Church Write-Up: New Years Eve 2017

I am feeling under the weather today, so my Church Write-Up will be brief.  I went to an evangelical church that I will now call the “Mall church,” since it is located at a mall.  I also went to what I call the “Word of Faith” church.

A.  At the “Mall church,” the pastor asked the people there to break up into small groups and pray for each other.  I prayed with two elderly gentlemen.  We did not pray for each other, but we took turns praying.  One elderly gentleman asked God for a good new year for people, as he acknowledged problems in the world.  The other elderly gentleman talked about God’s holy church.  I was scared to join a prayer group with people I did not know, but I appreciated the opportunity to learn about other people’s faith.

B.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor’s daughter spoke.  Basing her sermon on Ephesians 3:16-18, she said that God wants to do three things this year: strengthen us, live with us permanently, and fill us with who God is.  When we truly grasp how valued we are by God, we will love others.

I liked the sermon.  I still struggle to love others, though.

C.  The pastor at the “Mall church” made points that did not exactly resonate with me.  He said that we should get out of our own ship and get on the Jesus ship, following Jesus rather than our own desires.  He also said that, when we love God, we will love others.  He seemed to imply that the horizontal relationships can only work if the vertical relationship does.

Obedience is a difficult subject for me.  The reason is that I cannot have perfect, righteous thoughts, feelings, and actions on a 24-7 basis.  While I could understand what the pastor said about working for a charity or non-profit, I somewhat question the idea of giving up our own desires to follow Jesus.  The pastor said that, if we try to negotiate with God, we are following ourselves, not Jesus.  But cannot God draw our attention to a specific flaw in our lives, rather than dumping all of our character flaws on us at once?  If I have a desire to work on a specific character flaw, can that not be the work of the Spirit of God?  Can following Jesus coincide with our specific desires, in short?  On the other hand, I do not want to go to the extreme of saying that I can determine my own morality.

On loving vertically and horizontally, people can love horizontally without loving vertically, I think.  Can that be sustained?  In certain instances, perhaps.  Parental love can be a strong thing.  A Bible study leader I knew, addressing Jesus’ statement in Luke 14:26 that his disciples must hate their family, said that, unless Christ is preeminent in our lives, we will not truly love our family, since we will try to cut ourselves a better deal.  I do not go that far, but I acknowledge the value of having principles and turning to God for the strength to fulfill them.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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