Monthly Archives: June 2012

Some Thoughts From VBS

I’m helping out with another church’s Vacation Bible School, and I’d like to share some thoughts based on what I heard today.

When Jesus raises Lazarus in John 11, He prays “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this one account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” and one of the kids asked “If Jesus is God, then why is He praying to God?” and there was a lot of talking as other kids were trying to explain the Trinity. I heard “It’s one God, but three Spirits”, “It’s three people in God”, “It’s one God with three Personalities” “God is God. Jesus isn’t God. He can’t be God if He’s Jesus.”

At a craft making activity, a conversation between a couple of them went like this

“You look like Harry Potter.”

“I’m not Harry Potter. Harry Potter isn’t a Christian”

“What’s a Christian?”

(after a surprised look) “Someone who believes in God.”

“I’m not going to believe in God until I see Him. (When I get to heaven and do whatever I want).” That last part is what I think he said, since they were walking away.

In both cases, I was dealing with 4th and 5th graders. All I do to help is basically make sure the kids get from station to station and pay attention, but it got me thinking. We really need to start doing youth apologetics as well, because kids start asking hard questions early on. I’m not saying anything about what the leaders in these kids’ church have been teaching, because I have no idea, but I think there’s a temptation to say “well, we’ll wait until you’re older for that”.

I’ll be completely honest, I don’t know how I would’ve responded to those questions/issues. I know how I would respond to them if they were coming from an adult, but as far as relating that information to children, I’ve never really thought about it. I know I’ve heard about youth apologetics resources, but even those are mostly High School. How do we do apologetics for children? I should probably figure that out long before I start having them.

Over all, I think we need to teach the hard stuff with clarity and with a mind to the fact that children are listening.

Individual vs. Individualistic

I remember growing up in church and having the pastor or guest evangelist give the alter call and then have them say at some point “now this isn’t about joining a church.” Leaving aside the alter call, I would like to ask that preacher the question “why not?”

I think the conventional wisdom is that people won’t “make the choice” if they feel like doing so would commit them to joining that church. It seems that perhaps the issue here is twofold. First, the false view of salvation (thanks Finney) in placed where our goal should be to get people to say the sinners prayer or make a decision in the first place. If you didn’t have that view at all, perhaps the second issue wouldn’t even be there. That being that salvation is somehow separated from the body of Christ. (Go here for a more Biblical alternative to the so called sinner’s prayer.)

At this point, I need to make a distinction. Several smarter men throughout history have written on this subject, but there is a difference between salvation being an individual thing (people aren’t saved in groups), and the Christian life which is to be lived in community. In other words, salvation is an individual thing, but after that, the Christian life is not to be lived by yourself. In that sense, Christianity may start individually, but it is not individualistic.

I wonder what the thinking is in the long run as well. I know that any pastor worth his salt will want people involved in a church, but if the qualification is made that salvation isn’t about joining a church, then how do they fit that in? I know a few people who have told me that they don’t go to church, because they have a personal relationship with Jesus, and they can read and pray wherever they want. It doesn’t take a huge leap to have a “salvation experience” where the preacher said it wasn’t about joining a church, and then to go away thinking they don’t have to join a church, and never do.

Is it possible to be saved and not go to church? I suppose it’s possible, but it certainly isn’t wise. I think perhaps we are sometimes too afraid of coming off as “churchy” to people, that we give them just enough to keep them coming back every now and again or to make that decision. It’s actually a cruelty. You could apply some of that to para-church or college ministries too, but that’s another subject.

In the church is where we do a lot of our growing, regardless of how old we are. It is where we should sit under godly men and have the Word read and explained. It is also where the sacraments are administered, and where we can come together as iron sharpens iron and build one another up (Proverbs 27:17). In Hebrews, we read “And let us consider how to stir up one another to live and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (10:24-25) The church is to be a place where Christians can come together and worship Christ, and represent Him on this earth. A light set on a hill. The bride of Christ. How can it be any of those things if people aren’t told how important it is?

In their defense, the same preachers who would say the line in question, would agree with everything I said. The problem is, there’s a disconnect. Even if you feel like it may be a lot of pressure to invite them to come to your church, you need to sit down and explain just how vital it is that they get together with the saints as frequently as possible. And not just in the general “get plugged in somewhere” idea that’s thrown out a lot. No, you need to explain what a good church looks like and what a healthy church does and has. Sure sounds easier to just get them coming to your church, doesn’t it? For a resource on this, check out this site.

Realize that the letters of Paul and other New Testament letters were written to churches. Also, we read in Acts how Peter got up and preached at Pentecost and then “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (2:41) and you have to ask, “added to what?” We read in the following verses that they basically formed a church on the spot. There are several examples of this throughout the Bible. I think we need to stop being so concerned about offending or putting pressure on people, and more concerned about the spiritual health of people.

Having people come to salvation is a wonderful thing, and is commonly referred to as a new birth. Think of it like this: would you ever deliver a baby and then just send them on their way? Of course not! A baby needs milk and protection and teaching and everything else. So also do people need those things when they are born again. We need to be good stewards of what God has given us, and we need to look out for our younger brothers and sisters in Christ. Above all, we need to do this to and for the glory of God.

