Friday, August 15, 2008

The Danger of Not Being Sick

I want to revisit Spurgeon's comments from the previous post. He mentions there the Biblical truth that Jesus came for the sick and that the sicker you are the more glory Christ receives. (Okay, maybe he didn't say the 2nd point, be it was implied.)

However, there is a danger of "Not being Sick" How can this be? How can it be BAD to NOT be sick?

Well I thought about it last night, and that's just what I've concluded, sometimes it's bad to not be sick. Let's look at this situation:

Susan would reluctantly tell you she's a gossip. She's not proud of it, but she doesn't really try to hide it either, because she's worried that by hiding it, she might come across better than she really is. Susan is embarrassed by her gossiping, and at the same time it's something that she prays about constantly. So she reflects about it and realizes that she is sick. She needs Jesus to break her free from the sin of gossiping. She's never more aware of this than when she's just passed on a piece of juicy office gossip.

Yet one Tuesday was different. She came to work at the normal time, but stayed away from the "triggers." She took her coffee break 10 minutes later than normal, so she wouldn't be sitting around with her friends gossiping. She ate lunch at her desk and did some work. When she got home, Susan was thrilled about not gossiping.

After the kids went to bed, and she had some time to just think, she started to congratulate herself on the fact that she did not gossip all day. And by congratulating herself, she wound up denying the other sins that she committed that day.

The danger of not being sick is just that. When we don't feel like we're incredibly sick and in need of a doctor, we often fail to realize that even if we don't commit our "main sin" we're still sinful.

Now, all that being said, victory over sin is good. It is wonderful when someone is able to control lust, or addiction, or gossip etc. But it must always be done with a few things in mind 1) It is Christ who changes us. So even if we pull off a day like Susan did, if Christ is not in it, all we've done is avoid the sin, but we still have the desire to gossip. 2) Regardless of if we're committing our chief sin or not, we're still, by nature, sinful and in need of a savior.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Prince of Soul Care?

When I first started becoming interested in theology, one of my favorite preachers to read was Charles Spurgeon. I loved his wit. For example a story is told where a woman comes into his office and worries about her salvation. After a long explanation from her, Spurgeon says something to the effect of "Ma'am, you're right. If I were you, I'd stay away from the church for ever." She replied "I could never stay away from the church." He then showed her how that tended to show she was saved.

I loved him because he spoke the truth so plainly. He was not afraid to call out problems. When talking about the preaching of the day, he said "Would the early Christians have risked their lives to enter in to wilderness and catacombs to come hear such watered down preaching?"

I also loved him because he helped me tremendously when I went through Ephesians 1 and determining if I was reformed or not. "God must have chosen me before I was born, for he certainly wouldn't have chosen me after."

He's earned the title of Prince of Preachers. Well now I think he's deserving of another title, Prince of Soul Care (obviously, Christ would be the King of Soul Care.)

In a book of his tilted God Loves You he talks about "Our Lord's Preaching" (chapter 3.) Two quotes stand out "The more diseased you are, the surer you may be that the Savior came to heal you" (p71). The second one is a bit more extended, "Carefully focus on the meaning of the text, so that you may see whter or not this message applies to you. Are you brokenhearted because of sin, because you have sinned often, fouly, grievously? Are you brokenhearted because your heart will not break as you deisre it to break - brokenhearted because you are sorry that you cannot repent as you want to and grieved because you cannot grieve enough? Are you brokenhearted because you do not have such a sense of sin as you ought to have and such a deep loating of it as you perceive others to have? ... It does not matter for what particular reason you are brokenhearted. Jesus Christ came into the world, sent by God with this purpose: 'to bind up the brokenhearted'"

Now, as I thought about this, I thought how he was really getting to the core of people. The elipses above covers about 1 to 2 pages of more examples of being brokenhearted, but all of them are deeper than our typical explanations of this passage. I mean you usually hear about the brokenhearted as being those who have lost loved ones, or those who are suffering. Not Spurgeon. He goes much deeper, he quickly gets to something many Christians feel, that they are not experiencing deep enough conviction.

