Spirituality or Religion? An Unexpected Perspective.

Spirituality or Religion? Which is to be? Convention (modern) would indicate people are opting for spirituality – a private practise of personal preference not linked to, bound, nor hindered by institutional religion/s. But the opposite may be the new preference. Why? Because religion offers community and connection – a sense of belonging that individual participation in an ‘eclectic of individually sourced spirituality’ is incapable and unwilling to provide. People want to go back to something of substance that has authority, authenticity and shared value, and religion can provide it.

The church does – it is the function and reason of its ‘sociological self.’ Of course it is much more than this – but it is at least and all of this. Which makes it all the more troubling when Christians stop attending church and opt for their own private faith walk, which, in fact, is no such thing. They are doing something people with no affinity for Christ and his word have been attempting for ages, and it appears, increasingly, unsuccessfully.

People who stop going to church will often tell you how their spiritual life has blossomed, which in most cases is short hand for – not tithing, no accountability, private moral choices, and a cover for the inability to do one of the fundamentals of the faith – forgive. You need to be a Christian to survive church life which is exactly the point.

It isn’t possible to sustain a vital faith by yourself, in spite of the protests to the contrary. Scripture, theology, tradition and experience all militate against the ‘me and Jesus’ nonsense propagated by these people who have left the Body of Christ. John the apostle is quite clear when writing in 1 John that walking from fellowship has disastrous consequences.

God is in his church. His church is beautiful. Beautify the House of the Lord with your faithful presence.


If Church is a Hobby, Faith is Negotiable

 Community, the community of God’s people, His church, is the wellspring of Christ like behaviour – of morality and integrity. If we are in the habit, ‘as some,’ of treating church as an option it won’t be long before we start treating our ethical commitments as options as well. And so the story goes …

Compromise in one thing has the tragic corollary of compromise in others.

The very reason for connecting and clinging, yes clinging, to God’s people, His church, is that it empowers and strengthens resolve in us to live a different life, a better life – your best life. You simply can’t do it on your own, and whenever we attempt to, it invariably ends in tears.

Morality and integrity are caught in connection, as are immorality and a lack of integrity. Your community will determine your commitment. Which, in effect, means your commitment to your community will have a determinative affect on your lifestyle. We aren’t better than this equation, nor were we ever meant to be.

Go to church and go to heaven.

 


My ‘Christian’ Hobby.

A  recent church survey has adjusted what is considered a church member to one/s whom attend church once a month.  A well-known Christian leader in the UK commented that people, church members, are now attending on average only once, or if you are lucky two times, per month.  I’m not sure who is the unlucky one, although I do have my suspicions.

The reasons cited are various and occasionally valid.  If we take out holidays, unusual seasons of grief or difficulty (which are consistent with being human) and other unforseen circumstances, we are still dealing with a huge change of  commitment to God’s church –  and that is exactly what this phenomena is.   In effect this means people are getting to church maybe ten times per year, with Easter and Christmas thrown in for good measure.

Church is becoming a hobby – something that we enjoy, spend some time and money on, but just as easily, something that doesn’t require anything more of us than a hobby.  Hobbies are generally fun and distracting, and not much more.

My Problem.  When this becomes the norm much of the NT writings of Paul are voided and avoided.  It simply is not possible to actively serve Jesus Christ and his Church at home.  And the end result will be a faith that gradually drifts into a private  perception; that is before it becomes irrelevant.  The New Testament knows of no such faith as the privatised perceptions of early 21st century  people.  We stand together, we collapse apart –  if I understand anything about the church and the practise of our faith.

Some Answers.  A fresh insight into the nature, value and ultimate importance of the church as revealed by Paul – the great master builder.   A renewal by the Holy Spirit of connection, contribution and commitment to the church.  A church worth going to  – that matters, as some aren’t.  A wake up call by God’s new ‘Diaspora’ – the scattered and disconnected people – who should be neither.  An opening of the eyes to the subtle and insidious workings of the devil.  And maybe some new expressions of viable church and community wouldn’t hurt as well.

But however we look at it – church was never intended to be a hobby, much less ‘A Christian Hobby.’


I Resolve To …

I don’t make New Years resolutions, for no other reason than I don’t think life is different from Dec 31st to Jan 1st.  Of course it could be if I made New Year’s resolutions.

A resolve to do something springs from a necessity, a vision, or guilt and mild panic.

If you decide to change based on guilt it is likely to increase your guilt quotient when you fail in your resolution.  (You have to allow failure to succeed)  Diets are infamous for increasing guilt, which leads to eating which leads to guilt … Besides which eating less is not the best way of looking at eating less.  It requires much more than simply locking the fridge or running past McDonalds/Burger King.  Engage in activity that isn’t couch bound, exercising in ways best for you – group sports, walking, whatever.  In other words doing things and not just not doing things.

Resolution based on a vision, something grander than mere survival, has more chance of carrying us through detoxing – what ever it is that we need to not do.  A larger purpose is more likely to inspire the kind of choices that make changes, that increase our fruitfulness, and that have the kickback of a greater sense of integration and joy.

