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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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PARTIES

A Democrat Walks into a Church….

My aunt, as long as I’ve known her has always been an extremely liberal Democrat and a staunch atheist.   That is, until a couple who were planting a church in her housing development befriended her and invited her to start attending their church.

At first it seemed like an unprecedented change was happening in my aunt’s life.   I couldn’t believe she had even said yes to the invitation, but somehow going to church became intriguing to her, and from there it was only a few months later that she told me, with daring and nervous tones, that she no longer considered herself an atheist.   She told me wasn’t quite ready to believe in a “personal God” and didn’t yet know what to do with Jesus, but that she had decided that there was “something out there.”   From my theist perspective, having known my aunt my entire life, this was unprecedented progress.   She laughed at herself as she agreed with me at the change in her viewpoint that she had never thought possible.

And she kept going.   Something was drawing her to continue going to this church, even though she told me their Republican-sounding views on Israel she found somewhat annoying to her liberal, secular Jewish sensibilities.   But she found it something she could overlook, and continued fellowshipping with her friends.

Until Trump was elected.   As his magic pen signed executive order after executive order, the leadership of her church rejoiced and extolled that the man they had helped elect was taking what they considered to be such glorious stands for righteous lawmaking.

  My aunt, still reeling with grief about the fact that this man was even in office, was repulsed beyond measure that the leaders of the church she had come to call home had not only helped elect him, but were proclaiming the very executive orders that sickened her and kept her up at night worrying about the future of the world were their pride and joy in the man.  

She quit going to church, and now tells me she has a real ax to grind with Christians for ruining the country.

Another story, if you’ll allow me:
I knew a man named John, he was a brilliant concert pianist who had destroyed his life with drugs and alcohol.   My friend Rob, who was John’s brother, told me that he could barely believe his ears when this brother he had prayed for his entire life suddenly asked him one day on the phone to buy him a Bible.   By some very strange event, John, who was now in his mid-60s, after spending a life carousing and studying all types of philosophies and intellectual pursuits through a drug-induced haze, had met a Korean pastor in a McDonald’s one morning.  Somehow the pastor managed to entice him to come to his church – and John became a regular, going to Bible studies regularly.
John attended this church and incredibly enough, gave his life to Christ.

But then, he started to tell me and Rob that he needed to find a new church.   Apparently the church had started railing against legislation that had been passed allowing homosexual couples to marry; and John, who had dabbled in homosexual relationships in his life and said, “I think it was wrong what I did, and I don’t want to live that way anymore, but I just can’t agree with the way they are talking about people who are gays and lesbians and the way they want to make laws against them.   And it’s not just that: I’m also bothered by the way they keep holding these classes teaching pseudoscience trying to prove evolution isn’t true.”

The “moral” of both these stories:

I think the evangelical church has some serious questions to ask itself…the biggest one being,

“Does someone have to have a Republican view of politics to feel comfortable finding Jesus with you?”

Have we gotten ourselves so confused that we don’t even know the difference between presenting the Bible and the gospel to people and what our derived viewpoints are that are actually just Republican or Democrat?

Are we comfortable in creating a church culture where a political platform and leanings are so married together with what it means to follow Jesus, that if someone wants to find God and Jesus in your church it will be presented to them that they can’t really do that without accepting Republican beliefs too?

I suppose liberal and progressive churches can ask themselves the same question in reverse.  I know many churches where Republicans coming into the church will find themselves inundated with so many leftist ideas of what it means to follow Jesus that they may well walk out of your church before they’ve really had a chance to know much more about Him.   But this is not the norm as much as the conservative version of this, so I aimed this blog post more at my conservative friends and thus I ask:

Do we expect that as soon as someone begins to open their hearts to Jesus and finds His message and work attractive, that they will immediately adopt our church’s version of political leanings?   Have we taken the typical salvation message and added to it our political leanings, thus essentially saying,

“Accept Christ into your heart, and please change your voting registration to Republican or go find other friends to fellowship with?”

(And how soon after ….or even before….accepting Christ are we assuming peoples’ political viewpoints should become the same as ours?)

