Friday, October 11, 2013

It Might Be Personal But It's Not Private

For those of us who have grown up in church or who have worked in Christian ministry, it is easy to throw out Christian cliches without really thinking about the words coming out of our mouths  When someone is hurting or going through a rough time we say, "I'll be praying for you." or "Don't worry. God is in control."  When getting together in a group we might say it is for a time of "fellowship" or we might sit around and give a "praise report".  When someone becomes a Christian, we have phrases like "born again" or "asked Jesus into my heart", or "saved" to describe the conversion experience.  In all honesty, I don't have a big problem with the words themselves.  Sometimes the phrases help us quickly describe a complicated event or issue.  However, I wonder if we don't throw out these cliches without even reflecting on the intended meaning.

Recently, I was at a bible study when someone in the group used the phrase "personal relationship". Normally, I have always liked the saying "personal relationship"  as I thought of it in terms of having a living, breathing relationship with God of the universe and not just following a set of rules or traditions. Yet somehow I wonder if over the years the meaning behind "personal relationship" hasn't changed  or become hazy over time.  I wonder if we haven't often changed the phrase to private relationship with Christ.  We do our devotionals alone with God, we go to a quite place to pray, and we go to church to spend time with others who want to keep their relationships private too.  We think being with other believers is good and healthy but not something that is vital and necessary to the health of our most important relationship.  We get together with others and we talk about things like food, sports, or the new things that are happening at work.  After all, talking about how awesome the cheese dip is or how great the National Championship game was is far less scary than sharing the struggles of a relationship. There is nothing inherently wrong with either cheese dip or a National Championship game.  In fact, I love them both and will continue to passionately talk about them.  We just too often use those topics to distract us from the greater things in life.

God made us for something much bigger than a private relationship.  Jesus called us to have a living, vibrant, personal relationship with the Father but also to be part of a people that has a living vibrant relationship with God.  After all, when Jesus walked the earth, he didn't hole himself up in a cave for three years praying and fasting to the Father.  No, he walked the earth eating and hanging out with people.  He went fishing with his followers, he took time to be with kids, and he celebrated big events in people's lives like weddings.  His disciples lived in community together, went through literal storms together, and while it doesn't say in scripture, I can only imagine they debriefed together after Jesus did some other weird thing they didn't understand.  "Hey Pete, did you see Jesus heal that blind guy by spitting in his face?  You don't think he's gonna spit in my face at some point do you?"

The older I become, the more I realize how desperately we need community in order to run hard after Jesus.  And community doesn't just mean being surrounded by people. In the DR, life is based on relationships. They are extremely important.  Entering a room without personally greeting someone is practically a Cardinal sin.  Yet interesting enough, when it comes to privatizing their relationship with Christ or the lack thereof, most of them are just like us.  Scared that we might get hurt.  So despite understanding my desperate need for community, I must confess that much too often, I too privatize my relationship with God.  In my head I'm protecting myself from hurt, but in reality I'm just trading a living exciting and personal relationship with God for a stagnant, boring and private relationship.  And while that trade makes sense in my head, on paper it seems really stupid.

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