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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fitting In

                                                                        Fitting In




Dorothy had always been a Christian. Her faith in Jesus was her life. Her church was her family: she belonged and fit right in. The first time Dorothy saw Jim out on the streets passing out gospel tracts she was attracted to him right away because he loved Jesus so much. That’s the kind of man Dorothy wanted to marry. When the two began dating no one was surprised because they were so much alike.



Driving a nice car or earning a big salary didn’t impress these two. The evangelical church in the early ‘50’s preached against Christians having material possessions. And Dorothy and Jim believed everything the church taught. Dancing and drinking were considered ‘sinful’ and going to the movies was ‘worldly’. Jim slept on the hard floor without a mattress because back then fundamentalist Christians considered it virtuous to suffer. And Dorothy wouldn’t wear lipstick since wearing makeup was discouraged by her church. They would gladly give up everything to follow the Lord.



Dorothy and Jim married after they finished Bible school and both started teaching in cash strapped Christian schools. Jim taught adult classes at the Bible school and Dorothy taught third grade at a neighborhood Christian school. She could have doubled her salary by teaching third grade at the local public school, but Dorothy would never consider doing that. She wanted to influence children’s lives for Christ and if that meant earning a small paycheck to stay in a Christian school then that is what she would do. Both Jim and Dorothy’s salaries never amounted to enough to allow them to buy a house or take a nice vacation, but none of their fellow church friends had anything either. Their church was their family: they belonged and fit right in.



The years passed by and the apartment they rented seemed crowded as their three boys were growing up. The constant worry over how to pay the bills began to take its’toll on Jim. And after working all week, Dorothy had to baby sit on weekends to help make ends meet. The police caught their oldest boy with marijuana and some of their church friends quit speaking to them. Behind their backs there was the whispering. “If they had been good Christian parents surely their boy wouldn’t have gotten into drugs.” Dorothy and Jim felt judged by their church family and they tried harder to fit in.



The Christian school where Jim taught eventually become an accredited college and had moved into a larger more impressive campus. New wealthy trustees were chosen to run the Christian college in hopes that these successful businessmen could attract more funds for progress. Jim had always received minimum wages and as the years went by his salary remained low. He didn’t mind sacrificing so that more could be spent to improve the school. He worked as an electrician on weekends to help pay the bills. The welfare of his students and the mission of the college became his life. Members in his church gossiped because Jim drove an older model car and Dorothy was still babysitting. Their church had changed and they hadn’t. This couple wasn’t making the proper impression in order to fit in.



Because Jim and Dorothy had raised their children as Christians they had great expectations for them. Their boys were their world. When their youngest son married, his bride refused to invite the oldest brother to the wedding because his hair was too long. Soon the newly married couple had also distanced themselves from their parents. The young people made it clear that they didn’t want anything to do with Dorothy and Jim. The heartbreak took its’ toll but Dorothy couldn’t share her sorrows with her church friends. As a Christian she had to keep up the appearances of a victorious Christian life. Dorothy and Jim kept going to church and pretending that all was well. But by now they weren’t included in the life of their church, even though they wanted so badly to fit in.



Even though Jim had been teaching at the Christian college for thirty-five years and had always been popular with the students, several fellow professors began spreading rumors around that he should go. Since the school had developed a reputation for excellence, the word spread that Jim no longer fit in. Old friends at the college were barely speaking to Jim now and each class he taught was evaluated and criticized. The people at church quit speaking to Dorothy and Jim and the Sunday school classes they had taught, as well as the jobs they had been doing over the years, were taken away.



Dorothy and Jim were frightened and confused. They didn’t know what they had done to cause their Christian community to turn against them so. There must be something wrong with them or this wouldn’t be happening. It seemed that within a few years these two had become scapegoats at their church as well as at the college. Everyone seemed to be gossiping about them even though they didn’t know what was being said. The judgments and bullying from their fellow Christians didn’t let up and Dorothy and Jim clung to each other for support. Why couldn’t they fit in?



And then Jim had a heart attack! Fearful that the toxic work environment would eventually kill him, Dorothy begged Jim to quit teaching. And after several more difficult years of harassment, Jim retired early. Things had not turned out the way Dorothy and Jim had dreamed that they would. They couldn’t afford to move and the church they had served for decades was not there for them. Lonely and disillusioned, Dorothy developed high blood pressure and arthritis. Eventually she wasn’t able to continue teaching her third graders. Alone and without purpose the couple struggled to pay their bills. Their son and daughter-in-law still weren’t speaking and Dorothy was feeling desperate about it. How had she failed as a Mother? Why didn’t she fit in?



A few months ago I got the news that Dorothy had died. They said that a stroke had taken her, but I wonder if she didn’t die of a broken heart. I wonder if she would be alive today if the people in her church had spoken to her. If the “Christian community” at the college had not isolated the couple, would things have turned out differently? If the couple had been valued by their fellow Christians, if they had been allowed to contribute something, would Dorothy still be with us today?



