No tie required.

Formality. I bet you think you know where I'm heading with this. You're partially correct.

I'm not a believer in transfiguring myself one day a week to take on a detached Christian role. I also maintain that a church should remain with it's doors opened in welcome to anyone, and it's congregation (of active Christians I assume) should swell with joy when an informal stranger peeks his head in. Sadly, this is not what I've found to be true of most church buildings or of it's congregation members. We dress up and look down. We become different people for a different day to serve a different purpose. I don't believe it began that way, though.
Dressing up was once a sign of respect for the meaning of the Sabbath and an offering of discomfort, if you will, to our God who deserved our best. Christians were Christians all week long in action but they put the time aside to worship formally on their Sabbath day. And from a sincerely grateful heart all of this was good. It was done in love.
Sadly, tradition never maintains it's original intent. Why can't it? Well, a couple of reasons spring to mind. a) Cultural relevance transforms our understanding of the intricate facets that constructed the particular practice. b) Our emotional connection to the practice can only be attached to people we know of as opposed to people we know. The tradition therefore is carried out in the form of unquestionable obedience, which is never, never good. It leads to exclusivism; an opposing idea to Christ's personal earthly ministry. It leads to pride and ego. And the most damaging reason of all.....it leads to the personal comfort of the practitioners. Congratulations to them! They've been successfully mislead. They believe they are acting in faith, because that's how believers used to act in faith. In this misleading, Satan leaves them to cause their own destruction and he moves on to someone who is actually a threat to him. But, wearing your Sunday best isn't even the particular tradition this post is addressing. I'm going to have you look at yourself in what should be your most vulnerable state.

When Moses was on the mountain, when Jonah was being sent forth, when Jesus was teaching: in all of these situations words were being spoken. Words were spoken from God to people and words were spoken by Jesus himself. These words were in a language as all words caught by the human ear need to be. The language that was spoken was the language understood by the audience. If God were to speak to me today He wouldn't speak to me in French. I don't understand French. He would have to use a pretty crude form of English. But that's okay because He would do that to reach me. Just like He would speak to you in your language. If this is a truth that we accept of God's nature, that He is humble, why do we continue to speak, preach and pray as if 'Thee', 'Thou', 'Art', and 'Verily' are God's native tongue? You chuckle but you shouldn't underestimate the power of this misguided assumption. In one foul swoop a pastor can choose to alienate an undesirable stranger in his congregation with these words. In a 'mighty' prayer a small group leader will lift himself over all of the other group members and leave them feeling in awe of him and insecure in their own prayer. Now, the danger in approaching the use of this ancient and outdated verbal embellishment, this carelessly wielded weapon, is that we are now approaching the wall of formality that separates so many of us from having to look God in the eye. And I can tell you from personal experience, people don't like you touching that wall.

And now for the disclaimer; this is not about biblical translations. The King James Version of the Bible, the version most associated for it's 'Old English' format, is beautiful and no lesser the Truth of God because of it's language. But why are you using these foreign words to preach? Why are you using them in personal prayer?
A truth behind this practice brings us back to the wall. This tradition reinforces the exclusive circle of believers that keep their backs to the world and their eyes on themselves. And sadly when they address God in prayer, they believe they are kneeling at his feet when He is standing a mile away waiting for their humble approach. Tradition. It has gotten in the way here but it doesn't have to persist.
Each individual Christian is responsible for their own relationship with God. Each individual needs to approach Him. Each individual needs to acknowledge that they are not good enough to be there. That's okay though because we already have Jesus opening the door for us. We've been invited in and whether or not you speak to God informally or formally you may be misleading yourself in how sincerely you are seeking His guidance.

