Feelin’ Good All Over?

I once read a story about a few members of a synagogue who went to their rabbi complaining the liturgy did not express their feelings and asked him to change it to make it more relevant for them. The rabbi responded saying the liturgy wasn’t aimed at expressing what they felt; in fact it was the other way around. Rather than change the liturgy to suit them, it was their responsibility to change and learn to feel what the liturgy expressed.

Cherubs with heart

The story reflects some feelings in the
heart of all of us

Sadly, the story reflects some feelings in the heart of all of us. Whether we are younger and find traditional church services uninspiring and our “felt needs are not being met”, or we are older and find contemporary songs and worship unengaging and not meeting our “felt needs”, the fact is that there is something in all of us that wants things to be the way we like them.

Yet, this story reminds us there are bigger issues at stake. The focus of our worship services is not us and how we feel, but about God and what God feels. Our services are not aimed at meeting our needs (although they often do), but in helping us continue the journey of discipleship—following Christ and becoming more like him.

Whether we are old or young, new in the faith or have been following Jesus for years, our church services are meant to draw us out of our comfort zone, challenge our assumptions, spotlight our lifestyles and spur us on. Rather than meet our needs, they draw us beyond our needs towards seeing us as God sees us.

Our church services are meant to draw us out of our comfort zone

In fact, believing church should meet our “felt needs” is really quite selfish and short sighted suggesting we may have forgotten our greatest need—the coming day when we all stand before the judgement seat of God. On that day our “felt need” will be whether we can stand before God accepted by him or not.

I’ve always been somewhat haunted by the statement of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 where he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Here are people claiming Jesus as their Lord, doing great works in his name, and yet to their great surprise are rejected from the Kingdom of Heaven. Throughout their lives they thought they had made the grade and were quite unaware they would ultimately be rejected and called “evildoers”.

What was their problem? When compared with a similar passage later in Matthew (The Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46) it becomes clear that their trust was in the wrong place. For them it was not about relationship but about good works, but good works by themselves are not enough.

It is sobering to be reminded there are good people who say they follow Jesus as “Lord”, who do good works in his name, but who nevertheless fall short of entering the kingdom of heaven. In our consumer driven, individualistic society, where many have slipped into believing that church is all about meeting my “felt needs”, we need to be reminded what our real need is.

Jesus came to earth and died to open the way for us to come into relationship with our Creator. As you eet woth other Christians Sunday by Sunday, each person with their own “felt needs”, it is good to be reminded that we come together not to have the neds of our feelings met but to acknowledge our real need before God and thanking God him again for his saving action in Jesus.

Stephen L Baxter

Treasures Old and New

One of my favourite verses in the gospels comes from Matthew where Jesus says, “…every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (13:52).Image

This is the last of eight parables strung together in Chapter 13 where Jesus first uses parables to explain what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Here Jesus reflects on his new way of teaching saying it is like a householder who, to meet the needs of the current situation, brings from his supply old things and new things. In other words every student or learner of the Kingdom is like a head of an enterprise that is able to apply both new and old learning to every circumstance. It is about making the right response as demanded by the current situation.

“Every student or learner of the Kingdom is like a head of an enterprise that is able to apply both new and old learning to every circumstance”

In Australia today the church is facing challenging times. The world continues to change and we are struggling to keep pace. Today the active Christian population has become a minority and the majority of our neighbours and friends never set a foot inside a church. In fact, they are increasingly ignorant of even our most familiar Bible stories. Although some of the outward trappings of our Christian past reside with our society, it is now overwhelmingly secularised.

It is not surprising that as the number of people familiar with the gospel dwindles and those ignorant of the church increase, that many children have never heard the Christmas story. I recently read of a young student fascinated with hearing the story of Christmas for the first time went to his teacher to thank her. Yet one thing disturbed him, ‘Why did they give the baby a swear-word for his name?’

Living in a post-Christendom society that has lost the memory of its Christian past, people today actively choose not to associate with churches. If they do happen to be in our buildings it will be at a wedding or a funeral or as curious tourists totally ignorant of their own Christian legacy. Long past is the expectation that churches have anything relevant or even understandable to say to them.

Needless to say this poses enormous challenges for us. Hobart Baptist has not been exempt from the effects of these changes. Perhaps our biggest threat is that we will continue to operate as though nothing has changed. Overwhelmed by the changes, the danger is that we continue to be the church the way we were before the dramatic events of the past century.

So what do we do? Jesus’ parable can be a bit of a guide for us. The way ahead is not a simplistic “out with the old and in the new” nor is it a matter of sticking with the wisdom of the past.

While our traditions may not necessarily continue to be helpful or essential, neither will the new be helpful just because it is new. There is a tension at work here. We cannot, and must not, lose sight of what has been, yet what has been is in need of constant renewing to meet current challenges. While it makes no sense to discard the accumulated wisdom of the past, neither should we refuse to seek out God’s new transforming future.

God still calls us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) but the world around us has changed so significantly that unreached people are no longer only overseas (if they ever were) they are now our next door neighbours. Those ignorant of the gospel are in the streets, schools, and clubs of the communities we live in. The changing world has made us all into missionaries.

This is the challenge we face. How do we communicate the gospel in this new world? It’s like we need to learn a new language – the language of our secular world. We need to learn how to be church in our changing world so we can become “light, salt and leaven” (Matthew 5:13-15, 13:33) again. To do so we will need to bring “treasures old and new” praying for God’s enabling to meet the challenges of our time.

What challenges do you face in communicating the gospel with those you see daily? What ‘old and new’ treasures will you bring out as you relate to them?

Stephen L Baxter