We think it’s terrible when we hear about school children committing suicide because they are bullied by their classmates. But is it possible for a Christian community to bully or ignore a member so totally that they no longer have the will to keep going? Is it possible that some older Christians become set in their ways and aren’t willing to change? Have we ever been part of a Christian group that indulges in gossiping or judging a fellow member? Let’s serve our Lord and be part of the answer and not part of the problem. Let’s be generous and loving to everyone, even the unattractive. Let’s make sure that everyone is able to fit in.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Where Have All the Young People Gone?

Where Have All of the Young People Gone?



Our church denomination (United Methodist) is struggling with an ongoing concern. Young people aren’t joining our church family in the numbers that they used to some years ago. And when Generation X and Y do join a church they often want to set up a separate worship service from the one the older folks attend. There are fewer young people answering the call to become pastors and church leaders today than in previous generations. This seems to be a trend as our denomination isn’t alone with this problem. We’re worried and casting about for answers! Where have all the young people gone? How can we bring them back?



When I was young the whole church worshipped together. As a young adult I gained so much spiritually from the mentoring and teaching that I received from the older Christians in my church. And I believe that when we were young we were a blessing to the older Christians too. The body of Christ is made up of all ages and we do need each other. Today we often have whole congregations made up of mostly just young people. And of course that leaves groups of only older folk worshiping together too. I personally believe that this gap may harm us all. We’re all missing out!



Our church newspaper has published articles from young people explaining why they have quit going to church. One youth wrote that she loved God just not the church and she didn’t want to be confined by walls. Another wrote that many of the churches were political institutions and preached their political views as if they were the Christian way. He was turned off as he believed that Christ taught us to live communal lives. Another youth was afraid of all of the scare tactics and judgments he had observed in the political churches he had attended. He insisted that how a person lives is more important than what they believe. (Can’t we have both?)



Some of the younger church leaders insist that the church they are envisioning should be changing to meet the needs of our postmodern world. They believe that a church that would attract the youth would 1) identify with the life of Christ, 2)transform the secular realm, 3) live communal lives, 4) welcome the stranger, 5) serve with generosity, 6) participate as producers, 7) create as created beings, 8) lead as a body, and 9) take part in spiritual activities. These all sound like very good goals for the body of Christ. We older Christians can take part in these aims while we encourage the younger generations not to forget to hold fast to Christ as Lord and Savior and to the tenants of our Faith.





Perhaps the youth have good reasons to be afraid of the faith we older Christians project today! I believe that we need to have right beliefs (the truth of Christ) and right living (loving and serving) both. It isn’t one or the other. All too often our correct words have led to horrible wrong practicing of the faith. Our hate and anger have not represented our loving Lord. An up-tight critical church isn’t a witness for Christ or an encouragement to the next generation to come to church.



Christ’s call to discipleship is still the same to this generation as it has been to all the generations in the past. It really can’t be improved on. The ultimate authority must lie with Christ who is God incarnate. We dare not water-down or add to the Truth, A vague theism will not do. Entertainment isn’t the answer! The younger generations will be attracted to Christ’s Church if they can see our love and generosity while we are holding up Jesus as Lord and Savior. They will know we are Christians by our love. Let’s be sure our Christian witness is a loving witness. If we can clean up our act maybe we won’t still be asking, “Where are all of the young people?”

Monday, April 12, 2010

TRUE LOVE

True Love



“It isn’t good for man to be alone,” God proclaimed right after He created Adam and placed him in the Garden.-Genesis 2:18. And so God immediately created a wife for Adam. One of the very first gifts God gave mankind was the covenant gift of marriage. And what a good gift it is! God wanted His children to belong to one another, to love and be loved, to share, be intimate and to be family. It doesn’t get any better than that!



And as always God had lofty ideals and dreams when He gave this amazing gift. Romance and intimacy, commitment and true love were all tucked into His plans when He ordained marriage. Each and every couple down through all the ages could enjoy their own unique attraction to one another, share their own special romance and chemistry, and write their own love story. And God would be there standing behind every marriage union and blessing and upholding each one. It doesn’t get any better than that!



The book in the Bible that perhaps best describes God’s ideal for marriage is the Song of Solomon. This whole book is given over to describing the passionate desire and love relationship between a man and a woman. These two lovers are referred to as the ‘Beloved’ and the ‘Shulamite’ woman. The Song of Solomon employs exotic symbolic language to describe the romantic and sexual exchanges that transpire between this bride and groom. Some believe that the imagery in this book that portrays this ideal marriage may also be describing our mystical covenant relationship with Christ as His bride.



The bridegroom in the Song of Solomon is described as a king and the Shulamite woman is portrayed as having had a difficult life. “My mother’s sons were angry with me. They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept.” Song of Solomon 1:6. The ‘Beloved’and the‘Shulamite’are caught up in a whirlwind romance. They can’t get enough of each other. The Shulamite tells everyone that will listen that her Beloved is the most wonderful man in the world. And the Beloved never stops praising everything about his lover.