In fact, when I read that passage, I usually think "I'm not meek. I'm not poor. I'm not brokenhearted." But in understanding it this way, I see that I am brokenhearted in the very definition that he explains. It is comforting to know that even when I feel like I'm not convicted enough, Christ still came for me. When I'm sick, I'm even more sure of Christ's purpose on this earth.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What are you trusting God for that only He can provide?

So that's the question that was posed to us today at Coram Deo, by pastor Bob. In his series on renewal, today was "faith" and I immediately thought "that's a strange part of renewal." Now, of course, you can't have renewal without faith, but it seems like it's a pre-requisite and not a part of renewal.

However, I think the way faith was described, makes a lot of sense. He basically went to Hebrews 11 and talked about how faith is the certainty of things not yet seen. So, in that sense, faith is definitely a part of renewal, while also being a pre-requisite. It is reflecting back on how God works, and how he's worked in the past. Spurgeon, in the first lecture from Lectures to My Students starts by saying there are ways in which God works normally. There may be ways in which he works spontaneously, but by and large, we should assume that He will continue to work the same things He's done in the past.

For example, there have been a few times of great revival in various parts of the world. Such as the Great Awakening of the early US. And those were definitely from God. However, even when there are no "great awakenings" going on, God still works through individual believers to bring other sinners to saving faith. So we can count on the promises of God that he will 1) use us to 2) bring others to faith in Him. We can have faith (certainty) that we will be used by God (of things not yet seen).

So the question, again, becomes What are you trusting God for that only He can do? What promises, what assurance do I have? What areas in my life do I have certainty of things not yet seen. To be honest, I answered that question with "I know what areas I NEED to trust God for only what He can do, but I'm not trusting him now."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Resting is hard work

At Coram Deo, they're going through a series on renewal. Two weeks ago, Elder Bob preached on Sabbath, and encouraged each of us to live a life marked by rest. He exhorted us that we need Jesus' help with resting the same as we do with overcoming lust, or addiction, or gossip.

I knew he was right, but thought it would be easier for me, because even 2 years ago, I had nightly times of meditation and reflection. And, to be honest, those were some of the best times in my life. Since we've moved to Omaha, I haven't been as faitful at meditating, but I desire to, because I can recollect my life from when I was meditating.

However, this practice has brought to the forefront something I had forgotten. It is HARD WORK to rest. I had a prof at Southern who started several classes by reading Hebrews and how Christ fulfilled the resting, and he called it a "restful work, or a workful rest" I didn't fully understand that until now (okay, I don't still fully understand it, but it's better.)

Reasons it's hard to rest
  1. Kids -- it's hard to rest when the kids are up, so I try to do it after they go to sleep, but this often leaves me little time before I need to go to sleep.
  2. Lot's to do -- dishes, setting a budget, taking the trash out, laundry any number of other things that all compete for that 1.5 hours after the kids are asleep
  3. Task oriented -- I set a timer on my cell phone. Not so that I won't rest TOO long, but so that I'll at least rest and reflect long enough. Currently I spend 10 minutes trying to relax, breathing deep etc and another 10 doing nothing but reflecting on a passage of Scripture that I've read
Now all of those are true reasons, but none of them are good. Like most things in life, the hard work is paid off. Not by becoming more sanctified by the hard work, but by deliberately resting it opens up whole new channels for Christ and I to have communion, and as a result, new channels for me to be changed.

It is a workful rest in deed.

Monday, August 4, 2008

What's better than being right?

So I started thinking over the past couple days about how I always have to be right. And in some ways, that's what makes up part of my being a bruised reed. (As an aside, perhaps I should talk about that some time, a bruised reed, I don't think, always means someone who is down or depressed. It's more about the realization of the fact of being a sinner.)

