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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Why Facebook (and church) makes you sad

There's a lot of talk about the effect of Facebook (and other social media) on our self-esteem. We see finely-tuned photos and edited highlights of people's lives and feel that we don't measure up.

Of course we feel that way. These perfect lives are an illusion. The bad bits, and even the average ones, are cut out. Even the people themselves don't compare to the image that's created.

An article by Russell Moore looks at the constantly upbeat worship songs of church. You know the ones - about how much we love God and are totally committed to following him. But most of all it's the ones about how consistently great life is when you follow God - as if nothing bad ever happens to you.

Hmmm, I'm sure we can all think of many examples when that's not the case.

There's probably also something to be said for a bit more frankness in those after-church chats. "How are you? Fine. How's your week been? Fine. How's work? Fine."

Perhaps we could try some openness. "How am I? Struggling. How was my week? Quite stressful and it's getting to me. How's work? Unfulfilling. I wonder why I let it suck up so much of my life."

Ok, it's probably not likely. But perhaps we could try it once in a while. It might help someone else's self-esteem.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Being good on Good Friday

Further to my post on Tuesday, I have found out about two events in the suburbs near me.

One church starts at 8 am, but not with a service. At 8 am there is barista-served coffee, hot cross buns and kids activities. Then at the more respectable time of 9am there is a church service.

Another put a postcard in our letterbox, also offering barista coffee, live music and supper along with their service - which sounds like it's also outdoors (like the one I talked about on Tuesday).

Perhaps it's just my denomination that is still to catch up. Or perhaps the Baptists (which both these churches are) are leading the way.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Good Friday "options"

Here's a slide from a 'thinking outside the box' presentation I did last year. It's my worship options for Good Friday - the distance from my house and the time of worship. The picture represents where I am at that time on a public holiday.

It's almost as if for a special day we go to extra lengths to avoid any new people coming to church. We pick a really inconvenient time (from the public's perspective) and we seem to synchronise all our churches so that if you miss one you've missed them all.

As half our neighbourhood is still in their pyjamas, we've already packed up for the next two days.

So what did I do last year? I found a non-denominational group that meets in a park. From memory it was a 10am start but as it's outside, people are free to drift in (or out) at any time. There were some relevant songs played by a guitarist and a singer. Some Bible passages were read and some prayers prayed. Afterwards people could gather socially if they wanted.

Regardless of whether or not it was better than a traditional Good Friday service, it was at least 10 times more accessible to the general public.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt. Some that spring to mind are to be accessible, to be at a reasonable time and generally consider the needs of people. I note the number of strollers and kids - something that rarely happens in 'regular' church.

PS. See my Thursday update on this topic.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Come and watch church? No thanks.

Church can appear to be set up for a show. We have stage lighting, a sound system, music and plenty of seats for people to relax and enjoy the entertainment. Particularly at Easter or Christmas time we feel like 'putting on a show' about our faith.

Karl Vaters has a different take. He reckons that in an age of Netflix and YouTube, that "church members wearing fake beards and bathrobes singing Christmas carols or reciting the Easter story doesn’t capture anyone’s attention".

But it's not just that. It's way more effort than it's worth, and it makes us look like passive consumers of religion. People coming to church for the first time aren't after a stage show, he says.

They’re more likely coming because they want something more authentic, applicable and challenging in their life.

So what's his idea?

His alternatives include "come and help" - where people can join your church doing projects to help people in the local community. "Come and give" is about inviting people to give to a cause that is not the church itself. Both of these demonstrate a church that cares for other people.

"Come and have fun" is about being part of a community of people and "come and learn" events offer practical help to the community.

When a person comes to a church, they should see our faith at its deepest and best. Not a sanitized-for-your-convenience version that doesn’t have enough depth and meaning to make a difference.

If this sounds good to you, check out Karl's article in full.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Be more like Jesus? Not at church!

I'm currently reading "The Year of Living like Jesus". For 12 months author Ed Dobson goes on a journey of discovering what Jesus would really do.

Like Jesus, he lives a Jewish lifestyle - eating only kosher food and praying from the Hebrew scriptures. As Jesus did, he eats (and drinks!) with people who were far from being religious - and often had very meaningful conversations with them. He also follows the teachings of Jesus and repeatedly reads the Gospels throughout the year.

