It’s not time to go solo: "spiritual but not religious?"

Spiritual can have lots of meanings today. I’ve heard it used in ways that I’m pretty sure the framers of the word never intended. I went to a “spiritual” church, one that told me the future. My personal favorite is one I heard during a foreign study trip in college: “The most spiritual people I know are atheists.” Hmmm…..

But then there are more common and more widely accepted uses of the term “spiritual.” I guess it means I believe in God, but not “organized religion.” How organized are you willing to go? Are Quakers too organized?

Anyhow….

Everyone has heard the age old euphemism “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Not long ago the CNNbeliefblog ran this article “My take: I’m spiritual but not religious.”  A non-pastor gives some helpful insight. That thinking needs retiring.

1.) It’s helpful to realize that beliefs like this have a root. They don’t just come out of nowhere. People don’t just say, “I’m spiritual, not religious” without having already adopted some deeper picture of reality.

It is within the context of today’s anti-big, anti-discipline, anti-challenging climate – in combination with a therapeutic turn in which everything can be resolved through addressing my inner existential being – that the spiritual but not religious outlook has flourished.

2.) While mega churches are not bad per se (probably many are much healthier than smaller shrinking ingrown churches), have profited from the most from this therapeutic driven, shallow, doctrine-less philosophy and way of life? This guy thinks so.

The boom in megachurches merely reflect this sidelining of serious religious study for networking, drop-in centers and positive feelings.

3.) Why does the “spiritual, but not religious” philosophy matter? The organized religion of Christianity has made possible a number of things we all hold precious in Western history and culture. Why should we embrace a worldview that won’t allow for such creations?

Christianity has been interwoven and seminal in Western history and culture. As Harold Bloom pointed out in his book on the King James Bible, everything from the visual arts, to Bach and our canon of literature generally would not be possible without this enormously important work.


4.) What happens when we jettison sin? If we don’t call “sin,” sin, then we don’t change. It is bad for us. It is bad for our families. It is bad for our neighbors, co-workers, etc….We accept an extremely selfish picture of ourselves with less concern on how our “sin” keeps us from loving others.

The idea of sin has always been accompanied by the sense of what one could do to improve oneself and impact the world.

Yet the spiritual-but-not-religious outlook sees the human as one that simply wants to experience “nice things” and “feel better.” There is little of transformation here and nothing that points to any kind of project that can inspire or transform us.

This is what I think when I hear “spiritual but not religious”
 
1.) I rightly hate the hypocrisy of professing Christians (or you fill in the blank _____), but those people are beyond redemption. I’m so much better than them that it’s waste of time to associate and gather which such people. I hate pride but I live just as pridefully.

2.) I rightly hate the negative experiences I’ve had with organized religion. I know people will hurt me in the same way with a new church because all churches operate in the same fashion. I won’t give them the pleasure.

3.) I rightly hate people making up rules and telling me what to do. But I clearly know better than everyone else how to live and don’t need any input in my life. I’d rather discover the truth for myself, even though the truth I discover will be completely shaped by what I want it to be.

4.) I would much rather serve myself than to serve other people and be concerned about their good. What matters most is what makes me happy. If there’s some happiness left over, I’ll try to do something nice for someone else.

5.) I don’t want or need a community that can love me and speak truth to me. I don’t need to be loved or to love. I’m a rock. And an island too, by the way.

6.) I worship God how I want to worship Him. If He exists, he’s just happy to have someone as good as me pay Him a bit of attention. He likes it when I go hiking or fishing.

7.) My time is my time. I’m obviously busier than you are.

“Organized” churches have really done lots of damage to a number of people. As a result many have, like Vanilla Ice, felt “it’s time to go solo.” But in the end, “spiritual not religious” is the height of arrogance, selfishness, and foolishness.

Greenberg and Acting like Marlins

Every now and then you just come across a cool story in sports. In 2005, Adam Greenberg stepped up to the plate for the first time, and took the first pitch. Right to the back of the head. The first pitch was his last pitch, as he never earned his way back to the big leagues. Until last night. Check out the story here. Seriously, do yourself a favor and check this one out.