I'm not sure if I mean that in the typical way. Some might say a man always has to be right, and mean that he'll defend his opinion at all costs. And in some cases, that might be true of me. However, I think I'm a little bit more subtle(?) I don't necessarily feel the need to defend my opinion, as much as making sure I choose right to begin with.

Let me give you an example. You and I could spend time arguing about whether engineering (in general) is one of the best bachelor programs. And I would enter that argument knowing that I would win. I could even take it a step further and tell you how Electrical Engineering is the chief engineering degree. Again, I would win that argument. However, these aren't arguments I get into often. Because proving to YOU that I'm right isn't really at the top of my list. However, proving to myself that I'm right is at the top of my list.

It comes down to the fact that there are certain things that are true, and I'll be sure to be on the "right" side of the truth. Now in reality, there are infinitely fewer things that are true than what I think. Is electrical engineering the chief engineering degree? Can we show that to be true with the same certainty that the acceleration of gravity on Earth is 9.8 m/s^2? Or can we show that to be true like the fact that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ? Probably not, the engineering thing is much a matter of opinion. But to me, it's not.

This plays out two ways, both of which are incredibly sinful. (By the way, the fact that I'm admitting that in a public space is a big deal to me, because it's not the "right" thing. It's not "right" or "good" to be thought of as a sinner. Unless it's properly understood).

First, and most obvious, thinking that your opinion is a matter of fact causes you to be harsh and unforgiving with others. Thinking that electrical engineering is the best engineering degree causes you to look at other engineers (e.g. civil engineering) as lesser students. You develop a hierarchy in your mind. This type of personality (if that's what it is) needs a "bad guy" a "fall guy." Or more appropriately, a series of fall guys. Did you graduate with a political science degree? How about English, or philosophy? Did you get a BA in French? If so, chances are, my friends and I made fun of you because of your "weak" degree.

Second, and less obvious, always being "right" brings about a feeling of self-justification. After all, God is truth, the Bible tells us this. So what could be better than being true? My doctrine was always right. My tithing was always the right amount. I always prayed the right way. I always said the right things. Isn't this what Jesus was talking about when he said "Many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name"?

If you were to pose this question to my wife and to me "What's better than being right?" She would, without pausing, say "love." I would say "nothing." And in this one question, I would be wrong. Ironical isn't it? The one who believes he's always right, gets the fundamental question wrong.

Yes God is true. Nothing is true apart from God. He desire pure doctrine. His Bible is inspired so that it will be true. Without truth false teachers pop up and bewitch the Galatians (and us.) Without truth, Gnostics take over the early church. Truth is important.

But, without Jesus, and his love, "I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

There is a way to be true and loving at the same time. I'm not sure I've found it. I have found the way to make people feel completely unloved because of my obsession with being right and true.

What's greater than being right? Being loved.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bad Discipleship & Pastors

Standing at the back door of the First Baptist Church, Washington, IL, Bill Sadler comes up in the greeting line. He looks at me and says "You've got the preaching down. Now work on all the other stuff."

It took me about 4 years to realize what that meant. I wasn't filling in as a deacon, or a Sunday school director. I wasn't trying to run the nursery. I was there to preach. And that's what I did. And if the people were to be trusted, I did it good. But I loved Bill and respected him. He'd seen more in his 80 years on this Earth than I could ever imagine. And Bill said "Work on all the other stuff."

What Bill was talking about was that there's more to being a pastor than being able to preach. I've seen this first hand. Men who congregations love and who do a great job working with people, but couldn't preach their way out of a wet paper bag. Yet, they were good pastors, just not great preachers.

About 4 years later, after talks with a close personal friend, I knew that I was not going to be leaving Southern and taking a church right away. Perhaps down the road, but not immediately. I had too much to work on. Of course, everyone has a lot to work on, but I had some issues that pastors shouldn't have (like I get tired of people really easily.) I was sitting in a 2 week class on the Gospel of Mark. We were having a bit of an informal chat in that class, as we often did, when the professor brought up something interesting.

