Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I am ashamed of . . .

My undergraduate institution sent me a new fundraising scheme recently.  Like many colleges, mine had a big rock on campus, and people would paint it with activities and stuff.  Now they're offering to let alumni have it painted for a certain donation.  I already donate (a very small amount) of money to my college, and I'm wondering right now whether I even want to continue doing that.

You see, I am not ashamed of the gospel, but I am ashamed of my college.  I applied for my dream job there recently and got rejected without even being given a fair shake.  It turns out I stepped into the middle of something ugly, sinful, and political, and I can't seem to get the stink of it out of my brain.  I've done some additional research and found out some really appalling things.  Do I really want to be supporting an institution that allows such ugly things to happen to anyone, let alone their own alumni?  Who they then ask for money?!

Or is this just irritation that the reason I didn't get what I wanted had nothing to do with me? 

Am I trying to avoid guilt by association?  Can I when it's my alma mater?  I'm already tainted by this new legacy of dishonor.  Not giving them my $5 a month will hardly send them into a spiral of financial destruction.  And what about all the decent faculty members suffering under this administration?  Do I withdraw my support of them and their livelihoods because of the despicable behavior of their superiors?

Any input, opinions, or advice?

Sunday, May 15, 2011


A friend in need of a steady job applied for a seemingly providentially open music position in his church, but the church, like most modern US churches, decided to form a search committee to look for the best qualified candidate (in theory both inside and outside the church).  The search committee (as they most always do) ended up hiring one of these outside people  who is now moving here.  They just have to pray she works out.  They don't really know if she will because, you see, she's not an active member of their church body, and they've never lived alongside her.  Apparently it's an acceptable risk.  As a result, an active member of their church body who was equipped for that ministry is now once again trying to find a job to help support his family.

Some churches do this because they want to be taken seriously.  They want to show that they are seeking high quality.  They don't want to be tied just to their own small talent pools.  They want to bring in new blood and not just stagnate with the people they have on hand.  They want to be like businesses, more or less. 

I guess they don't know that this strategy often doesn't work in businesses either.  Many businesses say they promote internally, but most who say that still hire externally.  When they do, they hire people who take a ton of time to train up to speed when a competent, tested candidate already exists inside the business.  There's a lot of irritation and frustration in these situations, as there often are when upper management dictates policies that work poorly on the front lines.

What I can't understand is why the local church wants to act like a business anyway.  We're supposed to be a body of believers with a common purpose.  The Holy Spirit equips us all for ministry to each other and to the world.  I guess it just seems odd to me that we're so unwilling to trust that the Holy Spirit equips each church body to sustain itself.

It's not that I think local churches should never allow "outsiders" in.  However, don't you think the Holy Spirit brings in/provides who is needed to support the local body from within the local body itself?  Shouldn't the church look within to find who they can train and equip for necessary ministries?  If there is no one, then it would make sense to look out in the wider body. 

When we start acting like a business first, we lose sight of the fact that we are supposed to be first of all a community, a family of believers made up of many members who all function as a whole.  When we take matters into our own hands, it's like we don't trust God to get it right.  We end up leaving our own in need out in the cold when we had it within our power to help them by letting them use their gifts to benefit the body as a whole.  Isn't that what the church should be?  Why should we quench their use of that spiritual gift in our quest for "legitimacy" and "being taken seriously" by the world.  Is that right?  Is that where our focus should be?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why Jesus wept the second time

In the short-term Sunday school class our church held for Lent, I learned that those palm branches on Palm Sunday were actually a symbol of political freedom/rebellion, and that whole Hosanna thing was a cry to be saved by a king from political affliction.

No wonder Jesus cried.  He was there to save them from something much bigger than subservience to Rome, but that's not what they wanted.  And sometimes it seems like that's not what the church in the U.S. wants, either.

Jesus came to forgive us our debts, but nowadays we often seem more interested in asking Jesus to save us from debt.  We want Him to make us healthy and wealthy.  We want Him to grant us good fortune in business and better church attendance numbers.  We want Him to keep pain and conflict away from us and our children.  We want Him to make us comfortable. He wants to make us holy.  Rather incompatible desires.

Sometimes I wonder if we still think we're living in the Old Covenant, the one where obedience = physical blessing.  We think that prosperity and comfort is a sign that we are doing the right thing.  It's not.  By that standard, Jesus definitely didn't seem to be doing the right thing.  It's a good thing he brought a new covenant.  The Old Covenant didn't work out too well for God's people in terms of overall comfort, either.  Thank the Lord we live under the New Covenant.  I could never keep the law well enough to earn blessing under the Old Covenant, but it has been made available to me eternally through the gracious and terrible sacrifice of Christ who calls us to be like Him.

Personal comfort is not what He came to save us for.  It's not what He's called us to.  If people who call themselves "Christians" but pursue lives of ease and comfort and seem just as interested in worldly success as the world, how are they followers of Christ?  When the church lets the world define success for us, we fail.  God wants to give His children things that are much more than the American dream.  Why are we so eager to settle for less?

Laura Story has a new song called "Blessings."  She asks some good questions in it; it deserves an attentive listen.  (If you know anything about her life, you will find that she is testifying from personal experience.)  "You love us way to much to give us lesser things," she says.  The easy way of comfort is not the way we are called toward.  We are called to something greater.

The biblical Jesus never promised us comfort.  In fact, He called us to take up our crosses and follow Him. (He went on to unfair torture and death [and resurrection]).  He called us to love and to give and to serve and to sacrifice.  He called us to a life of persecution and disfavor.  He called us to be crazy as far as the world is concerned.  He did not call us to be happy.  He did not call us to charmed lives where nothing ever goes wrong.  This is not how He shows His favor under the New Covenant.  Prosperity is not how people can tell to whom we belong.

If you're getting too comfortable, maybe it's time to rethink, reread, and do some serious praying.  Which is what I'm doing right now.  Care to join me?