I fear our emphasis on “politics emanating from our understanding of the Bible” has created a situation where, we’ve conflated teaching people to be Jesus’s disciples with teaching them they have to vote the platform of a particular party, or they may as well leave our churches because we don’t need Christians that think like THAT – that “other party’s” way of thinking.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians against factions and parties in the church.  At that time the issue was parties arising over spiritual leaders in the church, not political ones.   He called such party thinking “carnal” – fleshly, unspiritual.  I don’t think he ever imagined the church would divide up over something even beyond that – earthly politics.

If his answer to that was “all things are yours” – the very name of this blog, in fact, is there something to be said for the idea that both the Republican parties and the Democratic parties in the USA might have ideas on BOTH sides of the fence that the church could see Jesus agreeing with?   Perhaps ALL things really are ours?   (After all, Jesus did ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, not an elephant.  Ok, bad joke…)

That will take some really outside-the-box we’ve created for ourselves thinking.  Until we can go there, let’s not forget that there is something to be said for creating a church culture that has something of this at its heart:

“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”    (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

Otherwise, we end up promoting one of the kingdoms of this world – the Republican kingdom (driving away all the Democrats from Jesus and our churches) or the Democrat kingdom (driving away all the Republicans from Jesus and our churches) – not to mention all the independents and Third Party folks among us too.   All of these kingdoms are the kingdom of our God, and His Christ, Jesus – He’s at work in all of them, and owns all of them.   So let’s learn to reflectively listen to the various perspectives represented by people in our society, and make sure the only thing that someone would be sick of if they decide to leave our churches, is Him… not our love affair with some party platform (or our hatred of it either.)

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On a Scale of 1 to 10….

Some of my friends on FB know that, back in May, I was at a friend’s house during a late night power outage, and slipped on an unusually shaped/sized step going into her kitchen to get a candle, and simultaneously broke a bone in my foot while tearing a tendon in my ankle.   It was a VERY slow-healing fracture (the 5th metatarsal is a notoriously difficult bone for fracture healing) and it turns out that the torn tendon is an even bigger, more long-term issue than that.  

Four months later, and I was just starting to be able to walk again, albeit with the help of crutches and physical therapy.  Here, at the fifth month mark, I can now hobble around the house without crutches, but generally when I go out in public I still use the crutches for otherwise painful occasions, like shopping, where I’ll need to walk more than a few feet at a time.   This past weekend I was not feeling all that ambitious, so I took my crutches with me as I visited…a new [charismatic] church.

My friend who went with me remarked on our way to the car, “Do you think they’ll call you up to the front to pray for you to be healed?”   I replied, “No, I doubt they’d do that.   I don’t think what from what I know of this church that that would be their style.   But – I bet they’ll get me in their lobby after the service is over.”   I was really actually not hoping this to be the case – but we were mostly teasing each other with the comments. 

So I walked into the church, feeling like I had a bullseye on my back, saying, “Aim prayers here.”   I was glad when we found an empty pew, and I could lay down my crutches and be “normal” again.   It’s not that I don’t like prayer – I actually do like prayer.  It’s just that there’s something about the way people accost people when they want to try out their healing ju-ju on them that is very uncomfortable to me in some ways – especially when the prayer is not asked for, and the person is a stranger.  

Anyway, we sat through the service, and both my friend and I found the teaching time to be really down-to-earth, basic, but solid stuff.  So solid in fact that we sat there for at least a good 5 minutes after the meeting was over, just processing together some of the heart issues that were brought up for both of us.  Meanwhile, the room grew emptier.   So we finally got up to leave. 

Back in the lobby, my friend went to look for a pen to fill out the visitor card that would earn us a “free CD” as first time visitors, and I stood there a moment waiting, when an attractive and trendy guy came up to me and introduced himself.   He talked to me for a little bit and seemed strangely friendly and interested in me, beyond what I would normally expect from an attractive and trendy guy on first meeting.   I honestly wondered at his interest in me – was he trying to pick me up?   Call it low self-esteem, but that seemed highly improbable.   So what was with this dude?   Men of this caliber, unfortunately, rarely even speak with me – let alone speak to me with such a level of personal interest.   

And then came the question – the question that instantly brought me back to reality and immediately removed all questions from my mind.   “So,” he asked, “on a scale from 1 to 10, how bad would you say your ankle hurts right now?”   And right then and there, I knew.  Not because I was intuitive, no, but because he was following the ‘script’ – the latest charismatic formula for how someone who has been trained in ‘healing’ in any of the big name ‘healing schools’ or conferences is trained to approach their victim – I mean – the person they want to try healing.  