It would have been magical for him to have hit a home run off 20 game winner R.A. Dickey. But instead he struck out on three straight 80 mph knuckleballs. Like most of the Tampa Bay Rays he faced this summer.

But the ovation from the fans left him feeling as part of the ball club. So did the Marlins, from manager to the stars, from top to bottom. Several Marlins players invited him to come watch football during the week. He was part of the club. At least for a day.

The Jim Rome interview today shed a little more light on the story. Some big-wig and his wife were watching Field of Dreams (first time for the wife). “Moonlight Graham has nothing on Adam Greenberg,” said the husband. And thus the dream to get Adam Greenberg back up for one more plate appearance was born. Last night was the fruition of lots of hard work. 

But it was hard work on someone else’s part. Greenberg admitted that he didn’t do anything to promote or get back onto the field. All he did was say, “Yes, I’d love to get at least one more at bat.” He received it. 

The warm reception surprises me a bit. In a good way. A bunch of people who worked hard to get there, received this newbie like he was one of their own. They showed him grace and welcomed him as part of their community. 

When it comes to the church community, we don’t have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes so much. We don’t have to pretend. The church comprises a bunch of “Greenbergs,” who have benefited from someone else working hard behind the scenes on its behalf. As long as we remember we’re really a bunch of Greenberg’s, we’ll act like Marlins.

While I would have loved a home-run for Greenberg, he is thankful for the gracious opportunity to strike out. An obviously Jewish name (he also played for Israel’s national team), maybe this won’t be his last taste of grace? Maybe the veil will be lifted some day (II Cor 3:14-16)?

Only fumblers can speak to fumblers

Last year the NY Giants won the Super Bowl courtesy of a timely play or two, and a timely mishap from the Patriots that could have ended the game. Some folks may not remember why they were able to play upon such a stage. But certainly not Kyle Williams will never forget: his two fumbles provided the Giants the needed opportunities to overtake the San Francisco 49ers.

People don’t necessarily recover from such mishaps. Think of Ray Finkle from Ace Ventura. Mishaps on such a big stage can almost define a person’s career. Think of Bill Buckner who let a routine grounder go through his legs. Think of Scott Norwood’s missed field goal in the Super Bowl (also against the Giants). Sometimes it’s not just careers defined by one or two mishaps, but entire identities. 

Whether concerned about career or identity, two other famous fumblers (Earnest Byner and Roger Craig) took it upon themselves to go directly to Kyle Williams. Apparently the 49ers have been supportive, but supportive isn’t the only thing someone like this needs. I mean, the 49ers didn’t fumble the game away, Williams did. The 49ers didn’t deal with the personal feelings of worthlessness, experience personal threats, anger, and all of the other stuff that goes along with such a blunder. Only those who’ve had famous, or perhaps in-famous fumbles, can speak sympathetically to such famous fumblers. 

Fumblers can also speak more authoritatively to fumblers than non-fumblers. They have the existential knowledge that other non-fumblers just don’t have. 

Let me posit several lessons for the church:

1.) Only sinners can speak to sinners. If you speak of sin in the past tense, you have nothing to say to the struggling Christian (because you aren’t struggling yourself-and how could you not be  anyway?) nor do you have anything to say to the non-Christian. 

2.) Fumblers listen to other fumblers. Sinners will listen to other sinners, particularly those who are self proclaimed, self-titled sinners. 

3.) The church is full of people who have “blown it in a big game.” Maybe you’ve been a bad dad, bad parent, bad husband, bad kid, bad sport, bad _______. A pastor, parent, or friend can still speak authoritatively and point you to Christ and his forgiveness because God’s word is authoritative. But never underestimate the authority and influence of the existential/experiential perspective. Don’t let your mishaps (unfaithfulness, depression, anger, pornography, criminal record, background) drive you away from the church but toward Christ and other people. Fumblers listen best to other fumblers. I’ve fumbled games away and it hurts. I battle depression/anxiety and have dealt/still deal with different doubts. But I can speak more sympathetically and authoritatively now with people who struggle in those specific ways. In the end, I feel more than ever that fumbles can be incredibly redemptive, not only for myself but for my church community. I hope that will be the case with you too. We band of fumblers. 

