Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Talk About Authentic Christ-Centered Relationships

This is a frequent topic in Christian circles today ,whenever the topic of fellowship comes up. It is the reason that more and more churches are setting up small groups within their congregations. However, when many people come to our churches and feel that we fall short in this area, they leave. If they leave, they may hope to other congregations or leave the Church altogether. Many go to bars or other hang-outs instead. They get may get this need met by going to their hair-dresser or barber. Sadly, many use therapists or even hospital emergency rooms to get this need met. Why do they hang out there?

Think about it. In your church family, maybe even in a Bible study or prayer group you may belong to, what do the typical prayer requests or sharing delve as deep as?

I have participated in multiple groups of different sizes and heard many prayer requests. What does the deepest sharing of testimonies or prayer requests look like? Most of the testimonies or prayer requests center on someone's battle with or survival of serious illnesses like cancer, or concern a family's experience of grief of loved ones and generally loved ones lost due to illness or natural causes. Very rarely have I heard testimonies in local church families or Bible studies that fall outside these norms. Rarely have I heard prayer requests that fall outside those norms. Yes, testimonies about God has brought a person through life-threatening illnesses like cancer or crushing losses of loved ones, and sustained them to remain at peace and strong, are certainly powerful. Yes, we certainly need to pray for those facing serious illness or loss of loved ones. But are these the extent of what we should pray for or testify to?

When prayer request time or testimony time come in Bible study or fellowship groups, do you hear many prayer requests or testimonies about the following? Domestic violence or abuse? Addictions to substances like alcohol or drugs? Depression or self-harming? Struggles with temptations or besetting sins, whatever they may be? I don't know about your congregation, Bible study or group, but I hear few testimonies from Christians whom God may have delivered from such evils, or whom He has given victory over besetting sins. I hear even fewer prayer requests speaking to any of such issues. Now my research tells me that the statistics are such that we in the Body of Christ are not exempt to these things. Stats now tell us the divorce rate has risen to 60 percent, but very rarely are we aware that a fellow church member's marriage is in trouble until he or she announces separation or even divorce. There are over 60 million survivors of child sexual abuse, which is only a conservative estimate! This is a HUGE chunk of the US population. An estimated six children are killed daily by child abuse. Yet we are virtually totally silent about these things in our churches. Depression and even suicide are rising not only among teens but also among the middle-aged. But nope, we are unlikely to hear or maybe, share prayer requests for someone who is dealing with psychiatric problems. I have heard few testimonies from Christians about how God has delivered them or a loved one from psychiatric illnesses. Addictions are so epidemic that a talk show hosts calls us "Addict Nation." Who of us does not have a friend or family member who is addicted to drugs, alcohol or to something else? Yet I have heard few prayer requests or testimonies centered on addiction issues.

Believe me, it would be much easier to me to listen to those who say, "Just write about happy thing"! It is much more fun to post silly pictures on Facebook and pass on funny statuses. As for sharing, the reason we are much quicker to share about cancer or grief (and then concerning certain forms of it) is because these two things carry very little stigma. People, Christian and non-Christian, universally sympathize with serious illness and grief and are not going to pick up any stone if we share about being a victim or survivor of either. But we know full well that outside of serious illness or grief due to loss from natural causes, everything else carries more or less potential for people, non-Christian or Christian, to throw stones at us. Questions look like this: "Why can't you just up and leave your abusive spouse?", "Why did you let your child walk alone?", "Why are you depressed; you have a great storybook life?", "If you are in a bad marriage, you must be out of God's will" and "Christians do not abuse their spouses or children, use drugs, file bankruptcies, etc.". But we Christians remain in this fallen world and share the same sinful nature as our non_Christian neighbors. I do commend all the efforts to develop and implement small group ministries in our congregations. But being part of such a group does not automatically draw us closer to other Christians unless we make it happen.

Once, when I was inviting people to "like" my Facebook pages for missing persons cases, a sister in Christ told me, "I would like to support this, but it is too depressing. I prefer to pray to God to heal people from these things and praise Him as Healer of all our diseases." I wish that were the extent of our calling, but that is not the way I read Scripture. At a former congregation, I was wearing two pins, one for a missing girl and the other that said "I would be lost without Jesus." A fellow parishioner came to me and looked at my first pin with interest and when I mentioned the one about the missing girl, she said, "Oh, not that one." Before I had set up my Facebook pages for the missing, I had posted cases on my profile page. I took note that locals from my area, many of them brothers and sisters in Christ, had quietly removed me from their friends lists; well over half of those fellow parishioners whom I had added on Facebook are now gone from my networks. I have been told that some said that they had "unfriended" me because they could not tolerate my "negative" posts. I find all this sad. It seems that we in the Church are not paying attention to a wide variety of issues that are probably plaguing many in every congregation. Should we be surprised that many will just leave our churches and look for the intimacy that they cannot find there, in bars? So many people are visiting therapists for things that they should be able to share in the Christian community. I see so many Facebook posts where people overshare about things that ought to be shared in private settings, preferably in the Christian community. One Christian song mentions a person who visits a church, feels judged and is a no show next week because "his sees his chances are better out on the road."

Jesus was known as a "friend of sinners, outcasts, and the less fortunate." All kinds of people felt comfortable going to Him with their issues. Shouldn't our churches be the same?

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