How the script is supposed to go is like this:  you ask the person how bad their pain is on a quantitative scale, from 1 to 10.   Then you ask to pray for them.   You ask to touch them and lay your hand on the part that hurts, if possible.   Then after you command that part of their body to be healed, you ask them if they felt anything.   And you ask them if the pain has decreased – and you get another number on the scale from them.   Then you ask to pray again to get the pain to go down the scale further.   Then you check your ‘patient’ and ask again if the pain is any less.  And you keep repeating the process, over and over and over, until the patient finally says they are in much less pain, or that they are healed.     Then you ask them to do something that would have been painful earlier, like if they had shoulder pain, to lift their arm above their head or something.  This is a pattern – a template even, for how the interaction between the healer and healee is to be carried out.

So my new friend of the moment asked me how my foot felt on a scale of 1 to 10, and I instantly knew that my earlier prognostication that I would be the recipient of healing prayer ministry in the lobby after the service, was instantly proven accurate.   Yay.  

I cut to the chase.   I told him, “The pain is only around a 2 right now, because the crutches are bearing my weight for me.   But if you want to pray for my foot, you’re more than welcome to do so.”  Heck, it’s not the prayer itself that bugs me.   Since he was here, I’d receive the prayer.   So he prayed…and commanded…the ankle to heal.  Then he got up and predictably, asked me if I felt anything happening.   I told him, honestly – no, I didn’t.   I saw him getting ready to go for round two…and I just didn’t want to go through that whole entire process of pray, ask, repeat – pray, ask, repeat.   I wonder, if this formula was designed knowing that people eventually feel so much pressure to say, “Yeah, yeah, the pain has gone down” that they eventually just give in and say that?   I know from my past run ins with this form of prayer that there comes a point when I feel so pressured to just say something has happened just because it feels like the person will never let you go otherwise.   Anyway, I didn’t want to go through the whole process, so I cut to the chase again, thanked him for his one prayer, and told him the honest to God truth: I have experienced healing before.   But it has never, ever happened to me while someone was actually in the process of prayer with me.   

So my benefactor kindly nodded, smiled, and let me go.   And I was glad.   But as I look back on the encounter, I realized a few things.   And mostly it was this:

There are people in churches and groups I have been in that have never been interested in knowing me, or being friends with me.   But when they host an Avon party or an Amway party or some other sort of “get everyone who has a checkbook to come to your party” type party, they never fail to invite me.   And for me, it always goes something like, “Wow, you are talking to me?  You are inviting me to a party?   Wow – thank you – I’ve been really hoping to get to know you all this time and i always got the impression you didn’t think I was cool enough to know.”   And then, just as my hope is rising, I realize – oh, wait.   It’s not a real party.   It’s not a social invitation.   It’s a business.   They only invited me to THIS party because of the fact that they need customers.

And unfortunately, that’s sort of how I felt with Mr. Cute Healing Guy.   (He was married it turned out – which is fine.   He’s probably married to someone as cute as he is – but wow, it would have been so amazing for my friend and I to get invited to go to a meal with Mr. and Mrs. Trendy after church, and all get to know each other.   That would have been totally banging.   But that’s not what this was about.)  You see, this is what I think it was about.  No, he didn’t want money from me.   But, I can’t help but think he saw me, not as a someone to know, but as someone to practice on.   In these healing seminars, where these methods are taught, one other thing is taught: that the big guys, like John Wimber, who learned how to “do the stuff” and really heal people, prayed for something like 500 people first without a single miracle, before they got their first healing. So you have to just get out there and practice, practice, practice.  And how do you practice unless you can find people to practice on?   That’s what I think I was to this guy – an injured object for him to practice on.   Not someone he wanted to know….  not someone he even really truly cared about, but just, a chance for him to try out his stuff.   

Does that sound bleak and bitter?   I suppose I could go to that church 10 more times, and see if he ever talks to me again – or if he ever talks to me about anything other than, “How is your foot?   Would it be ok if I tried praying for your foot again?”    But I will concede: perhaps I am wrong about this guy’s intentions.   The thing is, even if I am reading the wrong thing here with him, I know one thing is certain: this blog post is worth publishing, because there are thousands of other people being taught to do exactly what this guy did, and this blog post would not be wrong about the intentions of the majority of them.   

Thus, I now hit publish, and you are invited to comment.  

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