We were talking about discipleship and he mentioned how many people who can speak and have doctrinal knowledge get "guided" (read: shoved) into the pastoral ministry. He was using himself as an example. He showed a desire for theology and scholarship in his home church, so his church attempted to get him to become a pastor. He went to Bible school, seminary and went on to get a PhD. He is now a professor of New Testament theology at SBTS. He teaches Sunday School, but he is not a pastor.

Those two incidents may seem unconnected. But Bill Sadler and Dr. Brian Vickers might as well have been best friends. What appears to happen in churches is that you have a young man who has a thirst for knowledge. They teach Sunday school, they're able to speak in front of the congregation without uttering "umm..." every three words, they don't drink and don't beat their kids, and the church decides these men are to be pastors.

What I realize now, is that is more of a reflection of the sad state of discipleship in American churches. If they were more focused on discipleship, I probably wouldn't have exhibited any more knowledge at the time than the average church member. I wouldn't have been a "stand out". There would not have been a push to have me preach more. They would have taken more time to get to know me, to see me with all my faults, and then judge whether I should be sent by them to seminary.

I'm so thankful that they did send me to seminary. I met some very Godly people there, who thankfully persuaded me to not go into full time ministry at the time. I can only imagine the pain and suffering I'd be inflicting on an unsupecting church. I can preach....

So Bill, if you're out there, I'm working on the other stuff.

Discipleship and bruised reeds

Heard a good sermon in church today about what discipleship is, and perhaps more importantly what it is not. The preacher contrasted disciples and converts. An interesting distinction to be sure, and one that I like, now that I've heard it.

He made the point that in today's churches, we often focus on converting people to Christianity, to get them on "our team" but spend little to no time working on discipling them. It reminded me of my class in Mark, and how the paper I wrote for that class was about true discipleship involving taking up your cross.

So I started thinking about that passage again. I think it was Mark 8 (it's on my other computer and I'm too lazy to look it up right now.) It made me start thinking about what does discipleship look like for "bruised reeds"?

In reality, discipleship for bruised reeds looks identical to all other people. The difference is, that a lot of bruised reeds get turned off by the word "discipleship." Because there is the connotation that discipleship means "read your Bible, pray, give, fast, and serve." And a lot of bruised reeds (not all) get overwhelmed by that. I don't get too overwhelmed because I'm very task oriented. Which might be equally bad, because I think I'm being a disciple SIMPLY by reading, praying etc.

One of the dangers of this false discipleship is that people who take it upon themselves to fix their problems, such as cussing, end up falling harder when they fail. How often have you heard the case where someone being discipled is told "now that you're a Christian, you need to X"? So what does the new convert do? They go home and set up goals for themselves. They say things like "I won't cuss today." And they work really hard at it, what happens? They cuss, then they beat themselves up, and confirm in their mind that they aren't really a Christian because Christians don't cuss.

True discipleship involves becoming like Christ, true. However, true discipleship allows Christ to work in you to make you like himself, not you working to make yourself like him. That's great news for bruised reeds, because now they don't have to do anything. They simply have to be and allow Christ to do what needs to be done.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Church Search - final(?)

Okay, obviously February to almost August is a long time and in all honesty, part of being a bruised reed was me not wanting to come back and write more. But I've decided to do it, although maybe not daily.

I left off with the Reformed SBC. There were quite a few churches in between then and now, and I can't remember most of them. Or rather, I can't distinguish them.

I wound up at an SBC church for a while. My daughter (6) liked it, but when I asked about why, it was because she could go play with kids in Sunday school. I asked if there was anything special about those kids. Or anything special about Sunday school. She said there wasn't. This contributed to me considering resuming my search.