How many leaders you got? Now that’s a better question

The other day I received a similar question to the ones mentioned in my previous post. The question, probably posed out of mere curiosity, provoked a little more thought than the standard: “how many you got” type questions. Instead of how many kids do you have, it was more like, “How many leaders do you have?”

That is a different type of question and one that deserves a little more positive dissecting.

One common thread I’ve noticed the past several years in books/articles I’ve read, seminars attended, ministry leaders I’ve talked with, and years of extensive personal experience/reflection is that the kids who walk with Jesus have several things in common. 

And having one dynamic youth leader really isn’t tops on the list. But what seems to always be present is that the youth have had a number of adult relationships. Perhaps it looks like adults investing in their lives through a youth group, Sunday School, mentoring, or simply an “unstructured” but invested relationship involving hospitality, normal activities, or a retreat. 

One youth leader, and/or two parents are not enough. It’s a great start, but kids need multiple adult relationships. By the way, I’m not de-emphasizing parent-child discipling relationship for that is primary; I’m merely emphasizing the responsibility of those in the covenant community. The principle “the more the merrier” could not be more apropos.

So here is the kicker: kids aren’t going to naturally seek out adults. Adults have to seek them out. That may look like volunteering to teach Sunday School or youth group. That may look like filling in as a sub from time time. That may look like simply doing something very novel and creative: trying to talk with them on a Sunday morning. It may look like serving alongside of them as they rake leaves or participating in fantasy football with them. It may look like inviting them over to share a recipe or grab a latte. Regardless, if you are an adult male/female without a record who loves Jesus and currently has a pulse, you can play a part. Take that first step.
They actually do like adults. And they need adults. But they probably won’t take that first step, and we probably shouldn’t expect them to. 

When I prayed for the graduates last Sunday, I thanked God for the number of adults who were involved in their lives. I’m hopeful for these kids leaving school. For the most part, they are connected to other youth and adults.

I’m hopeful in a God who is faithful even when we as parents, youth leaders, or the rest of the church are faithless. But I’ll take that as encouragement instead of a license to laziness. We often think of our kids in this way: “We ONLY have 18 years with them and so need to take advantage of this time.” But for some reason I don’t think we often view our covenant children with the same sense of urgency. Time is of the essence.

Thanks for all of you who have invested in not only your children, but the children of others. I hope you realize how important that time and relationship really are in the eyes of your Heavenly Father. Whatever the impact you notice or fail to notice (remember sometimes the impact isn’t seen for years down the road, and sometimes there may not be the impact we desire), remember it isn’t that type of “numbers game.” And remember Henry Lyte’s hymn Jesus I My Cross Have Taken, “Think what Spirit dwells within thee, think what Father’s smiles are thine….” Those are the only smiles you need to motivate and remind you that you cannot fail.

How many kids you got? What ministries you got?

Every so often I field about questions like, “How many kids do you have in your children’s ministries or youth group?” Sometimes the answer will determine whether that person will or will not choose your church. That’s why they ask. And of course, sometimes folks are simply curious and want to know what’s there.

In addition to the “how many you got” question, I’ll also get “What ministries do you have?” Sometimes that will determine if the person will or will not come to your church (and I’m not saying that this is inherently wrong by the way!). Sometimes folks want to be aware of what’s there.

A dear friend created a scenario of someone hit by a car and going to heaven. This was the first thing they said, “Well, Lord, at least as I looking for a church with a good youth program!”

Often times a consumer mentality overtakes us like a Jamaican sprinter-I refuse to give any more glory to the glory hound-and yet we don’t necessarily recognize it at first.

The Good

First of all, I do want to say that these questions do have an element of goodness to them. You should care that your children have fellowship, good teaching, Christian friends. And so it’s good to ask how the covenant community can assist you in raising up disciples. Some Christian parents don’t care, feel like dragging them to church each Sunday completes their promise to look to Jesus for their and their child’s salvation, raising him/her within the covenant family (alluding here to Presbyterians). So these questions are in and of themselves necessarily bad questions. They can be healthy.

The Bad

However, not all of our inclinations toward ministries are necessarily good. In fact they can be quite, well, bad-to stay consistent with the title of this section. Behind our questions (even my own) is often a deeper question: what can you do for me? This can manifest itself when our main choice of churches is simply what can you do for me, before, what do you believe, what is your mission, how do plan to accomplish that mission?

