Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Current History

Do you ever find yourself caught between culture and history? I do, all the time. I love the depth of historical Christianity and the newness, the passion, of what God is doing right now, today, in my generation. These aren’t at odds with each other, but sometimes it seems like it. To me, this ‘conflict’ personifies itself in music.

I love the lyrics of the old hymns. Not the ‘hymns’ of the past forty years, but the true hymns centuries old. I love the fast, hard music of the youth. I don’t want an organ dominating the music at youth group, though there is a time and place when the organ is beautiful. Guitars and drums are no less beautiful, they just satisfy a different setting.

I hate archaic King Jimmy. I’m not looking for ‘thees’ and ‘thous.’ Those do not connect with the culture or serve a purpose in their distance (i.e., they are not more holy). In many ways, Old English is a different language than that of teenagers and adults today. Language is not the issue; what I am looking for is depth. I’m no fan of 7-11 choruses: 7 times repeating 11 words. There is so much more to ‘love God with all your mind’ than engaging in theological debates over obscure verses that don’t really matter.

My love of the hymns may be more of a personal preference than anything. (I’m the weird kind of kid who would rather write a paper than do a poster. I expressed this in class today to one of my friends, and she quickly offered to do all my posters this year if I would write her papers.) However, I believe the hymns are more than that. There is a sense of unity with the Global Church, reaching across time and space, when you sing words penned by a Christian who loved God and struggled with sin just like me 300 years ago. When you think that Christians all over the world have agreed with the words and used them to aid in worship for hundreds of years, there is comfort in that. And there is hope in knowing that those same believers who have gone before us ran their race and now cheer us on from the cloud of witnesses.

Hymns were once contemporary music that was controversial in that they weren’t Gregorian chants or the like. The lyrics are born out of theology and the struggles of real life. They are filled with emotion and overflowing with Scripture integrated into the words. Are there exceptions? Sure, of course, just like there are modern songs that are spiritually worthless.

I’m looking for a balance. I don’t want to live in the past, cause God is doing too many exciting things right now to live buried in what He did in 600 years ago. It is also stupid to ignore the some 2000 years of church history after the NT ends. Were they perfect? No, but we can learn from the men and women of God who struggled with the same things we face today, in different packaging. There is nothing new under the sun. C.S. Lewis says it is similar to joining a conversation hours after it began. Even familiarity with the discussion topic will not make up for the conversation that occurred before you arrived. You will still be missing pieces of the puzzle.

Worship is not about music or style or anything external. I should be able to worship God while I’m hauling rocks for His glory or when I’m singing to music I don’t personally enjoy. Worship is about my heart glorifying God. Corporate worship is about making Jesus more beautiful and believable and real in our lives. If I am not willing to worship in any setting, does God really have my heart?

God does not change. The way He relates to us and they way we relate to Him hasn’t changed in 2000 years. His character demands that we worship Him. Our lives should demonstrate our response to who He is. On an eternal scale, nothing else matters!

(But sometimes I just like to rant.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bubbles of Christendom and Culture

Bubbles are dangerous things. They do not give an accurate perception of the world. As I strive to be more and more like Jesus, I realize that His perspective is often radically different from my own. I want my heart to line up with His, and this often requires that different bubbles within my life be ruptured.

These are three things that I've read in the past week. They convince me of the shallowness of my culture and convict me to live in such a way to be counter-culture.

Hurricane Dean is bearing down with full force on Jamaica and the Caribbean. My brother loves meteorology, and as we were watching an update on the storm, the newscaster was commenting how these storms are tragic for many tourists who cannot continue their vacations. There was no mention of the thousands of people living in extreme poverty just yards from the extravagance of the resorts.

A quote featured in World Magazine grabbed my attention.
"Too many youth groups are holding tanks with pizza. There's no life transformation taking place." Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, on a survey by the group that found seven in 10 young Protestants who went to church regularly in high school quit attending by age 23.

That quote leads into my next point of frustration. I was flipping through a catalog put out by Willow Creek Association and this page caught my eye.

