Saturday, August 18, 2007

On Loneliness, Airports and Eleanor Rigby

The Beatles made us all a little sad when they sang about Eleanor Rigby. They reminded us that there are a lot of lonely people all around us. I am sure that many people reading this fit into that category. You may not be picking up rice in a church, or the subject of a funeral that no one attended, but you have, or are, experiencing loneliness.

This became very clear to me on Thursday as I was waiting for a flight in the Atlanta airport. I was not surprised to find out that the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest in the world. There were people everywhere. There were people walking, pushing, standing, eating, reading, talking, computing and almost everything else that you can imagine. But here is the interesting part, they were all alone. Thousands of people, alone. Interestingly, there seemed to be no inclination among any of these lonely people to pair up, or form social groups to cure their loneliness. Ahhh, look at all the lonely people.

Here is a thought: Most lonely people, like those in the airport, have chosen loneliness, at least to some degree. In the airport, most travelers know that there loneliness is only for a short time. There is someone waiting on the other end of the flight. There will be reunions, companionship and fellowship with other humans.

Others choose loneliness because a personality trait requires it of them. They are such introverts that meeting new people or spending time with any people becomes painful for them. They fear what others think of them, will say or do to them. Although for most people this seems silly, for the shy among us being alone is better than the anxiety of community.

But there is hope, even for those who choose loneliness. God has an answer for our alone times. He is with us. The Bible promises always that God is there. When we are distracted by the worries of the world, God is there. When we think that no one cares about us, our problems or our loneliness, God is there. When we know that we will be with friends and family eventually, we can be with God. When we choose not to associate with others, we can always know the presence of God.

God is not only out there someplace, he is also right here.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why School Prayer is a Bad Idea

It comes up once in a while. "The USA is going to hell in a hand basket because some atheist tricked the Supreme Court into banning prayer in our schools." I have a couple of problems with that statement. First of all, we are not going to hell in a hand basket. The USA is still the greatest, most free, nation in the world. We have the most money, the most liberty, the most everything. Millions of people all around the world recognize this. That is why they are trying to come here.

Secondly, whatever you may think of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, she tricked no one, and she was not acting alone. It is a sad day when we truly believe that one person, unelected and unappointed in our government, can have that much influence. The challenge for us should be that if one person can have that much influence in a negative way, why shouldn't we offer pressure and change in the other direction?

Finally, prayer is not banned in schools. It is true that teachers and other faculty members may not lead or facilitate prayer, but that does not mean that pray is illegal. (Just ask any teen who forgot to study the night before the geometry test.) Prayer is legal anywhere and at any time in America. Our freedom to worship is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Although schools may not promote, endorse or encourage prayer, they also may not prohibit it.

Now, with all that being said, let me say that organized school prayer is a very bad idea. Here's why:
  • When the school organizes prayer, our children will be exposed and susceptible to some very poor spiritual examples. We must be careful who we allow spiritual leadership in our communities and especially with our children. It is not acceptable that Buddhists, Muslims or Atheists would be teaching Christian children about prayer.
  • When children participate in organized prayer at school, it gives them a potentially false sense of spiritual security. One short, memorized prayer daily does not give one a relationship with God.
  • Parents lose the incentive to teach prayer to their children when the school is doing it. It is important for parents to be the spiritual leaders for their children. Many parents will neglect that responsibility if they believe that someone else is doing it.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little too hard. I would like it if my daughter would be involved in prayer at school (in an official capacity), but I will never allow someone else to have the leadership role in the spiritual lives and development of my family.

Friday, August 10, 2007

When Does a person become a Christian?

I grew up in a church (and a family) that taught me the only way to become a Christian was to wait until the end of the church service, listen for the altar call, go to the front of the church, kneel, cry and say a 'sinner's prayer.' The sinner's prayer has become a time-honored staple of the evangelical Christian church. So much so, that many church leaders would say something like, "Every person who is a Christian will remember the date, time and circumstance when he got saved and said the sinner's prayer." Of course, the problem with a statement like that is if you do not remember the event clearly, you must not be a Christian. Poppycock.

Another problem along these lines is that the altar call and the sinner's prayer have become so ingrained into their thought patterns that some might be surprised to learn that the sinner's prayer is not even in the Bible! In fact, surprise might lead to shock if you were to ever tell one of these individuals that the altar call was not even invented until the camp meetings of the 1800s in the United States.

