Tag Archives: religion

When a Little Church Closes Its Doors

 

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Another church in our little community closed its doors recently. Worshiped on a Sunday pretty much as usual and then, at least temporarily, shut down.

That church opened its doors, I’m told, in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. She weathered tough times; it was prosperous times that were the larger challenge.

That’s not a big surprise, if you read a little church history. The church (the church universal and all her many congregations, not specifically the little church I’ve mentioned) has always been stronger in hard times and much less so in easier times. For Christians in America, the problem has rarely been death in persecution; the larger danger has always been that we’d die in our apathetic sleep.

But the closing of that little church makes me sad. They’ve been a church where “everybody knows your name,” not a mega-glitz church where almost no one does. I’m deeply thankful for my jillions of siblings in God’s large family whose names I can’t know but who wear His. But I’m particularly thankful for folks like these who names and faces I’ve known for years.

You see, we’re not a mega-church mega-town where any of our churches can afford to blindly ignore the others because we’re so busy or big. We have plenty of faults, but I doubt any of our churches are under any illusion that with some super programs and a great business plan we’ll grow to be the “Christian” equivalent of Disney’s Magic Kingdom or make the cover of Religion 500.

Being little carries with it a large reminder: We’re not only part of the larger Body of Christ, we’re part of Christ’s Body right here. When Christ’s people here hurt, even if they don’t hail from my group or worship down the pew from me, I hurt.

During plague times, pastor and poet John Donne wrote, “Don’t send to ask for whom the bell tolls [tolling out news of another death]; it tolls for thee.” What he wrote of individuals is true here. When a good church closes its doors, it diminishes the rest of us.

Tough times. In this world, real persecution against Christians is increasing alarmingly even as in our society prosperity and complacency weaken the church in ways persecution cannot. And, at the very time churches here are losing their older, more faithful members, our society is becoming increasingly “faith-less.”

Attendance is just one symptom, but a symptom it is, crossing all lines. “I’ll be there anytime the doors are open. Providing the dog doesn’t seem to be developing a sniffle. Or if my third cousin’s aunt doesn’t come to visit. Or if the barometric pressure in Bolivia is conducive to my coming. Anyway, I’ll probably almost for sure see you sometime maybe.”

As always, when despair is tempting, it’s time to look up. Time to remember Jesus’ promise that even “the Gates of Hell will not prevail against my church.” Christ’s Body will not only be okay, victory is assured.

In the meantime, it might not hurt to remember how incredibly encouraging such a seemingly small thing as a practical choice to show up and bow in worship can be to the members of Christ’s Body whose faces we know. While the doors are still open.

 

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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Genuine Spirituality Never Thinks of Itself as “Spiritual”

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In this world, some laws never change. Gravity always wins. We don’t fall up; we fall down. And this law is almost as trustworthy: It’s the “spiritual” folks you better not turn your back on. (Note the quotation marks. The real thing is beautiful and rich, but the cut-rate version that centers almost completely on itself is a shame and a sham.) Be they religiously “spiritual” or religious about not being religiously spiritual, folks who consider themselves a cut above in the spirituality department can be brutal and feel holy about it.

Of course, “spiritual” in our culture is one of those quivery “Jell-O” words that’s hard to nail down. About all anyone has to do in our culture to be dubbed a very “spiritual” person is feel warm and fuzzy looking at sunsets, pat a dog occasionally, and be “tolerant” of anything at all except anything that seems at all intolerant. Do the above, and prove that you recycle, and you’ll be well on your way to secular sainthood in our society. You’ll seal the deal if you’ll also adopt a condescending attitude toward anyone who thinks spirituality could conceivably include church attendance and the sort of mind-boggling commitment that might issue in writing a check.

“Spiritual” in our culture is a foggy, wispy, vaporous, and vapid thing indeed. Practically, this kind of “spirituality,” almost completely centered on self, doesn’t do much, but it does one thing very efficiently: it confirms its adherents’ already high opinion of themselves as being “good people.”