The graphs give 'The Top Five Reasons People Begin to Explore Christianity,' 'The Top Five Reasons People First Came to Their Church,' and 'Spiritual Behaviors.'

In the first graph, over half of the people beginning to explore Christianity did so because they grew up in church. The next options were "I felt something was missing in my life." and "I was searching for a higher purpose." Coming in 4th, at just under 20%, was "I was inspired by the way a Christian I knew lived his/her life." This means we aren't reaching the unchurched. We can't truly grow as a body if we aren't reaching new people. We won't reach people unless they see us living in such a way that we reflect the glory of God.

The last graph shows just over 50% of "Christ-Centered" people tithe, around 40% serve once a week, and less than 40% of Christ-Centered people "have six or more meaningful spiritual conversations per year with non-Christians." The other categories of "Close to Christ," "Growing in Christ," and "Exploring Christianity" decrease steadily.

The middle graph was predictable, but I was surprised by the first and third. I don't know how this data was collected or what it all means. I have by no means mastered any of these topics. I don't go out of my way to share the gospel like I should, and I'm trying to work on this area of my life. But if over 60% of the American church's strongest Christians don't have at least 6 spiritual conversations with non-Christians each year-only one every two months- the church is in trouble!

I'm not perfect. I have many bubbles I would much rather hide in rather than face the truth. But if the American Church wants to reach people, if we want to live as Jesus lived, we have to get out of our bubbles, get out of the walls of our church buildings. We have to take the gospel to our world. It won't come to us.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Preschool World Travelers

I was reading an article in the Dallas Morning News today entitled "Seeing the world with kids: Parents debate the best age for children to travel abroad." It was written from a purely secular, sightseeing view, but it had some interesting points.

"But Ms. Wheeler said that even if her children, who are now adults, don't remember their first trip to Nepal. they got something else out of their early travels. "I honestly think that it gave them an attitude for life because they learned to be very flexible," she said."

I would definitely agree with this, though I know some people who are experienced travelers and rather un-flexible. There are many benefits of traveling even without a spiritual dimension.

"If they're 4 or under, they might not remember seeing the Mona Lisa and feel the significance of that in the same way that an older child will. But a 4-year-old or 2-year-old will remember the sense of adventure, excitement, and growing curiosity all tied to the sense of travel. You're cultivating that adventurous, curious spirit."

Even more important than an adventurous, curious spirit, the love of God and His people all around the world was cultivated in my heart at an early age. The Holy Spirit began to stir in my heart a calling to missions.

My parents had a theory, and this theory ruined all hopes of normal childhood for our family. Their theory? You can't raise world Christians from within the bubble of suburbia. They have prayed that my brother and I would be world travelers with a heart for missions since before we were born. Since our births, they have gone out of their way to see that we experience what God is doing around the world. This was accomplished by hearing missionaries speak about their experiences, and taking us to the mission field so we could see it firsthand. My brother and I took our first missions trips as preschoolers. I was three when we went to Jamaica; he was four when we went to Russia.

Cultural and geographically changes do not go unnoticed by kids. Shortly after our return from Russia, the Elian Gonzales incident happened. My dad delights in recalling that as my brother and I heard the talking heads on the TV say he would be better off in Communist Cuba, my brother and I quickly refuted that by comparing formerly communistic Russia, which we had just seen, with America. At ages 5 and 9 we could easily see the massive problems of the Communist system, as manifested in the lives and problems of the everyday common people. An appreciation of our American system, and a longing to see justice and freedom for kids around the world, was already planted in our hearts. That kind of insight does not come from living within a bubble.

Looking back, I'm sure there were many moments when my parents thought traveling would be much easier without a pair of tired and argumentative kids. I'm also sure that many families don't feel called to do what my family did. However, I am extremely grateful that my parents didn't
"stick to the Disney and Carnival cruises until the kids are old enough to appreciate what they are seeing."

Even if I didn't absorb everything that happened as an adult would, my childhood and my worldview were forever impacted. My parents took the high road, and I am eternally grateful.

Harpaz, Beth J. "Seeing the world with kids." Dallas Morning News. 5 August 2007: 4I.