Friday, September 18, 2009

A Gentle Rebuke

The internet is a funny thing.  People tend to feel less inhibited--and often, a little meaner--when they are safe behind their computers making comments than when they are talking to someone face to face. 

I'm no different (although I'm proud to say that in the 2+ years of watching videos on YouTube, not once have I used the proverbial "you suck" comment).  But just this morning I received a gentle rebuke and immediate conviction that it is wrong for me to post things on this blog that I wouldn't be willing to say to someone's face.  Most of my "ranting" posts have been about general frustrations that don't necessarily apply to one specific church or one specific person.  But a few of my posts did criticize a specific person, and I regret that I did that.  I'm rather bad at that "be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" thing.  I think I'm going to include a "be slow to blog about it" caveat as well.  

Thus, I've edited a couple posts to remove material that was critical and judgmental of specific people.  If I've missed something, please bring it to my attention.  In the future, I'm going to refrain from using specific people as the fodder for my frustration.  In other words, if I wouldn't say it to their face, then I'm not going to post it here.  And I trust you'll hold me to that.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Healthcare and the Church

When I started this blog, I had intended to address political topics once in awhile.  I obviously haven't done that.  I used to be a political junkie of sorts, but I've grown so weary of trying to keep up with the current debates and legislation.  Politics will never save us, obviously, so it's hard for me to continually devote time and energy to the process.  Still, I think it's important for Christians to be engaged, thoughtful citizens.

But one doesn't have to be paying much attention to politics to know that the healthcare debate is a-raging and will continue for some time.  I honestly don't know what to make of the mess.  Our current system is broken, no doubt about it, but I don't know the best way to fix it. 

My husband is a nurse practitioner whose patients are generally low income and usually do not have health insurance.  It saddens me to hear of patients who have treatable medical conditions that go untreated because they can't afford to buy the medicine, have the procedures done, and so forth.  Thus a treatable problem deteriorates into even more severe medical issues.  Then it's only a matter of time until they have a heart attack  or a stroke or some other severe medical event that lands them in the E.R. (or they attempt suicide because they can no longer endure the pain.  It happens far more regularly than we would like to admit.)  I don't think anyone would dispute the fact that preventative medicine is far less costly both in terms of money and quality of life.

I've heard conservative Christians put up a lot of resistance to Obama's healthcare plan, but I haven't heard a lot of alternatives offered.  I don't want to debate the pros and cons of nationalized healthcare.  I do want to know why we accuse Obama of trying to covertly fund abortions by withholding healthcare from the elderly, but we don't seem to give a rip about the fact that every day, in our communities, children don't check-ups when they need them, adults don't treat their diabetes because they can't afford it, and immigrants get abysmal care just because they can't speak English fluently.  Churches could find lots of ways to minister to their community in the healthcare field-- host health screening clinics, help fund non-profit clinics to low income families, help families pay for medicine and doctor visits, teach community health classes, pay for someone to get their cavities filled, and so forth.  In general, I've seen Christians rally together to help support someone in a time of a sudden medical crises (cancer, car accident, etc.), but there doesn't seem to be a lot of thought going into ministering to people in preventative medicine.  

Obviously, this is a big charge, but it's one I think the church could handle.  Our community hosts a huge dental clinic once a year-- they use the sports arena, and dentists from around the area volunteer to see people for free.  They treat what they can at the arena, and more serious cases are scheduled for follow-up.  The place is filled to overflowing with people who couldn't afford to see a dentist all year long.  

I just get so frustrated that we either 1) keep waiting for the government to save us or 2) criticize the government every time it attempts to help the people we are content to ignore.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Essential Elements of a Church Service

My brother always joked that he was a Presbyterian dressed in Southern Baptist clothing.  He even pastored a Southern Baptist church for a time.  But he and his family recently joined a PCA church, and they couldn't be happier.

I spent a few years in a Presbyterian church, sandwiched in between my Baptist and independent Bible church years.  I really grew to love the liturgy.  I suppose if one grew up with it or did it long enough, it would get dry and stale.  But I loved the intentionality of it and the "meatiness" it built into the service.  If the sermon stunk, at least you had Bible reading, prayer, confession of sin, and worship all built in.  I realize that many churches have moved away from liturgy because it was becoming a hindrance for some people-- it lacked spontaneity, it seemed too rigid and contrived, and so forth.  People wanted to leave room for the "Spirit to move," or, at the very least, the freedom to mix it up on occasion. 

But lack of liturgy becomes its own liturgy.  We still sing x number of songs, do announcements, do x number of songs, take the offering, throw in some quick prayers, have a sermon, quick prayer to wrap it up, then leave.  Isn't that a structure built in to every worship service?  Can that not also become stale?

I have privately bemoaned many churches' pitiful lack of meaningful prayer during worship services for some time now.  We tend to use prayer as a filler and a transitionary device:  "Song is done, thus let us pray for 30 seconds to give the pastor time to get to the pulpit to preach."  I remember a few months back when one of our assistant pastors prayed, he actually prayed.  He prayed for the world, he prayed for us, he confessed corporate sin on our behalf, and he took his good old time with it.  I started crying, it was so refreshing.

[Original post edited here to remove disrespectful attitude towards a specific person.] Another essential element we are missing from our church services is SILENCE.  To corporately allow God time to speak to our hearts and allow time for us to confess and worship him in silence is a valuable thing that is often overlooked.

I know many of these issues are a matter of preference.  There is no right or wrong way to order a service (well, there may be some wrong ways!).  My pet peeves may be someone else's favorite part of the service.  For instance, I can't stand the "tinkly piano music" that often accompanies prayer and the last minute of a sermon as the pastor gets really serious and starts hammering home his point.  I'm a musician, and my mind immediately focuses on the music, not what is being said.  I also know that music is a great manipulator of emotions, and what one might mistake for the Holy Spirit was really the swelling transition from the minor sixth back to the root chord.  (Or, to quote Derek Webb, "I don't want the Spirit, I want the kick drum.") But other people like that tinkly piano music.  It helps them focus their thoughts and examine their hearts.  If it's doing something for somebody, well, then, I can suck it up and deal with it.

But opinions and preferences aside, there has to be some elements that are essential to every worship service.  I'm rather ignorant as far as church history and liturgy in this regard, so these are just things that I assume are important:  worship and confession through prayer, worship and confession through song and silence, worship through offerings (monetary or otherwise), the reading and exposition of scripture, and the edification of believers.  How those things are accomplished could certainly vary.  And I'm probably missing some things.

So, what elements do you think are essential to a church service?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.