Have you ever noticed that the things that are good for us are hard? They take work. Take school, for example, you can slide through school by just doing the bare minimum. You can get passing grades and graduate without really mastering any material. However, if you really want to learn the material it is going to take more work. You need to read the books, complete the exercises, and do the projects. When you finish this you have to do it all over again. Repetition and experience leads to learning.
How about relationships? In order for a relationship to be successful, two people must work hard. There must be a willingness to compromise during conflicts, to apologize when a mistake has been made, to forgive when you’ve been wronged, and to love not only in the good times but also in the bad times. Relationships are easy when life is good and things are going smoothly. When money is readily available, physical appearances are attractive, jobs are fulfilling, and times are fun, it is easy to love each other. But, when money is tight, bodies are worn out, jobs become frustrating, and there hasn’t been a laugh in days, that’s where you must really work to love each other.
Another activity that falls into the category of “good for you but hard to do” is exercise. Obesity is on the rise in America. We are faced with a buffet of unhealthy food choices and more and more things to distract us and keep us sedentary. Staying healthy takes hard work. You have to choose the right foods to eat while avoiding the unhealthy ones. You have to dedicate the time to exercising. This means getting rid of excuses about time, ability, or pain.
What does any of this have to do with anything and why write about such obvious things? Well today at church we’re beginning our “40 Days in God’s Word” challenge. Using a CD from Faith Comes By Hearing we are going to be able to listen to the entire New Testament in 40 days simply by listening for 28 minutes per day. Have you ever read the whole Bible? This is another thing that takes hard work. There are parts that are exciting and easy to read and there are other parts that don’t make much sense or are tedious to read. It takes hard work to focus and make it through these parts. Sometimes we don’t do it because it takes time and we’re busier doing other things. Other times we start out strong, but lose momentum along the way. My hope is that we will each challenge ourselves to work hard over the next 40 days to commit 28 minutes each day to listening to the assigned readings for the day.
God’s word tells us about his work and about his promises. It tells us about how he’s fulfilled all of his promises. We hear that he sent his Son into the world to die on the cross and rise from the dead to rescue us from sin, death, and the power of the Devil. The Holy Spirit uses this word to create and strengthen our faith. I think that at the end of 40 days we’ll find that working hard to carve out the time listen each day will be just as worthwhile as working hard to learn new things in school, to maintain and strengthen our relationships and to keep out bodies in shape. We’ll find that this “workout” for our faith will strengthen it and give us an even greater understanding of God our Father. May God bless us all as we dive further into his Word.
This week we hear more about how God's people live in light of being chosen as God's people. The Old Testament reading describes a life for the children of Israel that is different than Egypt, where they came from and Canaan, where they are going. Paul continues his letter to the Corinthians talking about building carefully on the foundation that is Christ and instructing them not to put their hope and trust in people and things that are temporary but rather in the one that continues forever. Finally, in our gospel reading Jesus shows us how to live our lives as the salt and light of the world.
Old Testament: Leviticus 19:1--2, 9--18
Epistle Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:10--23
Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:38--48
This week we're hit with some difficult readings assigned to us through the lectionary. In Deuteronomy Moses is giving the Israelites the choice between walking in God's ways and receiving life, or turning toward other gods and facing death. Paul continues to sort out the conflict in the Corinthian church and Jesus takes the commandments and shares their true meaning. When he's done there is no one left who is guiltless. Check it out!
Think, for a moment, about your friends and those people who you most often associate. What do they have in common? Odds are you probably all think alike and are ideologically close together. That seems to be the way that we congregate. We find people who share perspectives and ideas that are similar to ours and we call them our friends.
Why do we do this? Probably because it is comfortable. You have to think a little bit less when everyone else thinks the same way that you do. You're not challenged to critically think about your position.
It is interesting because we assume that everyone had or should have had the same experience growing up that we did. If they didn't then there must be something wrong, they must be a little strange. I know you don't actually think that, but the subconscious seems to and it influences what you do.
In my church body one of our favorite things to argue about is the style of worship on Sunday morning. Should it follow a traditional format or should it be more contemporary? (Note: Just to be clear -- This post isn't about the merits of either position in that discussion)
One thing that I've noticed in these conversations is that people who participate in them often assume that most people grew up with their style and that, for that reason, should consider it to be the norm. Because they've only experienced one type of service their whole life, they seem unable to find value in any different style. This makes the conversations challenging because the discussion is no longer based on the merit of the content or the style or what it communicates, but rather it devolves into an issue of personal preference. We want people who are just like us rather than discussing the deeper theological points about what worship is and how it is faithfully practiced.
I think that having a diverse spectrum of friends is great. My Facebook newsfeed is incredibly interesting. It ranges from the far left to the far right and includes many moderate folks too. This gives me many different perspectives on a wide range of topics and helps me to understand the various opinions and struggles that people have with different issues.
With all of these different perspectives, critical thinking becomes very important to help process through all the positions. Devoting one's self to is critical thinking is a challenging but necessary part of life. When we choose to no longer critically think about things, it becomes very easy to get carried away by the current of whatever is popular. This current will drag you along with the crowd and drop you off wherever you feel most comfortable -- usually around the people who are just like you.
Critical thinking is important to me and I will write more about it later. Right now I'd encourage you to find a friend who has a different position on a mutually important topic and take some time to understand your friend's position. You don't have to agree with it, but in the process of understanding it, you will not only better understand them but you will also better understand yourself.
You may have heard the question asked before, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" It is sometimes asked in order to be silly and other times asked as a metaphor for a situation where two things are related and one is trying to figure out which thing came first.
