sitting in one area, the young adults in another, young families in another, seniors in another. Why the separation? Yes, I know we want to sit with friends or family. But, I have found that my favourite place to sit is with people who have been followers of Christ for more years than I have been alive. There is a richness to their worship that I cannot describe.

So I am left to wonder, how do we develop intergenerational connections better? How do we develop those connections so that young adults have stronger ties to the church as a whole? How do we connect youth and young adults who are not from Christian families with the older generations in the church to help them grow?

*Christian Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2005), pg. 162-163

Sunday, March 27, 2011

does our view of God limit our worship?

{Disclaimer: This post is not directed any one person. Nor is it meant as comments against worship in our churches. It is merely my wondering on the subject as I try to live life as a follower of Christ. I do not intend to offend anyone, only to challenge them to think.}

I was having a conversation with my Mom last night about worship songs that we so often sing. It's a conversation that I've had before with other people. We were talking about how sometimes it feels like all we sing about in worship is love - to the point where, to my Mom and I and to some others I have spoken with, it feels like the song is more something we would say to a husband or significant other - rather than to God. Sometimes I do wonder if we so easily get focused on God's love for us and our love for Him that we leave the rest aside.

I have nothing against songs that talk about God's love for us or our love for Him. That is incredibly important and we should not leave it behind. But, when I look back at the hymns of our faith, I see a broader mix of what the songs talk about. Yes, there are great hymns like My Jesus I Love Thee. But there's also hymns like A Mighty Fortress is Our God that talks about the strength of the God we serve and the battle we are engaged in as follower of Christ. Both are great. Both are right. And both are needed in our worship. Without one of the other something is incomplete. Yet I often feel as though most of the worship I am part of today tends toward songs like My Jesus I Love Thee, with nothing of the other.

This trend has bothered me for a long time. The more I have thought about it, the more I wonder if some of this tendency comes from our attempts - often unknowingly - to make God someone safe and predictable. Yes, God is loving - there is no doubt about that. But, He is also God and is beyond our human comprehension and we cannot make Him safe because we want to understand Him.

I think that when we focus on only one characteristic of God, we actually limit our understanding of Him to a greater extent than we could otherwise have. Just as focusing on only one or two characteristics of a person would mean that we would have a very small understanding of who they are, the same thing happens with God. Even if we do not prefer or cannot completely understand all of God's characteristics, we cannot refuse to acknowledge that which we do not prefer or understand.

As I said in my disclaimer above, I do not mean this to be directed at any person who leads worship. But, I do wonder if our view of God and what parts of God we choose to focus on have limited our worship.

As always, I would love to hear other people's thoughts on this. You can leave them as a comment on this post.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

encouraging song

For the last few weeks I have had lyrics to a song I heard at church stuck in my head. They spoke so clearly about how I was feeling that night and how I often feel when I stop to think of what God has done for us.

The song is "Jesus, Lord of Heaven" by Phil Wickham.

"Jesus, Lord of Heaven, I do not deserve . . ."

That was the first line that struck me. We may not deserve it, but God offers it anyways.

"Jesus, Your love has no bounds"

That is probably my favourite line in the song. I find it easy to put bounds on God's love, either in my own life or when I look at others lives.

Friday, March 18, 2011

living in the dark

"You can't get well in the dark. You doom yourself by trying. But we try anyhow. The perpetual delusion of humanity is thinking we're better off hiding than confessing, avoiding rather than facing, clinging to our sickness instead of taking the remedy that's freely given and readily available." (Mark Buchanan, Spiritual Rhythms, pg. 231)

When I read that quote a few days ago, it jumped off the page at me. I found myself going back to reread it a few times to make sure I had it in my head and I have been thinking about it since.

How often have I tried to get well in the dark - even though I know I cannot? How often have I hid rather than confess? Avoided rather than faced? Held onto my sickness rather than taking the remedy?

Much of what we need to do to get well from a spiritual perspective, requires other people and being out in the open - the light. It is not the easy way, or even really our natural tendency, but it is the only way. We need to confess our sin, our brokenness, our need. We need to face our sin, our brokenness, our need. We need to accept the freely given and always available remedy for our sin, our brokenness, our need.

When I find an area of my life where I am struggling with sin or become aware of how broken I am on my own, my natural tendency is to hide. I look for dark places to hide, where no one can see that part of me - sometimes where no one will even notice I am there at all. The last thing I want to do is face it and confess it to God, even though I know that He holds the remedy for it and offers it to me for nothing other than my admitting I need it.

