Friday, November 30, 2007

The Ever-Elusive Problem-Free Church

In response to my latest blog at Today's Christian Woman, a reader asks:

“[At two churches I attended], there was so much backbiting and slandering the pastors that it split both churches. We were really bothered by this behavior and regretfully, we left the church and have not attended for about 3 years. … I have thought of visiting another denomination, but my husband says that this type of problem is in most churches. Is this true?”

I replied:

I do believe there are problems in every church for a couple reasons. First, the ideal church should be a place where the broken go for healing and comfort. So church is set up to be a place where people bring their problems.

Second, even when life is treating us well, we still carry the problem of sin. Try as we might to be Christlike, we Christians still have the choice to sin. We can choose to be jealous, prideful, arrogant, bitter, selfish and intolerant at any time we like. Unfortunately, we all make that bad choice sometimes. We expect church to be a safe place where we can be loved exactly as we are ... yet sometimes, we don't treat others how we'd like to be treated.

Third, we tend to develop close relationships in church, so inevitably, we'll be let down or we'll let someone else down. And that's true of all relationships--even with our closest family and friends, there are days when we just don't like them.

I've had two distinct church experiences: "plugged in" and "disconnected." I attended one church for more than two years, and managed to never connect with one person! It didn't seem like a friendly church, and when I made attempts to meet others, I always felt disappointed. I never developed enough trust to be in community there.

At my current church, I made a decision to plug in and stay connected, no matter what. The environment of friendliness and transparency (modeled by the pastor) initially made it easier to be friendly and transparent myself. But I soon found that, even in a great church, people are people. Many people at my church have disappointed me at some point, and I know I've let many down myself. Sometimes I get so mad, I'm tempted to leave--the idea of anonymity at a new church becomes mighty attractive. Somehow, I've stuck with my decision to stay plugged in.

To complete my lil' analogy: I now know how it feels to be disconnected. It's like I'm dead: I can't grow, I can't move, and I'm just stuck in the same place. Conversely, when I'm plugged in, I'm connected to an energizing source. Sometimes my output exceeds what's being put into me. Sometimes I blow a fuse. But if I stay put, I trust God's going to fix it--he's the one at the fuse box. He always flicks the switch before I pull my plug, and I figure he's probably using problems and conflict to built perseverance into me.

When I get angry at someone, I pray as honestly as I'm able, "God, I really hate this person. I can't stand being around them, and I hate going to church because they're there. But I figure you've got them at this church and in my life for a reason. Please help me see them in a new way, and give me some way to love them. Help me to see the faults and sin in myself that are preventing me from loving them like you do." It's probably the most difficult prayer for me to pray, but I've seen God do mind-blowing stuff when I pray it. I've had people approach me immediately after I prayed and say, "I have this character flaw, and I think I might have hurt you because of it. Would you pray with me about it?"

Honestly, even if there was a perfect, perpetually happy church, I wouldn't want to go there. I'm neither perfect nor perpetually happy, so I wouldn't fit in very well! The hardest part about being in community is acknowledging that we're equal--our own flaws are just as bad as everyone else's, and we all hold the same sinfulness.

To ponder:
1) How would you respond if someone asked you this?

2) I love the word "perseverance" because I see the word "sever" in the center of it. I imagine "sever" would like to separate itself, but it is bookended by two other pieces that press in on it and hold it in place.

What is it that presses in on you and holds your relationships together when you feel like giving up on others and going it alone?

3) Consider this portion of the definition of perseverance: "to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement."

Read Hebrews 12:1-3 and 1 Timothy 4:15-16. In regard to these passages, why is it important that we persevere? Where should our focus be? How does perseverance affect both ourselves and others?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Generation Exodus

Holly's latest blog entry on Today's Christian Woman magazine's website is now up:

Generation Exodus
Why do so many young people leave the church?

To ponder:
1) In your opinion, what are some factors that contribute to young people leaving the Christian church?

2) What concerns or frustrates you most about today’s Christian church?

3) What encourages you most?

4) How can Christians—as individuals and as a church—promote honest, meaningful conversation?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Letting Go of Anger: Why So Hard?

"... the problem is that anger is so exciting, so enlivening, that forgiveness can seem like a limp surrender. If you have ever cherished a resentment, you know how right it can make you feel to have someone in the world whom you believe is all wrong. You may not be up to admitting it yet, but one of the great benefits of having an enemy is that you get to look good by comparison. It also helps to have someone to blame for why your life is not turning out the way it was supposed to."

--Barbara Brown Taylor, in Gospel Medicine (Cowley Publications). In 1995, Baylor University named her one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world.

Why We Love This Deadly Sin

From Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

Where's Holly???

Yes, indeedy--I disappeared for a whole month! I can hardly believe it myself

I am alive and well. I've been off having some adventures: I played paintball for the first time with one of my gal pals. (Ouch. Two scars.) Spent a weekend at a
monastery. Viewed some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

During Thanksgiving weekend, I played the just-released Rock Band "virtual reality" video game. (Yes, I tried all the instruments--guitar, bass, drums, and microphone. Yes, I do rock.) And I managed to win the first-ever Vicente family poker "tournament," consisting of my parents, brother, sister, husband and me. I psyched out my opponents by clinking my chips together for the entire game, and badly singing Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler." (In truth, I think I just annoyed everyone away from the table.)

In between, I managed to get accepted to Biola University's master's in Christian Apologetics program. (No, I won't be the oldest student there.) The program offers direction on how to defend the Christian faith. I'll be taking biblical history classes, perhaps an archaeology class, and definitely a bunch of philosophy-type courses. The latter will address such scintillating questions as, "If God is real and is good, why does evil exist?" I'm tremendously excited, and will keep you posted on the cool stuff I learn.

I haven't forgotten about H-n-T; in fact, I have notes on about 10 topics I'm itching to write just for this blog. In a couple days, I'll post the link to my latest Today's Christian Woman entry. In it, several friends offer responses to this question: "What do you find most problematic or annoying about today's Christian church?" You won't wanna miss it.

Until then, above is a link to fabulous piece about anger. I'm posting it, ironically, in the spirit of Thanksgiving. First, I'm learning I can't be grateful when I'm feeling entitled to anger. And second, I'm personally thankful for all the good words God has given to others that help me learn and grow. Thank you, God, for all the good words in my life!