the All Our Minds project | On Going to Church

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the All Our Minds project | On Going to Church

For those of you who missed my last post, this is the start of a new series called the All Our Minds project. I’m asking anybody who’s interested—you included—to tell me their biggest question about Christianity. I’ll do some research and write a response to your question, which will hopefully lead to a healthy dialogue and a discovery of God’s Truth on the subject.
 
Okay, now that we’re all caught up—drumroll please.

And our first question of the series is…

If I pray every day and study the faith on my own but do not attend church, does this make me a "bad Christian"?
 
When I first saw this question, the part that immediately caught my eye was the term “bad Christian.” Let’s start there.
 
The terms “good Christian” and “bad Christian” get thrown around a lot and I’m not really convinced that they serve us well when we’re dialoguing about our faith. If any of us are calling ourselves “good Christians,” we’re probably glazing over at least a dozen areas where God is working to grow us. But thinking of ourselves as “bad Christians” could lead to futility and resignation, which isn’t helpful either.  
 
So rather than approaching this as a matter of “good Christian” vs. “bad Christian,” I’d like to think about this question in terms of how Jesus lived and how He calls us to relate to one another.
 
Jesus’ life and ministry on this earth is our tried-and-true example of a godly life. 1 John leaves us with this challenge: “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did” (2:6). Whenever we’re asking ourselves a question about the Christian lifestyle, this is the ground zero that we need to start at. How should I be living my life? The way that Jesus did. How did church fit into Jesus’ life? I’m so glad you asked.
 
When Jesus was just twelve years old, His parents accidentally left Him at the temple in Jerusalem… for three days. They finally found him “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Flustered, His parents asked Him why He had stayed behind.
 
“‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:49).
 
From that young age, spending time in His Father’s house was very important to Jesus—and it stayed that way throughout His ministry. In addition to actively praying for others and with others, involvement in the local faith community was central to Jesus’ life on this earth. Here are a few reasons why it’s central to ours too.  

A growing faith is relational

The New Testament makes it clear that the life of a Christ-follower is not one of isolation. In fact, quite the opposite—it’s all about relationships. Relationship with Christ. Relationships with fellow believers. Relationships with teachers, lepers and prodigal sons. 

Matthew 18:20 tells us, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Gathering with one another gives us a strength that we can’t have on our own. If we’re not relating to others and building life-giving relationships in our church community, we’re actually missing out on opportunities to grow spiritually. By investing in these relationships, our personal faith and views will be challenged, and thus sharpened.  

Accountability is key

I believe that God’s Word is infallible. Unfortunately for us, we as humans do not share that same quality. In other words, we bring all of our preconceptions, personal experiences and inherently flawed human logic to the Bible when we read it.

Since we all approach God’s Word from our own unique background, it’s important for us to have accountability and guidance in our interpretations. Proverbs 11:14 says “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” Most of us wouldn’t hold firmly to a conviction of any kind without hearing out some alternate perspectives. God’s Truth is objective, but we need the help of leaders and fellow believers to get to the heart of it. 

Now, for anybody who has ever been hurt or deceived by the church, this one might seem counterintuitive. The church is full of hypocrites. What kind of “accountability” can I really expect from them? Listen, I get it. I can’t write this piece without acknowledging that the church has some apparent shortcomings. Hear me out though…

C.S. Lewis writes “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” Beyond C.S. Lewis, the apostle Paul writes “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 

None of us are good. We’re all flawed. And as it turns out, flawed people dealing with other flawed people is actually a recipe for spiritual growth. Together, our collective shortcomings are illuminated, our hearts are humbled and our need for grace is evident. Many people are driven away from fellowship because they don’t want to face church politics or hypocrisy, but those vices are everywhere whether we like it or not. If we actively resist them by holding each other accountable in fellowship, we’re sharpened by the practice of loving our neighbor when it’s hard. 

We remind each other of the hope we have

Another part of accountability is encouragement. By encouraging you and being present amidst your hardships, I’m holding you accountable to the hope of Christ that lives in you. Hebrews 10:24-25 hits the nail on the head: 

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

When we gather as a community to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” we serve as living testimonies of the active hope we all have in Christ. If a brother or sister is struggling through a hard time, Paul says, “ Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). In his letter to the Corinthians, he says of the body of Christ, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is how we as the church are called to relate to one another. 

You’re a member of the body of Christ, which means you have a job to do

I’m going to let Romans 12:4-8 speak for itself on this one:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,  so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become part of His family. Each of us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, are gifted in different areas and have different strengths to share with our church community. That’s a big part of why it’s so important for us all to be actively engaged in church fellowship. Because are all united by a common love for Christ and a common desire to glorify Him—and we all have a role to play.