Now, here's an exercise for you; find a comfortable spot alone, prepare yourself for prayer and recognize your own formality walls for what they are. A common practice Psychologists use to read body language is to interpret the folding of the arms in front of the chest as a defensive position. How many defenses have you put between yourself and God? Do you insist on closing your eyes and folding your hands? Perhaps kneeling? These aren't bad practices but if they have kept you believing for a second that God doesn't see you for who you really are, they are getting in the way of the relationship you could be having with Him. It's not disrespect to approach a God who made a personal sacrifice just so you were able to approach Him in the first place. And, he will use you where you are but He can use you even more if you allow Him to look you in the eyes. He's the one you can trust with the truth of who you are because 1) He already knows it and 2) He's the only one who can do anything about it. So don't waste another minute pretending there are areas of your life that are only yours. When you approach God in prayer don't pretend you're allowing yourself to be vulnerable when you are standing on the other side of your wall to speak to Him. Let Him approach the real and naked soul of who you are. No tie required.


Parasites, the lot of us!

One of the most menacing plaques within today's Christianity is obedience.
Sure, on the onset obedience sounds like a good thing. After all, obeying what your parents taught you has kept you alive and strong all these years.

"Look before you cross."

"Don't eat food off the sidewalk."

"Don't talk to strangers."

Good advice. You were wise to obey it. But you are no longer a child and your parents didn't teach you to obey so that you would become mindless. Quite the opposite. They taught you so you would grow up and not need their guidance any longer. You have become aware of the dangers around you and can competently form your own opinions on your recourse in a variety of situations and circumstances. They did well by you. And never forget that mom and dad are always a phone call away for that frantic situation that needs the touch of loving guidance you knew so long ago. So how does this play into the out-of-control obedience within today's church? I'll bet you already know.

Have you ever seen a grown man or woman still being led around by their parents? For your sake, I hope you haven't. It's not a pretty sight. There is a sullen look of surrender on the face of the 'child' and an amazingly dominant look of control on the face of the parent that has held their reign for much longer than the socially appropriate amount of time. As far as the parent is concerned, they have extended their protection and guidance for the sake of the son or daughter who has either made too many mistakes early in life or has not yet had the opportunity to make a mistake on their own. Either way, the parent has built a wall around the offspring and has hedged off life; for good or bad. This is a perversion of the parent/child relationship as created by God. This is, therefore, sinful.

To extend into the realm of 'sinful' isn't difficult, as we all know. Often, it creeps upon us and stays in our lives before our eyes are open to what it really is. We see it when we begin to look for it. And that is where the danger lies in the sin of obedience. Obedience is respectful action. You do something when you are told to do it. Doesn't sound too evil, does it? What if, in what you are told needs to be done, you are instructed to do nothing? And here's where we begin to start feeling uncomfortable. Now, I'm not talking about our obedience to God. I'm talking about obedience to those who have been given the responsibility of leadership within Christianity. I'm talking about the pastors, priests, Sunday School teachers and all others who are called to instruct; those who are called to guide the rest of us who have different callings such as school teachers, bankers, writers, grocery clerks, parents etc...

These leaders have been given the responsibility of guide and release; like that of a parent. Guide and release. The guidance part is never hard to find. In any field you can easily find someone willing to give you advice. But these guides, our Christian leaders, are different. Their calling is divine, just as yours is, and I think that's where the fear couched behind the tentacles comes into play. They have, on a grand scale, become the parent leading the adult child. They have been the guide, but will not release. The sin on their part has been the mistrust of God's leading in the lives of the guided. The sin on our part, those being guided, is in not moving out of the house. We've allowed our parent to take over our decision making and therefore in our eyes, the responsibility of our inaction in the world. This is sin. Inaction is always sin. This is also a fierce deception. We fool ourselves into believing we are faithful in our inaction and that our guides have the responsibility for our Christian walk. And being faithful guides, our leaders see a responsibility given to them and they won't let us go. They fear for us and for themselves. Do you see the parasitic relationship that this good intention has formed? Satan does. And once again he leaves us to live within the tangles and confusion we create for ourselves, and moves on to work in the life of someone who is an actual threat to his own plans.