He tells the story of a friend of his - a youth pastor at a local church who joined him in his quest. "But he only lasted a few weeks. He told me:

"I can't keep this up. I work at a church full-time - so I can't live like Jesus."

Doesn't that say so much about church life?

We talk about "discipleship" - continually becoming more Christlike in our lifestyle and actions. But if someone (who's paid to help us do that) actually tried doing it in a meaningful way, they would either find it incompatible with church life or be removed from their position. The author continues,

"In the evangelical church we focus on attending services, teaching Sunday school, becoming an elder or deacon, singing in the choir, getting involved in a small group and exercising our spiritual gifts for the benefit of the body. Almost everything we do is focussed on ourselves."

He's not against these activities but refers to Jesus saying that "healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do".

"Throughout this year, as I've tried to eat and drink with those who were outside the church, something interesting has happened. I'm beginning to feel more comfortable with those who don't know the Lord than I am with those who do know the Lord. Those who don't know the Lord are much less judgemental. They are open to new ideas."

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Free at last!

Not sure how to take this sign.

My first reactions were a bit tongue-in-cheek.
1. Free prayer! That's fantastic. The prayer I'm currently buying is quite expensive and cutting a hole in my budget.
2. Darn it. It's Tuesday 6pm. Now I have to wait a whole week until God's next set of opening hours.

As I walked on, I genuinely wondered what they meant by free. Do they mean free as opposed to controlled by the church prayer leader, who plays the role of a pseudo-spokesperson to God on our behalf?

Or do they mean free as opposed to recited prayer of Sunday School, or the read-in-unison prayer of church? That today you might be able to pray from your own heart.

Or do they just mean plain free (no money required)? Have public acts of kindness become so rare that we have to emphasise that this is NOT pay-per-prayer? That this is not a fundraiser and that we are not asking for donations?

However they mean it, I don't think it's a great reflection on how we generally do prayer. Perhaps more prayer could be free prayer.

What do you think?

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Is this the worst piece of evangelism?

Ok, there's probably been worse, but let me know what you think - or if you've had worse.

The background

My wife and I are downsizing. There's lots of stuff we no longer need (or never did). We care about the planet and about people. So we don't throw much in the bin. We try to sell or give away things to people who can use them. Online we've posted at least 200 items so far. One of these was a set of prayer flags my wife received from a work colleague. Apparently they are quite popular in Nepal.

Tim's inquiry:

Sat, 1:33 pm
Who do these prayers go to?

I wasn't sure where this was going, so took the bulk of my answer from wikipedia.

Our response

Sat, 6:11 pm
Hi Tim. Thanks for your question. The short answer to your question is "everyone". Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, which is a common misconception; rather, the Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all. I hope that helps.

I thought that was fairly clear and non-offensive. The next came this:

The reply

Sun, 4:49 pm
Hi Chris. Interesting philosophy and pagan superstition. I'm thankful that there is a true God who has and does answer prayers ( Psalm 65:2.). Apart from the many attributes God has, there are things he gives, love, joy and peace. ( Galatians 5:22). These are just a few. Real hope and comfort ( Romans 15:4) come from his true wisdom ( Psalm 111:10. James 3:17). But as you are aware there are many gods ( 1 Corinthians 8:5) . One thing that eludes many people is the true God's name. (Psalm 83:18). Jehovah. If you have a bible, please look at the scriptures mentioned. Usually older bibles do have the name of God. Sadly most modern bibles have omitted his name.
Thank you.

Good grief

Clearly Tim is a Jehovah's Witness and (I'm guessing) never had any genuine interest in the flags. Instead he was just seeking (or forcing) an opportunity to trumpet his beliefs.

Three things puzzle me about this.
1. He seems to assume I am not Christian - and yet he quotes the bible as his proof of how wonderful god is. If I wasn't Christian why would I give two hoots what the bible says?
2. I'm still puzzled that people use references like "1 Corinthians 8:5" expecting that a non-Christian knows what to do with little piece of code. Of course it's Google-able, but he's talking hard-copy bible.
3. Obviously there's a huge vibe of 'your beliefs are stupid', 'I follow the true god' and 'you should too'. Does that ever work?

Interested to hear you thoughts.