So now what?

Let’s say you don’t have a church that you attend regularly. Maybe you had one that you really loved and then you moved to a new place. Or maybe you’re a new Christian and just haven’t found a congregation that makes sense for you yet. 

Finding the right church can be challenging. Whenever I think about church searching, I remember this line from C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”:
 
Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.... the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic… (Letter #16).

In other words, it’s incredibly easy to indefinitely remain in the church search stage. Often times, it’s because we’re looking for a perfect blend of criterion that may or may not exist. In seasons when I’ve lived far from my home church, I’ve done the church search shuffle and there’s no sugar coating it—it’s tricky. 

I could probably write a whole post on this topic alone. Instead, I’ll just share what worked best for me: creating a list of my Tier One non-negotiable attributes that I needed in a church and working my way down from there. It helped me prioritize what mattered most while also managing my expectations.

There are plenty of people who go to church but don’t believe. Walking into a building every Sunday morning at 10 a.m. does not a faithful Christian make. But steering clear of the church altogether seems like a sure-fire way to miss out on chances to grow spiritually. As our faith grows, we draw closer to God—and isn’t that what this life is all about?

“Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). 

Resources:
www.biblegateway.com
www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-should-i-go-to-church
www.gotquestions.org/when-did-the-church-begin.html
www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/faith-in-life/prayer/learning-from-the-prayer-life-of-jesus

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An Introduction | The All OUR Minds Project

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An Introduction | The All OUR Minds Project

Matthew 22:37. “An oldie but a goodie” some might call it.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Whether it was on BibleGateway or in the “Wall Decor” aisle at Home Goods, most of us—Christian or not—have seen this verse somewhere at some point. I mean, Jesus went on record to cite this as His “first and greatest commandment,” so for the 21st century reader, it really has a way of sticking out in a 1200-page ancient manuscript.

A few weeks ago, those last four words—with all your mind—struck me in a new way. Loving God with all my mind means “[taking] captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ,” and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m falling short in this area (1 Corinthians 10:5). When I started thinking about how much of my brainpower is wasted on over-analyzing social interactions, worrying about the future, and comparing myself to others…well, it was just embarrassing. And we all know how motivating embarrassment can be.  

Alright, this is literally Jesus’ greatest commandment, I thought, and I know I’m missing out on a lot of chances to live it out. So I started brainstorming some new, tangible ways to redirect my brainpower and use my mind to better serve God and the people around me. That’s where the idea for a new writing project emerged.

If you’re reading this post right now, you probably know that I love writing about my faith. Throughout my spiritual walk as a Christian, writing has always given me a way to process through different questions or experiences I’ve had—and I know I’m not the only person with questions.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that most people—Christian and non-Christian—have questions about Christianity. How could we not? There are so many conflicting perspectives on just about every aspect of the Christian faith. The thought of sifting through all of them to find the root of God’s Truth can at times feel impossible, or at the very least, overwhelming. But I believe that dialogue with people of various opinions is the best way to arrive at true understanding.

So here it is. I’m calling it the All Our Minds project. I’m reaching out to people in my community–people like you—and asking them to share their biggest question about the Christian faith. Whether you're Christian or not, ask yourself "What part of the Bible or the Christian life is difficult for me to wrap my mind around?" As questions come in, I’ll begin digging for scripture-based responses and sharing my findings in posts right here on my blog. Other than me, nobody will know who submitted each question. Many of the people I’ve approached so far have asked if they can send more than one question—by all means, please do.

But it’s called the All OUR Minds project for a reason. I'll be sharing one response every two weeks, and my hope is that my initial post on each topic will be thought of as the beginning of a dialogue. If you read a response and think “How could she possibly think that?” or “What about this passage?” or “That reminds me of that one time I…,” don’t just keep those thoughts to yourself! Share them in the comments section below or privately through the CONTACT tab. The last thing I want is for this to become a space where I just slam the gavel on what God’s Truth is without considering the wisdom, perspectives and understanding of others. That’s why this exercise really only works if we’re in it together.  

Today’s culture is riddled with confusion and misunderstandings around what it means to be a Christian. I’m not a theologian, pastor, or seminary student, but I want to be a part of cutting through the noise to find and share the Truth. Will you join me?

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

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Great hope in the darkest valley

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Against my better judgment, I used to think that if I worked, tried or prayed hard enough, I could ward off all of the evil that the world threatens me with. If I gave my all at my job, saved enough each month, invested earnestly in my relationships, stayed involved in my church community, read my Bible and set goals for the future, I would be safe. In the clear. Untouchable.