We live in a world that has bought into the lie - the "perpetual delusion" that we need to hide, avoid, and cling - that we should be independent and able to get through life without anyone. And this thinking has infiltrated the body of Christ. But, the truth is that we need one another and we need to be able to confess things in our lives to one another, so that we can help each other to face them and find our way to the remedy that God has made available.

Friday, March 4, 2011

beautiful in God's eyes

What does it mean to be beautiful? Is there a standard that makes one person beautiful and another person not? Is beauty something that can be attained? Or is it just something that one is? Does God's definition of beauty differ from the world's? How is it different? How does God define beautiful?

Those are just some of the questions that have been running through my head for the last couple of months. They were triggered by a Bible study on the book of Esther that I've been doing. In Esther 2 there is recorded King Xerxes' search for a new queen, and the search is based on finding beautiful women for him to choose from. As I read that chapter and began digging into the study, I found myself wondering if I would have been chosen if I had been alive in that time, and if I would have wanted to be chosen.

And then I moved on to thinking about what the standards for finding beautiful women would have been of this were to take place today. To be honest, that was a bit of a depressing train of thought as I stopped and really paid attention to what our world calls beautiful. In so many ways, that standard is something that would be impossible to meet for most people. And so there has developed a market for a seemingly endless supply of beauty products and large numbers of women having various surgeries to try to fight aging and look forever young.Now, before you think I'm against anything we might call a beauty product, there is nothing wrong with making use of those things. The problem comes in when looking beautiful becomes our focus and the driving force behind using them.

I think there is another problem with the standard of what our world tells us is beautiful. Sometimes I wonder if it is a bigger problem, but less talked about. I wonder if there are just as many women who look at what our world says is beauty and realize that they can never attain that. But for them, rather than go to great lengths to attempt to, they choose to run the other way - to get as far from that definition of beauty as possible. For whatever reason they are convinced that they can never be beautiful and so they do everything possible not to look beautiful in any way.

I also wonder if this thinking gets transferred into how we see God looking at us. We feel like we're not beautiful according to the world's standards and so we assume that we're not beautiful according to God's standards either. Not realizing how distorted this thinking is, it affects our relationship with God along with how we interact with others we see as being beautiful.

So, what does it mean to be beautiful in God's eyes? Is it an external thing? Or is it just something internal?

We've all heard 1 Samuel 16:7 about God looking at the heart, not the outward appearance many times. It's a great reminder that it's what is on the inside that matters most. But, does it really mean that the outside doesn't matter at all? Does it mean that a sort of "spiritual beauty" is all we should concerned about, rather than paying attention to a physical beauty?

The more I've thought about this, the more I have wondered about the place for physical beauty in the life of a follower of Christ. I mean, if we're not to pay attention to outward appearance - to physical beauty - why did God make beauty something we long for? We live in a world that is full of beautiful things and it is something we seek. I don't think this is something that is wrong. God created us this way, but fallen humanity has warped what God meant to be good. Song of Solomon talks much about physical beauty, but rather than holding up an impossible to reach standard it praises the beauty that is already there.

I don't find anywhere in the Bible that lays out specific guidelines for what makes someone beautiful or not. That seems to be something that is left up to us. But, I also don't see anywhere in the Bible that tells us we have to ignore beauty. The desire to be seen as beautiful - to feel beautiful - is something God created in us and we can't ignore it. We will seek for people to see us as beautiful. But, I wonder if most of the time, the best person to go to when we want to know if we are beautiful is God. His answer will be "yes" because He made us beautiful exactly the way He created us.

Yet, I know that this isn't always enough for our hurting hearts. We long to hear - we need to hear - another person tell us we are beautiful. That is true whether we have embraced all our world tells us will make us beautiful or run as far we can get from that - we long to hear another person tell us we are beautiful. Sometimes when we need to hear those words, we need to be open to them coming from a source we didn't know they would. They may not come from where we expect, but God can use someone to let us know - even when we don't expect it from them.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

God's Invisible Hand

In a world where God seems distant
Or like He's just not there
It really makes you wonder
If God just doesn't care

But look beneath the surface
Watch behind the stage
God still works His plans out
In this present age

Sometimes He's front and center
Part of His plans' hatching
Sometimes He seems to quiet
You wonder if He is watching

Times when God seems silent
Then He still is working
Leading people's actions
As they go on looking

In a world where God seems distant
Or like He's just not there
You never have to wonder
If God does really care