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Being Both Spiritual And Religious

I’m discovering the writings of Winn Collier.
Here he examines the trope ‘I’m spiritual, but not religious’ and points out that while the idea has some attractions, ultimately its just too thin to sustain a soul.

An excerpt:

Abstract ideals don’t have the grit I know is required to save me. Rather, it is Jesus’ body broken in the bread, Jesus’ blood spilt in the wine. It is my actual neighbor actually sitting next to me (someone I may not like, if I just get to choose), as we eat and drink together. It is the songs we sing and the Scriptures we hear. It is our commitment to living in this actual world (not the idea of a world). To say I’m spiritual but not religious would be, for me, like saying I believe in community but don’t want a friend or I love the wild but would never actually set foot in a forest. I need the real stuff.
Jesus, the harshest critic of distorted religion in history, didn’t set up general spiritual concepts. Jesus got dunked in water, gave us bread and wine around a Table – and then said, “Keep doing all this. Together. In my name.”

Read the whole piece here.

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The Privelege Of Praying For Each Other (via Scotty Smith)

Scotty Smith leads us in prayer, giving thanks for the blessing of praying for others.

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. 1 Sam.12:23
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Heb. 4:16

Lord Jesus, with freedom, needs, and friends, we run to the occupied throne of grace today. No one understands our messes and meets us in our weaknesses like you. You are, indeed, a most wonderful, merciful Savior.
We pray for friends serving you in different contexts and cultures around the world—missionaries, teachers, and others. May the gospel be sweet and grace sufficient, encouragement palpable and hope fresh. Quicken our spirits by your Spirit to pray for these faithful, often weary, conduits of the gospel. We don’t see them often but don’t let us forget them for a moment.
We pray for parents nearing the end of their strength, patience, and wits. Few stories have the power to multiply our heartaches than when kids choose to live without boundaries, or without a heart, for you. Lord of resurrection power, reveal yourself, to those who seem allergic to your grace and love.
Jesus, we pray for friends who still affirm the gospel, but who feel (and live) like strangers to your reality and riches. Whatever the genesis of their spiritual crisis, come close Jesus. Renew, restore, and refresh our friends, we pray. Show us how to offer presence without pressure. If confrontation is necessary, may your kindness lead them to repentance.
Jesus, we pray for friends with health struggles, at-work worries, and/or relational challenges. Give us listening hearts, words from above, and non-spin hope for them.
Lastly, Jesus, we pray for ourselves. You know where we struggle the most and trust you the least. You know our prayer-fueling relationships and our most powerful temptations, our persistent fears and nagging weaknesses. Grant us the mercy, grace, and wisdom we need today. So very Amen we pray, in your loving and strong name.


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Seven Reasons Why Church Is Difficult For Those Touched By Mental Illness (via Stephen Grcevich)

Church is meant to be the one place on earth where people can come just as themselves and feel welcome and at home.
But it’s not always the case.
I found these seven reasons provided by Stephen Grcevich to make sense.
It’s helpful to read what is obvious when made plain, but is so easy to forget in practice.
Some of these are focused on parents whose children have a mental illness, others are relevant to people who are enduring various conditions whatever their age.

A couple of examples:

Anxiety: One in 15 American adults experience social anxiety disorder—a condition resulting in significant fear and distress in situations where their words or actions may be exposed to the scrutiny of others. How many social interactions might a first-time visitor to a weekend worship service need to navigate at your church? Persons with agoraphobia frequently experience intense fear, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, excessive perspiration, and nausea in public places where their ability to leave unobtrusively is limited. How might they feel if there are no seats available near an exit at a worship service, or if a well-meaning usher directs them to a middle seat near the front of the church?

Expectations for self-discipline: The Bible clearly equates self-control with spiritual maturity. Most mental health conditions can negatively impact executive functioning—the cognitive capacities through which we establish priorities, plan for the future, manage time, delay gratification, and exercise conscious control over our thoughts, words, and actions. When children struggle with self-control in the absence of obvious signs of disability, we’re often quick to make assumptions about their parents. One mother in describing her family’s experience in looking for a church with two school-age boys with ADHD observed that, “People in the church think they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”

Read the whole article here.

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The Real Reasons People Aren’t Turning Up For Church Every Week (via Steve McAlpine)

The first of two posts by Steve McAlpine interacting with the basic ideas expressed in the post by Murray Lean I linked to last week called The Creeping Trend Of Church Absenteeism.
Two significant points that I liked were firstly; McAlpine’s reservations about motivating people to more frequent attendance through guilt or greater effort.
And secondly; the observation that lower involvement levels are not simply that time spent at church is being invested with non-church organisations, because all organisations note greater difficulty in engaging younger people.
It calls for a rethink about the nature of church life and how we communicate what being part of church is.