And what about “good” religious people? Jesus himself warned us about “spirituality” that comes from that direction. The most religious  (“spiritual”) folks of his day had little hesitance in hanging God’s Son from a cross. Take it to the bank: the most religious folks of any time and place would have done exactly the same thing.

I don’t think that truth argues for sleeping in on Sundays and feeling self-righteous about not being self-righteous. Despite massive weaknesses, huge blind spots, and frustrating foibles, God’s people worshiping and working together have always accomplished, by utterly amazing grace, vastly more lasting good than their critics. The real value of worship can’t be charted. Prayers are difficult to weigh or quantify. But the fact remains that skeptics rarely if ever build hospitals. It’s no accident that at scenes of terrible tragedy and pain it’s trucks painted with a red cross that show up and not trucks painted with a red question mark. Besides that, I’ve never been convinced that hypocrisy inside the church is more prevalent than hypocrisy outside the church.

That said, our Lord’s life and the cross itself are strong evidence that we should never be less trustful of our own motives than when we’re feeling most “spiritual” and “religious.” Not only does real spirituality not split churches over styles of music or whether it’s feeling adequately served with all its many needs being met, it is centered on a Lord who went to a cross rather than have his own way. Real spirituality never thinks of itself as being spiritual.

The real thing, as evidenced in the life of Christ, doesn’t think of itself at all.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! Be sure to check out information there about a new CD soon to be available!

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“I’d Like To Try Being Spiritual But Not Religious”


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 I’ve thought about it, and I’m pretty sure I’d like to join the cool crowd, the growing numbers of folks in our society who are button-bustin’ proud of being “spiritual but not religious.”

A good friend who reads a lot and, consequently, thinks a lot, pointed me to an interesting book the other day. Written by Lillian Daniel, the book is entitled, When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church.

It’s strange, she says, that folks who are so “spiritual” they can hardly stand themselves, but proud as punch of never darkening the door of a church, nowadays feel such a burning need to “witness” to out-dated religious folks, particularly ministers, about the weaknesses of church and organized religion.

Daniels says she’s never felt a particular need to educate every teacher she meets with the knowledge that she’s always hated math, or to inform cooks in her presence that she can’t cook, or to tell clowns she runs across that she’s always thought clowns were scary. But, for some reason, folks lock-stepping along to the popular “spiritual but not religious” tune feel a need to evangelize or poke the unenlightened old-fashioned.

Well, except that I’d be unemployed, I might like to try joining the “spiritual but not religious” folks. I’ve long wondered if I was religious enough to be a preacher anyway. And I think I could be as practically “spiritual” as any of the popular crowd.

I like birdies and sunsets. I like lakes and rivers (even more since ours here are all drying up.) I’m particularly fond of mountains and snow and sliding around in snow on sticks. If you want to find me looking “spiritual” and know it’s what passes for the real deal and not just intestinal gas, catch me on top of a mountain in the snow.

I’m sure I’d like sleeping in a good bit more on Sunday mornings than I get to, which is, sadly, almost never.

I’m certain I’d like not giving tithes and offerings. I’d be willing to try mentally assenting that all blessings come from God but never being thankful in a way that involved much painful check-writing.

But I think I’d miss a lot.

I’d miss joining my heart and voice and prayers with others so that faith becomes a river and not just a dried up trickle.

I’d miss being encouraged alongside others of the centrality of Christ and his cross and what his people have always held most deeply meaningful and true and dear.

I’d miss being a genuine part of a fellowship of folks who love me and mine as family and laugh with me, cry with me, live in hope with me.

I’d miss being part of something bigger than me and the flavor or style I happen to like best at this moment. I’d miss the opportunity to follow a crucified Lord by at times crucifying my own desires so that others in his body might be blessed.

I’d miss being a real part of a group called to follow an unchanging Lord and his will rather than being led around the nose by society’s latest always-changing opinion polls.

I’d like to try being spiritual but not religious. I just have a really bad feeling that, the more folks who try it, the more we all lose. Come to think of it, it’s being religious and not just spiritual that forces me to believe a genuinely inconvenient truth: I need to care about how my decisions affect others and not just me.

 


      You’re invited to check out my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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