I can't say there was anything wrong with this particular church. Sermons were Biblical (which was more than could be said for some.) The adult Sunday school class appeared to have a great desire to learn more. It was a mixture of ages, and ethnicities, as well as churched and unchurched. All things that I looked for. I don't want to be at a "white" church, or a "young church" or an "old church" If the SomeBaptist Church of Omaha is to reflect Christ's bride, it needs everyone.

So sitting in the service, realizing I had no joy in attending this church, did not feel particularly fed, and feeling little enthusiam I set out again. Back to google.

When I was at Caterpillar, one of my cube-mates gave me the nick-name of "The googler" Because I could find the answer to almost any question on the first page of my first try at googling (from obscure trivia, to engineering related questions.) So why have I had to go back to google, time and again to see what is out there for churches in Omaha.

One Saturday night I was doing some work and tried googling "Reformed church Omaha." I was nervous. I didn't want to end up in a James White church (I agree with some/a lot of what he writes, but his attitude has always come across to me as a militant Calvinist -- not a good match for a bruised reed).

Anyway, the typical churches for American Reformed Baptists came up, and other reformed (paedo-baptist) churches. I was dejected. Then I clicked on a link for Coram Deo This church was interesting. At the same time, I was excited and nervous.

There was a church in Louisville called Sojourn which I'd heard good things of, and one of my favorite professors was a member there. And in some ways, Coram Deo reminded me of Sojourn. That was the exciting part. A church, deep in the heart of Omaha, that seemed to be reformed. Preach the Bible and care about people.

What made me nervous was that Coram Deo claimed to be different. I don't have a problem with being different. I have a problem with being different for the sake of being different. I've been to too many churches (here and in Louisville) who seemed to try to be "The church for the unchurched." The problem is, they quickly stopped being a church (in the Biblical sense) and rarely had unchurched people in their doors. Was Coram Deo the same thing?

So the next weekend came and I invited my brother-in-law to come with me. He is interested in finding a church to be a part of, but often feels like an outcast in most churches, because he's a sinner, and not baptist-born, baptist bread. :)

We get there, there were chairs making up the auditorium part. There were also couches, a coffee section in the back and a couple places that made it look more like a coffee shop than a church. My first thought was, "yeah, I've heard about these churches."

Then we started singing. I don't remember all the songs, but I know it was a mix of old and new hymns, psalms and spiritual songs. Then, what's this? A confession of guilt and sin read by the congregation? I haven't seen that since my days at Clifton with Chip Stam. That's refreshing.

Then they did something really weird, they actually read the scriptures in the service. That's not something that gets done much. Oh sure, the pastor reads the section he'll preach on. But they actually read a chapter for the call to order and another chapter just because (okay, they had a reason, but it wasn't the sermon).

Then the sermon came again, and my heart sank -- again. Instead of using the musical stand as a podium, a coffee-shop table and chair were put up there. And I thought, "Ah, probably not much preaching here. More story telling I bet." Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong. The man did not only preach, but preached a Biblical sermon.

So at this point this church has a couple things going for it that the other churches didn't. But what happened next was down right amazing. The sermon was on Peter's denial of Christ and really Peter's entire relation to Christ as shown in the book of Mark. The Elder (another plus) called on us to identify with Peter (yet another plus -- call us to realize we're the sinfull deniers). One of the things that stuck out from that sermon was the preacher said "Have you ever committed a sin and said 'I'll never do that again'? And then you do. So you make a promise 'I promise I'll never do that again.' If you could stop yourself from doing it in the future, you wouldn't be doing it right now."

Wait, what's that? The Gospel isn't just the entrance into the church (thanks to Mark Seifrid for that one). You mean, the Gospel is just as relavant to me as a believer as it is to the unbeliever? That was the HUGE difference that I saw at Coram Deo.

Some churches claim to be gospel centered churches. What they mean is that if you don't accept the gospel you can't be a member. But the often fail at how the gospel plays out in your daily life.

But maybe that was a one time fluke? Point taken.

I went back the next week. The main elder (amazingly enough the Mark message wasn't by the preaching elder) preached on the Sabbath as part of a series on renewal.

