Here’s my dilemma. I have a passion for seeing lives changed for the better and people healed and freed to worship God and pursue their passions, thus influencing others. As far as I have ever experienced or heard, this happens most (and arguably best) in the setting of an organized faith community, i.e., a church, a conference, a student ministry, and so forth that’s connected to the living God as the source of this healing and empowerment.
However – I’ve been an on-again-off-again church shopper for the past three and a half years and I have found very (very) few churches who embrace this as a primary mission and show evidence in their congregations of its effect. Far more numerous are the ones that claim to be doing this or wanting to be doing this more, but no one’s really on board except the pastor and some of the leaders maybe.
This has brought me much disillusionment (is that a word?) and since I’m not a particularly self-motivated guy has caused me to shelve my passions in the meantime. This then causes all sorts of upheaval in my heart on a daily basis.
Which brings me back to the dilemma: I know church can be this type of healing, empowering community, because I’ve been a part of one that largely was. But good grief, where are the Christians who are committed to this like I want to be?? I feel like if I just had even just a few other like-minded folks around me we could make an incredible impact, but left to myself the best I can do for now is wait and want.
No I’m not talking about dancing here. With three small children you may imagine where this one is going. This morning Hannah and Zeke woke up and played upstairs in their bedroom for about 15 minutes together. Then Hannah came sauntering downstairs and climbed into bed with us, while Zeke who usually is right behind her was nowhere to be seen. After five or ten more minutes he came bounding in and jumped up in the bed also.
“What were you doing up there?” I asked him.
“Playing” he sang.
“A boogie? Did you get a Kleenex?”
“Where did you put the boogie?”
“On the floor…”
Of course – where else? So my two-year-old spent the first part of his morning entertaining himself with the fruit of his nose, which now resides somewhere in the carpet. Just another joy of fatherhood 🙂
This was a question posed on a Facebook group that got me thinking. Here are some of my thoughts.
I appreciate a specific and targeted topic with all the stories, quotes, and whatnot able to be hung on that. I’ve heard the other type of sermon, where the disparity of the anecdotes, jokes and scriptures leave you wondering what the real point was.
Along these lines, for me a really good sermon gives me something to take away and apply in my life. I’ve heard some great sermons on ideas or topics – pointing out truth, revealing new angles on familiar scriptures, challenging my world views or life habits – but which ended on a point such as “wouldn’t it be nice if we…” or “let’s go out this week and be more…” Ultimately my takeaway from a sermon like this is “Wow, that was a really great sermon.” And that’s about it. At best, I might happen to remember something from it at an opportune time down the road and perhaps even apply it.
But the really great sermons I’ve heard have had the same revelatory quality as these, but ended with suggestions – ways I can put this into practice this week that are both practical and accessible. Like:
1. Take time out at least once this week to pray that…
2. Look for an opportunity to…
3. Ask God to show you ways you might be…
On top of this, I’ve really appreciated ministry times at the end of a sermon that specifically invite God to speak to us or work in our lives in ways the sermon is specifically targeted towards, or in response to anything else that particularly challenged us.
What makes a good sermon for you?
Amber and I were talking on the way home from church yesterday after hearing an impassioned and challenging sermon on desiring the presence of God in our lives. The text of the sermon was the account in 1 and 2 Samuel of the Ark’s capture by the Philistines, its subsequent and hasty return, and the efforts of David 70 years later to return it to the center of the city. The ark was moved four times during these events, with all but one of them leading to death and/or sickness.
The difference, it seems, was that the first three times the Ark was moved in whatever manner its transporters thought it should be, while on the fourth go round someone finally looked up how God intended for the ark to be transported and did it that way.
The question that Amber and I were rolling around in the car is this: Are we inviting God’s presence into our lives on our own terms or on His? In our (gradually returning) desire to get involved in the church we’re at, to take the initiative in new friendships, and to get involved in small groups and ministries – are we motivated primarily by what it does for us or are we genuinely looking for God to be at the center of our lives again?
To be honest, that sort of connection is something we’ve really missed the last three and a half years, and it would sure be a boon to our hearts and our self images to feel wanted and useful again in a faith community we respect. But we both agreed that soothing our bruised egos is no reason alone to join up with a ministry and reenter leadership. We don’t just want the stuff of church – we want God’s presence in our lives through our efforts of pouring out into these area, and we want to do it in a way that’s true to His call on our hearts.
Writing it out, it sounds like a straightforward enough distinction, and of course there’s nothing wrong with the benefits that community and ministry offer our lives – I really do believe God created us for these things and that like eating good food we get satisfaction in our souls from participating in them. But in our hearts it can be a bit trickier.
Take for example my recent return to worship leading. There’s something about the opportunity to lead and inspire others in worship that really makes me come alive, and that challenges and deepens my own expression of worship. On the other hand, there’s something about being on stage that can feel validating to my expression of worship (I certainly don’t worship in the same way when I’m not leading) and that can satisfy a sense of belonging as well – it’s a high profile role that tends to get me known and talked to (or about). Sorting through this has been an ongoing thing for me.
The bottom line for us has to lean toward action though. I’d rather be leading worship or investing in new relationships and struggling with maintaining pure motives than waiting for my motives to be pure before I get involved. May we have the wisdom to follow the true calling of God on our hearts and the faith to dive in.
The folks at the A-Team blog have posted this on the subtleties and pitfalls of creating beauty. Particularly standing out to me was this quote by Simone Weil:
The truth is, for whatever reason, it is very, very difficult to portray goodness as it really is and quite easy to portray evil as we wish it to be. Christian filmmakers, you need real skill to achieve the former. Don’t give in to laziness! Strive as artists throughout history have striven to uplift our souls with real beauty and truth. Our prayers are with you.
This expresses a frustration of mine in watching and toying at writing films – the good is either the overemotional Hallmark variety or else it’s the evil – the villain priest or closed-minded Christian character.
Seriously – when is the last time you saw a movie with a priest who wasn’t an antagonist?
Of course this is all fueled by the cultural secular perception of Christianity – Christians as closed-minded hypocrites fueled by either their political agendas or their fierce defensiveness toward their system of morals and religious organizations. The Catholic priest scandals don’t help much either.
So my question is this: is it possible to portray Christianity in film – no, to portray Christians, real people trying to follow Jesus as best they can – with the allure and mystery of lives transformed by an unearthly holy influence? And to do so without bending into over-sentimentality on the one hand, or a preachy caricaturization on the other hand that would essentially amount to religious propagandizing.
I’ve certainly seen films where good is authentically and compellingly portrayed – Schindler’s List or Mike Nichols’ Wit. But I have yet to see the lifestyle of following Jesus portrayed like this on the big screen.
What do you think? Can this be done?
We were watching the Alvin & the Chipmunks take on A Christmas Carol the other night and I was struck this time through this familiar tale by the way in which Scrooge/Alvin becomes aware of the need of the people around him – through a supernatural revelation that he couldn’t have come upon by himself. He learns the real motivations and needs of the people around him and his heart is softened.
Don’t you wish loving people was so straightforward? If we were given insight into what’s really going on in the lives of people around us, even the difficult characters in our lives would become disarmingly easy to make sacrifices for. I suppose the reason we’re not is by design – that faith and love are somehow part of the same effort. It forces us to actually really get to know the people in our lives in order to love them better.
Sometimes there’s nothing more difficult.