Monday, May 17, 2021

No one is special?

Looking into myself I realise that there is an in built positive bias. 

Immediately I know that some may say, hang on, I despise myself, I wish I were dead.

Even that I interpret as a reaction to the disappointment that we are not special, or the breaking of the bubble of self love.

It's not wrong to self love, it's simply wrong to assume we deserve it. Self love is our normal setting as humans, I think.

As a Christian, I believe in the depravity of man, that all of us are inherently evil, or rebellious. 

Given a situation of "me verses someone else", if my life depended on it, I will most often choose me. I don't want to put this to the test, but even as a relatively mature Christian, I see more than glimpses of this at work in me, even now.

So back to my point,

none of us are special. Yes we all have different gifts and abilities and interests and personalities, which are wonderful snd purposeful and right to share with each other, but these gifts, though they may, from time to time, reach a certain favour with people, or the media, and receive a certain honour (which lifts certain people with those gifts to a higher level, so to speak) before God, those gifts do not bring favour, in my opinion. 

For example, athleticism, musical ability, a beautiful voice, beauty in appearance, intelligence, strength, and many other characteristics and abilities, from time to time, receive praise and popularity. It makes the person with those attributes special, with both positive and negative consequences.

Positive advantages is what we expect our special abilities to bring, as some of these gifts are valued in many ways, but with popularity and fame and money come other effects which are actually negative.

But putting aside the more extreme examples of these gifts, the less famous amongst us still are prone to carrying our particular gifts as medals which we might display to our advantage at particular times. If nothing else, it gives us a reason to feel good about ourselves.

I say that because, as I said before, I believe that we are all born sinners, rebels, fist shakers at God, deluded self directors (by that I mean that we think we have the ability to rule our own lives, when in fact self rule is actually rule by idols, demons and ultimately, satan. Again, not everyone would see it this way).

So being born with original sin we are prone to a deep insecurity which, in my opinion, is the seed of all insecurity and drives a lot of our self-bettering attempts.

We use our gifts and abilities to help reassure ourselves that we are not that bad and certainly better than most.

And when our gifts are not appreciated as we think they ought, we can take it very personally and become angry, sometimes very angry. Our anger unmasks our insecurity. Again I see this in myself.

But if we accepted that we are not that special, we would possibly find life less stressful. Certainly we would be a bit more humble and easier to deal with. 

But how can we be satisfied with ordinary, even bland existence? Surely the answer relates to our being loved. If we are loved, and we love others, then we are special, gifts or no gifts, success or failure, pretty or ugly, young or old, strong or weak, etc etc.

Being loved implies being part of a family. Gods family. If God loves us, then when books are opened, and the book of life is revealed, then we are secure in the ordinary lives we have led, despite the sin and rebellion that Satan will bring up before our God.

If God is for us, who can be against us? That truth is more than sufficient for every circumstance now, and into the future. Praise be to our God and Saviour the Lord Jesus.

Monday, May 10, 2021

What can we do to get our church going?

This is an interesting but confronting question.
There are so many assumptions and presumptions potentially implied, even if asked honestly and relatively innocently. I write this as a member of a small rural congregation in decline.

Firstly there is the assumption that a small and elderly church is clearly in need of a boost. And the opposite being that a large and diverse congregation with many young people present is necessarily healthy.

Is this a normal and safe assumption?

Are there examples of small churches being healthy and large ones being very unhealthy?

Do we always equate large and numerically successful as blessed by God (and doctrinally safe)?

Do good churches age, dwindle and then die never to be heard from again? Or do good  churches simply keep on going because God blesses "good" churches with perpetuity? (The fact that most of the geographic churches written to in the letters of the new testament no longer exist as congregations or denominations is interesting. It does not disqualify the letters.)

Does a denomination have to continue on perpetually to be proved as bone-fide (no pun intended)? Does the death of a congregation or a denomination prove its error or inadequacy?

Might God allow a whole movement to be wiped out by means of disaster, or simple ageing? Might he also allow relatively poor theologically based movements to thrive?

And what of a particular gathering in a particular building?

Does legitimate faith mean that a congregation must continue to thrive in a particular building?

Does the loss of congregation and an empty church building signify failure of the church, or the denomination, the community, or the truth of Christianity?

And does a new building and a growing congregation imply true teaching and true service of God?

And what actually grows a congregation in postmodern Australia, or anywhere else?

The desirable answer is unconverted people coming to faith and then making Sunday worship at a church building with a particular congregation a regular habit.

But truly, in Australia, how much of that is the true reason for church growth?

What of christian people marrying and having children who carry on the faith as they grow up within a church? Sadly many church kids leave christian habits. Many families have few children, which is a western norm, somewhat dictated to by culture and economy(this is a whole topic in itself). And some couples choose not to have children at all.

And what of the many people who have a Christian heritage, some becoming more convinced of the importance of practicing their faith and then simply deciding to attend church? Is this conversion or confirmation?

And what of the simple movement of people of faith from one congregation to another?

Surely this is the major reason for changes in congregation size in Australia?

And whatever factors come into it, people of faith can be swayed to change congregation.
The reasons may include a change of geography for job opportunities. In smaller rural communities, children grow up and often leave permanently, for reasons of employment.

But other factors like style of worship, being child friendly, theology, inclusivity, exclusivity, etc may come into play.

Of course people become deeply hurt by perceived lack of love or failure in expected behaviours within a congregation. Scandals may alienate people as can progressive or fundamental teaching. Changes in all of these things test the loyalty of a congregation. People do become hurt, and do express this through a cessation of attending or a move to a different congregation.

People also die. Sometimes they are even martyred.

But an important question is, who is a congregation or an individual actually loyal to?

The minister?
The other congregants?
The denomination?
The building?
The accumulated funds?

To God? 

Does that imply attendance at one specific building?

Have we ever asked the simple question as to why a particular individual attends a particular congregation, and especially, why they continue attending a particular congregation? The answers I have heard include "My parents were married here, my wife was buried here, my father built the pews, etc. While I'm alive I will never leave this building!

These are all interesting questions.

It is easy to visit an old, small congregation and pick out the problems, just like it is easy to physically push over an elderly person.

But being elderly and frail as a congregation does not logically equate with failure in Gods eyes. And pushing over an elderly person may be easy, but it certainly is not acceptable.

Jobs' suffering (in the old testament) was not due to his moral failure.

Is it an important goal to keep a congregations numbers above a certain threshold? And what determines that threshold?

To whose advantage is that status quo?

Does a small and ageing congregation imply a failure in the witness of that congregation?

What of the effect of major denominational shifts in teaching? And of the continual change in ministers appointments? Forcing people to move on within 3-5 years even when things are going well?

Is it a fair assumption or expectation that a healthy congregation will thrive in spite of changes in leadership?

Is it notable that the most populous christian denomination has, until recently, kept its leader, once chosen, in place for life?

Yes, I am a member of a small rural congregation of the uniting church. Yes, I have become somewhat wounded at people coming to our congregation and implying that somehow the smallness of numbers and lack of children is our responsibility. Yes, I am saddened and distressed by the progressive theology our denomination embraces, testing the loyalty of people like myself to my local congregation and denomination.

As Christians, we all need to be be ready, even eager to share the reason for the hope that is in us. But let us not put burdens on each other that are not godly. (Like the Israelites being given larger quotas for bricks by the Egyptians)

Rather let us continue to meet and worship our wonderful God and ask him to direct our steps as individuals and congregations within our community.

And let us trust God, that he births, builds and maintains his church, and that the gates of hell will not prevail against her.