A church that fits me

While going through some old posts from an older blog of mine, I found a quote from C. S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters.” Every time I read this passage I think about what the point of church is. Is it important to find a church that fits you? Is it about something else? I’m really not sure of the answer, although sometimes it might seem obvious. Lewis poses some thought-provoking ideas.

In “The Screwtape Letters,” a demon and senior tempter named Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. The uncle provides advice to Wormwood, who has been assigned a man. His task is to prevent this man from following God. The “Enemy” referred to in the letters is God.

My dear Wormwood,

Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy want him to be a pupil.

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

Sabbath days (part 3)

This is the third post in the series Sabbath days. If you have not read the previous posts, you can read the first one here and the second one here.


“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

—Isaiah 58:13, 14

Sabbath had become kind of a pain. I certainly waited for it every week, but once it passed by I’d realize how disappointing it had been. I had great expectation for the Sabbath that never materialized.

During my sophomore year in college, the Spanish Sabbath school continued under new leadership, but it never took off. I can’t exactly remember when we stopped doing it but there was no point in continuing there when we could all probably have a more fulfilling Sabbath experience attending other groups.

So I began attending another Sabbath school which I liked because it combined feeling and rational thought. Many great professors are part of this group and they bring thought-provoking perspectives. Yes, I am a nerd.

Despite the great fit, I started to show up less and less often. I would stay in my room thinking I had things figured out. I thought, my relationship with Jesus is personal. I don’t really need to be part of a group. I can just stay in my room and read the Bible. You know, have my own devotional. That’ll be more fulfilling.

Deep down (or not so deep) I knew things would not get better. However, that’s what I told myself on Saturday mornings to be okay with myself for sleeping in. After all, I had been really busy during the week and was really tired by the time Sabbath arrived. I deserved my break, my alone time.

This changes to my Sabbath came as a result of how I felt during the week. By the end I was not only tired but extremely frustrated. Perhaps I did not get as far as I wanted or needed in my clarinet repertoire. Perhaps my ear was still as bad as the previous week. Perhaps my writing did not seem to get better. Whether it was knowing too little or failing at accomplishing relevance, I felt as frustrated as never before.

Sabbath became my day. It was a break, or so I told myself. Little by little, I made Sabbath a day where I could get ahead on the things I was behind. What if I worked on my ear or read a good book? It is for a good cause and, besides, there is nothing inherently wrong with those activities. So, I began doing those things. I began taking advantage of that day of rest to not rest.

I quickly noticed that doing these things frustrated me even more, because I knew I was cheating God. I did not feel okay going my own way on the Sabbath. And even if I wanted to blame my guilt on conservatism, that’d be futile. As Ezekiel 20:20 says, Sabbath is a sign of a commitment between God and me. This is not legalism, this is about a commitment with God. Sabbath is a sign of that and a reminder of who God is.

Whether it was trying to advance on my musical abilities or adding something to my brain or maybe even playing video games to give vent to my frustrations, I felt empty. The more I left God out of the picture, the more dissatisfied I became.

I had willingly distanced myself from God. Sabbath was no longer a Sabbath, it was just a day off.

When I went back home this summer, it hit me how much my spiritual life had changed. Before I left Mexicali in the summer of 2012, my relationship with Jesus looked like a linear graph with a pretty good slope. Three years later, I couldn’t help but see a parabola.

Going home was my reality check. It was time to realize where I really stood. I had to categorically admit I had screwed up.

I only had two options. Ask God for help or quit.

#002 – Abraham Mariscal

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Para el segundo episodio del podcast, invité a un gran amigo a mi casa para platicar acerca de lo que está haciendo en su iglesia. El año pasado lo nombraron director de jóvenes y he visto que su grupo de jóvenes está activo. Es tanta la envidia (de la buena) que me dio, que quise saber más acerca de su grupo y del trabajo que están haciendo. No sé para donde va el podcast, pero si sé que normalmente será en inglés. Esta vez, por una ocasión especial, es en español.Si quieren suscribirse al podcast, pueden seguirme aquí en el blog o pueden hacerlo mediante Stitcher (iOS y Android) o iTunes.


Aquí está la camiseta de “Sé el sermón” de la que Abraham y yo hablamos durante este episodio. Las fotos son de los eventos que han hecho como el “Migratón”. (Abraham aparece en la segunda foto en el centro).


Estos son los posts que se mencionan en la entrevista directos de Facebook:

10 de julio

8. Nos vemos atribulados en todo, pero no abatidos; perplejos, pero no desesperados;

9. perseguidos, pero no abandonados; derribados, pero no destruidos.

(2 Corintios, 4)

9 de julio

Para Jesús, tal como se revela en la Biblia, si bien la doctrina, la conducta ética y la liturgia son de suma importancia, lo principal y lo que le da su razón de ser al cristianismo, y su sentido a los valores antes mencionados, es el amor. -DM

7 de julio

¿Nos invita acaso Jesús al suicidio psicológico, con su exhortación a negarnos a nosotros mismos, a tomar nuestra cruz y a seguirlo? ¿Es posible que ser cristiano implique un desprecio por la vida, una mutilación de la personalidad, una despersonalización alienante, un “estar muerto en vida”, como acusa el mundo incrédulo? ¿Nos llama Jesús a un masoquismo espiritual y a empequeñecer -por no decir, anularla existencia y el goce de la vida? De ningún modo. El mismo Jesús también declaró: “Yo he venido para que tengan vida, y para que la tengan en abundancia” (Juan 10:10). -DM

28 de junio

No importan los logros en el ámbito más general y conceptual, si se carece de la capacidad para convertirlos en acciones específicas y en cambios concretos, es como si los grandes cambios no se hubieran hecho.

13 de junio

El sábado no es el fin; es un medio.

