Christian Life

Why bother with Church?

By Kym Bishop for SUmag

Most Millennials seem to be asking why we should bother going to church. After all, it is much simpler to stream a service online, or download a good sermon. It’s far more convenient to watch when it suits us and we don’t need to change out of our pyjamas to hear the Word of God.

These days you can even join an online church, and statistics show that online church membership is on the rise. Not only can you watch a service from the comfort of your home, but now you can also have your name on a membership list, give towards meaningful mission projects and participate in online bible study groups. All without ever actually having to talk to another person. No one makes you hold someone else’s hand, or greet the people around you. There is no one singing off key behind you, no noisy kids to distract you. Sounds good. Simple and convenient and no fuss.

So why bother with church?

Well, we’ve all heard that church is not the building. The church is the people, and the people are the church. So think about it, when we ask the question, ‘why bother with church?’ what we’re really asking is not, why bother coming to a particular building, or any specified space for that matter, but why bother with the people?

Why not just be a Christian who doesn’t belong to church? Why bother with the messy business of human interaction when it comes to our faith? What is it about this collective of less-than-perfect people that makes belonging to a church community worth the inconvenience?

In the book of Exodus, we have an example of another group of less-than-perfect people, the nation of Israel. In being set free from slavery in Egypt, this group of people had just left the only land any of them could remember and the only life they knew – a life of slavery and oppression. So when God gave them their freedom, God also offered them what God knew they needed most – the chance to become a community, a collective, a people with a kingdom identity. In creating a community who belonged to himself, God was also creating a community who belonged to each other.

What we see throughout the Old Testament is that the faith of the people was experienced collectively. Their whole faith story is remembered and enacted together. Their relationship with God and all that God has done for them, lives in their communal memory. They need each other in order to remember who they are and all that God has done. And their faith practices include telling the generations who come after them about the ways of God. The people were to live and experience the commands of God within the context of community, together.

Why?  Because we encounter God in the people around us.

Because God reveals God’s self to us through his creation and we are all his creation. We are made in the image of God, all of us, and when we look, really look into the faces of other people, we will find God.

Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote about a concept called ‘the face of the other’. The Book of Exodus describes the Ark of the Covenant as having two angels facing one another. In the space between the two faces, is the Divine Presence.

So we don’t go to church, Sunday after Sunday, to worship because we’ve got to or because the coffee is great, or because the building is lovely or even because it is convenient. We go, because we are expecting to encounter God in the others who also come for worship. Through our relationship with the person who sings off key behind us, and the tired looking parents of noisy small children.

Yes, sometimes church can seem to be more of a hindrance to our worship than a help. There are cultural barriers that seem difficult to overcome, there are practices that seem strange, that sometimes make you feel uncomfortable. It is messy, inconvenient and complicated. Yet, for us too, just like the people of Israel, faith is lived and experienced in community.

It is in the face of the other that we encounter God. That is why we bother with church. So, get off the couch, God is waiting for you in the face of another.

Struggle Hill: Encouragement for tough times

By Delme Linscott for SUmag

When you run the Mandela Marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Howick, you have to tackle the infamous Struggle Hill. It is a very apt name for an extremely tough part of the race. The reality is that if you want to get to the top of Struggle Hill you have to run about 10km’s up to the top, before you can get to enjoy the next part of the race. There can be no glory of eventually crossing the finish line without the blood, sweat and tears of Struggle Hill.

This reminds me so much of the things we have to face in our everyday lives. There is always going to be a ‘Struggle Hill’ on the way to the finish line and the sooner we comprehend this, the better for our sanity. So often we think there is something wrong with our faith, friendships or our family environment when we end up going through tough times. Somehow we have been led to believe (falsely, I must add), that struggles are a sign of failing in our Christian walk, yet nothing could be further from the truth!

If we take a little tour of the Bible we will note that every one of the exemplary Biblical characters goes through periods of intense struggle and trial, before they end up tasting victory in the end. It seems that these moments of climbing up ‘Struggle Hill’ only prove to strengthen their resolve and end up increasing their faith along the way. In fact, conquering the Hill gives us the belief and confidence that we can carry on for the rest of the journey.

