This is just WRONG

In case you hadn’t heard/read this elsewhere, a church in Joplin Missouri raffled off 2 AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.

While I cannot say I am surprised, I will tell you I am appalled.

Not only does this support gambling – yes, raffles are gambling – but look deeper into what is going on here.

This particular raffle was, the article says, for fathers only:

the church gave area fathers an opportunity to put their names in a free drawing to win one of two AR-15 rifles. Fathers could get tickets for each child they brought to church, and for bringing his own dad to church.

It seems only fair to me that if a church is going to invite people to gamble for guns, they ought not be sexist about it.

Speak Carefully?

Before writing this, I checked.  I thought I had blogged before on the use of the phrase “everything happens for a reason,” and I had.  Here.  But that was in 2009.  It’s been almost 5 years, so I’ll feel free to dredge it up again.

This post is inspired by a conversation I started on Facebook yesterday.  I posted “You do not know that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ so stop saying it!”

Rachel graciously pointed out that this post is a bit harsh.  Thankfully, by the time she told me that, I had realized the same thing and expanded my thought this way:

While I do not know with utter certainty that every action of the universe is not ordered, I do not believe thinking this is so is beneficial to us choice-laden or -driven people. Nor do I find such a cliche truly helpful or healing to one who has just suffered unjust loss.

and this

I think it is (at least sometimes) because we WANT there to be order and answers to why things happen. After a recent conversation with someone who has faced the loss of 5 close family members in less than a year, though, I realized this person was not actually comforted by such a ‘promise.”

In fact, this person seemed to feel more distant from the source of such a promise.

I offered, OTOH, that God, by grace, is able to bring good from every situation and event without having caused that situation or event. I believe this perspective on God’s grace is more helpful.

What I’d like to tackle now is related to several responses I received.  I was quickly challenged by some that I don’t know that everything does not happen for a reason.

This is true. I don’t.

But neither do I teach, preach, or say to wounded people that “everything is meaningless!  Nothing happens for a reason!”

To encourage or implore people NOT to say “everything happens for a reason” is neither to say that

  1. nothing happens for a reason (that is beyond your or my control); or
  2. not everything happens for a reason (that is beyond your or my control.

Whether there is a grand design behind every single thing – an Ultimate Cause beyond every single effect is beyond my understanding and yours.

Generally, I think the cliche is offered out of the best of intentions.  It is not always heard that way.  The more I thought about it yesterday, in fact, the more I wondered if Christians saying things like “everything happens for a reason” and “God is in control.” are heard by non-Christian folk as words of judgment and condemnation upon those who suffer.

We want to be able to say something to the hurting and broken among us.  Can we at least agree to choose our words carefully in these situations?

It must be God! Right?

77 Preachers Can’t be Wrong!

I saw this claim on the bottom of a poster in a shop window.  My immediate response was a chuckling, “Yes, they could.”  If you look back over the last couple hundred years, you’ll notice we get it wrong sometimes.

This post isn’t really about preachers getting it wrong.  Today I am thinking more about the way we try to make numbers work for us.

We like to think and proclaim that success presumes God’s blessing, and we especially like to throw numbers around to support this. For example, who hasn’t heard this kind of claim: “That church has grown from nothing to 10,000 in five years – God must be in it!”

If you are thinking I am on a rant because your church is bigger than my church, give me a couple of paragraphs, please.

I am not negging numbers; I am concerned that a focus merely on numbers never tells the whole story.  Oh, sure, numbers are measureable – and in these MBA days we are all about metrics and measurability.

But can you measure a soul, or the growth thereof?  Is the distance of a person from God something that can be expressed in units?  Tell me, please, precisely, how much closer you are to Jesus today than one year ago today.

There are more Baptists than United Methodists – does that make them better?  There are more Muslims than Baptists…?  One of the fastest growing religious demographics in the US is “none of the above” – Does this mean that God’s blessing is most on those choosing no religion at all?

Numbers are a part of the picture of success, but only a part.

Sometimes it isn’t about comparison

Last Wednesday was a strange, surreal day for me.  The day started normally, though an afternoon appointment would, I knew, feel strange.  A member of our church was dying of cancer, but had insisted I come and take some things from his house that he wanted to give to the church.

Then, around 11, I got a call from my mom that my dad wasn’t doing well – that he was, the words I remember, “failing fast.”  I went into son mode and took off toward Arlington, making phone calls as I went.  Dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s related dementia, several years ago, and the decline has been, well, long and uncomfortable.

It turns out dad was not as close to death’s door as we thought, but he was having a difficult day.  He had, perhaps, had a small stroke the previous weekend, and was less responsive and not interested in food or drink.  While I was there they got him to take some food.  The immediacy of the situation lessened, I went back to work.

