Saturday, August 29, 2015

Divinely dealing with Drama

Drama is draining.  No, I’m not talking about watching a movie or stage performance.  I’m talking about being exhausted by people who seem to be addicted to chaos and conflict.  They’re always troubled, attracting problems like a dorm room collects clutter.  The type of people who are constantly at odds with the world around them and who would like you to champion their cause too.  With a forearm to their forehead and pain in their voice, they are constantly in need of sympathy from everyone they know.  What can we do -- what should we do with people who unknowingly wear the label “Drama” like a merit badge?

My guess is, you feel trapped by them as they dominate every conversation with their latest dramatic circumstance.  I’m also guessing you occasionally feel obligated to step in and remedy their “critically desperate” situation.  Ask yourself, how healthy is this for you?  

Maybe you’ve noticed a pattern, after a while anyhow, either you can’t solve their problems or once you do, they are right back in another crisis.  Why does this cycle keep on repeating?  Perhaps their identity has become that of a victim, and...

And you can’t rescue a perpetual victim -- because they don’t really want to be rescued.  The more you intervene, the worse the situation becomes.  What they really want is your full undivided attention and they want you to take on their anxieties.  Actually, they want you to care more about their problems than you care about your own responsibilities.  In fact, you could say these victims of drama are selfish.  What can we do when we are in relationships with drama-centred people?  

Number one, realize we can’t fix them, only they have the power to change.  We can help by pointing them to resources or solutions, but we can’t save them.  It is compassionate or empathetic to say, “This situation is obviously painful to you.  If there were some healthy way that I could be helpful, I would be glad to help.  But, I simply can’t change the situation.  I hope the best for you, and I’m here for you, but again, this is out of my hands.”  Also, we can establish healthy boundaries in the relationship to prevent them from taking advantage of our time and energy.  Next, we can refuse to engage or participate in their drama -- that means don’t get sucked into their mess when they try to drag you into their drama.  And finally, we can model a lifestyle of peaceful calmness.  Does this sound too harsh?  

Our deepest obligation to others is to help them mature in Christ, it’s not necessary fixing their woes (real or imaginary) and we are certainly not called to enable immaturity.  We are called to love one another, and love refuses to assist in an arrested development.  Only one person on earth had the ability to resolve every problem that was presented to Him, but did He?

Jesus didn’t didn’t try to fix every mess that people laid at His feet.  “Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”” (Luke 12:13-14 ESV)
I think it’s very liberating to realize the One who could meet the demands of people every single time, didn’t.  You and I don’t have to feel guilty when we don’t rush in and try to rescue people who are addicted to drama.  Sometimes the best help we can give people isn’t the quick fix they hope for, instead, we help people best when we follow Jesus’ example.  


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Could A Capella music send you to hell?

I am thankful for how my faith & thinking have been shaped within a cappella churches. My faith journey began in a mainline church of Christ and though I'm not in one now, I still hold tightly to our Restoration Movement principles.  Many people who practice non-instrumental worship think using an instrument in the worship service is a sin that leads to damnation. What if it is actually the other way around?

The argument against instruments goes basically like this: Instruments were Old Testament, and we are New Testament Believers; the Bible, particularly the New Testament, is silent on the use of instruments, therefore instruments are unauthorized.  

It is interesting or ironic that the early church as recorded in the book of Acts and throughout the rest of the Bible, the early believers, didn't differentiate between what we call the Old Testament, and the New. The Bible which Jesus, Peter, Paul, and everyone else recorded in the New Testament preached out of was actually what we call the Old Testament.... So if we want to say the first churches were making a Biblical stance for non-instrumental worship, one would be hard pressed to back that up.

People who make a case for a capella music often say the change from using instruments to non happens at the Cross, even though the Bible never makes this statement.  What changed from the Cross to the resurrection in the practice of our worship to God?

* Sacrifice practices clear: Heb 7:18-19, 9:23-28

* Temple/location clear JN 4:21-24

* Priesthood clear I Pet 2:4-5

Considering the Nature of God we need to ask: If God changed His mind about the use or acceptability of instruments, and now instruments are forbidden, wouldn't He dedicate one simple verse saying in the Bible communicating, "Instruments will condemn you..."?

Scripture warns against adding to and taking away from the Bible, Deut 4:2, Deut 12:32 and Rev 22:18.  If God's word gives instructions and promotes instruments and never has a single passage forbidding the use of instruments, then we must be careful we aren't adding to, or taking away from the inspired word.

But what about how instruments aren't authorized in the New Testament?  Number one, it's hard to argue from silence... Number two, the New Testament refers to the Old and says "all Scripture is profitable..."  II Tim 3:16-17.

Many people who argue from silence and say instruments are no longer appropriate will interpret/apply Scripture through a methodology/hermeneutic that looks for Commands, Examples, or Inferences.  There are plenty of passages in the Old Testament to support the use of instrument, but what about the New?  

Since  Jesus, the Apostles, and everyone else recorded using a Bible in the New Testament would've been using the "Old" Testament, it's fair to say they would have noticed what the Bible communicates about instruments -- so further instructions as in commands might not be necessary.  

But what about examples or inferences?  Are there actual examples or inferences of New Testament-Christian-Believers using instruments, recorded in the Bible?  Yes.

Where are the examples or inferences? Acts 3:1 Peter and John were going to the Temple at the hour of prayer.  What took place in the Temple?  The use of instruments.  