If possible, this message was as gospel centered if not more so than the Peter and Mark sermon. A sabbath sermon that incorporated the gospel. Scratch that, a gospel CENTERED sabbath sermon.

Have you ever heard one?

Have you ever heard the sabbath explained from a Gospel centered paradigm?

I have. Twice.

One at Coram Deo, and one in my intro to Biblical Counseling class at SBTS.

Since 2004, I can think of 2 periods that I've been excited to go to church. The first was when we briefly attended Russell Moore's Sunday school class at Ninth & O. The second was when we attended Eric Johnson's sunday school at Clifton. I think I can add a third time to that list.

Perhaps my Omaha church search is over.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Church Search -- (pt 2)

I'll see if I can keep this one shorter :)

After the first two churches, I went on down my list to the next church that was close to the house.

3) Visiting pastor -
This is actually a fairly common epidemic for me. The church we wound up going to in IL had a visiting pastor the first time we were there. When we were in Louisville, I think there was a guest preacher on 2 or 3 church visits.

This seems to be a problem for me. Not that there is a guest preacher, but it feels as if it is a "wasted" visit. Because the church I was at in IL would use nice, Godly men who everyone loved, but didn't preach from the Bible per se (they read a couple passages told a BUNCH of stories.) But the pastor at the church was fairly competent at explaining the Bible.

In this case, the music was nice, nobody (apart from the door greater) said anything to me. The music was average. One thing I liked, however, was that they had dedicated prayer time at (what appeared to be) every service. I mean prayer time. Middle of the service, they had counselors up front, and had everyone pray in the pew if you didn't go up. That was refreshing, hadn't seen that in a while.

4) E-Free
Got tired of the SBC churches being the same (after visiting 2 or 3) so I branched out. Went to an E-Free church.

It was pretty big. Not sure the door greeter even said anything too me. I could have gotten in and out without anyone hardly making eye contact except they had a time to shake hands, and this nice gentleman behind me actually started talking to me.

Songs were the "Jesus is my boyfriend" type of music. Real light on any meaning.

Sermon time I was hopeful as the preacher referenced Trinity Seminary in his opening remarks. He actually tended to keep going back to the passage at hand (a rare feat). But seemed to miss the main point. He preached on Unity out of Ephesians, and seemed to miss the point that the reason that Christians have unity is because they have Christ and the Spirit. Apparently, this is easy to do, as another church I visited had the same problem.

5) Bible Church -
So now that I wasn't sticking to SBC churches, I thought "why not try the Bible Church on the corner of my neighborhood." It was truly un-remarkable, in that I can barely remember anything that happened in the service. It must not have been too bad, though, because of church #6.

6) Second Bible Church -
Went to a much larger Bible church. The building was nice, and full. I estimated 3 or 400 people there, and it looked like they had an overflow room that was full. Songs seemed better than the boyfriend genre. The interesting point was that they had a rather long drama (about 15 minutes out of an hour or hour fifteen minute service.)

The drama was well done, in that the players obviously knew their lines and roles. They put good energy into it. However, I'm NOT a fan of drama in church. This case was part of the reason why. They went so long on the drama, the sermon itself was 10 -15 minutes. The drama was on the entire OT in 15 minutes. Like I said, they did a good job.

The sermon was on the usefulness of the OT. The pastor made a couple good, albeit brief, points. Mainly that the OT is just as divinely inspired as the NT. And that the OT is what the saints such as Timothy used as their Bible.

Where I thought it was lacking was that I walked out of the service thinking that the OT was primarily there to teach me to be moral. That anyone could pick up the OT, read it, and be a "good person." Furthermore, I felt like he missed the opportunity to talk about how the OT points to Christ. Maybe he didn't really believe that. It's rare to hear a sermon about the OT that shares my view. But it's also disappointing to hear a sermon on the OT without scarcely a mention of Christ.