Obedience as sin. What's the answer for the leaders who need to loosen their grip and let those to whom they've been entrusted step outside their realm of security and risk it all for Jesus in this dangerous and perilous world? The same answer that comes to us who seek guidance but are afraid to walk out the door and let go of our guide's hand for fear we'll lose our way. The answer is faith. As usual. But don't underestimate the difficulty in picking up this little word and using it. That's where all of our problems began. Faith is difficult. If it's not, you're not using it properly. It is a surrender to what you are verbally claiming as a Christian; it's the action behind the pretty dresses and ties on Sunday when Monday comes calling. It is the life of a person who knows the world doesn't want to hear what they have to say but leans on God's strength to continue speaking. It is faithful action in a time of mass inaction.

Uh, oh!

I think we just got Satan's attention back.


The Prayer Campaign

Let's begin this post with a simple note of clarification. When I speak of prayer I assume the underlying purpose for you to choose it for your life is as basic as the desire for personal interaction with God. Now I've been warned about making assumptions which is why I mentioned it. That being said let it be known that I am a passionate advocate for, as well as an active participant of prayer. I promote it and use it. I would gladly act as spokesperson for prayer should the request ever cross my desk.

"Prayer; what's it to ya?" could be our slogan. It both (a) highlights the question of the role prayer plays in our lives and (b) playfully addresses the growing tension Christians are feeling surrounding the outward expression of their faith in society today. (Obviously I would be taking this very seriously.)

Perhaps I would be asked to give a presentation on prayer and it reasons that some graph or chart would be anticipated (not to mention just downright professional).

It could be titled;

'A Christian's interaction with God: it's roots and consequences'

or perhaps

'The hierarchy of spiritual growth throughout the middle aged years of the American Caucasian brown haired male: variations of eye color addressed in addendum's A through D'

(I told you; I take this topic seriously.)

When all preparations are made and the handouts on the statistical averages of prayer for each of the 51 U.S. states (plus Puerto Rico) are fresh and hot off Kinko's copiers His voice would come. I'd be standing backstage with my index carded speech in one hand and my printouts in the other and I would remember that I prayed. His gentle voice would hold me back and instruct me to put the papers down.

'But they're in color!' I would argue.

He would direct my attention to the crowd and emphasize,

'Why are you here?'

And that would be it. He would leave it to me to decide what to do next. I would probably look down once more at the color coded key with symbols for both Catholic and Protestant regions and ideally I would leave them on the floor. I'd take the stage, lift the microphone from it's stand and simply state,

'Prayer is surrender.'

At this point you may be flipping through the phone book in search of local psychiatrists to help me deal with this overly dramatic imagination of mine. I understand your concern.

But here's reality....
In writing this post I began with dozens of points I wanted to make, two pages of
paragraphs that began but never formed and yes, I was actually preparing a graph/hierarchy presentation but God steered me in a different direction each time. I would begin pushing my agenda again from another angle and He would shut me down once more. Eventually I put the pen down and listened.

'Why do you write?' He urged.

You see, I pray before I post. And so very often I get wrapped up in reading my own glorious words that God's gentle urgings go unnoticed. Eventually however my frustrations become inconvenient enough to get me to stop writing and remember that I did ask for His guidence. And it's then that I can surrender. Which, in short, in it's hundreds of variations, is prayer's purpose in the life of a Christian. We give our concerns to Him. We lift up the safety of our loved ones to Him. We shout His name in moments of panic when control is out of our hands.

So, point (a) has been addressed. And frankly, so has point (b) for there is no shame in leaning on God. Is there public pressure to keep our beliefs to ourselves? Yes. Is this a reasonable request? No; it is too much to ask. For not only does your surrender affect you it becomes evident to those around you.....unless you have your own agenda. Every time someone is used in your life as an answer to prayer (an extra gentle caregiver for your loved one, a particularly patient teacher for your frustrated child, some person that just happens to be 'at the right place at the right time' to answer a frantic prayer of help) it will be up to you to decide whether you are going to let them know the divine role they've played. Often you will feel uncomfortable but comfort is the most common human motivation. Push past it and surrender. The next time you're at the register and you have just the right amount to meet your need you don't have to whisper your 'Thank you' to God. Tell the cashier! Just think of the hundreds of little miracles we ask for during our days. It will be up to God to answer them but up to you to display how active He is in your life.

"Prayer; what's it to ya?"

I think we could really get this to catch on.