Also, Acts 5:42 mentions that daily the early believers were in the Temple, again a place where instruments were used in worship.  

Paul is in the Temple fulfilling some Jewish vows in Acts 21:26 ff. when he's assaulted.  Paul is fulfilling the vows to prove that as a Christian he strictly observes the Mosaic Law, see Acts 21:20-24.  
I'm not interested in arguing for or against the use of instruments.  I really don't mind either form of worship.  I do mind when believers argue and give off the wrong impression to non-believers.  When we are argumentative and judgmental towards other believers, we give the whole church a bad reputation and it negatively impacts our ability to reach the lost. 

No, I don't think a cappella is going to send anyone to hell -- but the wrong attitude could jeopardize one's salvation.  I am worried about believers who take a stance that people who use instruments are going to hell.  Jesus says, "Judge not lest you be judge... your standard of measure will measured against you." In other words, Matt 7:1-2 clearly communicates if you expect perfection from others, God will require that from you.  How you judge others, God will judge you. 
I think it would be shame to forfeit one's salvation based on condemning others to hell over a matter of opinion, a grey area, a subject God Himself didn't use one single verse to condemn.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

From the other side of the pulpit

We need vibrant churches to enjoy a thriving community where families are spiritually healthy and people know true peace.  And we know, a lot is riding on the person in the pulpit.  If your congregation recently replaced anyone on staff or if you’ve ever called a new minister to serve, I imagine you put a lot of thought into what you hoped for out of the ministerial relationship.  More than likely, you clearly communicated your needs to your church leader.  Chance are, most of the folks in your church are unclear about the needs of the church staff.

Maybe you’ve noticed, we don’t have many young people going into professional ministry.  By the way, the word “professional” isn’t just the opposite of an amateur, it began as a religious word, as in one who professes God’s word.  And these days there can be a high turnover rate in many pulpits.  Ministry is stressful, exhausting, and it takes a toll on those who God calls to serve and their families too.  Is there anything we can do to address this?  

Since the Reverend, Pastor, Preacher, Minister or Evangelist, (or whatever title your church uses for the person in your pulpit) might not tell you what they need too, please allow me to share some insights from the other side of the pulpit.

Before I go further, one of the reasons I even have the freedom to write this, is because I’m blessed to serve in a really loving church.  We have families in church who make me feel special and who go to great lengths to express their appreciation to me.  I even have an “adopted mom” who calls me son.

Sadly, I know too many ex-ministers who weren’t so fortunate.  I’d guess if you looked around your sanctuary Sunday mornings, there are more former ministers sitting in the pews than there are people serving on your pastoral staff.  I also, from my past experiences, know firsthand what it’s like to serve in a vampire church -- those churches can drain the life out of their ministers, leaving them depressed and bitter.  

For many of us who shepherd the flock, we occasionally suffer from bouts of feeling inadequate.  After all, we deal with some of life’s deepest concerns and who is ever fully qualified to speak on eternal matters week-in-week-out, guide people, counsel people, pastor people, and allthewhile stay fresh, relevant, engaging and dynamic?  You can’t hit a homerun every time you are up to bat and here in church there’s no off season.  Yes, the person in your pulpit occasionally wrestles with questions over their calling.  Monday mornings can be difficult as we replay Sunday over in our minds.  

Summer is a busy time for many families, with vacationing and an increase in outdoor activities, and church attendance can lag for the typical member.  Though most ministers won’t mention this, we tend to feel personally responsible when attendance dips at anytime.  No, “nickels and noses” aren’t the best signs for measuring how healthy a church is, but nobody's perfect and we in ministry grapple with the ups & downs of church life.  Stay in touch with your church staff, I promise, they are thinking of you even when you aren’t there.

I’m blessed to have a very supportive family.  A minister's entire family sacrifices for the church since they share the minister's time with everyone else’s family more so than any other individual.  Much like a “sport’s widow” who loses her husband to the couch every football season, the minister's family sees less of their loved one, especially on Sundays.  Your minister probably feilds more phone calls, makes more visits, attends more meetings, and is involved in more activities than they will mention from the pulpit.  Please remember this the next time you are tempted to rehash the old joke about how preachers “only work a half hour a week...”

So while your minister will never demand the respect they deserve or complain about the fatigue they carry (as they “grin & bear it), what I hope to encourage you to do, is to express your appreciation for your church’s leaders.  Write your ministers encouraging notes, because believe me, they hear from plenty of people who aren’t happy more often.  Share a meal with your minister, congratulate them on a well delivered message, and thank their spouse for sharing their loved one with the flock.  

If you are feeling really thankful, give your minister a giftcard to a bookstore, send them to a seminar to continue their education, send them & their spouse away for a weekend, or consider their need for a paid sabbatical.   Chances are high your minister will never ask for anything like this for fear of rejection or of seeming weak, needy, or selfish.  And keep this in mind: Ministerial burnout doesn’t just hurt the preacher and his family, it impacts the entire body. Sadly, ministers go without the refreshing they need until it’s too late.  The truth is, it’s a lot harder to pump water from a well that’s gone dry...

Finally, give your minister permission to preach on the tough topics (not just the timely ones) as in the perennial topics like lust, greed, materialism, selfishness, gossip, justice and the need to care for the downtrodden.  Don’t shackle or bind the person God has called to deliver His word; they have a fire in their bones and they need to know that when they comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, they won’t end up being thrown in a cistern by the brethren -- a “moving” sermon shouldn’t include packing up a UHaul for its conclusion.