12 de junio

“Jesús nos dice que algunas cosas que son “ilícitas” bajo determinadas condiciones se vuelven lícitas ante los imperativos del amor y de la necesidad humana.” -D. Matutina


Aquí está la conversación completa.

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Why Are You a Christian?

In the past few months I’ve pondered the question of why we believe in God. I have heard sermons where it seems I’m being encouraged to work for the church because I will be rewarded. That’s nice, but is that why I should do it? If you are a Christian, I have some questions for you because I am curious to know why.


Are you a Christian because you want to go to heaven?

Are you a Christian because you want to go to heaven and then come back to inhabit the New Jerusalem?

Do you go to church because God promised to bless you?

Do you give tithe and offering because God promised to bless your household?

Are you a Christian because you’re playing it safe just in case God exists?

Do you love God because He loved you first?

Do you love Jesus because of his great sacrifice in Calvary?

Why do you go to church?

Why do you want to follow Jesus?

I’m just curious, why are you a Christian?

Ye shall know them by their fruits

Jesus said in Matthew 7 that we can know whether someone is a false prophet or not by the fruits they produce. A good tree produces good fruit just as a bad tree produces bad fruit. So, I guess we can recognize when someone is a true follower of Christ, a true Christian.

People see our fruits. In fact, many times people can pick out whether someone is Christian or not. Perhaps someone has come to you and said something like, “There’s something different about you.” Hopefully, the “something different” is a good thing. Or just maybe you get the unfortunately common, “Christians are hypocritical and judging.”

Are we giving good fruit to the world? Are our fruits telling the world we are trees full of evil?

I’d say most Christians have good intentions. They want to reflect Jesus and obey God’s word. However, the how is difficult. Most of the Christians I know like to solve this problem with a set of rules. After all, you only need to check items on a list to make sure you are following Jesus.

This method seems to work for some. Many of the rules included in these lists are undoubtedly biblical, others are extrapolations of biblical principles, and still others still make little sense to me. There are many sets of rules. Every denomination has their own. Within one denomination, every country has their own. Moreover, every congregation and every member of said congregation has their own set of rules.

Things get complex. The problem is, abstract terms are too complex as well. Somehow, lists help us grade how other Christians are doing. If we go with abstract terms like “love,” then how can we say whether they are being A+ Christians or just C+ Christians?

What if … ? I’m just making a suggestions here. What if … ? You don’t have to agree. What if we stop worrying so much about rating other Christians and trying to make them settle on our set of rules?

Let me make a quick suggestion. What if we focus on the fruits of the spirit? Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5). It is not really a list of rules you can cross out, but these fruits sound quite flavorful. They certainly are the fruits of a good tree. In them, there is no room for envy, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness.

The problem with a set of rules is not that they are wrong. The Bible lists many rules God wants us to follow, but there are many others we have added. Perhaps those rules help you attain love and self-control, so they are good. Maybe I’m different and I need different rules to produce those fruits. Your set of rules helps you evaluate your own walk, but that measure might not be a good measure to evaluate me.

Our goal is to resemble Jesus more and more each day, not to follow a list of rules. Let’s make sure our eyes are on Him, not on ourselves and others. Instead of evaluating each other, let’s look at Jesus and ask him to make us good trees that produce good fruit.

In company: difficult and encouraging

We know that following God happens in two main ways: individually and communally. We not only attend church each week, but we also strive to dedicate some time to God each day so we can continue building our personal relationship with Him. Some of us do better at communal worship than at personal devotionals; for others, it is the other way around.

I don’t know if it is my Western upbringing but I tend to place my individual devotion above my church involvement. We also have the examples of David, Solomon, and Daniel who had a strong personal relationship with God. Moreover, Jesus spent time praying alone in Gethsemane. Surely, there is benefit in private time with God.

As I have mentioned before, Israel had a strong sense of community. If we turn to the Psalms, we find a people who suffered, rejoiced, and worshipped together. We get a glimpse of what this community will be like in the New Jerusalem when we get together like the General Conference for Seventh-day Adventists is doing this week in San Antonio. But we can also get this every week in our churches. We can enjoy each others company. However, there is even more to a community.

Over my short life, I have heard of people who say they are not the “church” type. They believe and love God, but they don’t need to go to church. While I personally understand how important a personal relationship with God is, I always feel uncomfortable with undermining the relevance of a spiritual community.

Communities, of any kind, exist to achieve a common goal. We get together because we know we can accomplish more (although some of us have been in group projects where we’ve had a different experience). If done right, groups can work harder and smarter than a single individual.

On the other hand, working in groups is difficult. Church members disagree with each other. Sometimes, our church resembles Congress, with the “liberals” in one side and the “conservatives” in the opposite side. The struggle is real. It has always been and it will always be, but I don’t think we need to agree with everyone in church and enjoy every thing that happens there. If I believed that, I would not attend church. It is about struggling together and learning how to move forward in love. I know that is possible because the struggle didn’t start yesterday or a couple years ago.

I’m not sure Jesus needed people around him to do his work, but he still called 12 disciples and many more. What a struggle it was to make them work together. There was jealousy and betrayal. Yet, they moved forward. The church expanded and problems did, too. Oh, poor Paul had to write so many letters to help the churches reconcile and move forward. And so on, and so on.

Despite the struggle and the vital personal relationship with God, a spiritual community is as important as ever. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul explains what happens to those who have died believing in Christ and finishes the chapter saying, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” In the middle of the next chapter, he says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” To the Romans, Paul said people all over the world heard about their faith. In the first chapter, he also wrote, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

We do not have to be part of a 10,000-member congregation. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20, NIV). With a support system and, more importantly, Jesus’ power we can together fulfill our mission of preaching His love.