Thursday, June 02, 2005

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

I am often asked why God allows suffering to happen. I just emailed someone the following answer and I thought I'd share it here. (A little background...this person has a marriage that is falling apart due to infidelity. They said that they want to believe in God but it "gives them pause" every time they see babies suffering, etc.)

I'm sure it gives God pause too. Everything that is wrong in this world (including bad marriages) came as a result of a human's poor choice. God CAN correct everything, but I don't think that's God's role, to run behind us like a mechanic or butler, fixing everything we break. He WILL make everything right in the end, but until then he promises to be with us through the pain and suffering.

I recently asked a group this question: If you are a parent and you had the option to have a child that was wired to never disobey, always be respectful and grateful, and always say the right thing at the right time...would you choose that option or would you choose to let them live a normal life and take the risk of misbehavior? No one in the group said they'd choose the first option. Why? Because it would be like having a robot for a child. Who wants a robot? We'd rather take the risk that they will cheat and drink and steal and get pregnant than have a robot. There is no relationship with a robot.

That's exactly the choice that God made too. He risked giving us free choice in hopes that we would be in relationship with him. He could have made us robots. But what is the benefit in that? As a result of God's risk, we all suffer. Thankfully God is with us to bring healing and comfort and some day he will "make all things new" as it says in the book of Revelation.

At least...that's the short answer to a very big question.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Why People Don't Attend Church (Part 3)

Before I go any further in this discussion, let me say that it's not all the church's fault why people don't attend church. Sometimes it's the issue of the would-be attender. And sometimes it's not the fault of either. It's just the result of a busy world with too many things to do.

Also, let me clarify something. When I talk about "attending church", I'm simply talking about a Sunday service. "Church" is much bigger than that. In reality, "church" is a community of people that have committed their lives to obeying Jesus together. But for the sake of this discussion, I'm reducing the meaning of church to the Sunday service because that's what most people think of when they hear the word and that's the most common entry point into the community.

Given that definition, another reason that people don't attend church is that there is too much competition for that time slot. When I think of our "competition" on Sunday morning, I never think of another church. We're not competing for people to attend our church over another. We are competing with things like...sleeping in, coffee and the Sunday newspaper, fishing, golfing, house chores. There are only so many hours in the week and most of us have more on our "to do" list than we have time to do them in.

Many people can't justify taking a couple hours of valuable time to participate in something that they see no immediate return on their investment. In two hours I can play nine holes, or put in a garden or get the paper read! Church will always be there. It's not as urgent a need as the others are.

Lesson: Churches need to make their Sunday service valuable. Now, in theory, you shouldn't have to do that for church members, people that are committed to the community. Members should gather for the same reason that a family gathers for a meal - to build relationship (not the gourmet meal). But I"m not talking about the committed. I'm talking about the person that is considering church attendance.

There are three things that I've seen people attracted to... a chance to build relationship, music that helps them connect with God and a message that helps them to be a better person - whether that's understanding God better, or other people or themselves. If a person is convinced that attending a church service will make their life better in some way, they'll make time for it. If they perceive that church attendance is a time waster, a mere religious formality, then their pragmatic side takes over and they stay home. That might seem selfish, but remember, I'm not talking about committed believers. I'm talking about that individual who is assessing how they should spend their time. They don't have any connection that makes them feel obligated to attend. In fact, it's their other life obligations that make them want to stay home.

The reality is that most people won't venture into a church until they have a pressing concern... they want to expose their children to God, their marriage is failing, they have lost a sense of purpose, etc. They suddenly feel vulnerable and are looking to see if God can meet them in their weakness. For this reason, it's imperative that churches offer these seekers an experience that impacts them for good and not a social club or meaningless religious formality. In many cases, they'll only give you one chance. I wish that wasn't the case but it is. They need to walk away saying, "I'm glad I came. I needed that. I need to return for more."

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Part Two Continued...

Yeah! Someone responded with a comment on yesterdays post! I hope it's a trend!

I realized that I didn't write a learned "lesson" for my post below. I guess the lesson is what I said in the closing sentence: to be honest. We need to admit our failure. That's one of the reasons for addressing this topic in the blog. I don't want people to think that the current church is the best we can do. Even at Cedarbrook, as hard as we work at addressing the weaknesses of church, we are FAR from being what church should be. We are still in the process of laying our foundation.

At Cedarbrook, we are very much in the "me" stage of faith. That's not a bad thing because we are in process. Cedarbrook has attracted a lot of people either new to faith or coming back from having rejected the church. In general, people are reconnecting with God on a personal level. They aren't at the stage yet of thinking corporately or wanting to impact the community as a whole. That's where my heart is and that's where I want to take us, but I have to let people go through the process. Even as our mission statement says...we need to FIRST EXPERIENCE, THEN share, the life-changing love of God. We are in the experiencing mode right now.

My point is that "doing" church in the 21st century in a way that does justice to God and his call is no easy task. It's easy to do what others have done or what is easiest. But our call is to live a lifestyle that reflects God's character and kingdom in the middle of people that are fixated on their own wants and desires. How to do that without being sucked into their web or coming across as narrow minded bigots is a tall task.

So, again, the lesson? Let's continually admit our failure. Let's not try and kid anyone that "we've arrived" - that church is everything God wants it to be and you should love it if you love God. No, we are in process. The church is not always loveable. We fall short but we have a picture in our mind of what it should be and it is to THAT end that we are striving. If you choose to join us, we want - we need your input. YOUR contribution is vital to our success. Please DON'T check your brain at the door and just agree with everything we do and say. God is creative by nature and he is continually creating new things in us as we work together to bring his kingdom on earth.

Note: for those of you that would like to share your comments but are too shy, you can do it anonymously. So click on the link below and let us hear YOUR thoughts too!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Why People Don't Attend Church (Part 2)

When we consider church attnendance, we have to throw out our assumptions...and we (meaning "we" church goers) have a lot of them. We assume that people believe in God or want to believe. We assume that people want to pursue truth and that we possess it. We assume that coming to our particular church is the most natural thing to do. We assume that if a true seeker does enter our doors that they will easily understand what we are doing, why we are doing it and understand how it all relates to knowing God.

I agree that it is safe to assume that people have at least a minimal faith/belief in God. Polls have continually indicated that throughout the years. The church has warned of our nation turning away from God but that hasn't happened. There is a greater interest in spirituality than ever before. But people have been turning away from "our" kind of God - the Chrisitian God. And why is that? Erwin McManus puts it well...

"The biting truth is that this country in not rejecting spirituality but Christianity. The indictment that we must receive is tha the Christian faith as we express it is no longer seen as a viable spiritual option. Masses gave the church a try and left wanting. We accuse them of not being willing to surrender to God; they accuse us of not knowing him. People are rejecting Christ because of the church! Once we were called Christians by an unbelieving world, and now we call ourselves Christians and the world calls us hypocrites. Is it possible that it wasn't the nation that was becoming dangerously secular but the church? We were neither relevant nor transcendent. We have become, in the worst of ways, religious." an Unstoppable Force, p. 29

The key to this indictment is in the way we express our faith. It may make sense to insiders, people who know the "codes". But to outsiders it comes across as rules and meetings. Who needs that? People are looking for relationship and transcendance.

I say all this to underscore the fact that a big reason that people don't want to come to church has nothing to do with them and everything to do with us! People are looking for something to give their life to, even die for and our message is not compelling. We have drifted far from the faith of the first disciples. So... before we are quick to point the finger at the unchurched, let's look in the mirror and ask where we've gone wrong. That level of honesty alone is attractive.