Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quandary #11235

I recently ran across this somewhat 'viral' status update making its way through Facebook:

"Can anyone tell me why it is so hard to pray, but easy to swear? Why clubs are growing and churches are shrinking? Why it is so hard to re-post a Christian status, but easy to post gossip? Why we can worship a celebrity, but not Jesus? Gonna ignore this? The Lord said, if you deny me in front of your friends, I will deny you in front of my Father. Re-post this if you're not ashamed and love Jesus."

I have no idea where this originated. The person who wrote and first posted this is likely a devout Christian, perhaps works or volunteers for a non-denominational ministry; may even be a full-time minister or pastor. I have no way to know.

Further, there's a long-standing quote from Jesus in the Gospels, to the order of 'that which is not against us is for us,' so posting such a status update and asking - no, let's call it challenging - others to copy it is not wrong.

But here's my quandary. As this is a such a great thought-provoking statement, why don't I see the same post as the status of my well-known devout Christian colleagues? Why haven't I seen a post like this from a church or other religious body with a presence on Facebook? I have 'liked' or befriended several. Surely those organizations or high-profile people with an Internet presence would want to promote the mission and vision of Jesus Christ in just this way.

But no. Viral posts like these, no matter how well intended, are generally copied and pasted from one's status to another without much thought. It reminds me of Jesus' quoting the prophet Isaiah when he says, This people pays me lip service, but their hearts are far from me. The proof: several of the people who copied and pasted the status into their own haven't likely seen the inside of a church in a very long time. I mean, not even Christmas and Easter seems to motivate some folks into a house of worship. A wedding or a funeral, perhaps - but begrudgingly perhaps, even then. (Forgive the obviously poor grammar, if not the accusation.)

That it is easier to swear and harder to pray is a mark of our human condition, a sign that we need at a minimum the example of someone like Jesus. Some will think that it wouldn't be that way if preachers didn't keep beating into their heads that they're not worthy of God's attention through prayer. The truth is, that we turn the tables; we don't give God the attention that we should. That secular socialism thrives while churches and congregations struggle is that in our human weakness we would rather be entertained than to focus on making a paradigm change in our lives. There are too many distract---no, too many excuses that have caused the following very real statistics to be shared among pastors and the governing bodies of many churches, congregations, and denominations:

While a church may have a large number of registered members, only about 30% attend consistently week-to-week. Of that 30%, about one in ten serve actively through volunteering to do the 'work of the Church', meaning serve in a program or service or ministry that reaches out beyond attending services. Musicians (such as myself), Sunday School teachers (aka catechists or Religious Education instructors), ministry to the homebound, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the needy. In the end, only 3% of the community plans and executes, and 30% supports this work financially in the midst of their own financial struggles.The statistics came from the observation of leaders I worked with during ministry formation. They got those numbers the hard way: taking head counts at services over a couple of weekends in the fall (when people are less likely to be away on vacation trips) and comparing the totals to the total number of registered members.

I've drawn a couple of conclusions from this. First, God takes those percentages and goes a long way with them, much as Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and fed 5,000 men - plus an uncounted number of women and children - and still had twelve baskets of fragments remaining when all had eaten their fill. God is never outdone in generosity. This is something I have heard many times, and can personally attest to as a genuine truth. Might we be jealous of God's generosity when the recipient clashes with our perception of worthiness?

Secondly, to be able to understand this truth you have to be among those whom God works through to make things happen. Your relationship with God has to run deep and personal. God is not only Lord and Master, Father and Creator, Savior and Redeemer, Spirit and Life, but Friend and Companion. While you may experience any or all of the above independently, it is greatly enriched in the company of others. If great things happen with 3% and 30%, how much more would be done to advance the kingdom of God on Earth if those percentages were significantly higher?

While I do not subscribe to jumping on the viral status bandwagon, I struggle inwardly and outwardly to live my life to its best potential. I make mistakes; but I own up to them. I have great experiences and I share them; I have burdens for which I do my best to shoulder and appreciate encouragement as well as assistance when it's needed. All this is possible by the grace of God, and the love God shares with us through Jesus. I don't ignore it; I live it. I may not be the best living example, but I work at it every day. It's not something you can tweet in 140 characters or less, or summarize in a status update. You have to live it. The printed word alone has a habit of limiting and constraining the reader to the conformity and vision of the reader's mind. Let's try using more of our senses to become aware of who we are, where we are going, and in whom and what we truly believe.

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