Thursday, February 17, 2011

21 and over.

Yup.  I went there.  A topic that seems easily swallow-able to some, and completely taboo to others.  Black and white to many, and quite gray to their friends.  I've got friends both Nazarene and Free Methodist (and other too, for that matter..but most of my connections run in the Free/Wesley/Metho/Naza/Luther-type doctrines.

There are some both in occupational ministry, and outside it who believe Christians should advocate abstaining from alcohol.  There are others who are in ministry or members in denominations that hold the stance of advocating abstinence, who have a drink once in a while.  I think most of my readers can agree on the point that alcohol can be a very damaging substance, and the openness to it in someone's life can lead them and those they love down paths of brokenness and pain.  The question then becomes, as a church (small "c") that desires to help members both old and new toward following Christ in a way that life doesn't naturally want to on it's own....what do we say, and what do we not say?

I've heard the arguments against "legalism", and I agree - we do not want to make a list of "do's" and a list of "don'ts" and reduce all of faith down to that.  But I also believe that following Christ includes quite a bit of sacrificial obedience in ways we do not "naturally" feel like doing.  Many these days do not want to "seem fake" and make seemingly "Holy" decisions when they don't actually feel like it.  In His book "Small Faith, Great God", NT Wright calls this "hypocrisy" that Christians should be glad to be labeled with.  He points out that many times we raise "authenticity" above obedience to God.  That when we follow Jesus, and experience His Spirit, we are transformed but we are still human.  We need the constant work of His Spirit to continue in us because left on our own, we have selfish and unhealthy desires.  If there was no need for the Spirit beyond an initial work, we'd merely be satiated animals, not humans choosing to follow Christ toward completion and Kingdom.  We are called to be different, and made free to celebrate life unlike the world's patterns of celebration/enjoyment. 

But Jesus drank alcohol, even in a day where drunkenness was popular.  The ill effects of alcohol existed even then, and are spoken of/against throughout scripture.  As many are quick to point out, the Bible does not say the words "don't drink alcohol".  What if my family or close friends own a winery/brewery?  What if having a beer with someone might make them feel you're easier to relate to?  What if I actually enjoy unwinding to a smelly glass of fermented liquid?  I don't want to seem "fake" and pretend to be Holy when I'm not.

While still many people, having read this far into the post will be thinking either, "sheesh...just throw it out already", or "man, just swallow it down and get on with it."  After all, there are much more important matters than worrying about what words we write on paper about what choices a member of our part of the body of Christ should make.  Feel free to close this window now.

Current Free Methodist wording states: "As concerned Christians, we advocate abstinence for the sake of health, family and neighbors. Moreover, we see the adverse social consequences as so pervasive that we seek by advocating abstinence to make a united social witness to the freedom Christ gives."  Here is a proposed change that offers new wording (not abstinence, but "consider the effects") to this year's General Conference.

And current Nazarene wording:  "In light of the Holy Scriptures and human experience concerning the ruinous consequences of the use of alcohol as a beverage, and  in  light of the  findings of medical science regarding the detrimental effect of both alcohol and tobacco to the body and mind, as a community of faith committed to the pursuit of a holy life, our position and practice is abstinence rather than moderation."


So what do you think? What does your glass say?

I do believe that what we confess, and what we pour, should probably move toward alignment.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Lives Transformed

When is the last time you were involved in "evangelism"?  When we hear this, most of us think about a program through our church.  Maybe Vacation Bible School, or a mission trip, or that one time we happened to invite a friend to church, and hope they kept coming.  We may even think about the small group we're a part of, and hope to "envelope" people into the larger church by the relationships built in the small group we've invited others to.

In Neil Cole's, "Cultivating a Life for God", he presents the simple idea he calls "Life Transformation Groups".  He calls people who love Jesus, and want the good news of freedom from sin, and New Creation to spread, to be purposefully involved in evangelism.  Cole points out that a healthy church, perhaps even a church that is actually "being" the church, will have this type of thing happening.  Too often we rely on pastoral staff, or discipleship "programs", or "step by step" introduction to the faith type classes, that often start a few months from now, etc.  Even in our own church, there was an instance of a woman who wanted to "come to Jesus", but had to wait because of scheduling difficulties.  That probably shouldn't happen.