The book begins with the Shulamite proclaiming that her Beloveds’ kisses are better than wine. Throughout the whole book both lovers never stop telling of their love and attraction for one another. They continually talk about the magic of their intimacies. True love is a banner flown high for all to see.



And I believe God wants all of our marriages to be just as grand and glorious as the one portrayed in this Song of Songs. Millions of husbands and wives today are blessed with such great love stories and live out their lives together enjoying marital bliss. Perhaps these romances are somewhat overlooked and invisible to society today. It seems that Hollywood and the news media only broadcast stories of divorce scandals, lurid affairs, unfaithfulness and broken dreams. And with the bad news of what can go wrong in marriage ever before us, it’s no wonder that many young people are cynical of true love and.afraid to commit to marriage.



The God who planned and ordained marriage has much to say about it in His Word. First of all the Bible tells us to be faithful to our spouses. Indeed the seventh commandment instructs us not to commit adultery. In this competitive society some persons never fully commit to their spouses and forever continue shopping around for another partner. True love has a hard time blooming in such relationships where faithfulness and trust are lacking. In describing the unfaithful wife, Scripture tells us: “With her own hands the foolish woman tears her house down..”. Proverbs 14:1.



Scripture tells us to be kind to one another and forgiving, to be loving and respectful of one another. Indeed these traits are all the building blocks of true love. Selfishness and trying to control the other partner have no place in a good marriage. The Old Testament tells us that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of heart of the couple divorcing. Num. 13:14. Hardness of heart is the great enemy of love, since everything depends on receptivity,freedom and openness in a good marriage.



Throughout the book of the Song of Solomon the lovers are shown continually affirming and praising one another. The whole book is filled with the lovers’ proclamations of desire and love. Partners in good marriages have learned to affirm one another, to see the good in the other, and to take time to express their love and appreciation for the other. Scripture instructs us to: “Most important of all continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” 1Peter 4:8. When we see a marriage dissolve we often learn that one of the partners has consistently criticized the other over a long period of time.



God has given us the institution of marriage. All of His gifts are good. He promises to be with us and help us create our own unique and beautiful love story. But we have to do our part .Let’s learn to be faithful and kind. Let’s respect our partner and find new ways to show our love. With Gods’ help we too can have true love. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wisdom is Calling

Wisdom is Calling







In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom is described as a woman who walks back and forth through the towns and cities of the world calling out loudly to each person she passes. Proverbs 1:20-33. This woman called ‘Wisdom’ is a warm concerned person! She seems to seek out and care about each person she meets. Like a paper boy on the streets selling his newspapers, Lady Wisdom is also in the city square advertising her wares.



Then later we see Wisdom again in the book of Proverbs as a woman preparing a fine dinner and inviting all to come. Proverbs 9:1-4 Lady Wisdom again urgently cries out to all of her neighbors; “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness and live, and go in the way of understanding.” Proverbs 9:5-6.



She scolds and threatens those who won’t listen: “Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord…Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies. For the turning away of the simple will slay them. And the complacency of fools will destroy them.” Proverbs 1:29-32. And she makes promises and gives encouragements to those who are about to try out her product, “But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.” Proverbs 1:33.



What is this ‘Wisdom’ that Scripture describes as coming into our neighborhood and searching us out hoping to gain entry into our lives? Let’s look in the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament to find some answers since wisdom is the main theme of Proverbs.



For one thing Proverbs makes it clear that wisdom apart from God is impossible. Wisdom and righteousness go together and lead us to eternal life. A unifying message throughout Proverbs is that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” Proverbs 9:10. Wisdom is not a legalistic letter of the law, but it is alive-a living mystery. God comes along with the gift and promises us blessings and protection if we take it. Wisdom can not be found in a “How to succeed” handbook, but it entails the ability to do God’s will, to follow His truth, to love mercy and kindness.



And how does one get wisdom? Proverbs 2:1-6 tells us that the Lord gives wisdom. And God will give this valuable gift to those who really want it. He stores up wisdom for the humble and the upright. To receive wisdom we are instructed to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And lean not on your own understanding-- Do not be wise in your own eyes, Fear the Lord and depart from evil.” Proverbs 2:5-7. Scripture seems to be telling us that pride and arrogance can keep us from receiving this gift of wisdom that God wants to give us. And if we insist on following an evil lifestyle, we won’t be able to receive this valuable gift either. The book of Proverbs mentions persons who enjoy violence as lacking wisdom. And those persons who are unfaithful to spouses or friends are also without wisdom.







Scripture tells us that wisdom is calling out to every person on earth. What each person will do with this call will make all the difference between life and death. When Lady Wisdom comes our way holding out this special Gift, let’s not let anything keep us from taking it!