So I resolve to … (fill in the spaces).

 


Didn’t See That Coming!

Christmas Time again – and what a wonderful time it is, and should be.  We are steeped in the story of the Madonna, Joseph and the child to be born – Jesus.  We celebrate with Christmas productions featuring all the homeliness and cuteness of our children, or, in my case, grandchildren.  ‘Never work with animals or children,’ may be a Hollywood maxim for every other day of the year but not this day – the little ones tend to feature.

To us, used to this story, nothing seems out of the ordinary –  although, it isn’t exactly ordinary is it?

And to the inhabitants of Palestine in the 1st Century AD, it wasn’t very ordinary either.  But to them it was even less so.  Nothing that transpired at the birth of the Saviour was anticipated by those who were meant to know.  They got one thing right –  that he would be born in Bethlehem according to the prophecy.  Otherwise they didn’t see it coming.  Nothing about it fitted the well-worn prophetic contours of the scriptures, It was all there all right, but nobody saw it coming in the manner it did.

A child – not a King (but he was the King).

A manger – not a palace (although the universe was his palace).

A virgin – not a virgin, that’s impossible (and so it is, except where God says it isn’t)!

A young woman – not a Deborah, a Miriam, a Queen (although much more).

Nothing was as anticipated which is exactly the reason they missed it – more than missed it –  they crucified the Lord of Glory.  How we think God is going to do something, and how God actually does something, is two different worlds.  His ways are both above our ways and better than our ways –  but we continue to insist God conforms to us, and not us to him.

Christmas reminds me not only of the birth of the Saviour of mankind, but of the prayer  –  ‘Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be Done.’  Things don’t always go as we’d imagined but God works his will like a weaver of tapestry  –  messy from one view, beautiful from another.

A Very Merry and Revelatory Christmas, and a Prosperous New Year.

Simon and Valerie in London.

 


What, More Questions??!!

Matthew 24:1-3.   The disciples wandering through Jerusalem, the city of the great King, were in awe of the great building/s that constituted the Temple.“What a building,” they proudly exclaimed – as you would have, had you been an inhabitant of that city, or the land, for that matter.  What came next was out of the blue, and may have made them see red.

Jesus shocks the disciples by saying the temple will be unceremoniously dismantled.  Dismantled is a nice word, smacking of safe work place practises, union officials and big coloured safety vests.  It was obliterated, smashed to pieces with a fury.  The temple had figured largely in their expectations of a coming Kingdom/King and here was Jesus saying it was to be destroyed.  This messed with their deepest expectations and beliefs about the end of the age, and the rule of Israel.  How could this be?  And what of the promises of restoration and the Messiah?  Jesus turned their dreams on its head.  Yet he never thought something unusual was happening, as though God had missed his opportunity, or muffed it once and for all.

Expecting one thing and being given another is disconcerting, to say the least.  It isn’t uncommon for our expectations re. God and his rule and promises to be aberrant or, at least, misguided.  He is not the problem.  We often misunderstand, and misinterpret what God is doing.  We are fixed on things going one way, and they often don’t.  This is no defeat, nor is it a lack of care or the lack of providing an answer – we just have to readjust to see what God is doing.

 

 

 

 

 


More Questions

More questions?  Always more questions!  Children ask their parents things easy to explain and things inexplicable.  And we don’t really mind as inquisitiveness is both natural and needed.  If they don’t ask they won’t know.  No parent should ever treat their questions as ‘non-sense’ or ‘never to be asked.’  Unless of course they are questions that are mere nonsense, or questions that should never be asked.

In Matthew 20 Jesus was approached by the mother of John and James, requesting they get places of honour, privilege and power at his right hand in the coming Kingdom.

Same chapter – Jesus was approached by a couple of rowdy beggars wanting desperately to see – being blind.  Strangely, or not so, the same disciples that wanted something from him refused others a chance at getting what they wanted.

Maybe the former (the disciples) should have known better, maybe the latter (the two blind men) didn’t know any better.  The latter had their request fulfilled, the former – maybe? but with caveats that looked as good as a refusal, for all practical purposes.

Questions are loaded.  They come from different sources and motivations.  In this case, the beggars from simple pressing need, but the disciples from a place of the need for power – the very thing Jesus was at pains to explain to them was the last thing they should be asking, besides which, he stated, such requests are the prerogative and private domain of the Father –  in other words, ‘you asked the wrong person’ – precisely because the request was corrupt to start with.

And one last thought.   Questions should be able to be asked.  It is a reasonable right that we can ask.  So we do.  And that is exactly where our problems begin (sometimes).  Why, how?  It appears that the person asking is in many cases wanting and assuming, and therefore not really asking.  If I ask I can be refused. That is the nature of the ask.  But not so for many people.  They can’t take no for an answer and they make the person who gives it feel as if they have just ruined the life of the one asking.  We need to be consistent. We have a right to ask and the person so asked has the right of refusal with out being accosted with petulance and emoted disappointment.  It is a mature soul who can take a NO.

Think before you ask.  You might not ask, or you may.  Just depends.

 

 

 


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