The Ugly

Another question behind the question (the one that is stated) is how can this ministry replace and lessen my involvement in the child’s growth in the grace or coming to faith? What ministries do you have that can now let me off the hook in regards to MY teaching, discipleship? What can you do for me so that I can now be concerned about my child’s social life, sports, grades, etc…..? 

So these questions, if unexamined, can leave us in our natural state of consumer.

I would like to pose some other questions that people can ask when looking for a new church, or staying at a current church. These aren’t from Mt. Sinai, as Steve Brown always says. Just my thoughts which might be helpful to battle against our consumer mentality and put us more in a participatory mode.

1.) How many kids do you have in your youth ministry? If I come to, or join, or stay at this church, will I attempt to invite kids to the children’s/youth ministry? Instead of focusing on the current numbers, might God use me to grow the current ministry? And if I go to a big church, will I and my child still be likely to invite un-churched kids to come? Or will it make it easier to invite? In other words, how can I participate in Christ’s mission in either setting? Practically speaking if each person leaves or doesn’t come because of there are low numbers, it can’t grow.

2.) What ministries do you have? Again nothing inherently wrong with the question, but I would encourage asking more questions. If it fits in with the vision of the church, could I help start such and such ministry? Or how can I use my gifts to plug into existing ministries, or informal things like having parties at my house? I think some of the greatest ministry happens informally. Regardless, Church ministries usually have to start somewhere. The best ones seem to come from members who see a need, refuse to leave, but instead stay and meet that need.

Caveat: The longer I pastor the less black and white I get regarding a “good” (obviously meaning my opinion) time to leave a church or what things must be in place for one to connect and serve. I realize that sometimes the Holy Spirit “leaves the building” and Jesus removes the lampstand. At that point it is hopeless. If that is your conviction, then it might actually be better to head on down the road. My request is that you don’t necessarily ignore these questions, but instead spend some time examining and adding deeper follow up questions. The church today desperately needs participators more than it needs consumers. Remember that pastors and members are naturally wired towards consumerism but the Holy Spirit supernaturally enables us to become participators in the gospel. What a privilege.

Non-political reflections on "You didn’t build that"

The other day President Obama ruffled a few feathers with his statement on business, “You didn’t build that.” These words below have certainly rubbed Republicans the wrong way, and I would imagine perhaps Democrats-though I can’t confirm that. I’ve just seen facebook post after facebook post mock Obama’s infamous or in-famous (depending on your vote) speech.

“If you’ve been successful you didn’t get there on your own….I’m always struck by people who think ‘well, it must be because I was just so smart’. There are a lot of smart people out there!  ‘It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there!”

And you can imagine that within the same dialog, this probably didn’t endear him any further to many:

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Now this blog is for the most part like myself, fairly a-political. So I won’t comment on the political or economic component, but instead the anti-individualistic undertone which comprised Obama’s speech. Mitt Romney and other Republicans have opposed this idea, as well want to remain consistent with their own ideology. But I want to say that I think Obama is actually on to something here, that would be quite beneficial to all Christians. Let me explain.

Obama’s driving force behind this comment is his own democratic ideology: successful businesses should pay a larger amount of taxes than those less successful because they have benefited from someone else’s hard work or government structure. At least I think that’s the gist. They didn’t do it entirely by themselves: they sprang up from good soil.
 
I think the Christian has to agree with this to a large degree. For instance, none of us could run a succesfull business in communist China, right? But consider the other factors of success. Yes some folks work harder than others; that’s hard to argue! Yet who gives man the intellectual and physical capability to do hard work? Clearly some folks just don’t have it; they were not born with the right tools.

Now think of environment. There are always rags-to-riches stories, but consider the fact that these are in fact “stories,” meaning they are not the norm.

Now none of this obliges you to pay higher taxes to the government. I get that and don’t necessarily see the tit-for-tat connection.

But don’t we (I’m saying those of a more Republican persuasion-which is my personal bias) carry the, “Yes I did build that with my hard work” sentiment into church? I worked hard and continue to work hard at this job, therefore it’s my money. It is my house, so I’m not accountable to use it for hospitality. These are my kids and this is my family so why should I bring someone else into the picture for Thanksgiving or Christmas?

