Category Archives: 2012-12

Pastor’s Pen for December, 2012

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  (Matthew 23:1-3) In last month’s newsletter, I discussed the three central functions of the Christian Life: Identity, Spirituality, and Mission.  You may have noticed that I did NOT mention anything about beliefs.  That was not an oversight, but the result of my growing conviction that beliefs are not the most important thing we should be concerned about. For one thing, beliefs change and evolve.  Most of us recognize (and rejoice!) in the fact that our childish ideas about life that we held in grade school have long ago given way to a more mature worldview.  As we grow, learn, and experience new things, our beliefs inevitably need to be reexamined and reformulated, over and over again. Also, beliefs may not tell us much about the person that holds them.  Some folks say they believe in Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor,” but don’t actually demonstrate that belief in the way they live.  In that case, does what they believe matter, since it doesn’t seem to shape their behavior in any significant way?  It is often those unconscious, unexamined or contradictory convictions that determine our actions more than the noble words we so readily profess. Therefore, a better approach would seem to be to focus, not on what to believe, but on how to believe.   Asking the “how” question helps focus our attention on what we actually do, rather than on just what we think or say.  If our words are consistent with our actions, then that harmony will be obvious.  But if actions and words don’t align, then the question of “how” we believe will help us to address faith issues at a more appropriate and effective level.  Although how we think about our faith is important, the way we live it is a much more critical concern. The implications of this change of focus can be significant.  The church can be less concerned with helping people acquire information, and focus more on helping people find appropriate practices that deepen their sense of God’s presence in their lives and results in behavior that effectively expresses God’s love for the world.  Membership can then become what it’s meant to be: not a matter of verbal acceptance of religious ideas, but a matter of participating in an ongoing process of discovering new public and private practices that allow us to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, energized by the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Today, more and more people are turned off by the institutional aspects of the churches they have known.  Petty conflicts, theological bickering, time-consuming and mind-numbing committee meetings, and endless financial appeals have driven many younger people to think that churches have nothing worthwhile to offer them.  While they may be longing for a more dynamic spiritual life, a greater purpose, and a richer sense of communion with others, they have serious doubts that churches can help them in their quest. Every week our bulletins proudly proclaim that “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”  That is a profound expression of the inclusive nature of God’s hospitality.  But people today are looking for more than just hospitality and a place where they will be accepted. They are also looking for a place where they can find the help they need to actually live the kind of life that Jesus lived – a life overflowing with love, compassion, and the mystery of the healing power of God – a quality of life they long to experience, not just talk about. My dream is to see churches like this one become places where people come, not only to learn what to think about Jesus, but to get practical support in how to live a Christ-like and Christ-centered life. We all know that churches today must change if they are to survive.  Shifting our emphasis from what we believe to how we believe may be an important first step. – Duane