For a start he [Lean] points out that growing secularisation is a part of the problem. Well it may be, but let’s be clear: it’s not just church that has seen a dramatic collapse in participation rates in the past forty years, it’s every form of volunteer organisation across the board in the Western world. And that issue runs far deeper than merely people not being bothered to turn up any longer.
We can hardly blame secularisation for secular organisations rapidly dwindling membership and loss of volunteer hours. Something deeper is going on at a cultural level that is enervating people and seeing them shy away from the growing complexities that volunteer organisations require. Deep structural changes in the culture are wearing people out, even before they get to work on a Monday morning.
Clearly something has changed in the wider culture than merely an increased list of busy activities that Christians, especially young families, find themselves signed up for.

Read the whole article here.

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The Creeping Trend Of Church Absenteeism (via Murray Lean)

Helpful article about church absenteeism by Murray Lean at Gospel Coalition Australia.
It’s most pitched toward leaders, but the content is helpful for everyone concerned about personal and corporate spiritual growth and well-being.
Among the accessible content is a list of the downsides that sporadic attendance cultivates:

  • Loss of the “spurring-on effect” of regular interaction with other believers
  • Gaps in the continuity of systematic Bible teaching
  • Inability to commit to serving in Sunday ministries, especially children’s programmes
  • Impact on children who miss the regularity of involvement in their weekly Sunday groups
  • Increase in the workload on the “committed core” who are faithfully there week by week
  • General discouragement of the rest of the church family who miss out on the fellowship of friends
  • Poor example to children and less mature Christians
  • General devaluation of the Lord’s Day
  • Weakening of overall connection with and commitment to the local church family, and enhancing the privatizing of faith

And there’s also a list of suggestions about how to respond pastorally:

  • Remind people from the pulpit of the positives of regular attendance, including its impact on others in the church family
  • Preach relevant passages that reinforce commitment to the local church, and also the harm caused by absenteeism
  • Ask yourself whether there are good reasons why people can’t be in church regularly e.g. Does the time of the service need to be more family friendly? Is the preaching boring?
  • Make a note of people who are irregular attenders and speak personally (and gently) with them about it. Some might have good reasons for their irregularity. (This obviously requires some form of record keeping.)
  • Use elders, small group leaders and pastoral carers in this process
  • Work at building fellowship within the church family e.g. meals, hospitality, creating a space for mingling after services

Read the whole post here.

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Worship That Reminds The Church She Is A Community (via Zac Hicks)

Corporate worship not as individual experience in the gathered body, or as common experience among the many, but as a shared experience that reveals the relationships and community that exist in Christ.
From Zac Hicks’ The Worship Pastor:

Part of loving the church well is reminding her that she is a community. in our day and age, when worship has become such a subjective experience, the church is ever prone to hyperindividualising our faith and practice. We see this very tangible in worship services in which we’re all explicitly or implicitly encouraged to have our own private encounters with God. Sometimes we can get the impression that the most meaningful worship service looks like one in which each worshiper is having their own private devotional experience with God … and they just all happen to be in the same room! But as a pastor I once knew liked to say, “In worship, it’s not ‘Jesus and me’ but ‘Jesus and we.'”

The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks, Zondervan, 2016, pg 26.

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Real Church Is More Than A Human Support Group (via Ray Ortlund)

Ray Ortlund writes about the messiness of real church.

And the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin
Real church is more than a human support group, more than empathy. The sacred blood of Jesus is here. And we bring no sin out into the light which his blood cannot cleanse away: “. . . all sin.” This is not sinless perfection, but it is substantial healing in every area of life. That particular sin weighing most heavily on your conscience, that sin that shames you and damns you and haunts you—that is the sin Jesus bled for, and that is the point in your existence where he loves you the most tenderly. Take a step out into the light, as the Holy Spirit nudges you. Confess that particular sin to God and to your fellowship, in some meaningful, appropriate way. Then take the next step after that, as God leads you, and then the next—a new person walking in the light day by day, continually cleansed, constantly reinvigorated, daily included in the circle of grace, not shamed, not forced back into hiding, but trusting in the ongoing power of justification by faith alone, welcomed into the fellowship of the forgiven, and you’re free as never before.
Here is the price we pay: putting our pride away and admitting the truth, moment by moment, as we walk together in the light of the Lord.

Read the whole post here.