Why Go To Church?

“All things are possible for the one who has faith.”
Mark 9:23 (Common English Bible)
     Why go to church? This is a question that is increasingly asked today. Decades ago there was a promise that as technology continued to advance, lifestyles would find increased time for leisure and rest. Technology has advanced – and continues at a blazing speed no one ever anticipated – but our lives have become more difficult, more stressed and terribly deficient of rest. Meaningful participation in church is simply “one more thing” in an already crowded life. Indeed, one may ask, why go to church?
     The best answer is that church will provide what is most urgently needed today, faith and hope and love. People are weary. With weariness comes fear and apprehension. Difficulties and problems result in many who live defeated lives. Meaningful participation in church and the practical application of the Christian faith has an enormous capacity to lighten our burdens, soothe our anxieties and order our lives. Those who go to church regularly discover a life that is better than they ever imagined. The reason, simply, is that through a pattern of living that applies the Christian faith, Christ takes-up residence in our lives.
     Many are not aware of this simple truth that Christ will come into their lives, into their hearts and into their minds if they simply ask him to. The answer for much that disturbs the human heart and mind today is simply the indwelling Christ. I have personally discovered Christ’s power to transform the individual by renewing confidence and hope in the future regardless of the present circumstances. Christ will guide us in the solution of our problems, whatever they may be.
     What do I mean by practical Christianity? I mean the opposite of intellectual consent to the teachings of Jesus. I mean that right belief does not change a life. Satan believes correctly in the promises of Jesus Christ. He is still the devil! What I mean by practical Christianity is living purposefully and intentionally into a relationship with the living Christ. No life will be changed, nor will they ever have victory and power, unless they find Christ personally. Such a fruitful relationship is begun – and nourished regularly – by going to church.



Who Needs God?

“But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof.
Just say the word and my servant will be healed.’”
 Matthew 8:8 (Common English Bible)
     Living without God is not a recent invention. From the beginning of history women and men have heard the whisper, “Who needs God?” It was there in the third chapter of Genesis when Satan – having taken the form of a snake – asked the question of the woman, Eve. The question has disturbed every person since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden. How many of us can honestly confess to a desperate need for God? How real a factor is the thought of God in the common moments of each day?
     It is my experience that for many people, God resides in the peripheral rather than occupying a central place in their lives. If our felt need for God becomes only occasional we learn, moment by moment and day by day, to live without God. Eventually, it isn’t a big step to live entirely without any thought of God. Many who have moved to this place may reject having someone identifying them as an atheist but, in truth, God is no longer real. David H. C. Read once shared that some people in his New York City congregation have confessed that having missed worship and prayer for extended months, life went on much as usual. The question presses, “Who needs God?”
     Perhaps the real question in play is, “What is important to us?” If we decide in our hearts that material success, the acquiring of wealth and comfort, is to be our supreme goal, then God may be irrelevant: we don’t need God. Make no mistake; there is nothing at all wrong with success – even financial success. It is a question of what is most important. Do we seek to be caught-up in something bigger than ourselves; to be fully engaged with the purposes of God or do we ultimately live for ourselves? If we are totally dedicated to material success, asserts David H. C. Read, then we don’t need God. We have one.
     Here in Matthew’s Gospel a centurion realizes a need for God. One of his servants is desperately ill and there is nothing that the centurion’s wealth, position and power can do for the servant. The centurion realizes that he is without the resources that are required. The centurion approaches Jesus and asks for a word of grace, a word that would do for the servant what the centurion is incapable of doing. When the centurion declares to Jesus, “Lord, I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof,” it is a declaration that the centurion has been living without God. Now he has awakened to the need that has been there all the time. The centurion needs God. And at that very moment the servant was made well.