Then, I started regularly interviewing homeless and formerly homeless people as part of my job. I’ve stopped being surprised by how much I learn from them during our conversations.  Each person I talk to has a unique story—one that scribbles far outside the lines of what I believed about homelessness before I met them.

I think it’s only fair to let their stories speak for themselves.

 

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Adam loved his wife.

Her prognosis was poor but inconclusive. She was strong and he was brave, so they fought it full force. The medical bills grew. The loans piled up. The kids asked questions. And her condition worsened.

When her heart gave out, Adam lost his wife and everything else. With an empty wallet, a mountain of debt, three grieving children, no daycare, and the feeling of infinite sorrow, he was consumed.

At that point, Adam had a lot to live for but not a lot of life left in him. Before long, he lost his home. He and his three children became homeless.

 

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Roy had finally “made it."

His childhood in Brooklyn wasn’t easy, but he chose hard work over the distractions. Joined the Marines. Started his career. Got married and had three children. He was well on his way to achieving the American dream until it all came crashing down. 

His wife dropped the bomb – she was leaving him for his best friend. She took the children and everything else including the home that they were about to move into.

After working so hard just to fall even harder, Roy started to give up. He became a homeless alcoholic and stayed that way for fifteen years before getting help.

 

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Marcia was a city bus driver.

For the first time since she had started driving her route, it was cancelled for the summer because the local college wasn't offering summer classes. Money was tight for those few months, but she got by with savings and odd jobs.

Right when she started to catch up on her bills, a shoulder injury did her in.  Physically unable to turn the steering wheel, Marcia’s livelihood was threatened.  As a single woman with no family close by, she had no money, no job, no support, and a severe injury.

In a matter of weeks, she was living on the streets.

 

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My chest tightens when I finally hear the truth that these stories are screaming in my ear: that we’re all one tragedy, heartbreak or mistake away from destruction.

And all of us heard that message loud and clear when a deranged retiree opened fire on thousands of innocent people in Las Vegas just last week. Some felt the bone-chilling terror of experiencing it first-hand. Others united in mournful fury as our morning newsfeeds affronted us with reports from the previous night’s massacre. Another fatal shooting. The worst in American history.

Along with acts of mass violence, an unthinkable number of natural disasters have hit many parts of the world since the start of 2017. This week, it's the Napa and Sonoma country fires, which have already devoured hundreds of homes along with hospitals, schools, wineries, local businesses and other structures. A picturesque place, filled with thousands of people who woke up late Sunday night to defend their lives, families and livelihoods.

In the wake of such devastation, we're painfully reminded that everything on this earth can be taken away in an instant. Our jobs. Our health. Our loved ones. Even our lives. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, we’re all living with the constant threat of sudden loss—and we all have different reactions to it. Numbness. Panic. Determination. Despondency.  And at the very core of any loss, we discover our frail lack of control, which can either humble us or break us.

Adam, Roy and Marcia–who are a lot more like you and me than we care to admit–are all people who lost something, lost their way and lost themselves.  None of us are immune to life’s ugliest hardships, so let’s stop pretending that we are.

 

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Now for the good news.

In time, Adam, Roy and Marcia all arrived at the same point: a moment of humility that reconciled each of them to their circumstances and granted them the will to move forward. They each sought help from local agencies and ultimately met the Lord in the midst of their hardships.

Here’s the loudest message I’ve heard after doing all of these interviews: true hope can only ever be found in the face of surrender.

That message challenges me to make a choice. On the one hand, I could choose to bemoan the fact that my pipe dream of control will always be just that. To live in the fear of circumstances outside of my control. Or maybe to seek control through excessive caution that slowly cripples me. I’m not making option one sound very good, am I?

Or, I could choose surrender. Give control to the One who already has it to begin with. Because even though I’m not immune to hardship, homelessness or the sheer evil of strangers, I’m also not immune to God’s unconditional grace. None of us are.

When Paul writes to the Corinthians about the thorn in His flesh, He says that He prayed to God three times to remove it. God responds with, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s reaction? “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses… For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

The fiercest strength isn’t found in control, caution or doing all the right things at all the right times. Perfection doesn’t stretch our limits, threaten our comfort zones or challenge us to push beyond them. And muscles can’t grow unless we use them.

God walks with each of us through the refining fires of our lives, where none of us would willingly go ourselves.  He’ll sit with us at rock bottom for as long as it takes for us to see Him there and then He’ll lift us up by His strength, not our own. When my lack of control is replaced by my assurance in His total control, I walk in peace because I walk with Him.

I think about Adam, Roy and Marcia often. Their testimonies have changed my own understanding of homelessness, tragedy, control and God’s hand in it all.  I hope they’ll do the same for you.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4).

Note: Names and select details have been changed to protect the privacy of each individual mentioned.

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