Today is what is known in the Church as Good Friday. It is the day when we remember Jesus being crucified on a cross, dying, and being placed into a tomb. It is a somber day of reflection and remembrance as we prepare for the joy that comes on Easter Sunday.
I stopped by the mall today to grab food from Raising Cane's which just opened yesterday. I hadn't eaten there since I left Texas and was excited to see that one was opening here in St. Louis. It struck me while I was at the mall that you would have never been able to tell that today was Good Friday by all of the hustle and bustle there. The whole place was busy and people were coming and going, seemingly oblivious to what today signifies. Now I'm sure that many of them are non-Christians who may not know or even care about Good Friday. But how about the Christians? Is this just another day to "clock in" at Church if you feel like going? Or is it a day for more than that? Do the Christians even know the significance of this day?
It got me thinking about how the trend in many churches is to play down the significance of many historic practices. In my own church body, the practice has become to celebrate "Passion Sunday" the week before Easter rather than simply "Palm Sunday". On Passion Sunday a church will briefly talk about the Palm Sunday processional, but the rest of the service will be focused on the passion week account of Jesus' last days. More than one cynical person has said that we do this because people don't show up for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services anymore and they need to see Jesus die before they can come back on Easter and see him rise again. Whether this is the true motivation or not, I have no idea.
It makes me wonder, though, if we downplay the significance of these events because people lost interest in them or if people lost interest in them because we downplayed their significance. I think a lot of times we want to believe that it is the first one and that we're just catering to people where they're at. I wonder sometimes if it isn't the second one. If we, as a church, are responsible for peoples' interest or lack of interest in what God has done for them and if we have created a generation of people who don't see much difference between their "Church life" and their "home life".
I don't have an answer for this and I think it is something that would be hard to prove either way, but I think it is worth thinking about.
Community and community development have been a big part of my life for at least the last 10 years as I've worked and studied at various institutions of higher education. Once I started working in residential life my main job became community developer. Both as a student staff member and professional staff member I was responsible for connecting with the students in my building and helping them to connect with each other so that the community would grow and be successful.
The interesting thing I found was that a community would develop with or without my staff or I intervening. The problem was that the community that developed didn't always turn out to be a positive community. Sometimes community developed around underage alcohol use, drug use or vandalism. This was quite a bit different than the community that we hoped to develop around shared interests, common academic goals, and civic engagement. In other cases, both communities formed and tried to coexist with various levels of success.
I'm thinking about community this week for two reasons. First, my current institution has just announced that they are lifting the requirement that all single students live on campus. The fact that this is a graduate school and that all of the students have at least had 4 years of undergraduate experience and some have had other careers makes this announcement not surprising. We currently allow married students to live on or off campus depending on where they can find space. I think it will be a nice opportunity for those who wish to have more space and flexibility to find a place near campus to live. My only concern is the impact that it will have on community. One rationale for the initial requirement was that it would form a communal bond among the students that were living on campus. Now that this requirement no longer exists, it will be interesting to see if a divide appears between the on campus and off campus students in a similar way that it has between single students and married students. There's no malice in this divide, it is simply the reality of living at a distance from each other and not having regular interactions. We used to tell students who were considering moving into a residence hall with communal bathrooms that they would be amazed by how many people they got to know simply because they had to walk down the hallway to brush their teeth.
My second reason for thinking about community struck me as I was eating dinner recently. I realized how many places I've lived and how easily I slide in and out of different communities. There have been communities that I've felt closer to and some that I felt more at a distance. I was thinking about how nice it is to have a supportive community in which you're able to be included.
The fact that community formed regardless of the "professional" staff's involvement and the way I see over and over again people trying to fit into a community makes me understand how desperately each and every one of us wants to be a part of a larger community. You may say, "But I'm an introvert, I just like being by myself." I won't argue with that. As extroverted as I am, I still enjoy quiet time every now and then.
I think community takes many forms. It can be a large group of people that you associate with or it can be a couple of close friends that you're able to rely on. I'm not sure you always have to experience community in person. Some people can find community through TV commentators who share a similar perspective or online communities. Some cultures have very close knit communities that include generations of the same families living with generations of other families.
We were created to live in community, perfect community with each other and with God. Sin destroyed that perfect community and has left us trying to pick up the pieces ever since. That's why our communities always disappoint us. It may not be intentionally. It can be by what they don't do rather than what they do, but it never seems to fail that we are let down at some point.
Sometimes people think that the church is a perfect community. When they have this idea, they are often disappointed at the first time that there is conflict or strife within the church. They think that the church is being hypocritical and get upset. That's the unfortunate reality, though. There will be no perfect communities, the church included, this side of the end of the age. What the church does have, however, is forgiveness through Christ so that its members may be reconciled with each other. That's the best community I can think of!
With those words the Roman Catholic Church announces to the world that they have selected a new pope. It's a chance for the media to give us a mini Latin lesson and for folks who don't know Latin to attempt to decipher the rest of the phrase and learn who the new pope is before it is translated into English.
I found myself watching the papal announcement because I had just sat down to eat lunch in front of the TV when the white smoke appeared. Now, between the time the white smoke appears and the time the world actually gets know who he is there are quite a number of things that he needs to do which means that it can seem like an eternity before the world gets to find out the identity of the new pope.
This gave me a little time to think and then I realized that the church had the perfect reality show before reality shows were cool.
Just think about it:
I'm sure there are more ways but as the suspense was building this was all I could think about. Now that the new pope has been selected it will be interesting to see how he contributes to the Roman Catholic Church and world Christianity.
My name is Tom. I'm fascinated by the ways that people, ideas, current events and theology interact with each other.