Take the following two verses for example. They show us that Jacob and Paul had to undergo their own trials en route to the finish line. Both of these God-followers resolved to keep walking on in faith, believing that God would help them through the difficult times.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28).

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me (Romans 15:30).

Whatever we are undertaking at the moment; whether it be raising children, starting a new relationship, working on a new project or even moving into a different season of marriage, we need to remember this truth – With God’s help we will get through all of our trials and struggles. God will help us to overcome!

Take note of these words of encouragement spoken to Jeremiah by the Lord, “they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you” declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:19).

Jesus reminded his disciples that they would have to brace themselves for trials and tribulations along the way. If they wanted to follow God, then they would need to prepare for all kinds of struggles and hardships. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Let God strengthen you for the race that lies ahead.

May you know the presence of Holy Spirit to guide and encourage you as you place one foot in front of the other.

May you conquer your ‘Struggle Hill’ and know the elation of finishing strong.

Emotions: A little more than Emojis

By Kym Bishop for SUmag

There are two types of people in the world: those who use emojis, and those who don’t. Which are you? I grew up in the era of ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘big girls are brave’, and when the showing emotions was a sign of weakness.

These days, however, expressing emotions have become quite fashionable. It is cool to share how you feel, as long as you use an emoji. Thanks to these little characters, we can now express how we feel with the simple tap of an icon. The full range of human emotion has been conveniently reduced to a set of animated graphics. Perhaps you, like me, have resorted to the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘beating heart’ to reply to a message when you don’t have the time to stop and type a reply, or had an entire conversation with someone without actually using words?

Even with the help of emoticons, emotions must be one of the most misunderstood aspects about being human. And so often as human beings, we just don’t know what to do about the way we feel.

CAN WE CONTROL OUR EMOTIONS?

Feelings and emotions are not bad. They are not embarrassing. They are not to be repressed and ignored. And they are not sinful. Our feelings simply are the realities we experience because we are human. And because we are human, we have no control over how we feel.

How does it make you feel when you read that statement – ‘we have no control over how we feel’? We’ve been taught to control our emotions. Was that a lie?

Research tells us that emotions, different from moods and personality traits, are naturally occurring, instinctive responses within people, designed to get our attention and move us to some form of action. The joy that comes with doing something we love, the fear that rises when we feel at risk, the anger at things not going our way – emotions are the God-given instinctive way we feel as human beings to a particular situation.

What we do have complete control over is what we choose to do in response to our feelings. Our ability to respond is our ‘response-ability’ and lies in what we choose to do regardless of how we feel. We cannot choose how we feel, but we can make choices in response to our emotions.

What are some of the choices you might have made recently, when it comes to responding to your emotions? Have you ever considered how God might be at work in your emotions? Even at work through your emotions in the world?

HELP FROM THE PSALMS

The very best tool available to help us gain insight into understanding our emotions and the kinds of responses available is the book of Psalms in the bible. We know that the Psalms were originally used as the prayer and worship songbook of ancient Israel. When the people gathered for worship, when they prayed, when they needed to find any kind of expression for their faith, they turned to the Psalms. The Psalms are quoted throughout the whole bible. We also use them in our worship, in our liturgy, in our prayers.

Author Ellen Davis, in her book Getting Involved with God says the Psalms are the single best guide to the spiritual life, currently in print today. Eugene Peterson has said in his book Answering God, that everything that a person can possibly feel, experience and say is brought into expression before God in the Psalms.

Because the Psalms are honest. They invite us to be honest too. Davis says they allow for us the possibility of full disclosure with God and enable us to bring into our relationship with God the full range of our feelings that we so often think we have to deal with or get rid of, before we are allowed to speak to God. It is because we can be honest with God about who we are and how we feel, that God is able to work in us.

The point of the Psalms, says Davis, is not to sanctify the shameful, or make us feel better about being sinful. Rather the Psalms teach us that God works in us when we are brave enough to bring ourselves, just as we are, before God. When we open ourselves up to the God who knows us, who made us, who loves us as we are, that is when we become open to the work God wants to do in and through us.

Next time you hit the ‘smiling face’ emoji, or use those handy icons to sum up how you feel, remember God also want to know how we feel and to guide us in our responses.