On the contrary, we are dependent upon the Lord who ordains all things. Perhaps this passage may help remind us (I’m pretty forgetful) that ultimately we didn’t build our families, houses, or businesses independently. This is what God has to say on the matter in James 4:13-16

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

God does ordain all things and has ordained your opportunity, experience, background, situation, environment, and even ability and drive to do hard work.

I think its hard at times to tithe-though I get that I’m a pastor and it would incredibly hypocritical not to-because we have to trust that God will take care of us when we give back 10% of our income. But I really don’t think fear is the primary driving force.

I think it is primarily an issue of ownership. Whose money is it? If it’s God’s money, God’s house, God’s business, God’s family, then it’s much easier to trust Him with continuing to provide the money, or provide for our houses, businesses, and families.

If you are one who has worked hard, regularly works hard, has taken great risks for a business venture, I personally applaud you. Any sort of work, particularly starting businesses, takes guts, vision, determination, risk, and perseverance. I just think that the hardest working among us are perhaps the most vulnerable to forget the truth found in James 4:13-16.

Distinctly Republican thinking (of which I lean) or distinctly American individualistic thinking (of which most people lean) can sometimes replace-albeit in a subtle way-distinctly gospel-centered thinking and living.

When kids say, "I don’t want to go to church!"

One of the struggles of Christian parenting is shepherding your children into the desire of following God. If I make them learn catechism questions, or go to church, they will grow up and reject the church and the gospel because I have made them do it. That’s sometimes what we think, and perhaps that’s a legitimate fear, or “concern” if you don’t like to admit to being afraid.
At what level do you “make” your kids do anything? How “religious” in nature should something be before you say, “OK, I don’t want you to have to do this.” For instance, school and breaking the Law are pretty much non-negotiables, right?  It doesn’t matter if they want to do it, they have to or don’t have to do it. 
Should it be the same for regularly coming to church? Bible study, catechism questions, etc…? Should we just say, “You have to come to Church?”
Right now my 4 year old lives for church. He has 3 years of children’s church before he hears his daddy preach. Will he enjoy it then? What will I do when he says, “I don’t want to come?” What should you do as laity with your kids? Instead of a road block, this is an opportunity to lead your family to Christ and His Church in a deeper way.
Here are some thoughts about the subject which have bounced around in my head for a bit.
1.) Don’t assume that making your kid go to church will necessarily make him not want to go to church when he/she gets older. My wife and I had to go to church growing up, but I only missed a few Sundays even when in college. There is not a tit-for-tat relationship for every child and mandatory church attendance. However, some of had experiences of having to go to church and decided to be done with it later in life. Experience varies.
2.) The Christian life is not easy. There are things that I want to do that I can’t. There are things God calls me to do that I don’t want to do. Following Jesus involves taking up our crosses daily (Luke 9:23). If our kids only do the things they want to do, and as parents we regularly foster that attitude by giving into the demands of our children to stay home on Sunday, then we are setting up a pick-and-choose Lordship of King Jesus. But his lordship is to be entire (though obviously impossible, that is the direction we are moving toward). So just leaving them at home doesn’t help in the long run either.
3.) The motivation of the human heart is never going to be perfect. Even when someone doesn’t want to be at church, and is only there because of duty-on his or his parent’s part-the Holy Spirit can still show up. He really can. I hear it all the time. When you put yourselves in the way of the oncoming train of grace, you are likely to get hit. His work of sanctification is there for the asking and we need to regularly point our kids to Him. Even folks driven by duty and gasoline can find grace in the preached Word, congregational singing, sacraments, and fellowship.
4.) Ask “Why” and get to the heart of the matter.  Don’t simply make your kids go without any explanation. Don’t simply just let them stay home from church whenever the want. Both will produce people who are either bitter or see no need for the church. Either of those methods completely ignore the gospel. But they are in fact easiest options in this saga, and so the tendency is to deal with it on a simple black-and-white level. Do or don’t do. Very Yoda-esque, just not gospel-esque.
Instead of saying, “We’re going no matter what” or “We’re going when we/you feel like it,” why not ask the deeper question: why don’t you want to come to church? Sounds like a simple question, but simple questions are often windows into our souls. 
Here are some excuses which have come up in my discussion with adults and youth over the years on why they didn’t want to come to church.
1.) Boring. Why is something boring? Having something not pertain to your life as a teenager makes things boring very quickly. But as a parent, you have the opportunity to follow up after the sermon and talk through the points, illustrations, gospel connections. Even if the pastor doesn’t do a good job speaking to teenagers (which ours does), you as a parent can play a big role in discussing and applying the sermons. It also sets you up to talk to bigger issues. Boring is the response of the soul that doesn’t really get the gospel. No one was ever bored with Jesus. Ever. They loved him and worshiped Him, or hated and tried to kill him. You never get to Jesus by simply a “come at all costs” or “just stay at home” mentality. Both stop short.
2.) Relationships. Sometimes interpersonal drama (I wish it were only the case with teenagers!) makes kids not want to come. There may be something more than “I just want to stay home.” Now you can apply the gospel to their relationships: forgiveness, peacemaking, truth telling, etc….I once heard an adult describe coming to church as “doing a dance.” This woman didn’t get the gospel. Even though the church was less than healthy, staying home allowed her to not apply the gospel to her situation. Perhaps she was right or perhaps it was simply her perception, but the gospel which tells her she is now in right relationship with God frees her up to not care what others thought of her dress.
3.) We want our kids to sense a “need” to come to church. Not that Jesus will like us more, but because we are dissatisfied with the substitute mini-saviors. Tell them, “Daddy needs to hear about Jesus big time. He desperately needs to hear about grace so that the mini-saviors begin to lose their appeal.” They’ll begin to see it’s not an obligation but a need.
4.) We also want them to want to come to church. Tell them, “Daddy wants to hear more about Jesus big time. In light of what He’s done, is doing, will do, I want to hear about Him and be among His people.” Tell them-if it is true-that Sunday morning is the high point of the week and that you hate to miss. Let them see and hear not only your need but your desire. They’ll begin to see it’s not an obligation but a delight.
In conclusion-which I know is not how you should conclude anything (but this was a bit of ‘stream of consciousness writing so I felt it necessary), don’t fall into the easy route of saying, “OK, you can stay at home,” or “You’re coming with us.”