#7) Reformed SBC? (last one today)
So I headed south to a church that looked to be a bit more reformed than most SBC churches in the area. I was really hoping to find one that was at least partly reformed. But I approached with a bit of trepidation as well. While I am reformed in my understanding of election etc. I'm not a regulative principle kind of guy. Nor am I still fighting the RCC. In deed, I might be blasted by reformed Christians as not really being reformed. I'm sure I'd be blasted by anti-reformed Christians as being too reformed :)

This church actually had someone besides a pastor that came up and talked to me. The songs were the kind that I was looking for. What I mean is songs with a deep meaning, sung by people who meant it. It wasn't dry-boring-hymns. It wasn't upbeat-shallow-choruses. It was some kind of mixture.

The sermon seemed to be pretty good as well. I thought he challenged the congregants to see their sin in ways that they wouldn't have normally.

So I walked out in the entry-way and grabbed a couple of their documents. I passed up the 1689 confession, but grabbed some others. Then on Monday I emailed the pastor asking "how reformed" you have to be. For example, I'm not a sabatarrian in the strictest since, and a lot of reformed baptist are. Also, I'm not at a point where I believe in Limited Atonement as expressed by most "reformed" baptist churches, and I know my family isn't there either.

Problem is, I never heard back from the pastor. Turns out his email bounced back twice. So I called the secretary. (An asside here, I have an aversion to the phone unless I'm really close to you. So right now I talk to my family, and one or two close friends with the phone. It's a long story, and I'm not even sure why. But phone conversations tend to give me more anxiety than even face-to-face.) I asked her my questions about how much of the 1689 do I have to affirm without reservation? She didn't really know, so I asked about sabbatarrianism and limited atonement. She said she'd pass my info to the pastor and took my phone number. Seems that the pastor didn't like email. So he called once (might have left a message, not sure) and I wasn't able to get it because it was the middle of the work day.

It wasn't that I was unsure of these issues. But rather I had made up my mind on them, and was pretty sure they were in opposition to their state beliefs. I still consider this church and it's members of like mind, but we differ over a couple minor points (in my mind, probably not in theirs). It was kind of like the church with a pre-tribulational position in their statement of beliefs...Not sure it's wrong, but I can't affirm it without reservation.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Church Search -- (pt 1)

Well, one post to start wasn't enough, so I'll have to write 2. I thought about including this in the first one, but that would make it entirely too long.

My family and I moved to Omaha, NE from Louisville, KY in June of 2007. Since that time I've been looking for a church. I thought I'd write some about my search. I'll use fake names, because I'm largely sure that the churches I've visited love Jesus and in no way do I want to take away from what they're doing. But for various reasons they didn't work out for me.

1)Pre-Trib Church.
This was the first church I visited when I got in town. I decided that I was going to be methodical about my search. So I did a search for "Baptist" on yahoo's yellow pages. I started with the closest one, and each week went to the next one on the list.

As I started driving to this church, I realized that I didn't know what "kind" of baptist they were. I've attended a KJV1611 church for a couple months before realizing what was going on. (For those who don't know, these type of churches think that only the KJV published in 1611 should be used, and the rest of the Bibles espouse heresy.) Additionally, I've worked with people who went to Baptist churches with women pastors (a stance, I do not agree with).

So I get into this church, and realize from the bulliten that the pastor was a guy (His name was Ray, or Dan, or something short and masculine). As I'm reading about their activities I see a brief doctrinal statement. In that statement they specify that the are pre-tribulational. Not a huge deal, as I myself have been pre-trib before. Heck, I might be right now, I'm not sure. But putting it in the statement of faith for their church seemed a little much.

They were nice. By that I mean, nobody really snubbed me. The pastor and door greeter talked to me for a couple seconds.

Nothing remarkable in their music, although all their songs appeared to be very purposefully chosen. Additionally, the sermon was about as standard as you can be.

I never went back. There wasn't anything wrong with this church, but there wasn't anything that said "This is where my family needs to be."