The idea is simple, and seems like an exciting proposal:  1. Find someone of the same gender who desperately wants to change the direction they're life is going, and is open to Christ.  2.  Meet with them on a regular basis doing three things: confessing sin, discussing scripture read the previous week (20-30 chapters a week), and praying for others who need to experience Christ by name.  3. Eventually you'll invite another to join you, but when you have 4 people meeting regularly for a few weeks, split into two groups, and continue the pattern.

This seems like an easy thing, but I believe many of us will be faced with some realizations early on in the process.  First, many of us have relegated our experience of God to a "what He did in my life once upon a time".  The regular meeting and accountability questions found in such conversations forces us to either confess our inactive faith in an Active God, or name what we believe God is working through our lives.  Second, most of us wouldn't hide the fact that our usual diet of scripture (read as the Word from God, not as something to be studied) is much less than 20 chapters a week.  But to challenge ourselves to read more than we think we can handle (but can actually be accomplished in about 30 minutes a day or less), forces us to be open to full-context Words from God that can actually apply to our lives without needing a commentary or even a pastor to always explain it to us.

The potential for these intimate, self-sustaining, Spirit-led, naturally multiplying groups targeting actual life-transformation, and encouraging the continued life-transformation of those "already on board" seems like a pretty sweet thing.  The idea is that there is a world-wide church, with local bodies, with ministries/small groups, made up of life transformation groups.  If you're interested, I'd definitely recommend giving the book a read, and maybe even throwing a few at others who want something more intimate than their small group currently provides.

Now I just need to find a guy who really really wants God to change his life alongside me...my guess is he doesn't read my blog. :)

Saturday, February 05, 2011

a forced Sabbath.

I know there were quite a few things that people could have done without this week.  Power losses.  Parents frustrated at finding places for their kids while school was off, but work was on.  Shoveling snow.  Slipping on the ice.  Injuries both minor and major.  Sorry to anyone who experienced this past week as a burden.  But for me, it was great. :)

It's been a busy month.  I generally feel I do an okay job of balancing family life with work life with social life with personal life, etc.  Okay, maybe not always.  But this past couple months especially included quite a few things that couldn't be changed/rescheduled/denied.  From the get togethers', parties, and programs of celebrating Christmas/New Years, through the loaded January of 2011, culminating with the annual "Frostbite Senior High Retreat" (which went GREAT, thanks to all of Gods' incredible volunteers/workers)...I entered this week needing to breathe slower.

It really wasn't that bad here in Decatur, especially when looking at pictures from Chicago, and hearing amounts of accumulation from cities not too far from us.  7 inches of snowfall, give or take, with a few inches of icy snow at the bottom.  Sure, it's been slippery.  Yeah, many of us have gotten stuck or had to help someone else out who got stuck.  But in the midst of it all, great things happened.

I'm my neighborhood, and possibly yours, there's an unspoken assumption of relationship.  Kinda like being "Facebook Friends" with a vague acquaintance, many of us assume we're friends simply because we live in the same neighborhood.  But nothing breaks the ice and develops actual friendship like walking down the street with your shovel...having time and ability to offer.  It was great to connect with a few people who normally pass like ships on a mission.

But even greater were the moments at home.  Nothing spectacular was created.  We didn't use the time to work on a specific project that needed done.  The bathroom faucet still leaks.  But we threw pillows and blankets on the floor to enjoy a movie or two.  I got to stomp my wife in Scrabble (okay, it was "Upwords", and it was pretty much neck and neck all the way).  We made food and ate together.  We danced to Veggietales, and realized Ruby is already mouthing/singing the words as best as she can.  I even read a little bit with some freshly roasted coffee.  It was beautiful.

May we make effort in the next month, to assist "Sabbath moments" in breaking through.  They are needed, both in relationships with those around us, and especially with those we share a home with.  God can do great things, when we slow down a bit more...(or are slowed down). :)