Simply taking your kids to church every Sunday is not “doing all that we could do as parents.” When they don’t want to come, take pains to understand why. You will have ample opportunities to point them to Jesus, both to his commands and His promises. But you’ll miss out if you don’t take the time to ask the simply question, “Why not?”

My Thoughts on PCA’s General Assembly

Back to the blog. Not necessarily “Back in Black” like AC/DC, but just, well, back to the bog. It’s been the longest drought of my blogging activity since I started it. Much like I thought it would, the world continued to spend, Jesus’ church continued to move forward, and God’s will still came to Earth as it is in heaven. But I’m back now, at least for a bit, partly because of brain constipation (I get uncomfortable holding in ideas and thoughts which could be helpful to others to think about, agree with, disagree with, or wrestle with) and partly because I’m often encouraged by what I read on other blogs. I don’t follow the angry, divisive guys. And there’s a bunch of other “partly’s” of why I blog that I need not go into now.
After vacationing in FL, I had the opportunity to go to General Assembly in Louisville, KY. If you are unfamiliar with it, its simply our denominational gathering. It is different than the Southern Baptist Convention, in that it’s Presbyterian. That sounds like one of those “duh” statements, but it’s really not. At least I don’t think.
Presbyterians are different in their form of church government in that we don’t believe in the autonomy of the local church. We are are both representational (its leaders are elected from among the congregation and not appointed) as well as connectional to other P.C.A. churches. Now our connectionalism is voluntary and the local church can at any time pull out of the presbytery if it believes the presbytery has seriously erred. But the relationship is one of accountability. At Redeemer, if Barret or I, or our session are acting like yahoo’s, our presbytery can/should intervene, when folks in the local church ask for them to get involved.
At the General Assembly level, it is not simply a gathering or reunion (thought that’s clearly my favorite part of it), but the actions taken at the denominational level are not simply suggestive. Therefore such meetings at presbytery and G.A. level are as important, as they are-often times-boring.
One lad, summarized what went on at the G.A. level here. I don’t necessarily share all of his opinions, but for the most part, he does at least share what happened, should you at all care.
Since he has already reproduced what went on, I’ll just conclude with one final thought on my experience at GA. 
You can pretty much put people into certain camps based upon how they look and dress. Generally. You have the folks in suits, folks like myself in flip-flops, folks in sear suckers, pretty boys, old school guys with no fashion sense, some hipsters, etc…You can’t judge a book by its cover all the time, but you can often figure out which way they’ll vote simply by looking at the dress of such people in these meetings. I was glad to see at least some diversity.