2) Recently moved church plant.
This church was actually closer to my home, but their old location is what Yahoo still had. I was a bit disappointed here in that their website said the service started at 10:30 so I got there at 10:25 (I don't like getting to new churches TOO early, but usually 5 or 10 minutes is enough). Problem was, their service didn't start till either 10:45 or 11, so I was there a long time.

This church was small enough that they knew I was a guest. This lead them to have the associate pastor "latch on" to me. Which was nice, he introduced me to several people there. All those people were nice as well. But at times I felt like I wanted to get away from him. Or maybe that I was on display as he bounced me from person to person.

The service started, and it was a store front with the ceiling painted black, spotlights (or lights of some kind) on the praise team while the rest of us were less well lit (we had some light, but our attention was forced to the front.) Again the songs weren't remarkable, except for the fact that several of them could have been sung about someone's girlfriend (since there was no mention of God or Jesus, but rather, how "you" make me feel.)

The sermon was on the importance of reading God's word. No doubt true, but it is a sermon that I have so rarely heard preached well. For 20 - 30 minutes this gentlemen went on and on about the importance of God's word. Yet, he did not preach God's word during that time. I left the service knowing nothing more of Jesus than when I went in. I did not feel as if I met him there (maybe a problem with me.) And only felt like "I should read my Bible more" in the same way that I know "I should eat out less and eat more vegetables."

I didn't even consider going back to this church. It just seemed like they were forcing it too much, and they, as a church, were really a place for young believers.

Wow, that's only 2 of the churches I've been to here (there are at least 9 so I'll have to shorten it up :D )

I am a Bruised Reed

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Nate and I am a bruised reed.

That sounds a bit like an AA introduction. And in some ways, maybe it is. Bruised reeds don't get much talk these days. The world isn't run by bruised reeds. They aren't the ones on the cover of books, and magazines. People don't generally try to emulate them. Instead, they are hurt people. Not in the vein of dissociative identity disorder (although they're definitely bruised as well.) Instead, we're people whose lives aren't perfect, and are consciously aware of that.

The one place that Bruised Reeds should get the attention and care they need are in the local church. After all, Isaiah 42.3 foretells that Jesus will not break a bruise reed. A promise later fulfilled in Matthew. But bruised reeds are messy. I don't think I'm co-dependent or anything like that, but I don't fit into a well defined church box.

For example, I'm 15 hours away from completing my Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I know quite a it of my Bible, and theology. Without being proud, I'd say I know more than the average SBC church member. Bruised reeds are often thought of as people who just need to know the truth of scripture and that will sort everything out. And in deed, it may. Although my version of "knowing" and their version of knowing are vastly different. I can cite passages, defend theologies and parse Greek and Hebrew verbs. I know that Jesus loves me and that the Father loves me. Yet often those truths feel elusive in my life.

I'm not a bruised reed because I doubt my salvation. I'm very much assured of my salvation.

Instead, I'm a bruised reed because I have pain in my life. Who doesn't right? And I don't think that my pain is more than normal. I don't want to be some kind of martyr here. But for so long, I have stuffed the pain deep inside. I took the approach that for good Christians, every day with Jesus is better than the day before. So, I was determined to make the day better than yesterday. No time for pain, no time for hurt, because I follow Jesus.

But now, I'm coming to terms with the fact that, as was so well stated by REM, everybody hurts sometime. And I know the answer to that hurt is Jesus. But simply saying "Jesus will take care of it" seems to be a bit trite to me. Yet, I'm sure I've uttered that phrase to similarly hurting people at various times in my life.

Fact of the matter is, I wouldn't trade being a bruised reed for anything. It is when I'm in this bruised state that I see more clearly the love of Jesus. I feel, more strongly, his care and attention for me. Even though I may hurt, I know that Horatio Spafford was right, when he said "It is well with my soul" Jesus means more to me now, as a bruised reed, than at any point in my life.