Escape vs. Escapism

I was thinking today about a few of the popular things people do. People spend a lot of time on the computer, and from there they spend a lot of time on the internet, particularly on facebook, and from there you get all sorts of things that are linked to facebook. What started me on this train of thinking was Pinterest.

I’ve never used it, but since I use facebook, I see all the things people post (pin?). It seems like the vast majority of my friends who use it are women, and the thing they post about most are weddings. I think weddings are great, and have rather strong opinions about them in light of recent controversies. I also realize that culturally, and perhaps even naturally, women are dreaming about their wedding day since they are little. Men have their own way of doing this, but it generally doesn’t lend itself to things like pinterest, since we don’t tend to think much about dresses and things.

I think the temptation to fantasize about getting married becomes particularly strong when you’re in college or fresh out, since that’s the age society tells you to get married, and if all your friends are getting married around you. The friends who are engaged or married are rightfully excited and so they tell all their friends about it too. Unfortunately, this excitement can boil over into a sort of pushing, even if they don’t mean to.

Getting back on track here, I think a lot of this combines into something that might not be healthy. Don’t hear me saying that pinterest (and things like it) is evil and bad. I think for most, it is something that can be useful and is mainly silly. However, I think it provides a means of escape that can easily turn into escapism. I think the difference between escape and escapism can be more subtle than we think it is.

When I was first thinking about the difference, I thought that the difference was in a need. If you feel a need to escape something, then it’s escapism, but if you don’t, then it’s just escape. However, I think that’s too simple. I think it could lie more in the amount of time we spend on them, or in a pattern. Perhaps an example could help.

Say you go watch a movie with some friends when it comes out in theaters and afterwards you talk about it and if it was particularly good you might see it again in theaters, but likely you’ll wait until it comes out on DVD. I think this would be escape. It’s entertainment that, depending on the content of the movie, isn’t dangerous at all and can be healthy and fun or even edifying and uplifting. An example of how that could turn into escapism might be when you find yourself going home after work and make dinner and watch a movie or two or three and then go to bed, and that’s what you do most nights.

It might not be a conscious thought process of “life sucks, I need a way to block it out or forget about it” but rather it might just be that you’re tired and watching movies or spending hours on facebook is simply easy thing to do. I’m certainly guilty of spending far more time on mindless entertainment like facebook than I should.

You might be wondering what the point is. I think we have to start asking why questions. Why might something like pinterest or facebook or the computer or video games or movies etc. move from escape to escapism? I think the fact that everybody and their dog (honestly, why do people make facebook pages for their pets?) is doing it, that it’s just a fact of society and we shouldn’t think about it too much. However, if you saw someone that did nothing but spend time on facebook and didn’t really have many friends and didn’t do anything else, we would all know it was wrong, even though we might not be able to say why.

I think people seek escape for a variety of reasons. Culturally speaking, we’re fighting an uphill battle. We aren’t really taught how to think critically about anything, so at best we might feel something is wrong, but that’s all the further we can go, so we just wait for someone else to say something. We also seem to have a very hard time being alone and doing something like reading or writing. We have to be “multitasking” on our phones or our computers or any other number of electronic devices. Add to that the fact that life can just be really stressful sometimes. You can throw any number of things into the pot here, but the bottom line seems to be that we are lazy and stressed out because life is hard. At the end of the day you don’t want to sit and think about things that might be difficult. Or perhaps you have been avoiding it so long that you may have lost your ability to think about it too deeply. Doing that might be too painful.

It’s far easier to sit on pinterest and look at wedding dresses and fantasize about all the innumerable “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Or to look at all the recipes and think the same thing. Or to watch movies or play video games because you can just let things come into your eyes or achieve artificial success in a digital world. That’s all infinitely easier than taking an honest look at your life and actually working/thinking through the things you’re going through. Maybe they’re the big questions of life like what you’re here for or if there is a God or why should you care about anything. Maybe you are in a bad relationship or work situation or having financial troubles. There are any number of things that are hard and painful to think about. Yes, they will actually take some effort to work through, and you might not be able to handle it on your own. You might have to get a friend to come along side you and help. These things are hard, but are so much better than simply trying to block them out, ignore them, or escape them.

As Christians, we are called to do some pretty hard things. Things that require a lot of effort and that don’t come easy to most of us.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

“but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” – Psalm 1:2

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” – Joshua 1:8a

“pray without ceasing” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” – Psalm 119:9-16

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” – John 14:15

These are just a few of the things we are to do. But these are also how we live fulfilled lives. Entertainment is fine, and escape can be fine, but when it becomes necessary or habitual, it can become dangerous quickly. In fact, if we are doing those things instead of doing the things mentioned above, they become idolatry. God is big enough for our problems and our life situations. He has given us a book containing all we need, and we live in an age where we have access to thousands of men and women of the faith past and present to draw from. Escapism isn’t the answer. Escapism won’t make things better or make problems disappear. The gospel is the answer.