I was encouraged to see many people like myself. At times I was discouraged by seeing some crotchedy folks, and having to sit next to one who commented on my every vote (though mainly in jest). But in the end, the P.C.A., it if it is going to grow in size, diversity, and effectiveness, all the while maintaining doctrinal purity, will probably need to draw on all its resources. As much as I’d like everyone to wear flip-flops (or at least loosen up some times on non-essentials and not fear ANY change), and vote my way, and think like I do, I realize that we probably all need each other more than we really think. As much as it pains me to admit it. Truth has to trump taste. I left GA hopeful. Hopeful that the Holy Spirit hasn’t left the building yet, but instead is on the move. Glad I landed denominationally-though not in a prideful sort of way-where I landed.

Doubt belongs in the church

I regularly check the CNN’s belief blog and am almost always glad that I did. I came across this great article on doubt and how it belongs in the church, not outside of it. I hesitate to even summarize it, because it so well written. But the gist is that of a gal growing up as daughter of missionaries with a pile of discontent eventually erupting in her departing the church. Then returning with the doubt, but still returning nonetheless.
Listening to a sermon at my older brother’s church one Sunday, I stood up, leaned over to my father and said, “This is bulls**t.” I made my way to the end of the pew and marched out of the sanctuary. The sermon didn’t sit right with me. The pastor was preaching about Psalm 91, saying in so many words that a person just needed to pray and have faith in order to be protected from suffering.
I’ve had some folks walk out on my sermons before, but I don’t know elicited the same response. Of course, I don’t know that I didn’t! Fluff that isn’t true to the bible or to reality often will lead folks with similar feelings; they just may have enough self control to wait for the next wave and ride that one on in.
More than just that sermon, I was sick of church. I was sick, too, of all the spiritual questions plaguing me: Why does the church seem so culturally insulated and dysfunctional? Why does God seem distant and uninvolved? And most of all, why does God allow suffering?
I would imagine all of these questions have been entertained by all of us at some point or another. If not, we’re probably not being honest with a.) ourselves b.) our churches c.) our God. But these questions are more than doubts; I think they are questions of healthy discontentment.
Why does the church seem so culturally insulated?
I know I like to insulate myself from suffering. Then I don’t have to suffer and deal with the hard questions of “why does this stuff happen when I’m praying against it?” That’s not easy. And so we often choose the more comfortable route of fellowship. Instead of fellowshipping with the broken, we huddle together for the potluck supper. It’s more fun that way. One of the reasons there isn’t more doubt, or at the very least a healthy discontent, is that we insulate ourselves from suffering. Our lack of doubts isn’t necessarily an indication of a healthy faith, but an indication of the people we spend time with: the healthy and wealthy. That’s probably why suburbanites like myself don’t doubt as much. We’re insulated.
I found her challenge to me as a pastor and Christian very spot on. Instead of entering the mess, we run from it. And those who don’t run, those who are faithful to follow Jesus into suffering are sometimes left with this discontentment that leads to doubt. In other words, the doubt often comes to those who are faithful. 
She goes on to intimate why she left and why she returned.
In reality, I left the church more because of my own internal discontent than the lure of so-called secular life. When I came back, I still carried that same discontent. I was confused, and still bothered by questions and doubts. I stayed in the back row and didn’t sing or pray. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be there.
And yet I sat there, Sunday after Sunday, listening to the pastor and the organ pipes and trying to figure out what was going on in my dark, conflicted heart.
Although I never experienced that dramatic reconversion moment, I did come to peace with two slow-growing realizations.
First: My doubt belonged in church.
People who know my story ask what I would have changed about my spiritual journey. Nothing. I had to leave the church to find the church. And when I came back, the return wasn’t clean or conclusive. Since then, I’ve come to believe that my doubts belong inside the space of the sanctuary. My questions belong on the altar as my only offering to God.
With all its faults, I still associate the church with the pursuit of truth and justice, with community and shared humanity. It’s a place to ask the unanswerable questions and a place to be on sojourn. No other institution has given me what the church has: a space to search for God.
Second: My doubt is actually part of my faith.
In Mark 9:24, a man says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” The Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor called this the foundation prayer of faith. I pray that prayer often and believe that God honors my honesty.
I also believe God honors my longing. The writer and theologian Frederick Buechner said “Faith is homesickness.” C.S. Lewis called it “Sehnsucht,” a longing for a far-off country. I feel that sense of unshakable yearning. It comes from the deepest part of my heart, a spiritual desire that’s strangely, mysteriously connected to my doubt.
Sitting in church every Sunday, my doubt is my desire – to touch the untouchable, to possess the presence of God.