Here is an alternative for you.

A person is a Christian when his mind considers how he might follow Jesus more faithfully and when his heart loves Jesus and others. I know that this is a dangerous definition. There is no way to count converts in this way of thinking. How can a person 'confess Jesus before men' if there is no altar call?

I believe that it is entirely possible for an individual to become a Christian without even realizing it. It could be that an individual, trying to find the truth contained in the gospel, questions, struggles and seeks God every day. All the while, without recognition, this person is becoming a faithful follower of Jesus. This person, almost inadvertently, begins to love Jesus and to care about the needs of others. And all of this could happen without ever saying a sinner's prayer.

It is possible, and I believe it is likely, that people can wake up in the morning only to discover that sometime in the past they became Christian. They probably will not remember when or where it happened. They likely did not say a sinner's prayer. But they are committed and growing followers of Jesus, nonetheless.

Let's not limit God's ability to change lives. Likewise, let's not limit his methods.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Is this Gossip?

One of the requirements for all followers of Jesus is that they be on the lookout, and actively involved in the recruitment of others to follow Jesus. Most of this work is done in the areas of kindness and lifestyle choices. I believe that people will notice when a Jesus-follower is helpful, encouraging, loving to his/her family. This approach to outreach has been called lifestyle evangelism. The Jesus-follower is to live a consistent example 24-7. In this way Jesus is glorified.

To fulfill the goals of lifestyle evangelism, one must actively seek relationships with those who are not-yet Jesus-followers. Spend time with people who do not have a relationship with Jesus. Include them in your activities. Be always mindful to live as a Christian and to speak as a Christian.

But there is more to outreach than just living a Christian life. Sometimes conversation is required. That is, eventually you will have to share a story of your experience of a relationship with Jesus. You will need to explain what it means to follow Jesus. There will be a time when you will have to tell your friends who to begin a relationship with Jesus.

You need to talk to people about Jesus.

In addition to lifestyle issues and discussions with pre-Christian friends, you also need to be praying for those you wish to reach. In fact, prayer is the most important thing that you can do for others. Pray that they will be prepared to hear about Jesus. Pray that they will be open to hear about Jesus. Pray that you will share at exactly the right time. Pray that you will say the right things. Pray that your friend's family members and others will not dissuade him/her. Pray that other individuals will serve to support your evangelistic efforts.

You need to talk to Jesus about people.

Did you catch that?

You need to talk to people about Jesus.
You need to talk to Jesus about people.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Need for Parents

So, I watched the movie Running with Scissors, last week. It is based on the memoir of Augusten Burroughs. As an adolescent, Augusten's life was turned upside down. His mother, dealing with depression and other mental and emotional disorders, began to rely on various drugs for help and escape from what she perceived as her painful reality. Meanwhile, Augusten's father, an alcoholic who used his work and his drinking as an escape, left the family.

Eventually Augusten was sent to life with the family of his mother's psychologist, a family who can best be describes as wacky. Augusten's upbringing was colorful, to say the least. When he finally leaves his adopted 'home', we want to cheer. Finally, Augusten has the hope that something good can happen. Without the crazy grown-ups in his life, perhaps he can make some decent decisions about his future. What Augusten needed, all through his young life, was parents.

Here is something; the biggest need in the lives of every student of all ages is parents. Many of these young people have individuals in their lives who are technically their parents, but the need is for adults who take an active interest in their lives. This means that they need adults who care about them, talk to them, spend time with them and participate in their lives. This sometimes involves discipline, direction and decision-making with and on behalf of a child, teen or young adult.

Some examples:
  • The group of adolescent girls at the mall wearing skirts that are too short and shirts that are too tight. These are the girls- at 10-14 years of age- who are advertising their bodies as objects for fantasy or sex. A parent needed to provide correction and direction before those girls left home in the morning.
  • The young man who falls for a girl because he needs stability. Although she consistently causes difficulties and stress, she seems to care for him and need him, two emotions that he has never experienced before.
  • The teen-aged girl who gives herself to a boy because he 'loves her.' She justifies her actions because no man has ever told her that he loved her. No father has ever told her that she was pretty.
  • The 'jocks', boys and girls, who work too hard at their sport, have hopes that are too high for their future, who cheat in school to stay on the team, all because they hope their parents will pay attention to them if they excel at athletics.