Eyes of Faith

They asked, “Isn’t this Jesus, Joseph’s son, whose mother and father we know?”
How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
John 6:42 (Common English Bible)
     It rarely occurs to us that the ordinary can be a door through which heaven opens to earth. If something comes from heaven it must come in an unusual way, through some mysterious and unfamiliar channel. Heaven and earth are not usually viewed as being in communication. Certainly the Old Testament does witness to God’s use of prophets to speak. But ordinarily heaven and earth stand quite apart. God and humanity live two distinct and different lives.
     This was the thinking that caused some to question the authority of Jesus, “Isn’t this Jesus, Joseph’s son, whose mother and father we know?” How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” This is “Bible-speak” for ordinary; Jesus was born to ordinary people just as we all were. Yet, Jesus declares he has come down from heaven. It simply doesn’t follow that the familiar can be heavenly, the ordinary the activity of the divine. And it is this thinking today that diminishes our own expectation of the sacred in the midst of our ordinary lives. We do not expect a divine encounter in our ordinary existence.
     Jesus believed that heaven and earth were in constant communication. God is always in touch and intervening in the lives of God’s children. What is necessary for us are eyes of faith, eyes that see the portals of heaven open wide and that God is continually coming into our ordinary lives, transforming them into the extraordinary. Jesus says as much when he responds to Peter’s declaration of Jesus’ Lordship that this confession of faith was not Peter’s only, but God’s witness through him, “no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you.” (Matthew 16:17)
     Here, in this passage, we are invited to look once more for the possibility of the sacred in the ordinariness of life. Familiarity, if it doesn’t breed contempt, at least removes the surprise.  If we can account for something we at once conclude that God has nothing to do with it.  God is kept as a last resort for events otherwise inexplicable. Yet, here in John’s Gospel, we are reminded that through the common life of Joseph and Mary, God did break forth into the world.

When Faith is Difficult

“We can’t find goodness anywhere.”
Psalm 4:6 (Common English Bible)
      If there remains anyone who argues that the Bible isn’t relevant for today they have demonstrated that they haven’t paid attention to the Bible – not close attention anyway. Is there anything more timeless than the agonizing cry, “We can’t find goodness anywhere?”  Each morning our minds are disturbed by the growing threat of the militant Islamic group, ISIS, the conflict between Israel and Palestine and the racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Beneath these attention getting headlines is the less mentioned but continuing concern of the growing wealth gap in our country and the millions in our nation who struggle daily to simply have enough. There are no snappy answers to the painful question of human struggle.
     It is well that the Bible does not offer a quick and pre-fabricated answer to this despairing cry. And it is best for us to refrain from such a temptation. First, we are not free to indulge in any cynical or dismissal attitudes such as, “Well, that’s life,” or, “Bad things just happen.” As followers of Jesus we are baptized into the common confession that our lives are in the hands of God, and that this God is a God of love. Second, we don’t occupy some place between God and the struggle of humanity. Not one of us has some special insight into the mysterious work of God in the midst of our common difficulty. Each of us must sweat it out with everyone else.
     What remains is a prayer: “Lord, show us once more the light of your face.”  This is the prayer of the Psalmist and nothing new can be added. The prayer is the same today as it was yesterday, fresh and urgent. It is as new as the earthquake that shook the San Francisco Bay Area a few days ago and the agony that kept someone awake last night. It is new when we utter it personally, today. No devotional, not one inspirational book can answer the plea, the emotional depth of that prayer.
      On our knees we pray. If we listen in the silences between our words the Holy Spirit reminds us that God was never absent in the horrors of human life in the Bible – nor will God be absent today. On the Via Dolorosa – the way of the cross – in Jerusalem, God was very present in the heart of human misery giving, giving and giving himself, so that after this there would be no fear, no despair and no doubt of God’s love. The cry, “We can’t find goodness anywhere,” still sounds in the streets of our communities. We live with it and we hear it echo in our souls. But the Spirit helps us recall the suffering of Christ – a suffering accepted out of Christ’s love for us. It is a love that will work for the good of all those who love him.