I went back to work but probably wasn’t worth much.  Apparently thinking one’s parent is about to die is rather more distracting than I would like it to be.

Later that afternoon, I made it to visit with my dying church member.  After sharing communion and visiting with him and the friends who were gathered, I began carrying things to the truck I had borrowed for the occasion.

One the way out, I caught myself thinking, “this hasn’t been a very good day for me.”

I stopped those words and played with them in my head.  On a day that I visit with two men who were both likely not to live out the year – perhaps the month – I was feeling like I wasn’t having a good day?

I have not shared this for you to feel sorry for me, to join the piling-on over feeling sorry for myself.

I decided to share this because sometimes in the midst of a challenging time, or despair or sadness, we lose perspective by comparing ourselves with others.

My realization that I was having a bad day was NOT AT ALL about, or to be compared with, the situations of the two men I visited that day.

I have my ups and downs, and you have yours.  That yours are worse today than mine, or that mine were worse last summer than yours is only relevant if being human were a contest, but it isn’t.

In the presence of either my father, or the other man I visited that day, my own situation or challenges appropriately paled in comparison.  But my life is not well lived in comparison to the lives of others.  Neither is yours.

Here’s to knowing when to compare, and when not to.

Idiocy or Arrogance?

I’ve been studying for a message on self-denial by looking at the way various religions approach the topic.  It is a topic most religions hold central.

I have found not a few websites dedicated to the preference of the Christian version of self-denial over that of other religions. One drew my attention so I read through it until I got to this line:

Biblical self-denial must cost us something.

Not kidding. Not making it up.

One of the differences between a biblical account of self-denial and that of any other religion, according to this writer, is that it must cost us something.

I am trying to imagine an account of self-denial that does not cost the self anything.

Ok; honestly, what I am really trying to imagine is a world where people who follow Jesus don’t make up stuff about other religions. Like how their self denial doesn’t cost anything.

Are there valid differences between a Christian account of self denial and those of other religions?  Yes, there are. Some make for very interesting discussion.  As I look around the allegedly Christian culture in which I live, my first thought is that we could learn something from someone else’s understanding of self denial.

Limits

balloon analogyEvery Wednesday I get a few minutes with the children of our Preschool and Kindergarten. Today I shared about helium and a lesson about God that it can help us understand.  I got this idea from our Children’s Minister.

It is a simple object lesson: we cannot see the helium, but we can see what what the helium does, like we can see and experience things God does though we cannot see God.  Simple, right?

Not so simple if I have enough time to think about it.  The polka-dot balloon is the one I bought this morning to illustrate my point.  the solid red balloon is the one that provided the same illustration yesterday.

Whatever affects the helium had on that balloon yesterday are all but gone today.

So, just how much like helium is God?

As it turns out, not all that much.

This does not make it a bad object lesson for children.  This merely is a clear, straightforward illustration of what happens with every analogy we use to understand, explain, illustrate, etc., God.

While I do not make nearly as many absolute statements as I used to, I will make and stand by this one: EVERY analogy we use for God is limited.

This is true not only for the analogies we use to try to explain God to children (or youth, or adults, or people from another culture), but also of every single thought we think or word we use referring to God.

Let’s face it: if God could indeed be captured by your words or my thoughts, that God would not be much of a God, now would he?

Don’t worry; I did not lay all of this discussion of the limits of analogy on those 3-5 year old children.

I decided to share it here, though, because I believe we are all better off realizing that there are limits to our understanding and expression of said understanding, of God.  I believe also that the more aware we are of our own limitations, the more open we can be in learning from the analogies other people use.

 

A Reason for Hope?

I’ve just finished my latest read for the SpeakEasy Blogger review network.  The book is Bob Seidensticker’s Cross Examined: an unconventional spiritual journey. It was a very enjoyable read; I recommend it.  Because Christian Apologetics is one of the main topics dealt with in this novel, I want to deal with this before posting my actual review.

For the uninitiated, apologetics is not about saying one is sorry, but about defending one’s faith. The word apologia, from which apologetics is derived, means to give “words about;” to answer or explain something.

Many Christian Apologists root their apologetics in 1 Peter 3:15 which says

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect[.]

Many of the debates that Christians enter into with atheists or evolutionists or people of other religions are understood and described by the Christian invovled as being apologetic.  They tend to be logical, rational, or at least rhetorical presentations of evidence and philosophical points.

Here is my question:  how are rhetorical skills and debate tactics equated with giving a reason for  “hope that you have”?  The hope I have as a follower of Jesus cannot begin to be grasped by eloquent arguments or well framed premises and conclusions.  The hope I have, the hope that is “in me” )in the King James version of the 1 Peter passage) is a living, ongoing relationship with God that I have found available through Jesus Christ.

Arguments don’t offer hope.  They may (or may not) offer answers.  Answers are not hope!