I love how she recognizes that doubt belongs inside the church, not outside of it. We all have varying levels of doubt. Fellowship and worship are two ways to counter that doubt, and in doing so, doubters may bring a healthy discontent to the non-doubter’s complacency. It’s a win-win.

Kurt Warner’s concerns for safety don’t go far enough

 There has been much discussion amongst those in the NFL relating to player safety. The issue with the New Orleans Saints “bounty program,”and recent suicides of former players allegedly due to repeated undiagnosed concussions have brought two main questions to the forefront: what will life look like after the game of football, and do I want my kids to even play this game?

Kurt Warner, a former Superbowl winner (they beat the Bucs to get there in 2000 because of a terrible call which actually spawned a new rule), chose to answer the latter in the negative. He expressed concerns and even desires that his kids would not play football.

This drew the ire of a former teammate (for a year or two) named Amani Toomer and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge. Hoge called him “uneducated.”

Some have labeled Kurt Warner hypocritical. After all, it was the NFL (or at least the path to the NFL) that literally allowed him to stop working at a grocery store. But since Hoge has probably 10 times more concussions than I have had, he’s probably not someone I’d be taking advice from.

Kurt isn’t alone in his concern. Giants Osi Umeniora had this to say

“Kurt Warner is Right to think how he is thinking about his kids and football,” Umenyiora wrote. “Its an awesome game and has done a lot for me, but i know when im 45 there is a strong chance il be in a wheelchair. If i can avoid that for my son, i will. But if he wants to play i wont stop him.”

I surmise that my sons will be too skinny to play “tackle” football and am grateful for it. It is probably more dangerous than other sports; it’s hard to argue against that point. But parents today often steer their kids toward sports or away from certain sports with only physical safety in mind. While that’s wise, it is not wise enough.

Parents often do a good job of thinking through the long term physical effects of sports. Will my kid be able to walk after sports? How many surgeries will be needed? But what about our kids “spiritual walk?” Most Christians really don’t think through the long term spiritual damage which sports may bring.

If your kid regularly misses corporate worship to play sports when he’s under your roof, where will he “worship” when he’s in college? Probably Bedside Baptist or Pillow Presbyterian.

What is it that we really want for our children? Is it for them to walk with Jesus in college or simply the chance to get an athletic scholarship (do we realize how hard these are to get)? Sure we’d like both, but our lifestyles often prove which one is more important.

And kids aren’t stupid. They are smarter than they look. They really are. Even the ones I think are totally out of it see things in parents that amaze me. They are learning all the time. Like that old drug commercial which depicted the father asking the son where he learned such stuff, “I learned it from watching you, Dad.”

Many kids don’t connect to a church when they go to college. We wonder why not. But do not we parents play some part in this? I do fear that we have concerned ourselves with the physical safety of our children and ignored their spiritual safety.

I’m hoping professing Christian Kurt Warner attends a Saturday night church with his boys. Because his job, now on the NFL Network has once again continued the pattern of not going to church as a family on Sundays. To care about physical safety is just not enough. May he and all Christian parents wade through these waters with much prayer and in community in order to discern how God may use sports to further His Kingdom instead of our own agendas.